Why is Media Literacy Important? A Personal View

Remarks at CML's Friendraising Breakfast, November 14, 2000.

Looking at this audience full of my friends and of supporters of the Center, and I feel very humble. And grateful to be here with you, and to know that you are here because you want to see the Center succeed with our very important mission of spreading the message of media literacy.

I've become impassioned about that mission, to the point where my children are saying, "Oh Mom! All you can think about is media literacy!" And my friends are rolling their eyes. So in reflecting about what to share with you today, I decided to step back and ask myself, "Why is media literacy so important to me? Why do I care so much, and feel so strongly about it?"

Several themes came up for me, that I connect with very deeply.

The first is that I believe in freedom, and my experiences tell me that freedom is fragile, and can come at a very high price. When I was growing up, the men that I loved were all war veterans and working men. I am the daughter of a World War II veteran. My father served in the Pacific fleet, and I still remember how he jumped violently if I touched him as he slept, and how his nightmare cries sometimes woke me up at night.

Second, I believe in equality. I know what it is to feel less than equal because I was born a girl child - and though I decided long ago that, like the 1950's song said, "I Enjoy Being a Girl," it wasn't always that way.

Third, I believe in taking responsibility. I am a working girl, and always have been, since I was 13 years old, when I started babysitting for 50 cents per hour. Do some of you remember that pay scale? I've found that being responsible is a challenge. And yet it's part of life's blessings. It's taking care of ourselves while extending ourselves toward our family, friends and community.

And finally, I believe in education. Education was my ticket, as I'm sure it was for many of us here today. I am standing here because I was a full-scholarship student to the University of Illinois in Champaign Urbana.

I've learned that knowledge is power, in the best sense of the word. A number of years ago I helped found an investor club for a group of women here in Los Angeles. It has been one of the most rewarding experiences I've ever had. None of us in the investor club had experience in the stock market. But today, some of these same women are handling their own portfolios, and even the portfolios for their family. And you've never seen a group more proud of the money we've earned!

Some of my partners are here today, and I can't begin to thank them enough! Girls, I would never have studied the financial pages alone!

Free Your Mind! Express your View!

So what has all this to do with media literacy? To my way of thinking-everything. Because being media literate means being able to access, analyze, and evaluate information, which we receive through media. Being media literate means being able to create media messages and to use the technology tools available to us. It means being able to think critically and speak confidently.

If we have these media literacy skills, we are able to free our minds. We are able to make our own judgments and choices. And we are able to express our own views creatively and effectively.

To me, having a media literate society is the essence of having a democratic society and a market-based economy. It is the essence of having the ability to both enhance and protect our precious freedoms. It presumes that we, the people, are smart and capable and responsible. It reinforces that expectation that, if we are responsible, others should exercise responsibility, as well. It assumes that learning is a lifelong process that doesn't just take place through textbooks or in certain demographic areas.

Media literacy is the gift that I hope we can give ourselves and pass to our children, as they seek to take their place in our society. My husband Tom and I have two children —13 and 10. As I see them grow and develop, I feel strongly that media literacy is something they need to live successfully in our world today. Media literacy is something I want them to have - and that was what drove my decision to first get involved with the media literacy program Fr. Bill Kerze started at Our Lady of Malibu school, and which ultimately led to my joining the Center.

I believe that the various career and life experiences I've had have led me to this cause and to this day, and I sincerely hope that I can contribute my small part to the success of this mission of media literacy. I'm grateful for this opportunity to be of service. Thank you for your support. And thank you for your generosity.

Author Bio: 

Tessa Jolls is President and CEO of the Center for Media Literacy, a position she has held since 1999. She is a graduate of the University of Illinois and has consulted and published in the organization development/change management field for major corporations.