Media Literacy for Young Children: Essential for School Success in Today's World

The Massachusetts Legislature's House-Senate Joint Committee on Education recently heard testimony on behalf of legislation proposed to develop comprehensive media literacy education in kindergarten through 12th grade.
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The Massachusetts Legislature's House-Senate Joint Committee on Education recently heard testimony on behalf of legislation proposed to develop comprehensive media literacy education in kindergarten through 12th grade. I testified in strong support of this legislation because of my deep concern about how media and technology are affecting today's young children and changing what and how they learn.

My concerns grow out of years of research on the issue and the seeming failure of educators and policymakers to take these changes into account in their work with children and families. My work led to the recently released book, Beyond Remote-Controlled Childhood: Teaching Young Children in the Media Age. It is designed to empower early childhood educators do exactly what the Massachusetts legislation proposes.

If passed, Massachusetts will become the first state in the country with the wisdom and foresight to remove the blinders that most of today's policymakers and educators are wearing as they fail to take into account the impact of media and technology on children's optimal development and learning in their more and more narrowly-scripted educational mandates in schools.

Media and technology have transformed childhood. Today's children are spending more time with more kinds of screens, at younger and younger ages. For instance, a study released last month found that children 0-8 years spent an average of 3 hours a day with screens.

Technology is affecting most aspects of children's lives. I have used the term Remote-Controlled Childhood to capture the fact that more and more of children's time, ideas and behavior are controlled and conditioned by what they see and do on screens--by following programs created by someone else.

The more educators understand and work to counteract the resulting remote-controlled learning and behavior, the more successful they will be at promoting optimal learning in children.

  • First, there are many potentially harmful lessons children learn about such issues as violence, sexualization, and commercialization. These messages contribute to what I call CDD (Compassion Deficit Disorder), a reduced ability to form caring connected relationships and increasing levels of bullying and teasing we find in schools.
  • Second, and less commonly discussed are the ways media affects how children learn. Most worrisome is the fact that media is contributing to PSDD (Problem Solving Deficit Disorder). To be effective learners, young children need to be able to find and solve problems of their own making, in their own ways. They have to figure out through problem solving that the letter "b" as a peculiar swiggle that makes a particular sound that fits with other swiggles to make a word. Children with PSDD may need 25 worksheets to learn the letter "b" by rote, because they aren't actively constructing their own ideas and knowledge of the reading process. PSDD can jeopardize optimal learning in all children.
For young children, comprehensive media literacy education should be:
  • Broad-based, focusing on the whole range of ways media affects children, including counteracting RCC, PSDD and CDD.
  • Include training for educators so they develop a comprehensive understanding of the impact of media on children's learning and strategies to counteract them.
  • Incorporate strategies for working with families to help them deal more effectively with the media in their children's lives.

Many other countries already offer comprehensive media literacy education programs in schools. Many of these same countries find that their children are performing better on international educational tests than children in the US, and many of these same countries are succeeding without the common-core and high-stakes-testing mandates in the early years that are becoming increasingly the norm in schools here. One of the most obvious and far-reaching ways we can ensure school success here is to mandate comprehensive media literacy education in school for all our children--as well as comprehensive media literacy education training for the teachers who will deliver it. This is why I am working to get Massachusetts to take the lead for the rest of the country by passing the proposed legislation.

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