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Making Comics, Making Media Literacy

Authored by: Antonio López

International Handbook of Media Literacy Education

Print publication date:  May  2017
Online publication date:  April  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138645493
eBook ISBN: 9781315628110
Adobe ISBN: 9781317240068


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In the 15-plus years that I have worked as a media educator I have witnessed major tension between advocates of media arts education and media literacy. Some of these conflicts can be attributed to cultural and professional differences between media artists, educators, and activists. My own in-depth research, which combined ethnographic and document studies, shows how these differences specifically manifest in policy and curriculum development in North America, but are also present in international settings (López 2014). In short, media literacy practitioners tend to factionalize and perceive their work as belonging to particular “territories,” which often creates real and perceived boundaries of acceptable practice. My own particular focus was to understand why environmental issues were generally not considered an integral component of media education, despite concerns for other social issues that often occupy media educators (i.e., gender identity, social justice, democratic participation, and racism). Broadly speaking, my research demonstrates that there is a clear difference in approach between what I identify as “center” and “periphery” media literacy education organizations and practitioners. The center (“educationalist”) represents approaches and methods working within mainstream education, and the periphery (“interventionist”) relates to those practices taking place in informal environments, such as afterschool programs, social centers, or nonprofit media centers. While educationalists focus on harmonizing media literacy education with government policy and official education standards (i.e., Common Core State Standards Initiative), interventionists are often marginalized, either because they are activists, or because they work in the media arts. This dichotomy needs to be problematized and reconsidered, in particular because overall changes in education reflect a bigger push toward technology, math and science (STEM), and de-emphasizes liberal arts and humanities. This means that as media literacy educators are pulled more into the “center,” there is a danger that media arts and activist work will be increasingly sidelined. Unfortunately, as the periphery has largely been the realm of youth media programs, now many activist and arts-based programs are being impacted by a decrease in funding for nonprofits, policy shifts, and changes in everyday ways that people use media technology. Since completing my research, one of the main peripheral organizations I studied shuttered because of a lack of funding and support.

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