Daniel Kane Award Given to Media Literacy Pioneer

In her speech following the award, Liz reviewed the 25-year history of media literacy in the United States and called for the help from university schools of education to prepare teachers at every grade level. "Media literacy is a basic competency in today's world. All children should have the skills needed to participate as informed citizens and educated adults in the 21st century media culture."

With children spending 38 hours per week — almost a full adult work week — using and watching the various forms of media that make up modern life, giving them the skills to separate the substance from the selling point is vital, says a pioneering voice in the U.S. media literacy movement.

Sister Elizabeth Thoman, CHM, founder and president of the Center for Media Literacy in Los Angeles, addressed the challenges of modern media in remarks following her acceptance of the 2000 Daniel J. Kane Religious Communications Award.

The award, named for the former communication director of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, was presented by University of Dayton president Brother Raymond Fitz, S.M., Monday, June 26, to recognize Thoman's lifetime contribution to education and communications.

"I'm not here to bash media," she said in a follow-up address to an auditorium of religious media professionals, students and friends. "It's too easy to do that, and it doesn't solve anything. I believe there are marvelous possibilities in our mediated world today, but we have to evaluate the potential and trade-offs of new technology in our lives."

She showed a short documentary-style video produced by the British Broadcasting Company for a special April Fool's Day broadcast some years back. The black-and-white video featured convincing visuals, narration, actors, music, costumes and a script explaining the traditional European feast that celebrates the first crop of the season — picked from spaghetti-producing trees!

"If you were 9 years old, and you had seen this 'documentary' on television, would you believe spaghetti grows on trees?" she asked. "Media literacy is not about learning to discriminate good shows from bad shows but rather to know how to ask questions about what we see and hear. We all need to be able to evaluate messages no matter where they come from," she added, noting that media literacy skills may be more critical with the Internet than even with television or video.

Children — and adults — can learn to ask important questions, she said.

  • Who created the message and why?
  • What values are embedded in the message, and what sense does it make for me and other people?
  • How was the media message made?
  • How does the message stack up against my family's values and my religion's values and my culture's values?

"Media literacy is a basic competency in today's world. All children should have these skills to be able to participate as informed citizens and educated adults," Thoman said. "The Gulf War was a real wake-up call for Americans as to how manipulative the media can be. Then with the O.J. Simpson trial, we saw how the media fell on the bandwagon and exploited that tragedy for economic gain."

She reviewed the 25-year-old history of the educational movement in the U.S. and added that the challenge now is to institutionalize the field and professionalize it by providing pre-service training for student-teachers as well as in-service training for teachers already in the classroom.

She praised the University of Dayton for its efforts in the field. "UD stands alone as the only Catholic university in the country to include media literacy courses in its School of Education" she said.

"Media literacy needs to be integrated into pre-service for teachers in every teacher ed program at every college and university."

Thoman received an original hand-crafted wall sculpture by Brother Joseph Barrish, S.M., and a donation in her name was made to a scholarship fund for students from Third World countries to participate in the Pastoral Communications and Ministry Institute held each summer at UD.