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Promoting media literacy

By Heidi Wicks | Sept. 25, 2007

“School is one of the few places in society where children are still treated as children, and this may be a somewhat naïve view from the perception of educators,” said Joe Kinchloe, internationally-known professor, author and Canada Research Chair at the Faculty of Education at McGill University.

Along with wife and fellow McGill scholar/author Shirley Steinberg, the pair lectured recently in Memorial’s Faculty of Education on media literacy and its importance in schools and to create a socially just society.

Kinchloe and Steinberg feel that today’s school-age children, although they absorb more media than any other generation, are not adequately educated on what they see on television. From before birth, children are exposed to Baby Einstein, then onto everything from Barney, Disney and Harrison Ford.

“The idea that images and colour and a Sesame Street education can be attained at a very young age is a common conception now,” said Dr. Steinberg, “It can’t be avoided, even by the Bohemian families that claim, ‘Oh, we don’t have a TV in our home’, their children are going to see things at their friends houses or their babysitters’ houses. I would say that in North America today, no kid is devoid of media.”

“Ten years ago we wrote a book called Kinder Culture,” said Dr. Kincheloe, “and the principal argument that book explored was that media has really shaped the nature of what childhood is today. The 21st century is very different than how it was even in 1950.

"What children are exposed to and what children know from media that they wouldn’t know otherwise has really increased, especially with sexual knowledge and knowledge that before, would be considered adult knowledge.

"We talk to children who are very young, who have a wide range of knowledge from sexuality to whatever else. We also found through the study of that book that schools are considered very quaint places, and are one of the last places children are treated like children anymore. There’s almost a pretending that we don’t know these things (that children are exposed to the things they are). Often times, that treatment comes of as bizarre to children, so teachers really have to think about the members of society they are teaching, because it’s not the same definition of children anymore.”

The team provided several examples of images and ideas that are presented in Disney movies (the typical image of the big strong American male dominating the dark ethnic girl, as in Pocahontas, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and others) American television shows like CSI and 24 (where although not all Muslims are evil, there will always be a bad Muslim), as well as on American news.

“The insidious nature of the media are not often being addressed in school curriculum,” suggested Dr. Steinberg.

Contemporary school-age children are constantly absorbing images, and unless they understand where these images originate, and where they come from, from a historical point of view, they are more likely to form perspectives that are somewhat biased, racist and uninformed.

For more information on the writings of Joe Kincheloe and Shirley Steinberg, visit