Here Buckingham writes an urgent call for media education. He cites his frustrations with the lack of progress in policy; the enduring and misplaced association of media education with creative curricula, rather than being linked with education more generally; and an already low and diminishing regard for teachers. The book has four parts: the essential objectives of media education, a “state of the art” address about media education, a more detailed view of media education pedagogy, and the challenges/opportunities.
For Buckingham, childhood (just like everything else) is not homogeneous. Meaning and experience are contingent upon other social factors, such as gender, race/ethnicity, social class, geographic location, etc. Likewise, blockages to media democratization are political and economic, not just technological. We experience all these things at unique positions in our social terrain, social field (Bourdieu, 1989). Buckingham’s research suggests “there is a widening gap between children’s worlds outside school and the emphases of many education systems” (32) and laments we “may see the emergence of an educational ‘underclass’ that is effectively excluded from access, not merely to economic capital but to social and cultural capital as well” (203). An late 90s UK study determined that middle-class kids, the “technology rich” (181) were about three times more likely to use multimedia computers at home than their working-class counterparts, the “technology poor” (ibid). Lacking access to technologies, these children suffer insufficient access “to cultural forms of expression and communication” (183).
The “so-called ‘creative industries’ (193) benefits extend beyond the economic. Consider the self esteem, the uncovering of unknown gifts that can “bring about the social and economic regeneration of disadvantaged communities” (ibid). Still, the differences between those who already have social and educational capital and those who do not is stark from the start, and this has become all the more dire since education is now perceived primarily as a consumer commodity, with its agonizing and useless standardized examinations.
“…key point here is that…potential benefits of digital technologies will not be realized without informed intervention on the part of teachers and…of peers… [There is a] need for reflection, deliberation, and dialogue” (187).
Buckingham advocates for multiliteracy, noting it’s not just about the plurality of modes of communication — and to be sure, there is a plurality — but the “inherently social nature of literacy” (38). Media education is the process of instruction and media literacy is the outcome. Media literacy comprises: reading, writing, the study of production, of representation, of audiences, and language. Media “intervene” — they provide the mode of communication, the context, and the content — and media production requires collaboration. For Buckingham, creative production’s distinct “social, collaborative” (Becker, 1984) function, hence, instruction, is more important than the “Romantic” (137) arguments for self-expression. He cares more about the social.
In the classroom, Buckingham finds: (1) Contextual analysis allows us to recognize the interconnections between forms of media language, as well as production and audience. (2) Simulations putting students in the role of media producer results not in a parroting of mainstream media but a critical distancing.
This is more than just “functional literacy…. For want of a better term, media literacy is a form of critical literacy) (37-38).