When developing the photo essay assignment for my course, I came across an excellent resource for teachers and students. The New York Times has started a blog entitled Lens: Photography, Video, and Visual Journalism. The topics covered in the blog posts touch on several critical issues such as immigration, race, and class. The photos captured in each of the photo essays serve as a great entry point into rich discussion. When using the Lens Blog in my classroom I find myself drawing on skills I developed during workshops many years ago.
When I was a public school teacher, I participated in a fascinating series of professional development workshops called Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS). By analyzing carefully selected images, students were able to develop critical literacy skills as well as visual literacy skills. Teachers were facilitators in this process and asked three open-ended questions:
1. What’s going on in this picture?
2. What do you see that makes you say that?
3. What more can we find?
I found myself using the VTS approach when presenting students the photo essays from the Lens blog. Students in my class really engaged with the photos and rich discussion took place as a result. I will definitely be using this blog for years to come in the classroom.
Below are some powerful images from photo essays on the Lens Blog.
Link to VTS site: http://www.vtshome.org/
Link to NYT Lens: http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/
Sheryl Sandberg, the Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, has teamed up with the Girls Scouts USA to start a campaign that calls for a ban on the use of the word bossy in everyday language. Sandberg suggests that referring to girls as “bossy” can limit their full leadership potential. The website of Sandberg’s non-profit organization LeanIn.Org states,
“When a little boy asserts himself, he’s called a “leader.” Yet when a little girl does the same, she risks being branded bossy. Words like bossy send a message: don’t raise your hand or speak up. By middle school, girls are less interested in leading than boys—a trend that continues into adulthood. Together we can encourage girls to lead. Pledge to Ban Bossy”.
Sandberg’s “Ban Bossy” initiative has recruited an ensemble of spokeswomen, including Condoleezza Rice, Diane von Furstenberg, Jennifer Garner, Jane Lynch, and perhaps most notably megastar Beyoncé.
The Ban Bossy project highlights how a word can come to signify particular social and cultural dynamics. While I do understand the goals driving this initiative it makes me uneasy when a group advocates for the banning of words no matter how well intentioned their motivations might be. Words carry with them a history, at times a history of injustice and painful disparities, but an awareness of history is critical if we hope to effect systemic change. Perhaps, an alternative to “banning” is reclaiming words in an attempt to shift the negative connotations associated with a particular word.
When engaging with students about Media Literacy, I (Pooja) often like to begin with novelist Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche’s powerful TED talk entitled The Danger of a Single Story. Through the use of her own narrative, Adiche speaks about the prevalence of a “single story” or the dominant culture portrayed throughout most school curriculums. Adiche shares the following memory of being taught a single story:
At about the age of seven … I wrote exactly the kinds of stories I was reading: All my characters were white and blue-eyed, they played in the snow, they ate apples, and they talked a lot about the weather: how lovely it was that the sun had come out. This despite the fact that I lived in Nigeria; we didn’t have snow, we ate mangoes, and we never talked about the weather, because there was no need to.
Adiche speaks about the impacts the single story has on an individual, on a community, and on society at large. While a young school girl in Nigeria, Adiche recalls only reading authors from the West. Having never encountered the works of an African author or seeing people like her appear in books, she believed she could not (or should not) be a writer. She asserts that when we receive only one perspective on anything it creates stereotypes, “and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”
This TED talk sparks lively discussion in the classroom. Students often think back to their early schooling and many recall “single stories” they experienced. As a class, we capture all of these experiences on a large poster. As new text is introduced in the course we often refer back to this “single story” poster and discuss who’s stories are being represented in what we read/hear/see.
Lately, Beyonce has been in the news a lot more than usual. Recently, without any warning(or PR), she released a self-titled album to the public. She was also, debatably, the most talked about performance at the 2014 Grammy’s a few weeks ago. However, the most interesting news I (Pooja) have recently read about Beyonce has to do with the world of academia.
Rutgers University now offers a course called “Politicizing Beyonce,” in which her musical career is used as a lens to investigate“race, gender, and sexual politics.” The instructor of the course, a Ph.D. student, says “he’s seeking to help students think more critically about media consumption.”
I am intrigued by this course, yet not sure what to make of it. Is this a relevant and contextualized way of studying issues of race and gender or is this normalizing our (society’s) idolization of celebrities by creating a place for it in higher education?
What do you think?
Read more about this course: