Character Education and Media Literacy-Finding Common Ground: Media Literacy and Character Education Are Two Hot Topics in Education That Have Become Closely Intertwined, Perhaps Unwittingly. Knowledge and Understanding of Media-Media Literacy-Can Be a Successful Strategy for Promoting Critical Thinking and Intelligent Decision Making about Risky Behaviors
Herrington, Scott D., Emmans, Cindy C., Technos: Quarterly for Education and Technology
For many children today, the family is not the primary moral teacher. Nor is the church the moral educator that it once was. Trends such as rising youth violence, increasing dishonesty, growing disrespect for authority, peer cruelty, decline in work ethic, sexual precocity, growing self-centeredness, and ethical illiteracy are on the rise (Noll, 1999). Developmental psychologist Thomas Likona, a leading supporter of a new character education movement, suggests that this decline of American youth is the result of a decline of the family and troubling trends in youth character (1991). Parents, clergy, and teachers do not have to look far to find a plethora of examples of media that blatantly denigrate respect, responsibility, trustworthiness, fairness, caring, and civic virtue. For instance, Playboy Playmates competed on a special episode of NBC's reality TV show Fear Factor, and ABC-TV aired a Victoria's Secret Fashion Show (Goodale, 2002). This prime-time television show was so explicit that the network decided it should blur out areas of the models' bodies!
These issues, along with others relating to honesty, violence, sex, cruelty, and drug and alcohol abuse, might prompt school administrators, teachers, and parents to scrutinize their schools' philosophy, culture, and curriculum. These questions should be asked: Does the school have a moral purpose? Can virtue be taught? Should the shaping of character be as important as the training of intellect? Should value-charged issues be discussed in the classroom? (Noll, 1991, p. 82). Increasingly, schools are responding to society's deep moral troubles and are adopting curricula that are designed to help students not only be smart but also be good. Character education is one such curriculum. Whether it is defined as ethics, citizenship, values, or personal development, it is making a comeback--and many of its proponents would suggest it holds the solution to the decline of American youth.
Likona, in his essay, "The Return of Character Education," states that "we are seeing the beginnings of a new character education movement, one which restores `good character' to its historical place as one of the central and desirable outcomes of the school's moral enterprise" (Noll, 1991, p. 85). While all educators, theorists, politicians, and the general public do not agree on the merits of what Alfie Kohn refers to as "narrowly defined" character education programs, i.e., a particular style of moral training, most would agree with his broad interpretation that character education is "almost anything that schools might try to provide outside of academics, especially when the purpose is to help children to grow into good people" (Noll, 1991, p. 91).
A curriculum making its way into educational mainstream is media literacy, or media education. In general terms, it is the ability to critically consume and create media, and it is becoming an essential skill in today's world. While character education (in the narrow sense) has numerous critics, media literacy has great appeal to teachers, students, and parents. Schools that are considering the implementation of a character education program, or schools that are already implementing one, should consider incorporating a media literacy program into their curriculum as well. The realm of today's youth is so supersaturated with value-laden media that if parents, teachers, and religious leaders fail to include media literacy skills within their curricula, sermons, or table talk, they risk neglecting one of the most powerful influences in the lives of today's youth.
The importance of media literacy as it relates to character education is summed up by Pat Kipping:
Media literate people know how to act; they are not acted upon and as a result, they are better citizens. The goal of media education is to produce good citizens, not good consumers. …