A cautionary tale?

I confess to a grave reservation about popular culture being dumped indiscriminately into classrooms without some form of accompanying critique. It’s the ‘serious educational discourse’ (Giroux & Simon, 1989, p. ix) part that I’m interested in***.

*** referencing a quote from my previous “Pop Culture in Schools” post:

“We are advised to incorporate popular culture, not merely as a ‘hook’ or a ‘gimmick’ but as a ‘serious educational discourse into the school curriculum’ (Giroux & Simon, 1989, p. ix).”

Our national curriculum is built upon student-led inquiry, multimodality and digital literacies but who leads students in their choices about popular media? I applaud the educational use of social media to enhance communication opportunities and strengthen home-school links; I’m all for student autonomy and student voice in my teaching spaces; but what really drives the dissemination of media to children? Peer pressure? Hollywood or dot com marketing juggernauts? Other commercial interests? I don’t expect my students to like what I like or to value what I value. Nor do I wish to spoil their fun or undermine their various senses of significance. As a responsible educator however, I have a duty to impart a mindfulness about the purpose of the various tools and texts which confront and entertain them and the values by which these are underscored.

Children Thinking

“Values, Money and Me” by Experian [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0] via Experian’s Values, Money and Me website

Resources to support Critical Media Pedagogies

“Critical media literacy is an educational response that expands the notion of literacy to include different forms of mass communication, popular culture, and new technologies. It deepens the potential of literacy education to critically analyze relationships between media and audiences, information, and power. Along with this mainstream analysis, alternative media production empowers students to create their own messages that can challenge media texts and narratives.”

(Kellner & Share, 2007, p. 60)

There is a growing body of scholarly research in this area. The article from which the excerpt above is taken provides a good starting point for background reading. Kellner and Share (2007) discuss the theoretical basis for developing critical media literacy and four approaches to teaching it.

The Centre for Media Literacy (2011) offers the following perspective:

“What is important to understand is that media literacy is not about “protecting” kids from unwanted messages. Although some groups urge families to just turn the TV off, the fact is, media are so ingrained in our cultural milieu that even if you turn off the set, you still cannot escape today’s media culture. Media no longer just influence our culture. They ARE our culture.

Media literacy, therefore, is about helping students become competent, critical and literate in all media forms so that they control the interpretation of what they see or hear rather than letting the interpretation control them.”

(Source:  Centre for Media Literacy website)

The Centre’s website offers newsletters, publications and a comprehensive range of resources for the teaching of critical media literacy. They also maintain a YouTube channel.

You will also find comprehensive critical media literacy lesson plans at ReadWriteThink, covering topics such as TV Programs and Commercial Advertising.

For a host of further resources, visit the website for Canada’s eighth annual Media Literacy Week (November 4-8, 2013) promoted by MediaSmarts and the Canadian Teachers’ Federation.


Featured Image:Warm Breeze” by Mike Bitzenhofer on Flickr [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]


Giroux, H. A., & Simon, R. I. (1989). Popular Culture, Schooling, and Everyday Life. New York: Bergin & Garvey.

Kellner, D. & Share, J. (2007). Critical media literacy is not an option. Learning Inquiry,1, (59-69). Springer.


One thought on “Pop Culture in Schools: Blowing seeds of doubt

  1. Pingback: Pop Culture in Schools: Winds of change | The Grapevine

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