We rely on the media for many sources of information and perspectives, and we know the media played a significant role in this last election. If we can continue efforts to help youth think critically about the world in our classrooms, then as educators we can support civic responsibility by creating classrooms grounded in humanity, civic agency, and academic excellence. Given this important time, I have been reflecting on my role as an educator and the work I have been a part of as a high school teacher that still matters today.
In 2013, I was fortunate to co-author a book called Critical Media Pedagogy: Teaching for Achievement in City Schools with Dr. Ernest Morrell, and two former high school teacher colleagues, Rudy Duenas and Jorge Lopez. At the time, Rudy, Jorge, and I were teaching in Los Angeles (they still are) and were working with Dr. Morrell, a UCLA professor at the time. We had all known and worked with Dr. Morrell for many years and appreciated the mentorship and guidance he provided in our classrooms. Dr. Morrell wanted to chronicle the work we were doing with our students to engage them in critical and media centered classroom experiences that resulted in student learning, empowerment, and awareness of themselves within our society.
The purpose of our book was to discuss the importance of a critical media education for youth and to advocate for educators to embrace media in the K12 setting. Our students are constantly exposed to messages and information via media and we wanted to highlight how we used media to transform our classrooms. Critical media literacy education teaches critical reasoning skills to decode and analyze texts produced across many genres including but not limited to: television, film, music, the Internet, print media, magazines, murals, posters, t-shirts, billboards, social networking sites, and mobile media content (Morrell, Duenas, Garcia, & Lopez, 2013). A critical media perspective also enlightens students to the potential power they have, as media producers, to shape the world they live in and to help to turn it into the world they imagine inside and outside the classroom. Our book provided real examples of the critical media pedagogy Rudy, Jorge, and I embraced and why it was transformative for not only our students but ourselves as well.
Since leaving the classroom shortly after the book was published, I have been able to continue my efforts to support other educators interested in taking on and believing in a critical media pedagogy via an online class I teach at the University of San Diego. In this Critical Media Literacy (CML) course, masters students have an opportunity to reflect on the role of media more critically but also to develop ways of effectively integrating media in their classrooms to produce student achievement and critical consciousness. Two years ago, one student, Vanessa, at 4th-grade teacher at Darnall Charter School, wanted to continue meeting with me and invited me to work with her and her 6th-grade colleagues to integrate a CML approach into their curriculum. Since that initial meeting, these teachers have organized their curriculum with critical digital narratives, an injustice project, and a critical opinion unit. Not only have their elementary students learned to become critical producers of media and not just consumers; they have challenged stereotypes, learned the history of education and civil rights, and participated in efforts to build community in their classrooms. Students who struggled with English or writing or reading found a voice and were able to produce critical work and for one student, defy the low expectations of his Individualized Education Plan (IEP) (i.e. the student wrote two pages instead of the three paragraphs expected of him). The work of these Darnall teachers was significant and was presented at the National Council of Teachers of English Conference this November in Atlanta, Georgia.
The work we do as educators is critical. Our students look to us for guidance and opportunities to challenge their thinking. A critical media education is one way we can both embrace media in the K12 setting and make learning meaningful and authentic for our students.
Veronica Garza, PhD
Assistant Director of Research, MTLC
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