"Media literacy is the ability to access, interpret, analyze, evaluate, and use all forms of media from direct mail pieces to newspaper articles and television advertisements to internet content. Media literacy includes understanding that because different people interpret messages in different ways, the media often change their message about the same product or issue to fit their intended audience." This definition from the National Middle School Association (NMSA) explains what media literacy is, and how messages can be manipulated to appeal to a certain type of audience. Because of the varying types of media messages and the young target audience of these messages, it is crucial to educate children about media literacy at a young age.
People become targets for the media as soon as they are able to watch television or take in an ad. This means that from early on people are exposed to numerous media messages everyday. According to Kaiser Family Foundation (1999), the average American child spends about thirty-eight hours every week engrossed in media entertainment. Despite the fact that this is nearly the same amount of time that the average child spends in school, many schools do not have a media literacy programs to educate children about these messages.
Adding a media literacy class to the curriculum for elementary and middle school children would be a good way to start educating young children about media messages. Since children are often targeted by the media, they should be formally educated on how to interpret and understand different types of media messages. However, if schools are not willing to add a new class to the curriculum, a different approach could be taken. The media does not target a specific topic or subject area; so, it would not be necessary to add an extra class specifically for media literacy. Teachers across disciplines could incorporate educating their students about media literacy in the different subjects they teach.
Currently, there are efforts being made to educate children about media literacy. The Center for Media Literacy (http://www.medialit.org/reading_room/article540.html) provides a short book about the developing media literacy and how to teach it to students. This is a starting point for teachers to discover the different aspects that make up media literacy and how to most effectively communicate to students about media literacy. In addition to educating children early on in schools, it is important to continue this type of education though high school and into college.
Media literacy is a constantly changing and evolving field. With new advances in technology, people need to be constantly educated about how to understand and interpret the media. For this reason, media literacy is a life long process. It is not sufficient to only offer it in middle school and then stop media literacy education when students move onto high school. Media literacy programs need to be incorporated into all subjects across the curriculum, and this process should begin early on in a child’s schooling and continue throughout the education process.