Media literacy

I want media literacy…and more. One Reply to Danah Boyd


Tech specialist Danah Boyd recently delivered a keynote at SXSW Edu 2018 on Media Literacy. His main argument was that (in his own words): “if we are not careful, media literacy and critical thinking will be deployed as an assertion of authority over epistemology”. Many scholars took issue with his speech and boyd wrote them this response. Visiting researcher in the LSE’s Department of Media and Communication and education expertIoanna Noula, explains her point of view on the question and explains why she thinks boyd is wrong.

Danah Boyd sparked heated debate with her recent keynote address at SXSW Edu 2018, where she strongly questioned the power of media literacy to build individual agency and tackle ecosystem asymmetries. media that erode democratic life. His argument about the inadequacy of media literacy to empower young people and his assertion that media literacy and critical thinking could actually make people more vulnerable to manipulative media practices was particularly provocative for media literacy advocates, who quickly responded to this criticism by offering evidence of success in educational settings and insights into critical thinking.

In his response to the criticisms, boyd emphasized his criticism of critical thinking stating that “if we are not careful, media literacy and critical thinking will be deployed as an assertion of authority over epistemology”. I find it particularly bizarre that, although critical thinking is central to her argument, boyd does not provide a clear explanation of what she means by critical thinking. This omission, together with the lack of references to examples of media literacy pedagogy and practice, points to a lack of informed understanding of contemporary realities in education. It seems to follow a monolithic interpretation of critical thinking as the skills of formal and informal logic that apparently draws from the tradition of positivism that has shaped common definitions of critical thinking. Positivist approaches combine critical thinking with the ability to evaluate information, identify sources and/or assess their reliability and credibility, and rationally determine truth, error, or fabrication.

Critical mind. Are you missing the point?

Boyd obviously associates critical thinking with the human predisposition or learned ability to cast doubt on everything. She criticizes formal education for sowing doubt in the minds of students, arguing that it is this disposition that the media take advantage of to manipulate the public. In this line of argument, his assertion that critical thinking is the dominant pedagogical approach in schools, and his radical rejection of the concept, contradicts critical pedagogical research and theory which holds that critical thinking and its pedagogical application remain topics widely debated in education scholarship, and a matter for pedagogical practice. Boyd fails to stress the crucial point that critical thinking has become a general and rather misused term in educational curricula, and that for different educational theorists and practitioners, critical thinking acquires different meanings. These approaches to critical thinking range from narrow logistical understandings (critical thinking as the “rules of inference and judgment characteristic of logical analysis”) to emancipatory perspectives from critical theory (critical thinking as ability to decipher social inequalities, class struggle and power relations). .

Proponents of critical pedagogy—a movement on the fringes of educational theory—argue that the prevalent rational approach to critical thinking is an already perverted version of the concept. Their view is that simply focusing on assessment and logical decision-making undermines education’s mission to empower students and galvanize social change. Henry Giroux argues that critical thinking has been widely misused to mask the advancement of dominant ideologies. Rather, Critical Pedagogues advocates that critical thinking should encourage students to engage reflectively, deliberatively, and relationally with their lifeworld, allowing them to explore the ambiguities and moral drivers of human action.

In her response to critical reactions from scholars and education experts such as Renee Hobbs, boyd attempts to defend his thesis, but contradicts his original argument. In his original speech, Boyd argues that critical thinking consists of the simple defense of epistemological points of view. However, his allusion to the possibility and benefits of a “cognitive disconnect” that would allow individuals to appreciate facts rather than misinformation, is indicative of his own positivist approach to critical thinking. At the same time, his suggestion that people should not be curious about the intentions behind messages implicates the irrelevance of ethics in his argument and further obscures the role of power and self-interest as drivers. of human behavior that create inequality and establish dominance. companies. It should be noted that a lack of curiosity is characteristic of many skills-based approaches to media literacy.

What about education?

Revealing his position regarding the socio-political role of education and its potential to solve the problem of ‘fake news’, Boyd says: “When I try to untangle the threads to really solve the problem of so-called ‘fake news I always end up in two places: 1) dismantling financialized capitalism (which is also behind some of the toughest tech business dynamics); 2) reconnecting the social fabric of society by strategically connecting people. But neither are recommendations for educators.

I couldn’t agree more with his view that the current socio-political reality represents most of the challenge of “fake news”. However, boyd’s assertion above is that social change is beyond the remit of education, and I’m not sure many educational theorists and practitioners would agree with that point. seen. His approach clashes not only with critical sociological approaches to education, but also with the majority of the dominant educational theories which approach the school as an apparatus of social reproduction.

At this point, I wish to draw attention to the theory of critical pedagogy which highlights the role of education in driving social change and also places critical thinking at the heart of the development of self-awareness. Critical thinking is indeed seen as the main catalyst for social change. Critical pedagogy locates the origins of critical thinking in pedagogical relationships, asserting that critical thinking begins with students recognizing oppressive relationships and becoming aware of their own place in social structures. This focus on oppression provides an answer to Boyd’s concerns about gaslighting through education.

By declaring Critical Pedagogy as my theoretical and epistemological point of view, I may seem to confirm Boyd’s main point that critical thinking consists of a battle of epistemologies. However, one of the fundamental tenets of critical pedagogy is that education and critical thinking should aim to encourage self-reflection and self-awareness. This process aims to enable students to recognize, understand and contextualize their own epistemological biases rejected by boyd.

Doubt and criticism

It seems that Boyd’s failure to theorize the concept of critical thinking subverts the current debate on media literacy and obscures the ideological issues at stake. Boyd’s argument about the dangers of media literacy is based on an unnuanced equation of critical thinking with the elements of doubt and criticism. It is true that like the notion of empowerment, doubt and criticism have also been co-opted and distorted in favor of commercial and political agendas, including radicalization. Doubt and criticism can be dangerous when presented as skills in their own right and cultivated in competitive class environments that support the socio-cultural premise of neoliberalism. Doubt and criticism can be toxic when driven by arrogance and strong loyalty. They can be a game-changer when used in a spirit of openness and modesty that can be cultivated in an inclusive and participatory learning environment. Doubt and criticism must be values ​​and acts that emanate from dialogue and serve the objective of social justice. To this end, they must be recognized, debated and examined equally for the purpose they serve in a given context, but they must always be recognized as indispensable to educational processes that seek to challenge the status quo.

This article gives the author’s point of view and does not represent the position of the LSE Media Policy Project blog, nor of the London School of Economics and Political Science.

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