2004 Volume 71 Issue 3 Pages 314-325
Japanese studies of media literacy education in the Canadian province of Ontario offer two opposing evaluations. One praises its theory and practice of social criticism; the other suggests that it emphasizes the critical analysis of media texts, which is inspired particularly by fear of American cultural hegemony, and neglects training students to produce their own. Both assessments, however, concur that media literacy education in Ontario is based on social criticism and both assume that this is greatly influenced by Marshall McLuhan. This paper seeks to revise such assessments by examiningthe objectives of relevant Ontario curricula, are source guide and textbooks, including the knowledge and skills they seek to impart to students. The paper also addresses the task that media education should perform in contemporary society. From the mid-1960s to the early 1970s, McLuhan played a vital role in the development of "screen education, " the predecessor of media literacy education. Classroom practices influenced by McLuhan's ideas focused on audiovisual techniques and the effects of moving images, rather than on their content and social context. Such practices were not animated by social critical concepts. Thereafter, critical reactions to the impact and influence of television gave rise to a new approach to media education, exemplified by the formation, in 1978, of the Association for Media Literacy (AML). After much lobbying, in 1987 the Liberal provincial government incorporated a compulsory strand and an optional course of media studies into the English curriculum in grades 7 to 12. The English teachers (including AML members) who authored the Media Literacy Resource Guide (1989) specified that the aim of media literacy education is to promote "critical autonomy." The then-president of the AML also published a textbook which focused on popular culture. Analysis shows that the social-critical perspectives of semiotics and cultural studies had much more influence on these approaches than either those of MCLuhan or concerns to defend against the American media. A change of provincial government from progressive to conservative led the ministry of education, in 1998, to eliminate an optional course of media studies. While the lobbying against this decision was successful, the revised English curricula placed first priority, not on critical analysis of the media, but on media production. Accordingly, contrary to the position of Japanese scholars, one cannot characterize current media literacy education in Ontario as based on social criticism. The development of media literacy education in Ontario suggests that any program in media education may experience pressure to abandon its social-critical orientation. Yet in order to foster politically mature citizens, we should not permit media education to succumb to a political-economic ethos that prefers students to create their own media messages rather than encouraging them to critically read those that bombard them daily. For the latter approach plays the more crucial role in public education.