by Andrew Lynn
Mainstream developers of media and technology—large corporations—have little interest in transforming passive consumers into active, media literate producer-citizens. Educators have a responsibility to help our students become aware of their ability to affect change and read between the lines.
In 2005, media educators at Manhattan Neighborhood Network’s Youth Channel (YC) developed a workshop that expands on the core concepts of basic media literacy to build critical thinking skills. The workshop, Mind Over Media, helps students examine media economics, the relationship between media control and democracy, and the need for independent information outlets. It is facilitated, free of charge, by YC peer trainers; the materials and guidebook are available online to educators worldwide. Peer trainers travel throughout New York City with a laptop and a portable projector to conduct workshops with youth groups in a wide variety of settings and communities.
Peer-lead workshops should be as hands-on as possible. Our production-based trainings feature exercises that allow young people to learn production techniques by doing them. The Mind Over Media workshop has interactivity built in. It uses images and video to explain points, call-and-response identification exercises to demonstrate media saturation, brief worksheets to allow expression of personal opinions, and physical movement to keep things energized.
When YC peer trainers engage a group of young people, they ask the students to put on their critical thinking caps and consider the following questions:
"Democracy is a big question," according to trainer Derrick Dawkins, "and linking it with media is crucial." Participants leave the workshop with some basic knowledge that can help them navigate the daily barrage of media messages and get on the path toward creating their own communications:
From media saturation and branding to the economics of TV and its target audiences, the workshop’s slides and discussion build on basic concepts to foster advanced media literacy. Why do corporations own many media outlets that reach different demographics, and what factors determine the content (or the censorship of content) on a given channel? What are the names of these corporations—and what part of me do they own?
The presentation ends with an animation produced by Nicky Robare, a young media-maker from Oregon, titled The News Is What We Make It. The trainers use the animation to talk about independent media and the importance of many diverse voices and opinions in a democracy. At one point, the clay figure who is the star of Nicky’s animation explains to her friends, "If there was one person who decided to tell you that two plus two equals five, you wouldn’t believe her, right? Well, that’s because there are plenty of other people to tell you that it equals four. But if that one person was the only person you could ever ask, you would probably believe her just because you didn’t have any other options." To learn more about the workshop, view the entire Mind Over Media presentation or download the print materials and guidebook (Macintosh).
We are consistently booking three or four Mind Over Media workshops each month and receiving a lot of positive feedback. Adult educators who observe the workshop seem to agree that it packages several crucial lessons into one visual and interactive format that connects a lot of dots. Much of the positive feedback is due to our dedicated team of peer educators.
It is crucial that youth media exist not only within the realm of education but also as part of a movement for media democracy. Youth Channel, with its ties to national and international youth media organizations and PEG access networks, is a primary hub for distribution of youth-produced media through cable access stations and the Internet. We want to ensure that media made by youth and for youth reaches its intended audience. We are also committed to providing training opportunities to serve the communities in greatest need of access to media and technologies, working with the young people who are most affected by the widening digital divide and whose voices are most likely to be silenced by the corporate mainstream.