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No "Love Train" for media literacy in Philadelphia

By Samuel Reed III on Aug 2, 2011 12:30 PM
Photo: Fliker: two trains by Hammonton Photography

Get on board. The media literacy "Love Train" will be headed to Los Angeles in 2013.

I concede that my previous pitch for making media literacy relevant for K-12 educators has failed. And my call for making media and digital technologies essential for teaching and learning does not seem to be making traction in my hometown of Philadelphia in particular.
Last week I participated in NAMLE’s (National Association of Media Literacy Education), conference held at the Sheraton Hotel in Old City Philadelphia. The conference theme, Global Vision, Local Connections: Voices in Media Literacy Education, was put on display during the opening reception with a special presentation by “TSOP” – The Sound of Philadelphia; “people all over the world/ join hands/ start a love train, love train".
I was impressed with the presence of educators from China, and other parts of the world who were among the over 350 attendees. However, as someone who participated in the local committee for the conference, I was disappointed with the low turnout of local educators.

Alison Stuart, the chair for the local committee, and an elementary school teacher at Independence Charter School, deserves kudos for her efforts. The conference was well organized and ran smoothly.

Stuart noted from the attendees’ perspective that there were a variety of sessions, knowledgeable presenters, and great collaborations among attendees. But disappointedly, she said, “I can’t help but wish I were able to recognize more faces in sessions ... I can count on my left hand how many teachers, principals, and administrators were present from local schools.”

Some thoughts and questions I had about the low turnout of local teachers include:

  • The stress and turmoil within our District kept teachers and administrators away.
  • Our blogs, tweets, FaceBook, LinkedIn, social media feeds, and word-of-mouth invitations were ineffective.
  • Media literacy is considered a luxury, and therefore not relevant to K-12 teachers in our area.

Stuart reflected that NAMLE is fighting a perception that media literacy is reserved for the collegiate level. She questioned why so many of the attendees were college professors and research associates, and not elementary school teachers.

I am wondering how the conference, which took place in the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection, could have attracted more teachers from China than from our own area? 
Wen Xu, a Chinese media literacy educator and former visiting scholar at the Media Education Lab, attended the conference with a delegation of at least 12 primary school teachers from China. Wen facilitated two sessions: “Media Literacy Education in China, Part 1 and Part 2."
The panel sessions, presented collaboratively by teachers and principals from the Hutong Primary School and Dingfuzhuang Second Primary School in Bejing, demonstrated how these teachers integrate media literacy across content areas, such as language and moral education.  
Maybe media literacy just isn’t sexy enough. I invited Mayor Michael Nutter to the NAMLE opening reception, but his schedule was already tied up. Maybe he was busy addressing those pesky rumors about fining pedestrians who “text while walking.”
And with pressures from scripted curriculum and high takes tests, I understand why some local administrators and District officials did not show up for a media literacy conference.
But why so few?
School District of Philadelphia administrators and media/technology leaders could have learned a lot if they attended the session "Why is media literacy still the K-12 curricular exception ....”   
Panelist Eric Sheninger, principal at New Milford High School in Bergen  County, New Jersey, described his innovative use of Web 2.0 technology that engages 21st century learners. Sheninger uses Facebook as his school’s information hub and employs social media as an agent to extend the learning beyond his school’s physical campus.
Deborah Parker, the NAMLE National Conference chair, noted that despite the low  Philadelphia teacher turnout, those that did participate from the area participated at a very high level.
Robert Rivera-Amezola, Meenoo Rami, both from Philadelphia Writing Project, and Christina Cantrill, of National Writing Project (NWP), presented the session “Because Digital Writing Matters.” Using the NWP Digital Is website forum as a catalyst, the presenters examined the idea of what it means to be literate in a multi-mediated society. Rami facilitates these kinds of conversations weekly on Mondays from 7-8 p.m. on her #engchat twitter feed.
Other local contributors included Rita Sorrentino, personal blogger and technology teacher at Overbrook Elementary School, Michele Mckeone, autistic support educator and entrepreneur of the start-up Autism Express, and Dale Mezzacappa, contributing editor for the Philadelphia Public School Notebook. They participated in the panel “Finding Your Bloggers Voice.” Of the eight people who attended this panel session, which I facilitated, none were Philadelphia teachers. 
How do we get more Philadelphia area teachers and administrators on the media literacy  “love train?”
I would like to hear from others.
What can be done to help media literacy gain more traction  in K-12  curriculums and what are some ways that NAMLE can increase the number of elementary and seconday educators participating at future conferences?


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Comments (29)

Submitted by Fred Mindlin (not verified) on August 2, 2011 7:00 pm

Hi Sam, Thanks for your thoughtful piece. I wish I had time to follow all the alluring links in your essay, and one day soon I hope to...But I did want to chime in with support for how we need better marketing, outreach, evangelism, and incentives to penetrate the challenged worlds of frontline classroom teachers. The nadir of American education is the proliferation of scripted curricula. I was physically ill the first time I was forced to follow one. It's so obviously ineffective -- really, counter-productive to any learning goals. And I won't even start about the testing...

What I feel we must do is strategize ways to chip away at the margins of the system and the school day, incorporating student-centered, project-based authentic learning in those few spaces where there's room. After-school programs and English learner programs often allow much more flexibility. And media literacy has to be at the core of student learning in every subject. It's laid out quite clearly as a pervasive _requirement_ in the introduction to the Common Core Standards, so as to explain why the term is so seldom directly addressed in the standards themselves. But rather than being assumed to be a required element, because the standards aren't themselves specific to media literacy integration, it just gets ignored.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 4, 2011 2:33 am

Hi, Sam.I work at an Empowerment high school.Most of the teachers from Empowerment schools are overwhelmed. This has been a really tough year. I've been teaching almost 30, and the demands put on teachers of the schools that don't make the grade leave us truly exhausted. Also, many people go away during the summer. That is why attendance was not great.These past 10 years interest in everything seems to be dwindling. There are also many young people who do not plan to stay in teaching.
It does not surprise me that the conference and the facilitators were well prepared. Some of the best teachers remain in low-performing schools, unnoticed by others, as they do not wish for the limelight. They are noticed by their peers and mostly their students.
I edit the PASE Newsletter with another colleague.Children need media programs.
Treasure the moment for it may not come again; but share the love of what you've learned with your students.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 4, 2011 2:13 am

Here's a thought. You are advertising to the wrong audience.You need a flash mob
type of advertising. The news were there, the LEAD sentence was poor. Teachers are just apathetic and the summer months make it worse.In my school only folks would come to conferences if they were on site and double pay- or if ACT 48 credit was being offered.

Submitted by Sam Reed (not verified) on August 4, 2011 6:10 am

I like the "flash mob" idea, that would have generated lots of buzz. And advertising Act 48 credits, does always seem to attract more teachers.

I appreciate all the posters' feedback. When NAMLE plans ahead for future conferences and events your comments and suggestions should help inform what strategies to use to attract more k-12 teachers.

Submitted by Rita S (not verified) on August 4, 2011 9:44 am

Yes, we need to be reminded that "the medium is the message." Since I am a new member, I am not sure of the local connections, but perhaps there could be an effort to network with other groups like NCTE, IRA, PETE&C who have local workshops and conferences.

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Submitted by tom-104 on August 2, 2011 7:12 pm

This is not directly about your media literacy question, but as to attendance at your conference, the experience was similar at the SOS conference and march. There were delegations from all over the country from as far away as California. Very few from Philadelphia participated. There are SOS chapters all over the country, none in Philadelphia or the rest of Pennsylvania. Are people demoralized or what is the problem? I don't know.

One possible problem, did the School District Office of Technology do anything to publicize the conference? I would have been there if I had known about it.

As to the SOS march, the PFT did nothing to publicize it.

Submitted by Samuel Reed III on August 2, 2011 7:00 pm


I beleive your line of inquiry is right on point.

I must say, I didnt make it to the SOS conference. I wanted to go in my heart of hearts. But  was not motivated enough.  I was disappointed that the PFT did not do more to mobilize a greater PFT presence at the SOS event.  By the way, the  major media outlets didnt provide much coverage of the event either.

Maybe we could have reached out more the School District Office of Technology. Not sure if that would have made a difference.

Submitted by tom-104 on August 2, 2011 8:48 pm

Don't mean to divert from you tech conference article, but just so you know: There was some coverage of the SOS march on the internet. It would have received even less if Matt Damon hadn't spoken.

Thousands come out to teacher rally in Washington, protest Obama and decade of ‘bad’ policies

Save Our Schools March Calls For Teacher-Backed Reform

Matt Damon's Powerful Education Speech at the Save Our Schools Rally in DC

"Diane Ravitch lampoons education critics, calls for political action at SOS speech"

Submitted by Rita S (not verified) on August 2, 2011 9:13 pm

I really wanted to go to SOS. Contacted PFT - said they supported it but could not offer buses. As an almost "senior citizen," I didn't want to travel solo and get lost in a crowd. I would have been more than willing to pay for travel and participate as a PFT group. I was disappointed that they did not send any emails, flyers or post on PFT website. Also did not see much AFT publicity. Should have taken out an ad in "The Notebook."

Submitted by Rita S (not verified) on August 4, 2011 9:17 am

PS : "The PFT will sponsor two buses to Washington, D.C., on Saturday, August 29, for the Martin Luther King Jr. March for Jobs & Justice on the eve of the dedication of the King National Memorial. Seats are limited and online pre-registration is required." I'm still wondering why nothing for SOS - could have had one bus for each event. Go figure.

Submitted by tom-104 on August 4, 2011 10:05 am

Rita (and anyone who missed my previous post),

Links to SOS March videos

Save Our Schools Rally For Education July 30, 2011

Save Our Schools: The March to the White House July, 30 2011

John Kuhn at SOS March
Superintendent of Perrin-Whitt School District in Texas speaks at SOS March and National Call To Action on July 30, 2011
(Personally, I considered this one of the best speeches.)

Jonathan Kozol's speech at the Save Our Schools March in DC, 7/30/2011
Part 1:
Part 2:

Diane Ravitch's speech at the Save Our Schools march in DC, 7/30/2011
Part 1:
Part 2:

Jose Vilson Rocks the Save Our Schools March in DC, 7/30/2011

Jon Stewart's Teacher Tribute For the Save Our Schools Rally

Matt Damon's headliner speech at the Save Our Schools March in DC, 7/30/2011

The Last Word on SOS and Matt Damon
Rewriting the Attacks on Teachers

Submitted by Rita S (not verified) on August 2, 2011 9:02 pm

Sam, thanks for your reflection. I was only able to attend 2 days of NAMLE and found it to be stimulating and thought provoking. I hope to follow all your links to explore sessions and topics that I missed. One factor contributing to the low attendance from Philly teachers could be that ISTE was in Philadelphia in June. Besides the cost, time is a factor.
Additionally, many teachers are so bogged down with pacing schedules and scripted curricula, that technology is taking a back seat. Yet, our students are daily consumers of media and in need of lessons on how to participate responsibly and evaluate its use. Perhaps, NAMLE could offer a special K-12 Educators' Day at their conference with a reduced registration rate. This could attract new people to the conference who might then become members.
Back in our schools, media literacy should be embedded into all areas of the curriculum and become part of our professional development. Thanks, again. I've got my ticket to the "love train."

Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on August 3, 2011 7:59 am

Teachers being bogged down with such things as scripted curricula and pacing schedules was one of the major themes at the SOS conference. it seems it is happening across our country.

It is viewed by most educators as an impediment to to good and effective instruction. It is part and parcel of our "schools as test preparation factories" mania.

I have yet to read one credible authority on pedagogy advocate for pacing and scripted lessons. It is the dumbing down of education and is one reason why we, as caring professional educators, need to Save Our Schools.

Submitted by Wen Xu (not verified) on August 3, 2011 12:34 am

Samuel, good to read your comments. We really appreciate Renee, Sherri and your help for this conference. It is a long way from Beijing to Philadelphia for Chinese media educators, but we shorten the distance and enjoyed the conference so much. We are glad to communicate with so many media educators from all over the world, particularly from the US, which stress practice of media literacy. The NAMLE conference offers us more support for media literacy education and strengthen our confidence in this field.

Submitted by Wen Xu (not verified) on August 3, 2011 12:09 am

Samuel, good to read your comments. We really appreciate Renee, Sherri and your help for this conference. It is a long way from Beijing to Philadelphia for Chinese media educators, but we shorten the distance and enjoyed the conference so much. We are glad to communicate with so many media educators from all over the world, particularly from the US, which stress practice of media literacy. The NAMLE conference offers us more support for media literacy education and strengthen our confidence in this field.

Submitted by Renee Hobbs (not verified) on August 3, 2011 9:55 am

Sam, your comment speaks deeply to me, because NAMLE is so committed to bringing together classroom teachers with scholars and higher ed folks and media professionals and non-profit folks and activists.

Timing of the conference is always a challenge. Summer is a time for recharging one's batteries, and the conference comes at a time when many teachers are on vacation--- or at work, as many teachers take on a summer job to make ends meet. I agree with Rita that ISTE in Philadelphia worked against us at NAMLE because it's difficult for even the most dedicated teachers to afford 2 conference registration fees in one summer.

I wish we had better been able to spread the word about the conference more effectively by recruiting support from mass media organizations in Philadelphia like the Inquirer, radio stations and the local TV channels. This is important work--- but challenging and time-consuming. For an all-volunteer organization, the NAMLE conference is a testament to what grass-roots energy is all about. But it will be necessary for the group to hire an executive director in order to move to the next level.

But let's not underestimate your own contribution to the cause, my friend. Great teachers attract other great teachers-- and YOU, with your curiosity and experimentation and commitment to integrate digiral and media literacy into the curriculum - had an impact in making NAMLE an inspiring event. Thanks for sharing your experience of the conference with the world!

Submitted by Jie (not verified) on August 3, 2011 9:24 am

To be honest, media literacy education in China is still not only something new to the public, but also to the academic world. As a scholar who advocate media literacy education, I have to make great effort to persuade officers in educational bureau and headmasters of schools to have interests and courage to include media literacy course into school curriculum. Though, I'm very lucky in gaining support from the headmaster of Heizhima Hutong Primary School in 2008 and had the opportunity to develop media literacy course according to the real need of Chinese Society, it is still urgent for me to provide evidence with my cooperators that we're not alone--there are other people doing the same thing in the world. The NAMLE Conference is an ideal place for me and my cooperators to get confidence, to exchange ideas and thoughts with people who do the same thing in the rest of the world. And of course, the conference also provide us with an opportunity to revise what we have done. The rich materials and multi-perspectives about media literacy education displayed in the conference improved my understanding of media literacy education a lot.

I even found a potential cooperator in the conference, though there are not many audience enjoyed our presentation. We're now working on setting up a project to bring Chinese adolescents to US to take part in media literacy education camp and vice versa next summer. How exciting it is! If we make it real, it'll facilitate the development of media literacy education in both of our countriese.

I think it is the real meaning of the conference. I plan to participate next NAMLE conference already and I'll bring as many cooperators of mine in China as I can to the conference:)!

Submitted by David Cooper Moore (not verified) on August 3, 2011 10:07 am

Thanks for this great post, Sam. I'm a newbie to the NAMLE world and come at it from an odd vantage point, working in elementary schools and higher ed at the same time. From what I saw, I was quite pleased with the engagement of the educators at the conference I met. Though I agree that there weren't a lot of educators from the Philly community (though with leadership from educators like you and Alison it's hard for me not to think Philly was well-represented by community leaders, if not higher numbers of teachers), it's important to remember how few educators *at all* often attend these kinds of conferences. And more than the number of educators at this conference, I was struck by how robust conversations became when scholars, policy leaders, and teachers all shared space in formal and informal dialogue.

Though numbers may have been low, engagement was (in my view) very high and, what's more, very democratic. There were research sessions where classroom teachers provided the most important and insightful comments, and classroom-oriented sessions where scholars could shape what they understand about their research from the experiences and expertise of classroom teachers.

I hope that the NAMLE conference continues to build its audience among local educators in Philadelphia, and I'm committed to an approach to media literacy integration that focuses on a rather grassroots approach in the Philadelphia area (which has its pros and cons). But we also need to take pride in the successes we do see while we acknowledge lots of room for improvement.

Submitted by Vanessa Domine (not verified) on August 3, 2011 12:24 pm

Sam, digital knuckle bump to you for your incisive and insightful "No Love Train" post. From my perspective as both a teacher educator (and for the sake of full disclosure—the NAMLE Conference Program Chair) the lack of participation from local Philly educators was less an indicator of their apathy but rather a signal of two chronic problems that continue to trouble me:

1) The continuous struggle for school teachers to be supported (financially and otherwise) in their professional development efforts. Full conference attendance was upwards of $300 this year. A lot for a teacher, even without airfare or hotel. So we see that the dominant group of conference attendees this year is from higher education. But this has more to do with money than anything else. As you know, university professors have institutional ($) backing and their bread and butter is connected to presenting their research (regardless of its practical value). But most MLE scholars are from schools of communication and not schools of education or teacher preparation programs and as such there are additional challenges associated with access to schools and teachers. Sadly, NAMLE itself is an organization that is run entirely by volunteers and is membership-driven. It would have been great to provide scholarships for teachers, administrators and students. I know of at least a handful of teachers from across the country who actively sought for funding to attend NAMLE but could not because their grant money didn't come through.

2) The conference marketing/PR campaigns were unsuccessful in reaching Philly educators. Since most of the current NAMLE Board of Directors have never been school teachers, there is a gap in their experience and understanding that manifests itself in an inability to communicate with the P-12 population. I've also come to learn through this conference planning experience that some of my beloved colleagues who have been involved in media literacy for decades and who are righteously devoting their time to a noble cause—cannot themselves think or act in media literate ways (i.e., crafting a persuasive message to mobilize a group to action). This is a strange irony that should wake us all up (including myself) to ensure that we are practicing what we are preaching.

The immediate bridge that I believe needs to be built is simple: Recruit more P-12 teachers to serve in national leadership positions in MLE organizations like NAMLE (how 'bout a NAMLE Philly caucus or special interest group?) and (most importantly) provide them with the financial support to be able to navigate their busy lives while simultaneously leading the field of MLE. It's that connection to practice that is so essential and that leads to a beautiful reciprocity that is similar to the school-university partnerships. But we need money to do that. . . . Any volunteers to serve on the NAMLE Development Committee? If so, email

Submitted by Dr. B. (not verified) on August 3, 2011 2:54 pm

A more simplistic possibility - the registration process was pretty confusing and became more complex as several emails were sent out requesting updates and additional information. This may have caused some people to avoid applying or to discontinue the process. I thought I had been registered and set to go but apparently I missed a step and in the end was unable to present. Very frustrating.

Submitted by Vanessa Domine (not verified) on August 3, 2011 2:16 pm

Dr. B.. . .I'm glad you stated this, because it speaks to my point. NAMLE is run entirely by volunteers (who aren't necessarily educators and do not understand the world of purchase orders or how school districts operate fiscally). Additionally, we have no paid staff. Not even office support (!). Volunteers design, maintain the web site(s) which included the conference registration. In my view, without office support (which, again, takes money) a grass-roots organization like NAMLE cannot fully serve its members. Yet without participation of members, we are nothing. It's a Catch-22. By the way, anyone can volunteer to serve on a NAMLE committee and anyone whose been a NAMLE member for at least 2 years can run to be on the NAMLE Board of Directors. It's on open window of opportunity.

Submitted by tom-104 on August 3, 2011 8:07 pm

I think you have to take into account that the Philadelphia School District is in chaos right now. Many teachers do not know where or what class they will be teaching in September....if they still have a job.

Submitted by Tap dancing forced transferee (not verified) on August 4, 2011 9:54 am


[There are I-don't-know-how-many-of-us out there -- forced and voluntary transfers, people in arbitrated positions, and most of all, a large number of people who were laid off. It's hard to be anything but both worried and exhausted this summer (imho.) ]

Submitted by Samuel Reed III on August 4, 2011 10:09 pm

Corrections - Meenoo Rami's name was spelled incorrectly,and the #engchat web address is outdated: the correct website is  

Submitted by debbiefuco (not verified) on August 5, 2011 11:16 pm

Sam, I'm sorry NAMLE Philadelphia didn't meet your expectations. I have attended two (St. Louis & Detroit) conferences in the past and chose to attend ISTE11 in Philadelphia in June. At my school, we have tried with mixed results to get media literacy at all grades K-8. It has been a difficult sell. We have tried to get parents involved, also mixed results.

I have always felt that NAMLE needed a presence at ISTE and this year, Renee Hobb's session was well received. ISTE is the perfect audience for NAMLEs messages. Perhaps digital and media literacy should merge?

Any thoughts?

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 11, 2011 2:54 pm

I am surprised that no one has pointed out that media literacy requires, first and foremost, access to media. It's hard to integrate digital content into your course requirements when you have no guarantee that all of your students have appropriate access to the Internet. I am including both in school and out of school access, here. I work in a school that got a technology grant a few years ago but there was no followup money for maintenance and upgrades. The laptop carts we were given now contain old, slow machines, and as the machines break down we have no money to do even simple things like purchase new batteries. In what was once a functional class set of laptops, you're now lucky if half of them work. Try planning a fun, interactive lesson using research to solve real-life problems when you're sharing one laptop between two or three students, and that laptop takes ten minutes to boot and connect to the server and has a battery that only lasts an hour. Our computer labs are even older, and these problems are not exclusive to the school I work in.

So the best I can do to encourage media literacy is to offer bonus points for Web-related activities, or to make projects span a whole marking period so that I can be reasonably sure most of my students can get to a place with a functional internet connection at some point. I would love to have a class blog, for example, and require students to make comments on their reading, but unfortunately I can't be sure that that would be a fair requirement. I use a web-based gradebook and even with that I can't get 100% student participation, and you'd think that'd be something important to them. The conference sounds interesting, but how disheartening to spend $300 and a weekend learning about ideas you won't be able to implement for lack of resources?

Submitted by Allen (not verified) on April 26, 2014 3:11 am
I am surprised that no one has pointed out that media literacy requires, first and foremost, access to media. It's hard to integrate digital content into your course requirements when you have no guarantee that all of your students have appropriate access to the Internet.
I am surprised that no one has pointed out that media literacy requires, first and foremost, access to media. It's hard to integrate digital content into your course requirements when you have no guarantee that all of your students have appropriate access to the Internet.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on August 23, 2014 3:55 am

This is not about media literacy problem, but at a meeting to be attended by the delegation from across the country, such as from distant California. Philadelphia to very few people, no Philadelphia or Pennsylvania or elsewhere I do not know what happened. the blog

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