Book Review | Media Literacy for Justice: Lessons for Changing the World
De Abreu, Belinha S. (2022). Media Literacy for Justice: Lessons for changing the world. ALA Neal-Schuman.
Yohuru Williams’ foreword opens Media Literacy for Justice: Lessons for Changing the World by calling for a global village where youth may engage in informed dialogues addressing “equity, justice in health outcomes, environmental justice, and a host of other issues with roots in our shared humanity”. This global village is a digital one, shaped by our students’ lives as digital natives who must take on “the monumental task of discriminating fact from fiction while discerning credible sources” with educators, both librarians and teachers, who they may never meet face-to-face thanks to Zoom University. As it takes a village, global media literacy educator and the author of Media Literacy for Justice Belinha S. De Abreu sought out an ensemble of contributing authors whose writing bookends all ten chapters with a reflection and lesson concept. These reflections and lesson concepts are the core of this text, providing a needed resource for media literacy focused teachers and librarians in both K-12 and higher education classrooms as well as community centers throughout North America. Four appendices provide additional resources, from non-profit organizations to music, for educators wishing to develop lesson plans tailored to their students in particular. While my book review will be limited to the first and final chapters, librarians utilizing popular culture media in the classroom will find the sixth chapter especially of interest as well.
De Abreu begins the first chapter, Challenging Conversations in Challenging Times, with a recognition that the pandemic era worsened a pre-existent social problem – our ability to talk past each other, to talk past our students and fellow educators, rather than engage in meaningful communication with all. The lesson and the challenges are clearly laid out when De Abreu writes:
The lesson is that we, the people, still have choice and opportunity in educating ourselves to find truth and better answers than what is presented before our eyes daily. The challenge is doing it with respect, with established rapport, and with the relationships we build.
When we open the classroom with access, equity, and justice at the forefront, a relationship must be built between the educator and the student around mutual respect and acknowledgement of self which can be executed using a set of identity formation focused questions provided in chapter one. Next, De Abreu calls on us to examine our own language and our communication with others as “what we say matters” (3). Yet past and present statements and media are often censored, and here is where De Abreu links media literacy and intellectual freedom through an examination of “cancel culture.” She calls out the American Library Association, directly asking its members, “As more people become unhappy with what is being said, heard, or read, will cancel culture lead to censorship?”. A review of the Intellectual Freedom Blog has the answer – censorship predates cancel culture, and any new censorship occurring as a result will be addressed. Meredith Baldi and Prescott Seraydarian provide the reflection for this chapter, detailing a new course at their Quaker school titled Producing Peace: Civic Media Literacy and Production which asks students “a fundamental question: How can I use media to improve the world in which I live?”. Students respond by producing their own media, as exemplified in the detailed lesson concept which ends the first chapter.
The final chapter, Finding Balance, is more apt for the privacy section of the Intellectual Freedom Blog due to focusing on issues around information privacy as aggravated by biased social media platforms. While De Abreu begins with “algorithmic social justice”, the strength of her argument comes from her own student’s critique on artificial intelligence (AI) – although technology provides opportunities to live in a more advanced world, these advancements live not in a just world if bias and harmful data gathering practices are ignored. Beyond teaching the tech behind the social media platforms which shape our students’ lives, educators can respond directly in a way supported by a combination of media literacy and information literacy. De Abreu writes:
If we teach students how to view information online and off-line from different media formats with a critical eye, consider point of view, and understand bias as well as representation, we can broaden their access to the world and better equip them to confront social injustices.
Information literacy classrooms with librarians as instructors work to achieve this goal throughout a student’s college career via dedicated courses or in-class one shot sessions. The text’s final reflection and lesson concept is written for academic librarians wishing to better understand algorithmic bias and raise awareness of the influence of AI on one’s personal news feed. All three contributors, Ansh Chandnani, Denise E. Agosto, and Ryan Farrington, also enrich existing debates among library professionals over neutrality and information justice.
While I recommend Media Literacy for Justice to fellow educators, I must acknowledge that quality issues with the text can limit its appeal to only a subset of readers. This is not reflective of the author and contributors, but rather of the publisher. All text present is quite small, printed on very thin paper which led to words bleeding into another. The figures provided were reproduced in black-and-white rather than their original color which led to contrast issues often accompanied by blurriness. As of June 2022 no digital edition is available; readers may need to use a magnifying lamp to access the text while educators will be frustrated that they simply cannot print or download valuable fill-in lesson concepts. When a digital edition becomes available, readers may use text enlargement, text-to-speech, or other accessibility software which ensures we all may listen to or read Media Literacy for Justice.
As always, please report any censorship occurring at your library.
Victoria Rahbar is an early career web services librarian. She has a Master of Arts in East Asian Studies from Stanford University’s Center for East Asian Studies and a Master of Library and Information Science degree from the University of Washington iSchool. She conducts research on the global dissemination of Japanese anime, manga, and video games through a DEI lens. She applies her research to the needs of libraries, speaking on issues around cultural representation in manga at academic conferences and anime conventions. She is especially interested in how current digital publishing practices disrupt past ideas around censorship and challenges to manga.