Media Education in the Year 2000: Directions and Challenges

As we enter the new millennium, a media literacy pioneer reflects on the challenges we face.

The challenges facing media education in the year 2000 are the same challenges facing school change efforts. These include details about teaching and learning such as teacher preparation, the content and assessment of the curriculum, restructuring of the school day to accommodate project-based and interdisciplinary work, the availability of resources, the balance between analysis and practice, and identifying the most beneficial teaching approaches. Challenges to the inclusion of media education in the existing curriculum also encompass broader issues such as the boundaries of information gatekeeping and the role and purposes of educational institutions in society.

Just as there is no single and easy intervention to solve the many aspects of school reform, there is no quick and easy way to integrate the study of media into schooling.

Media education advocates underestimate the slow, tedious and contentious nature of school change at their peril. Strategies that are incompatible with school reform efforts marginalize and hinder the sustained inclusion of media education in the curriculum. Some recent missteps in the implementation of media education include an over-emphasis on critical viewing; innoculatory purposes and strategies; a poverty of new research and evaluation studies; a connection to doctrinaire politics on both ends of the political spectrum; unproductive partnerships; and the marginalization of hands-on student media production. These elements continue to undermine the acceptance of media education in the existing school curriculum.


"There is no quick and easy way to integrate the study of media into schooling."

As a result, media educators are still unable to come to consensus about the goals and purposes for media education and then to articulate them to other change agents in educational circles. Every field of study has its own discourse and the field of education is rife with the codes, conventions and vocabularies that signify insider status. In fact, educational discourse is so contentious that it could just as easily be called "educational discord." Nonetheless, it is necessary to master the discourse of "education-ese" if media education is to insinuate itself into dialogues about school reform.

Although media educators have been willing to learn the buzzwords of endearment for some groups (media industries and preventative health groups for instance) it has shown an inability or an unwillingness to accommodate the arcane and often frustrating discourse of education. As a result, there is still confusion about the rationale for including media education in the curriculum on a large scale. Educators have been so tossed by the winds of school reform that their penchant for demanding proof of the efficacy of media education is understandable. It is legitimate for them to ask, "How can media education improve the practices in my classroom?" It is their responsibility to ask, "How can media education benefit my students?"

Cary Bazalgette of the British Film Institute notes that media education has been characterized as more of a "movement" than as an educational intervention. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that media education has been unable to answer hard questions about its effectiveness as an educational intervention.

For example, instead of characterizing media education as an expansion of alphabetic literacy, with all the benefits, complexity and constraints of literacy, it has been characterized as a way to shield children from a range of social ills such as violence, premature sexuality, overt consumerism, obesity, social inequity, and drug abuse. The rhetoric of social movements capitalizes upon timely events and rides popular trends. Because their successes depend on seizing the popular mind, social movements favor fluid, urgent and dramatic sloganeering. Too often, this style of rhetoric has seeped into the rationale for media education. Buffeted by school change ideas from myriad groups throughout their careers, educators view urgent and flamboyant rhetoric with a gimlet eye. When it comes to school reform movements, teachers have had about all the help they can stand.

If media education is a "movement," its various causes have yet to crystallize into an intellectually rigorous and coherent rationale. As a result, media education has been co-opted by diverse groups with many agendas, making it more difficult to focus upon its unifying goals and purposes within educational frameworks. Advocates would do well to pay more heed to the "education" part of its label if it hopes to be taken seriously as a necessary component of school improvement. In other words, media education advocates must join the conversation about school reform in a way that educational stakeholders can accept, understand and appreciate.

"Media education advocates must join the conversation about school reform in a way that educational stakeholders can accept, understand and appreciate."

In addition to negotiating the discourse of the old order, media education must be forward-looking if it is to regain and retain its vitality. In order to continually refine its goals and purposes, it would be helpful for media education to move toward expansive, and experimental ideas about the uses of information for teaching and learning and away from the "media effects" theories of the past (Gauntlett, 1998). This can be accomplished by turning to fresh theories of critical literacy and pedagogy, as well as to related ideas about technology teaching and learning.

Media education advocates could also take a hard look at the practices and foundations of media studies through rigorous research and development. And they could demonstrate the educational benefit of student media production by taking advantage of increased access to relatively inexpensive media production tools.

In short, media education advocates must satisfy the needs of educators by articulating a clear sense of purpose supported by engaging and rewarding practices that are at least initially compatible with school cultures. They must be willing to collect and disseminate compelling evidence that the time spent with media education enhances educational opportunities for students.

Advocates know that media education shows promise as both a support strategy and a catalyst for school change. But good intentions and heartwarming stories are not enough. Successful media education programs are marked by a willingness to take the difficult steps that will prove the worth of media education over time. Educational institutions are some of the most traditional and hidebound in society. For most educators, media education is still a new idea in an arena where the acceptance of new ideas is a never-ending struggle. It takes great dedication and tenacity to change schools and to improve teaching and learning, day by day. Those who are involved in school change efforts know this. Media educators are only beginning to learn.


References Gauntlett, David (1998). Ten things wrong with the 'effects' model. In Dickinson, R., Harindranath, R. & Linné, O., eds (1998), Approaches to Audiences - A Reader. London: Arnold. URL accessed November 2002,

Author Bio: 

Kathleen Tyner is a leading American media educator who lives in San Francisco. She is the author of Literacy in a Digital World: Teaching and Learning in the Age of Information. (#1045) and has participated internationally in forums for UNESCO, the British Film Institute, Universidad Naticionales Educaciones Distancia (Madrid), and the World Council for Media Education. This article, published here with permission of the author, originally appeared in the Spring 2000 issue of Telemedium in preparation for Summit 2000, an international conference on "Children, Youth and the Media" in Toronto, Ontario.