Tuesday, February 05, 2008

An "Essential Skill" for the 21st Century

One of the most “information-rich” sites devoted to media literacy is Frank Baker’s. He occasionally looks in on my media literacy musings here to comment and counsel.

As you will see when you visit his site, Frank has been a prime mover in persuading schools to offer media literacy to kids.

Here in Oregon, the subject is barely beginning to get much needed attention. The media literacy movement has begun with a handful of parents, teachers and activists, including health-care professionals concerned about health consequences of excessive screen time.

School district administrators and officials have been largely out to lunch. When they get back, the rest of us would like them to sit down for a chat and a strategy session.

We might invite Frank to join us.

The State Board of Education is circulating a draft of “essential skills,” which would be phased in and required of all high school graduates, starting with current 8th graders when they graduate in 2012.

The skill that comes closest to media literacy (without explicitly saying so) tops the list. It reads:

1. Read and comprehend a variety of text* at different levels of difficulty. This skill includes all of the following:
• Demonstrate the ability to read and understand text.
• Summarize and critically analyze key points of text, events, issues, phenomena or problems, distinguishing factual from non-factual and literal from inferential elements.
• Follow instructions from informational or technical text to perform a task, answer questions, and solve problems.

* Text includes but is not limited to all forms of written material, communications, media, and other representations in words, numbers, and graphics and visual displays using traditional and technological formats

The term “text,” an academic term of art, can confuse and obscure. Notice that television, computers, cellphones and the internet are not mentioned although our children, on average, spend five to six hours a day with them.

A couple of other "skills" listed in the draft apply broadly, namely:

#5. Think critically and analytically across disciplines


#6. Use technology to learn, live, and work

There is a link to a full description of the draft diploma skills on a survey that I mention at the end of this post.

The point is this: We need desperately to talk and teach about communication in all its forms, including — and perhaps especially — omnipresent visual communication.

That’s where Frank Baker, our own local Media Think and other media literacy advocacy groups come in.

We must press Oregon school administrators, elected public officials and the Oregon Department of Education to establish media literacy as an “essential skill” for citizens in this century.

If you want to weigh in on this issue, go to the “Essential Skills” survey that the state department of education has put online.

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