In our “Managed Minds” series of featured articles (”Blinded by Science,” March 1, “Political History,” April 12 and, in this edition, “War of Words") by Dennis Myers, we have discussed the way we are manipulated by misrepresentation of science, rewriting of history and abuse of language.
Does it matter? We think it does.
“And the fact that we are systematically misinforming our students about biology is not going to equip them well to compete in this new century,” says science writer Chris Mooney.
Vietnam veteran George Swiers wrote of the danger if the truth of that war was rewritten: “If we do not speak of it, others will surely rewrite the script. Each of the body bags, all of the mass graves will be opened and their contents abracadabraed into a noble cause.”
When language is abused, we frequently find ourselves pitted against each other. “It seemed from the start that the aim on all sides was to achieve conflict rather than mutual understanding or consensus,” wrote scholar Robin Tolmach Lakoff of one public dispute over language.
There is a remedy. It’s called media literacy. It teaches children critical thinking so they will recognize when a breakfast cereal company or a presidential candidate is trying to manipulate them through the myriad tools available.
“The United States is the only developed nation in the world that does not mandate media literacy as part of its public-school curriculum,” writes author Douglas Rushkoff, who knows the techniques of manipulation intimately from his work as a media consultant. Those techniques, he wrote, “are rapidly spreading from the sales floor and the television screen to almost every other aspect of our daily experience.”
According to Washoe County School District language coordinator Kristi Pettengill, “[W]e do teach media literacy in the middle and high schools in that we teach students how to analyze and create workplace and consumer documents and critique propaganda and argumentative speech and text.”
That raises the question of whether it starts early enough. Manipulation is aimed at small children by breakfast cereal manufacturers, toy companies, comic books, video arcades and a whole host of other influences. By middle school, patterns of thought may already be set. As in other nations, media literacy instruction should begin in kindergarten.
In the United States, according to one media literacy organization, only in one state (Texas) is media literacy thoroughly integrated throughout the school curriculum—English/language, health and science, history and social sciences, and so on.