Dangerous Times: Media Education for Civic Engagement
Martin Laba, Simon Fraser University, School of Communication (Canada)
As Orwellian terminologies become an actual part of prevailing political discourse, the need for rigorous and robust media education has never been more urgent and consequential. If we fully address the broader societal resonances in phrases such as “post-truth”, or “alternative facts”, and if we also fully comprehend the erosion of democratic values in the rise of aggrieved nativist populism and demagoguery, then media education can be regarded as nothing less than custodian of the foundations and progress of pluralistic democratic society.
It is critical that media education be designed and revised in ways that continually reconstruct learning environments as models of democratization and civic participation. Media education then, is meant to be socially transformative, an aspiration and purpose articulated and demonstrated in the theoretical and methodological antecedents of contemporary media education (Dewey and Freire). Yet, media education is not bound by a set of canons or time-honoured principles as with other traditional disciplines. Indeed, media education defies canonization because it changes dramatically with the dynamism of media technologies and environments; that is, in the accelerated pace of technological change, in the networked expansion of media and popular cultures, in globalized economic and cultural flows, in the alarms around privacy and surveillance, in the profusion of clickbait and fake news, and in the extraordinary influence of social media that can be both narcissistic time-suck and lubricant for social movements.
This paper offers both theoretical and methodological analysis and recommendations toward pedagogical approaches that instigate civic engagement and purpose, and that are situated in, and driven by understandings of digital media environments. It argues for pedagogies that are “horizontal”—collaborative and participatory--that minimize authoritarian structures and methods, and that above all, demonstrate media as forceful instruments of social change. Students are infinitely more media savvy and technologically adroit than their teachers, and the popular culture of students is one of immersion in digital media. In Nineteen Eight-Four, Big Brother’s thugs broke down dissidents with violence by forcing them to accept that 2 + 2 = 5. Media education directed to civic engagement is a powerful corrective in the era of "post-turth".