August 2 — 1:30 pm, 2011

No “Love Train” for media literacy in Philadelphia

sad love train 0 Photo: Fliker: two trains by Hammonton Photography

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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