And the winner is?

There were four movies that stood out in my mind about education in 2010: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1, The Social Network, True Grit, and The King's Speech. These movies had a common theme that did not jump out until I started thinking about them as a whole. In each of these movies the main characters were able to do extraordinary achievements without the traditional education, credentials, or certifications one would expect of such people. Is our media sending out a signal that education as we know it is no longer necessay? Let me explain.

True Grit: while Rooster Cogborn was a Federal Marshal, he did not have the benefit of law enforcement training. His skill came by experience and not all of it as a law abiding citizen. Marshal Cogburn could be forgiven since there was no such thing as law enforcement training just after the American Civil War. However, the character that impressed me was 15-year old Mattie Ross. This young lady, without a high school diploma much less a college degree, was able to skillfully negotiate business deals with more experienced adults and get what she wanted. Mattie probably would make Lawyer J. Noble Dagget squirm in a courtroom.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Harry, Hermione Granger, and Ron Weasley drop out of Hogwarts, believing the school could teach them nothing more about how to battle the evil Lord Voldermort. This would be like three 1940's teens dropping out of high school after their junior year to go fight Adolph Hitler and the Nazis on their own during World War II. Of course they had excellent role models in Fred and George Weasley who committed the greatest school prank in education history as they dropped out of Hogwarts to go into business in Diagon Alley.

The Social Network: most people now know Mark Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard to work on making Facebook the most popular social network in the Internet. There were two other characters in the movie who did not have the benefit of a college degree and did rather well. One was Bill Gates, another Harvard dropout who went on to build Microsoft into a dominate software company. The other character was Sean Parker who did not even darken the doors of a college (unless to party) but changed the music industry forever by creating Napster.

Finally, The King's Speech: Lionel Logue was able to help King George VI's stuttering problem after other experts had failed. The problem was Logue was not an accredited speech therapist, a fact the King's advisors pointed out as they pressured the new king to drop Logue for "expert" speech therapists. Logue was an actor who got his start using acting techniques to help World War I veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (then known as Shell Shock) speak again. No formal training, just techniques that worked from experience. It was those techniques that helped King George VI give a speech that rallied the British Empire during the dark days of World War II.

Much has been said that there needs to be a fundamental shift in education, especially given the current economic conditions. I have heard the students who learn how to master the art of learning as they create new ideas will be the most successful in the future. It will be this type of student who will be able to work in the as yet unknown career fields traditional schools cannot foresee much less prepare for. There is so much knowledge available for free that, some say, colleges are not necessary. With movies like True Grit, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, The Social Network, and The King's Speech is it possible that our media is preparing people for a change or is it reflecting changes already occurring?

Martian Invasion Warning

Last night I was listening to Orsen Wells and the Mercury Theater on the Air's adaptation of H.G. Wells War of the Worlds. This is the 1938 broadcast over the CBS network that created nation-wide panic as listeners believed Earth was being invaded by Martians. When I first heard the broadcast in the early seventies it scared the wits out of me. From that moment on, I was intrigued that a radio broadcast could panic not only a little kid but the entire nation.

After the broadcast, Orsen Wells told reporters there was no intent to create the chaos that ensued during the hour the play aired. Wells also said he was surprised people would believe there was an invasion from Mars. Years later, Wells told the BBC that he secretly wanted to demonstrate that people were too willing to believe what they heard on the radio and later television. Script writer Howard Koch, who later won an Oscar for the screenplay of Casablanca, reflected Well's sentiment in a PBS All Things Considered interview (Part 1, Part 2). Koch claimed that schools were doing a poor job in teaching kids how to think for themselves.

Could a hoax on the scale of what Orsen Wells pulled off in 1938 happen today. The answer is yes. In fact it already has happened. CNN posted a report that Apple CEO Steve Jobs suffered a major heart attack. This report triggered a massive sell off of Apple stock driving stock prices way down for about an hour before the hoax was revealed. It was later learned a teen posted the fake story CNN picked up as a joke. This story also raised concerns about the validity of "Citizen Journalism." The lesson here is in this day of near instant information, people should check the validity of sources before acting on them.

As far as an invasion from Mars is concerned? Orsen Wells said at the end of War of the Worlds, "If someone rings your doorbell and is not there, it is not Martians. Its Halloween. Happy Halloween everyone.

War of the Worlds Broadcast Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7

Congress Gives Reason to Teach Media Literacy

Andy Carvin recently posted in PBS Teachers' Learning.Now that Congress has passed a rider to the Broadband Data Improvement Act that requires schools accepting federal funds to give mandatory online safety instruction. Schools receiving federal subsidies will have to provide education to students on appropriate online behavior and cyberbullying. ISTE has praised the move citing that "Education, not mandatory filtering and blocking, is the best way to protect and prepare America's students." While I am sure Congress will provide no funding for such an education program, this is a positive step. Readers of this blog have know that I have been advocating teaching media literacy so students can evaluate information for themselves so they can make better decisions.

I feel Library Media Specialists may have a problem with this move by Congress. Case in point: our seventh grade Language Arts teachers wanted to get a jump on preparing a research paper. This was done in part to prepare students for the writing portion of South Carolina's new PASS test which is given in March. The teachers approached our new LMS about helping with teaching research skills, something our previous LMS would have not done. One move that disturbed me was the fact she restricted students to using DISCUS, South Carolina's website of "approved" information sites on the web. Almost every LMS I know gets very irritated when students go to Google when starting a research project and nearly go ballistic when students land on Wikipedia. They always goad students to use DISCUS because they believe it is the end all be all of online research.

As I observed students using DISCUS while researching their various topics and holding my tongue at the same time. In fact, I was even assisting students in using DISCUS in finding information. The problem I saw was students were not getting enough information to write their papers. It was disturbing to me and students were getting frustrated. Later, I discussed the situation with the teacher of the class who agreed that information was limited but students would go home and use Google anyway. My next thought was, "What about the students who don't have Internet connected computers at home?"

This project continued to haunt me. Those who have read past posts in this blog know I have constantly advocated media literacy. I feel sites like DISCUS run counter to this need students have. Now before every LMS comes down to Bluffton to string me up we should think about this. Our news media is now becoming one-sided politically, either on the right as many believe Fox News is or on the left as MSNBC is making no secret of its left leaning bias. Unfortunately, our news media would still like for Americans to believe it is "fair and balanced." A print reporter told me earlier reporters need to be objective. That is nice until you are watching either Bill O'Reilly or Keith Olbermann. Then you need to have media literacy skills to properly determine if what they say is fact or opinion (actually it is entertainment). Also, so-called citizen journalism, such as blogging, is growing more and more but not necessarily for the better. The Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating on whether a blog post falsely claiming Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, had a massive heart attack was a deliberate and illegal attempt to influence stock prices for the benefit of parties unknown. While other online news sources refused to post the erroneous information, CNN's iReport did post the story causing a drop in stock prices.

The moral to this story is students need to see bad information and learn what makes it bad information. Students need to view two news sources with opposite points of view politically and learn how to verify the claims made by the two sources so an informed judgement can be reached. The days of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite are sadly over. They have been shoved aside by the likes of Keith Olbermann, Rush Limbaugh, Al Fraken, and Bill O'Reilley who are more interested in getting ratings by any means necessary. It would be sad the next President of the United States was elected because because the American People believed him to be a popular cult icon and not because they examined the issues and chose the candidate most matches their core beliefs.

Teaching Media Literacy

Wikipedia defines media literacy as "the process of accessing, analyzing, evaluating and creating messages in a wide variety of media modes, genres and forms." Former CBS news anchor Dan Rather calls for more education in media literacy. Andy Carvin of Learning.Now recently engaged in a conversation on his blog with students about how media literacy should be taught in schools. According to students who participated in the discussion there is agreement on the importance of consuming and producing media responsibly. How to teach responsible media literacy is different story. There seems to be three diverse groups. One group believes there should be separate courses on media literacy. Another group believes media literacy should be incorporated into courses on technology. A third group thinks media literacy should be incorporated into existing academic courses such as English or Social Studies. Other debates focused on when it should be taught. Considering students start creating original media content are marketed to at an early age, and politicians such as Howard Dean and Ron Paul signal a changes in the rules of politics by effectively using the Internet, media literacy should start in elementary schools and become standard in all curriculum at all levels.

When do you think media literacy should be taught and how?