Teaching for Critical media Literacy


LINK TO ARCHIVED VERSION (cleaner due to porting difficulties)

Teaching for Critical Media Literacy 

Paul Arenson (2001 Kitakyushu)

JALT Conference, Friday, 23 November; Room 21B; 13:30-13:55:00; Short Paper



The conference version of this paper is intentionally shorter than the
online version, since references to online resources are best perused
online. I doubt that anyone relishes sitting at the computer and typing
in the URLS for the links and sources I cite, and so you will only find
a few essential links mentioned here. What I hope to share in this paper
is how and why I make use of so-called ?galternative media?hin the
foreign language classroom, with the online version containing links to
articles that have encouraged me to do so as well as examples of the
kind of media resources I use. This paper also discusses some of the
fears and concerns I have experienced while working with such material.
With that in mind, please understand that when I talk about alternative
media in the classroom, I am talking equally about the thought one needs
to put into how to use it.

Anti-Authoritarianism: An Early Rationale
 I have always been a person with activist tendencies. When I was a
high school student in New York City from 1967 to 1970, a friend with a
newborn baby had been arrested for refusing the military draft, and I
was debating with myself as well as my family–who supported m–whether I
would stay and follow in his footsteps or seek refuge in a third country
like Canada or Sweden if called upon by Uncle Sam to?gkill for peace?h. I
use this ironic term intentionally, because this was the dilemma many of
us faced at the time. Such contradictions abounded in a society where
assumed values such as compassion and freedom were manipulated in the
service of the military industrial complex.

Well, thankfully, my selective service number was something like 100 and
they only called up to 98 or 99 that year (they employed a lottery
system), and so I neither had to go into voluntary exile or be
imprisoned, and I eventually made my way into teaching. I was naturally
attracted to approaches such as Silent Way (SW) and Community Language
Learning (CLL) because they claimed, more than competing approaches at
the time, to foster ?gindependent learners?h, something which appealed
to the anti-authoritarian in me. Of course, nothing is black and white,
and I now know that even alternatives carry with them the seeds of dogma,
which can blind us in our mission to be free of other dogmas. An
interesting anecdote I want to share is that when pressed for
recommendations on materials and techniques for more advanced learners
(a discussion of which advocates of SW and CLL both seemed to skirt at
the time,) I was referred by both my SW and CLL mentors to the work of
another New Yorker, Bill Bernhardt and his workbook ?gJust Writing?h
.What this teaches me is that despite our differing visions and reasons
for doing what we do, there is often a broad area of agreement. I hope,
therefore, that what I have to say is of benefit even if we do not
necessarily agree on everything. [link 1: Alternative approaches]

Global Issues Not Initially an Issue
I have been in Japan since 1979, and for much of that time I did not
actively incorporate global issues into my teaching. My difficulty in
coming to terms with my role as an authority figure, given my dislike
for authoritarianism, was initially expressed in various subversive ways
within the narrow confines of how I taught English in a relatively
traditional classroom setting. For one thing, I tried to incorporate bits
and pieces of more ?glearner friendly?hmethodologies into my teaching,
emphasizing–like many of us now do–the communicative over drill work as
an end in itself. To this day, I shun textbooks where none are required
and find creative ways to use them where I have no choice. Sometimes I
have found that my approach has worked just as well as more traditional
approaches, but the reason for this may simply be that, as least at the
International Education Center (where students come for 3-6 hours a day
for two years and have a number of different teachers), no one of us can
do that much ?gdamage?h. By this I mean that many of us have strong,
often inflexible notions of what and how we should teach, but because
students get a chance to work with so many teachers in our program, no
one teacher or dogma tends to dominate. Students are probably grateful
to be able to have exposure to a variety of personalities and teaching
styles, and I do not claim that what I do works any sort of magic. If
everyone did everything the same way, I am sure it would be overkill.
[link 2: Where I teach]

In fact, if there is any consistency in how students respond to what I
do, it is that it is never predictable, and the same activities done
with two classes of similar ability during the same semester often
result in favorable reviews in one class and something very different in
the other.This alone should give one pause to doubt anyone who claims,
including me, that they have the answers to all your problems. All I can
do is share what works, at least sometimes, and my reasons for doing
it. I believe that more than anything, it is the attitude we bring to our
jobs that makes the most difference, and simply injecting a new activity
into one?fs daily routine rarely turns out to be as rewarding as it
first seems. That is why I am prefacing the main part of my presentation
with what must seem to be fairly tangential. If you can see where I am
coming from, perhaps it will suggest to you other solutions that will
work just as well, if not better, for you. I do not pretend to offer any
solutions, although I hope my views on the inadequacy of the mainstream
media will resonate with many of you and that we may even find some way
to build on our isolated, individual efforts that can be mutually useful.

Bringing the World Into the Classroom: An Early Rationale
While most of my teaching did not, until relatively recently, deal with
global issues in any consistent manner, it didn?ft take me long to feel
that there might be value in inviting the outside world into my
classroom. For one thing, it was forced upon me one evening when a
student–an adult in his thirties–reported on a seemingly innocuous
discussion his group had just had, noting without any hesitation the
dislikes of his classmates, which included

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