How can children in the 21st century determine fact from fiction when they are bombarded with information via social media, television, radio, the internet, publications, and even photography? How are they to learn from what they are seeing and hearing?
Enter Frank Baker, creator of a nationally recognized media literacy resource website, as well as an author and educator who has written teaching standards for the South Carolina Department of Education on the topic of media literacy.
Frank’s entrance into media literacy, which he defines as applying critical thinking to all media messages, started while he was working in the Orlando County public school system in Florida. Frank, as buyer of film and videos for classroom use, recognized students were not being asked “pre-viewing questions” or introduced to new vocabulary they might hear prior to watching or listening to media in the classroom. Further, he noticed that no one discussed visuals observed in the media or asked any “post-viewing questions.” In short, Frank realized education was being taught with the help of media but not about the media. From there his investigation into critical viewing skills, a component of media literacy, began.
Although media literacy is and will continue to be an important concept for the classroom, it is especially pertinent to the current societal circumstances. So many parents now faced with the possibility of ongoing distance learning are functioning as surrogate teachers for their children’s at-home classrooms, often in addition to working from home. Where parents were previously attempting to limit media and technology access at home, they must now use both as part of a student’s curriculum.
Frank believes this comes with an added responsibility to teach children how media works. “Every time a child sits in front of a TV, a parent, guardian, or other adult should be ‘co-viewing’ to talk about what they are seeing,” he says. Children should ultimately grow from what they are viewing by using the media as a catalyst to further learning. He feels parents must help children analyze the words, images, and sounds in the media they are viewing or hearing and ask questions: “Do you think a toy horse really walks?” or “Is pizza a healthy choice?”
Frank’s study of media literacy has truly been a journey, from his start conducting workshops on media literacy to becoming an author of four books on the subject to hosting nationwide workshops for students and educators. His extensive knowledge helps students and teachers better understand and appreciate how media can influence and persuade. His desire to educate others on the importance of media literacy resulted in Frank collaborating on a bill that, if passed, would strengthen media literacy in South Carolina classrooms.
Frank’s neighbor, S.C. Rep. Seth Rose, a co-sponsor of the bill, said in order to properly educate a growing number of students accessing information online, they need the right skills to determine fact from fiction. “We know more and more children are getting their information from social media and all the platforms, so there’s a real concern out there that we want to make sure our children can distinguish a fact from fiction.” The bill is currently in committee.