ITHACA, NY—Wondering about your favorite candidate’s credibility? You might want to check with an eleventh grader whose teacher has used Ithaca College’s media literacy kit Media Construction of Presidential Campaigns. Teachers use the curriculum kit to teach the history of U.S. elections in a way that will prepare students to think critically about historical, political, and ethical issues related to media and democracy.
"I wish that I had these materials available when I was in school. They bring politics alive and make presidential campaigns relevant," said PBS’s Bill Moyers when he first reviewed the kit.
Produced by Project Look Sharp, a media literacy initiative of the Division of Interdisciplinary and International Studies at Ithaca College, the kit includes over 150 historic media documents--ranging from bumper stickers and political cartoons to recordings of old-time campaign songs and video clips from televised debates covering 26 different presidential elections from 1800 to 2004. The materials and lessons are designed for upper middle school through college level courses, and will provide the basis for a fall course at Ithaca College on media and presidential campaigns.
This teaching aid allows students to sort through the overwhelming flood of information pouring forth from the media about the presidential campaigns, using examples from past campaigns to help students understand how the media cover elections, how candidates use the media, and what's behind the messages presented through such controversial TV commercials as the 1964 “Daisy Girl” commercial and the 2004 commercial by the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth. Students can then apply that understanding to analyses of current political messages, such as the recent “3:00 am” commercial by the Clinton campaign (which has been compared to the “Daisy Girl” ad).
"Through discussion and analysis of an excerpt from the 1960 Kennedy-Nixon debates or a 1988 Bush campaign commercial showing Michael Dukakis in a tank, for example, students learn how image-based impressions can impact an election," says Cyndy Scheibe, associate professor of psychology at Ithaca College and executive director of Project Look Sharp. "Students compare partisan newspaper editorials about the Gettysburg Address, decode campaign posters for Teddy Roosevelt, and analyze how websites now enable the micro-marketing of candidates in recent elections."
The unique curriculum not only gives students access to historical material, but also trains them to listen critically and decode the visual messages in campaign materials. It provides teachers with the resources they need to engage students in a dynamic, interactive, and rigorous study of American democracy through understanding the impact of new technologies and evolving techniques for image construction and marketing in an historical context.
“Our Founding Fathers identified literacy as core to our emerging democracy,” says Chris Sperry, Project Look Sharp’s director of curriculum and staff development and co-author of the presidential campaigns kit. “But we need to look at what ‘literacy’ means today, when more than half of all Americans get 100 percent of their news from television.”
After viewing videos, hearing audio clips, viewing posters, and reading newspaper excerpts and on-line material, students are asked questions such as: “Who produced and who sponsored this message? What impressions are conveyed, and how credible is the information? What important information is left out? Who might benefit from and who might be harmed by this message?” Students are encouraged to develop these habits of inquiry and to apply them to the media messages they receive outside of school as well.
High school social studies teacher Isis Ivery has used Media Construction of Presidential Campaigns for the past three years in both U.S. History and Participation in Government classes. She described the materials as “incredibly engaging and thought provoking,” and went on to say “Some of my favorite lessons come from the kit! I have found the materials easy to tailor to the individual needs of a class or the objectives I am teaching. My students’ critical thinking skills have definitely improved through the teaching of media literacy in my courses and my teaching was significantly aided by the kit.”
Project Look Sharp, whose mission is to provide materials, training, and support to help teachers integrate media literacy and critical thinking into classroom curricula at all grade levels and instructional areas, has recently received funding to update Media Construction of Presidential Campaigns to include lessons based on the 2008 presidential election. It is one of a series of grant-funded curriculum kits published by the project that are available free online for educators (/looksharp), including an upcoming series on Media Construction of the Environment.
The presidential campaigns kit has been enthusiastically endorsed by Robert McChesney, author of The Problem of the Media and host of the radio show Media Matters, who calls it, "a brilliant teaching tool that empowers students to understand how our electoral system actually works in the era of big media. Very professional and engaging, this is media literacy at its very best, and should be mandatory in classrooms across the nation."
The curriculum kit is available for free on-line at /looksharp/. Hard copies can be purchased through the Ithaca College bookstore (complete with DVDs and CDs of the audiovisual and print materials). The following curriculum kits are also available: Media Construction of War, Media Construction of the Middle East, and Soviet History through Posters.
Coeducational and nonsectarian, Ithaca College is a nationally recognized independent college of some 6,100 undergraduates and 300 graduate students. Located in Ithaca, New York, it combines the individual attention of a small institution with the resources and offerings of a large university. The college was founded in 1892 as a music conservatory and today continues that emphasis on performance and active learning—both inside and outside of the classroom—with over 100 degree programs offered through the Schools of Business, Communications, Health Sciences and Human Performance, Humanities and Sciences, and Music as well as the Division of Graduate and Professional Studies and Division of Interdisciplinary and International Studies.