Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Brave- A follow up to Disney World

In my last post I wrote about how Disney films should be looked at with a critical eye and that I believe children should be taught how to use a critical lens (as opposed to being subjected to constant censorship). After watching the film Brave, I feel that Disney is finally hearing the rumbles of a critical society. Merida, the main character is much more independent and intelligent than any previous princess portrayed by the Disney corporation. So, we finally have a strong female character. What about everyone else in the film, though?

Although Disney has made some major strides in portraying Merida in a more modern light, almost all of the other characters are still portrayed through a stereotypical lens. The king is a large, bumbling, beastly man. The other men in the film (the clans) are animalistic and crude. The serving staff are portrayed as confused, stressed and ignorant. In some sense, there are some great things about this movie, but I think it would be important to still have children analyze the roles of the other characters. Why is it that Merida gets a great role, whereas everyone else lacks depth and character development?

It's a Disney World

Like most young girls in the United States, I grew up watching Disney movies. I think I probably dressed up like a Disney princess for Halloween one year, I may have been Cinderella. I honestly don't remember which character I was. Although I liked Disney, I never felt like I was a hardcore fan. I had friends who were (and still are) huge fans. They own and watch all of the movies repeatedly, have the soundtracks memorized, and travel to Disney World at least once a year. I actually find it really interesting that a number of grown adults are still just as enthralled with Disney as they were when they were children.

I will admit, Disney does have something magical. There are certain elements of their films that really are enticing. There's also something really magical about Disney World. Similar to certain addictive chemicals found in fast food, Disney has got some kind of fairy dust that draws you in. I think the one element that gets me is the music. I'm not talking about song lyrics, but rather the enchanting scores that make you feel comfortable and hopeful. Does this mean that I eat up Disney movies like I eat a bag of chips? No. But it does mean that I feel conflicting emotions when it comes to "dealing" with Disney. On the one hand, I know it's bad for me, but on the other hand it doesn't get under my skin and make me want to stage a revolt. Disney should be as offensive as a lot of the horrendous media out there, say the promotion of the Confederate Flag, but for some reason I don't feel the same as I do about Disney as I feel about that flag and all it represents, but maybe I should. I watched Disney movies as a kid, and I don't feel like I got sucked into Princess Culture. But, I also had many other outside factors that impacted my life in a profound way. My mother went to college and worked full time when I was growing up. My grandmother worked in politics. So maybe these personal experiences and lessons outweighed what Disney wanted me to hear and learn? Or maybe, on a frightening note, Disney did affect me and I just don't realize it?...Also, I wonder if I'd feel differently if I were a person of color, or if I came from a less privileged family.

Having explored some of my feelings towards Disney, I have to ask the question- would I allow my own children to watch Disney movies? Maybe. Do I think some children are more impressionable than others? Yes. Do I want to support a racist, sexist agenda? No. However, I know a number of people who intentionally tried to prevent their children from watching Disney and acting as princesses, and you know what happened? They ended up wanting to be Princesses anyway. I know one family that was so anti-Disney... until they had three daughters. Those three daughters saw Frozen about a year after it was released. My friends tried to do everything they could in order to prevent the girls from seeing Frozen, but ultimately, because of so much outside influence they got to a point where it was just too difficult to say no. All of their friends had seen it. It was everywhere, from restaurant memorabilia to department store clothing. So mom and dad watched it first, discussed the film with their daughters and finally allowed them to watch it.

So this becomes a question of resistance. Do many people feel like Disney isn't the best type of media for their children? Yes. But, are many people willing to stand their ground as film after film is released? No. Parents try to do what's best for their children, but often aren't willing to fight for something they feel kind of negatively about. But what if parents who feel that the lessons portrayed in Disney films are inappropriate chose to allow their children to watch these films, but also helped their children critique them? Similar to Linda Christensen's way of teaching students to think critically about Disney movies. Similar to the way that my friends first previewed Frozen and then discussed it with their children.

Maybe we can't stop the mass obsession with Disney, but what if we can teach children to think critically about what they watch? What if we can start to shift the tide? I agree with Christensen's call to action. Rather than censoring films and telling her students not to watch them, she asks them to look for themes and patterns.Christensen does this with older students, but I think this is something that could start at an earlier age.

I think that when I have my own children I will most likely allow them to watch Disney movies. But what I'll encourage them to do as they watch will be to ask questions. One lesson that comes from Christensen's work is the need to ask questions. If we teach our children (both our own children and our students) to ask questions and really think about what they're watching, we will all be better for it.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Boyd Vs. Wesch- Interesting perspectives on what it means to be a "digital native"

Danah Boyd brings a truly interesting perspective to the term "digital native." In chapter 7 of her book, It's Complicated, Boyd breaks down some of the assumptions and implications that come along with the digital native terminology. She offers an interesting perspective, claiming that not all students are as technologically savvy as we may think. Boyd says that teachers need to reconsider their approach when it comes to teaching kids about how to use digital media. One glaring problem, according to Boyd, is that all students have not been taught how to appropriately decipher the information they are consuming online. Often students do not know how to differentiate a reputable source from others that may not be as scholarly.

Boyd uses the example of Google, stating that many children and adults don't realize that Google is a for-profit company with many different people (and robots) working behind the scenes to produce search results. The author argues that if we neglect to teach students about how to make sense of the media they are seeing on a day to day basis, we are robbing them of a tremendously valuable education. To assume that all kids know how to use technology as a learning tool is naive and beyond unfortunate. Boyd argues that we need to establish a way of teaching students to be more analytical when it comes to their use of online sources. 

Mike Wesch, a digital commons blogger, makes many of the same points as Boyd. He argues that we no longer need to supply students with knowledge, but rather, we need to help students understand how to use the knowledge available to them. Similar to Boyd, Wesch argues that students need to learn analysis and meaning-making skills. They need to learn to interpret the texts presented.

The point at which these two authors diverge is in the recognization of the fact that students from varying socioeconomic backgrounds come into class with more or less experience using technology in their every day lives. Wesch seems to assume that all students will come into class as tech-savvy learners, well equipped with the materials and experience necessary to take the next steps. Boyd argues that students who come from more privileged backgrounds have a greater starting point and a great advantage, but many less-privileged students are still in a place where they don't know how to create a Word document, etc. Boyd recognizes the diversity of student's experiences, whereas Wesch fails to do so. 

From my own experience in a rural/suburban school district,  I find that Boyd has many points that resonate strongly with me. I have students who come from very privileged families and have access to all types of technology. However, I also have students who come from homes where they don't have access to a computer or smartphone. I've had students who don't know how to open a Word document. So I see both ends of the spectrum. After some reflection, I would have to say that the term "digital native" is too general and fails to consider the diverse backgrounds of students. Additionally, I would say that I have to agree with both authors when it comes to the need to teach students to think critically about the media they are consuming. I think this applies to all types of media (not just social media). I'm left wondering how I can do more to incorporate these needs into my own instruction...

Definitely a Digital Immigrant

Although I consider myself to be somewhat knowledgeable when it comes to using technology, I am most definitely a digital immigrant. I do not naturally think or work digitally, I still like paper and pencils. I also like the smell of a good book.

I do have a Facebook account, but rarely post or update my status. I cannot stand the feeling of being tied to social media and I consider avid users of social media to be highly attention seeking.


I like what this other reluctant blogger has to say about social media. Here's another link to a similar blog post.

I basically use technology because I have to, it's the dirrection in which the world is moving and I don't want to be left behind.

But, I often wonder about how social media is affecting those who are more introverted (like myself). Why should we be forced to engage in this brightly lit world of constant contact? What if I don't really care about what all of my "friends" are doing at all times? I think that social media can be a good outlet for kids (and adults) who may be more shy in person. But for me, I genuinely need to feel disconnected sometimes.

I like this video about introverts:


Now, I don't want to sound like a grumpy complainer. I really have one foot on either side of the digital line. I see many opportunites and great things that will (and already have) come out of this brave new world. However, I do approach it with caution, similar to any immigrant coming to a new world, afraid to lose all of my history and traditions.  I'm not so sure I like all of the changes that have come about because of an increase in technology. 

I'm actually grateful that I didn't grow up in this digital time, I think my experiences will enable me to obtain more balance and reflectiveness when it comes to the constant wave of new technology. 

First Post for Media Literacy (Sumer 2015)

Hi, my name is Brittany. I am using an old blog from a previous course, so don't be alarmed if you see lots of other posts here.

I am a 7th grade geography teacher. We just wrapped up the school year last Friday. It was a good year with a lot of really fun and unique students. I would say that the students I had this past year had more personality and spirit than any students from previous years. Altough the students were great, it was a very loooong year.

So I'm ready to jump into this course and dig right in. I think it will actually be good that I haven't had a break in between, as I'm still in school mode. Once I've finished this course I plan on having a relaxing and lazy summer. I've forgotten what it feels like to not have to live by a never-ending to-do list. I'm envisioning a lot of time spent in the sun with my dog, Sadie.