Teachout: A Diet for a New Media America
12.7.06 | The puzzle of media consumption in our children is a little like the problem of fast food consumption - there is vastly more “healthy” stuff available than ever before, but an increasing greater likelihood that the child will end up undernourished and obese.
I’d like to propose a few ideas as, well, food for thought. I tender them as notions, half-baked, to stimulate discussion about other serious reform. I take as given that we need media diversity - I also take as given that media diversity alone will not be enough.
First, I’d like to think about applying a 21st century version of fairness doctrine to all major entertainment outlets. Instead of requiring channels with broadcast rights to share publicly important information and dissenting views, we could require all online news/entertainment outlets with over 1 million visitors/month to carry news on issues of public importance. Basically, we’d be choosing, collectively, that we want a little spinach with our fries - because we know that in the long run, we’ll want persistent exposure to important information to allow us to be good citizens.
Second, I’d like to join those that are demanding that we stop talking about schools in purely efficient-worker-skills terms, and include massive civic education as a basic expectation. I think civic education must be taught from an early age through high school, and that we should be willing to pay for it. We can’t expect people to exercise power that they don’t know how to exercise - and I don’t mean just voting.
All students, 2-12th grade, should be able to answer these questions:
- Where online can I find my candidates, and what they stand for?
- Where can I find who contributes to them online?
- Where can I find concerns about them online?
- How can I contact them; who should I contact at their office; how should I talk to them?
- How would I start a small group of people who wanted to oppose a candidate?
- How do I start a petition, and how do I deliver it?
- How do I find out information about a company (public/private, political ties)?
- How & where do I find out about the laws in my local area, my state, and the country?
- How do I find how those laws have been interpreted?
- Who do I ask about those laws?
- How do I test the reliability of political information?
- Where can I find data about my country (basic economic facts)?
- Where can I find legislation that is about to be passed?
- Where can I find legislation that has been passed?
- How can I object to legislation, before and after the fact?
Finally, students who use facebook, yahoo, and myspace should understand the corporate structure and the free speech limitations. These understandings, which were less important 100 years ago, are critical in a time when the public space is privately owned. They are no more difficult to learn than agricultural or home ec classes that were once taught - but, as with any civic education, will cost money and take enormous political will. I hope we have it.
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