August 11, 2003

News for children…

As a person who values civic participation through, among other things, vigilant and vigorous news consumption, the growing number of news web sites for children seems like a good thing. Here’s the problem: Just because something seems good intuitively doesn’t mean that it is good. We simply do not know what effect sites such as Scholastic News Zone or TIME for Kids actually have on children. Any positive statement about building media literacy or political engagement should be taken as mere assertion.

None of what I just said should be interpreted to mean that these sites are bad for children. They may turn out to be just what our country needs to turn the tide back toward civic participation from the low ebb at which we find it today. A week from today classes begin at Park University. A week from today I again will be disappointed to discover that most of my students have little understanding of, or interest in, anything civic, political, or journalistic.

9 Responses

  1. chuck 

    I’m pretty concerned about this problem. One of the major components of my freshman composition course will be to address questions about journalism and civic participation, in part through the public space of the blogosphere. I plan to use Howard Dean, Lawrence Lessig, and Dennis Kucinich’s blogs (among others) as examples.

    I imagine that I will run into some student resistance generally rooted in apathy, but I also wonder how much proclaimed apathy actually comes from students who fear that their political beliefs may not be perceived as valid. Any suggestions on how to transform some of these perceptions?

  2. acline 

    Chuck…my dissertation addresses some aspects of your question. If you’d like the see the relevant parts, I’ll be happy to send them to you as a word attachment.

    I’m also using a blog for freshman English. You may already be aware of that. It’s Pirate Blog, and you’ll find a link to it on the right-hand sidebar.

    I think you’re right that some apathy is rooted in “fears that their political beliefs may not be perceived as valid.” I think the only shot we have at overcoming that is demonstrating to them that we are interested in what they have to say and do take it seriously. I think blogs further demonstrate that.

    A big portion of my dissertation argues that we need to return to the classical, civic concerns of rhetoric (re: Sharon Crowley and Michael Halloran). By making our classrooms sites of engagement in the public sphere, by making assignments public writing, we can encourage better writing and more civic engagement.

    Making their writing public–especially as they respond to other public writings–demonstrates that their thoughts and opinions are valid by–to put it simplistic terms–simple comparison reinforced by the teacher’s interested and encouraging engagement.

    Oh, and pass along the URL to your class blog. Maybe we can get the two classes talking. On the left sidebar you’ll find a link to my faculty site. From there you can see my EN105 class page and syllabus.

  3. Rebecca 

    Chuck – you mention Dean-Lessig-Kucinich blogs, then parenthetically, “among others”. All that you mentioned are left/Donk/liberal. Do the “among others” include libertarian, conservative and other POV? If so, this would go a long way to insure your students would feel their political beliefs are valid – diversity, you know!

  4. Rebecca 

    Oh, yes, I have a comment for you too, Doc. If you are concerned about a return to “classical, civic concerns of rhetoric”, I suggest you not look to public schools for this. I agree with you 100%, the result being, I took my son out of a “good” public school, and enrolled him in a private school, which provides a “classical” education. You will not find this in public schools, where the rule is “diversity” and “self-esteem”. Don’t get me started – I feel a rant coming on. I don’t want to get personal, but I get the impression that you don’t currently have kids in the public school – if you did, you would not be “disappointed” by your students lack of understanding or interest in the civic, political or journalistic.

  5. Rebecca…I do have a child in public school (although we’ll almost certainly send her to a private H.S.). And, on the contrary, I’m doubly disappointed about the students I mention BECAUSE of what public school can do to them. Just because much of it isn’t their fault doesn’t mean I’m not still disappointed.

    But, by definition, I know nothing about public education. I have a Ph.D., but, as anyone in education can tell you, I must have an education B.A. to know anything about it. It’s a wonder colleges let people like me near students…the public schools certainly wouldn’t, or any other professional for that matter.

    Diversity and self-esteem are not anathema to classical concerns. If these values overshadow other values, then, yes, we may certainly have a problem with them.

    Ah, man…I’ve been snarky twice in one day! ;-)

  6. Rebecca 

    Yes, Doc, you’ve met your snark quotient for the day! ;-)

  7. chuck 

    Rebecca: Good question. I’m trying to find a couple of good conservative/liberatrian blogs. Maybe Andrew Sullivan and Instapundit, for example, which would also allow me to incorporate questions about the position of the speaker (politician? public figure?). So, yes, I’m trying to be inclusive.

    Andrew: I’m very interested in thinking about these “public sphere” concers (although I am ambivalent about the Habermasian residue of this term). I’ll take a look at your syllabus, but I’d enjoy knowing more abouyt your take on Crowley and Halloran. I think that is one of my major motivations for using blogs in the classroom: encouraging students to view their writing as part of a public discourse.

  8. Chuck…I’m using Crowley’s book for my EN106 class, which I teach specifically as a course on classical rhetorics. Take a look at that syllabus, too. I’ll also send you some material from my dissertation.

  9. chuck 

    Thanks! Looking forward to it. :-)