Douglas Crets


Giving Credibility to the Shadow Education System

Media Literacy is the New Diploma and What You Can Do About It

Here’s a broad wash of the brush: The future will be constructed by people who can demonstrate their ideas to a wide audience and find their peers for projects in that wide audience. The future is about building a community around an idea, and the best tools for that are online technology and media, and smartphones that allow many people to connect to each other’s content and personas.

media literacy social media revolutions learning curriculum digital

Getty Image: A teacher shows a student the future

We’ve seen the power of youth yielding social media tools. Look at the massive shifts in hierarchy and decisionmaking, and the overpowering of autocratic state leaders –what the Chinese call the Jasmine Revolution — occurring in North Africa and the Middle East.

Back in New York, there’s hope that a literary revolution is being born and this revolution is not about unseating state power. It’s about forming new traditions of literacy to help buy thousands of teens in inner city schools freedom from restrictive learning environments and a ticket to a more productive future.

Writing gets them there. Today, I talked with two of the co-founders of Power Writers, Amy Sultan and Roland Legiardi-Laura, about building up a campaign for boosting literacy in at-risk youth in New York City. I was amazed by a few things they are planning to do, and which I am going to try to help them achieve (but more on that at another time).

What I took away from this morning was a strong conviction that school is not helpful in its current model for thousands of inner-city youths who find the process boring, not about them, and rife with contradictions. For whole neighborhoods of “urban youth,” school is written in a kind of cold that pays honorifics to distant literary traditions and gives some short shrift to the functioning literacy of world they live in now.

And it’s kind of a shame. It’s not like the content that speaks closest to their vernacular does not exist. It just exists outside the box called school. They are already working socially with smartphones and new media to contribute and connect with people that gather around a theme. But as my recent article pointed out, those phones are not really allowed, due to fears of misuse and a lack of control of the technology.

School doesn’t manage learning in this way. Instead it focuses on a factory model that standardizes information and expects everyone to reach a common set of benchmarks. School, is about mental and managerial control of students, not about discipline and the creation of mental attitudes that foster change, evolution and creativity.

You’ve seen Ken Robinson’s video, right?

Kids today see a future that begins by working with the following assumptions:

Reputation rules. Qualifications and certifications in the new century will be focused on being able to digitally display work in a portfolio style, and in that sense “show your work.” Showing one’s work requires a functional literacy that goes well and beyond being able to read, recall and regurgitate the literature of a collective past. It’s something that a lot of students have taught themselves, but is given no legitimacy, because the school system guardians see that as outside the box.

Teenage learners work by building collaborative mental processing power and gaining access to online media, not by regurgitating the past by using old books and texts that are gatekeeper-monitored. Students see through this code. They see that all they are essentially being trained to hold information in their head in order to spit it out for a test.

A digital media, or a media and society embedded in something called the social graph, is one that allows each individual to pursue a future that incorporates their passions and helps them turn an avocation into a vocation. You can not only show your work in this model, but you can create your job. That’s what kids are teaching themselves. People like Roland and Amy are working on ways to scale that idea. They work with the idea that if a student cannot learn to create his or her own story, and subsequently his or her passionate interests, someone will do that for them. The results will not be dignified. The results will perpetuate a cycle of poverty, disempowered identities, and stasis.

outsider media maven arianna huffington social media learning

This is what people like the immigrant media maven Arianna Huffington has figured out. My instinct tells me that she formed her transferred sense of identity through consumption of mainstream media. But as she lived here for a while, she began to sense some kind of jarring disconnect between her sense of self and what she was being told was real.

As an outsider with tremendous ambition and creativity, she transformed her self, and her politics, through blog writing and creating access to local production of media. She gave that platform to other people, and they pushed it along, building an alternate voice of reason and identity.

Where did that get her? It got her an avocation worth $315 million to AOL. It’s the future of media, and it is more than media, in a way. It’s a self-education process, done live. It will produce the ability to offer live credentialing of the individual, based on production and reputation.

It won’t be about what school you go to. It will be about the school of thought you create.

So, what can you do about this new media literacy fast approaching? For one — and it’s really the one big ask — you need to empower students to write and tell their own stories in new media, and offer them access to the kinds of online media generation tools that help them create their future. It’s not about the schoolbooks and chalk anymore.

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One Response

  1. Noeline Wright says:

    be good to examine this when I visit re at risk youth in NY. A bit distracted right now by earthquakes and effects in Christchurch NZ today

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