Some people would argue that this child has an advantage over some other children when it comes to literacy. Someone, they would say, has introduced this child to the concept of reading, of printed text, of photographic images and the information they convey. This child probably sees people reading and is learning to imitate that behavior.
Because this child probably lives in an environment where people read, the vocabulary to which this child is exposed likely consists of more words and of more complex words.
Fast forward three to four years.
The drawing on the right was produced by the same child.
"There, you see," some people would say.
"Someone put a crayon in that child's hands. That child has tools that will help him or her take advantage of opportunities later in life, opportunities of which other children without those tools will not be able to take advantage. This child is on the road to literacy.
"This child is privileged."
It depends on how we define literacy.
A 2009 report to the National Institute for Literacy recommended the definition of literacy be expanded "so researchers can broaden their inquiry to measure multiple aspects of language and literacy" (p. 17). These researchers would be "from many different and complementary fields," including "developmental neurobiology, education, sociology, anthropology, and other fields to develop a full definition of language and literacy" (p. 18).
Nowhere in the document did the writers offer a definition of literacy.
What does the picture say about this child's life?
Notice I used the word say rather than show.
What the picture shows is a very young child, probably Caucasian, with bright eyes and baby-fine hair, wearing overalls and a shirt, sitting on a chair with an open magazine on his/her lap. The magazine is opened to a double-trucked* photograph with a half-page column that appears to contain text. The child's mouth is open; the child is looking directly at the camera or the person behind the camera. The child's arm is raised and the child's hand is either behind or just touching his/her ear. Deep shadows lie to the right (in the picture -- it would actually be to the left of the child) of each object within the picture.
But what does the picture say? Of equal importance, what does the picture not say? And what is implied?
Well, the child in the picture is clothed and appears healthy and well-fed, which suggests someone provides for this child's physical needs. The child is sitting on an upholstered chair, which suggests someone in the child's life has a concept of furniture (or at least of chairs) and an awareness of their purposes. the magazine in the child's lap suggests someone in the child's life has a concept of reading The child looks directly at the camera/person behind the camera and the expression on the child's face is neither sad nor angry nor fearful, which suggests some level of trust with whatever is taking place. The deep shadows come from an otherwise unseen bright light on the left (the child's right). An unseen someone with a camera has captured this child in this moment.
What the picture does not say -- does not tell us -- is who the child is, how the picture came to be, what happened afterward, or a host of other things. Some questions left unanswered are:
When was the picture taken? Photography began in the 1800s, but magazines containing photographs didn't appear until the early 20th century. Another photograph in the sequence reveals the magazine is Argosy, and a search of covers indicates this is the April, 1955 issue. We can infer the picture was taken sometime after that month and year, but that is as far as we can narrow the when without testing the original for the chemicals used to process the photo.
Where was the picture taken?Argosy was an American magazine, generally considered a men's pulp fiction magazine -- albeit with stories by writers such as Erle Stanley Gardner -- so we can infer the picture probably was taken somewhere in the United States of America. . . or on an American military base. . . or in an American territory (Guam?). . . or in any of the many other places Americans have traveled and lived.
Who is the child? Given the information above, and barring the possibility the child may have been adopted, it is likely the child is an American child. Given the general appearance of the child, the child's clothing, the upholstered chair, the magazine, and the existence of a camera, it is likely the child is not a child of extreme poverty. Given the informal setting and the quality of the magazine, it is likely -- but not certain -- the child is not a child of extreme wealth. Beyond that, we don't know the child's gender, the child's internal health, the child's abilities or inabilities, the child's family structure, the child's culture, or anything else about the child. We can't even be sure of the child's racial/ethnic heritage.
What was the occasion for the picture? I can think of two possibilities. In one scenario, the child finds the magazine, drags it to the chair, puts the magazine on the chair, climbs up into the chair, and arranges himself/herself in a position simulating reading activity the child previously has observed. The person behind the camera takes advantage of a serendipitous moment and captures the child in action. In the second scenario, the person behind the camera or some other person places the child in the chair and places the magazine on the child's lap to suggest the child has indicated an interest in reading the magazine. The person behind the camera captures a staged moment. Are there other possible scenarios? Of course! Can I think of them at the moment? Nope.
Recently, I had a conversation with a colleague from a different department. I mentioned I was working on a paper about how teachers perceive parents.
She nodded, and made some comment about how teachers talk about parents.
"I know a kindergarten teacher," she said, "who had a child yanked out of her class the third week of school because the parents were upset that she had not corrected the child's spelling on something."
She went on to say the teacher had tried to explain to the parents that inventive spelling is developmentally appropriate at this age and that correcting the child's spelling this early in her schooling could be detrimental.
"Can you imagine the parents pulling her out of the class the third week of kindergarten over something like this?" she concluded.
When I suggested that maybe the parents were right to be concerned, my colleague clearly thought I was one French fry short of a Happy Meal, as the colloquialism goes.
Let's first note that such reputable, parent-friendly online sources as Education.com back up this view of invented spelling, noting that it may be frustrating for parents to ignore misspellings but that the important thing is that "Children should feel like successful, independent writers" (para. 5).
But what does developmentally appropriate mean, and why do I call them constricting chains?
(Want to multitask? Listen to this post by clicking the link embedded in the title above.)
It never fails.
All the good stuff pops up at the end. That's what has happened as I have read and searched and tried to understand the relationship between the news media and how policy develops.
I have revisited my journalism studies, looking specifically for information about 1) how journalists report on policy, especially education policy, and 2) more specifically, how the way journalists report on education policy affects the way policy is formed.
I also have read books about making policy, looking specifically for information about how policy makers -- widely defined -- use news media as a tool and/or view news media as a factor in the policy-making process.
What I have seen so far, leads me to believe a blind spot may exist.
Policy analysts tend to comment on what the news reports said -- but not on how the way the news was reported might affect the process. Journalists -- who, by the nature of their jobs, generally don't broadcast their introspections -- tend to look at what each other is reporting, how, and whether they can apply that to their local community.
As a result, each group plays the other and neither group is willing to acknowledge playing anything at all.
In an article in the International Journal of Leadership in Education, Stack (2010) put it this way, "Policy makers and journalists attempt to mobilize symbolic capital within and across their fields to be seen as having knowledge that is worthy of recognition" (p. 108).
Or as Kaniss put it, speaking specifically of reporters (but applicable to all of us) who have an innate desire to “write the most important story of the day and have it given the greatest prominence” (Kaniss, 1991, p. 73).
Look, for instance, at the Education Writers Association's Web site. Notice that the left rail features paid press release space, i.e., fodder from policy organizaitons for potential news stories they're hoping writers will pick up on. And here is the focus of the site, captured in a link to recent EWA contest winners:
How We Did the Story: Contest Winners Share Tips on Ed Beat On Ed Beat, several winners of our 2010 contest have shared the process they used to bring their acclaimed stories to their readers. This is a great resource for writers on the ed beat to pick up pointers for their own reporting, and to gain new insight into the stories that shaped the national education conversation in 2010.
So where does that leave me with this particular several-week study and what else have I learned?
Last question first: As a result of this particular assignment, I have reacquainted myself with IMovie and its podcast-making capabilities. I was familiar with a previous version of IMovie – had even made some 3-5 minute videocasts – then, unknowingly, bought a newer version – and was suddenly stymied. I’m finding the newer version requires some coaxing, but I’m seeing the possibilities once again.
My journalistic curiosity has been reawakened. For a while, it was easier to let policy pass me by. I’m even considering watching the school board meetings again. Hardcore stuff. How that will figure in to children’s literature, I’m not sure.
Finally, I’ve been amazed at the multitude of well-developed online outlets that have sprung up over the last couple of years. I shouldn’t be, of course. With so many traditional news outlets trimming staff and with so many online opportunities for entrepreneurial types – and concerned citizen-stakeholders – the increase in online alternative coverage was bound to happen. In a previous post, I listed two. My final tally lists six – by next month there could be more.
Which leads me back to where I’m left at the end of this several-weeks study of the relationship between news media and education policy.
Answer? In two places:
1) I have a much better awareness of the myriad national and local second-tier news sources (view the list here) I need to monitor to have a more well-rounded picture of the education world in general and of education policy in particular, and
2) I have a focus for a deeper study of how the two worlds affect each other. The good stuff that came at the end is good, indeed, but it deserves its own study and not to be tacked on to the end of this one.
References: Kaniss, P. (1991). Kaniss, P. (1991). Making Local News. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Making Local News. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Stack, M. L. (April-June 2010). Spin as symbolic capital: The fields of journalism and education policy-making. International Journal of Leadership in Education, 13(2), 107-119.
Nope. I didn't forget where this discussion was headed.
It's just so easy to get diverted onto side trails and to wander among Elysian Fields of anything but education policy. Not that I'm not enjoying this excursion into the quagmires of policy and legislation. But, hmmmm, quagmires vs. Elysian Fields should say something.
So -- back to the in's and out's of this study of second-tier media. We've issued a cautionary caveat about the tangled web of media ownership. And we've noted what's out as far as this study is concerned: obvious first-tier national and local news organizations, local news organizations without a Web presence, other-than-English news outlets, and one online blog about local education but written by reporters for a first-tier local news organization.
So what's in?
In order to answer that question -- we're getting there, I promise -- we need to look at how the news media landscape has shifted over the last several years. Specifically, we need to look at some upstart new players.
The changes are two-fold. First, the players are changing. It's not just traditional news organizations putting up Web sites and sharing news from print to Web and back again. Second, the delivery substructure is changing so drastically that the relationship between news organization and news consumer is convoluted and tenuous.
In fact, the Pew report said, "It may be than in the digital realm the news industry is no longer in control of its own future."
Mainly because the behind-the-scenes online conduit components are not owned by the newspapers themselves. Print newspapers print their own papers, or hire a printer to do so, and hire delivery people to drop them on people's doorsteps or to fill vending machines. News broadcasters generally broadcast over frequencies owned by their company.
But online distribution is more complicated. As the Pew report points out, device makers, software developers, news aggregators, and social networks each have their own platform requirements and rules. And, while the end user, i.e. the news consumer, doesn't usually pay for news except when he/she buys a new computer (not seen in the same light as buying a news subscription), each of these links in the distribution news chain cost news organizations money.
Of more concern, the news consumer may access the news by clicking on a link on a social networking site -- but the link may have originated with a friend of a friend of a friend in Outer Mongolia. Indirect links make it almost impossible for news organizations to track audience data, which they use to target content and advertising to specific audiences and which is the commodity they sell to advertisers.
The results? The Pew report says, "Financially, the tipping point also has come. When the final tally is in, online ad revenue in 2010 is projected to surpass print newspaper ad revenue for the first time. The problem for news is that by far the largest share of that online ad revenue goes to non-news sources, particularly to aggregators."
Here's the kicker. Those news aggregators -- Yahoo, AOL, Bloomberg, and others -- are developing their own news organizations. Some of them can be considered second-tier news organizations -- for the time being, at least. Another ten years and, who knows?
(See, I told you I hadn't forgotten where we were headed!)
So -- here's what I'm including in this particular review:
Here's a link to an 8-minute video of Christopher Cross speaking about national education policy. The video is an edited version of an almost 90-minute talk Cross gave at one of the Gottesman Libraries, part of Columbia University's Teacher College.