Collaboration and Cultural Identity in the Classroom

The Jump Off/My Known Knowns—

  • I believe in teaching media production to youth residing on Chicago’s South and West sides. When done proper it can empower the youth, their community, as well as foster a sense of civic engagement (one that opens new opportunities/helps those who’ve been excluded from traditional political processes to both re-evaluate the old and find new avenues for expression).
  • Media coverage outside of Chicago’s loop—especially youth-related stories—sucks. Local, mainstream outlets largely ignore these neighborhoods save a sensational headline.
  • But, audiences are no longer passive consumers of media. (I can pick and choose what I want/when I want it. Yeaaaa, buddy.) We can hold producers accountable and question them more outright. (Why are YOU telling this story? What/Who was left out in your storytelling PROCESS?)
  • The above + the more equally diverse (gender, racially, socioeconomically) usage of social media = the potential for a TRULY collaborative and democratic dialogue through media (both in production/consumption, etc.).

OK. Now we can get to it.

I’m spiraling deep down a rabbit hole of research and theories related to new media curriculum development I’m doing for my job (the receiver of my heart and most of my time). I need to start mental dumping the mania going on up top.

My gut reaction: There isn’t anything quite that new in new media education that progressives haven’t already been calling for. It necessitates a more equal power dynamic amongst instructor and student (iLove) and forces the instructor to take into consideration the cultural identity of the youth she is educating instead of having to stick to standards/qualifications that are rooted in white privilege. (hooray)

But how does this happen?

In terms of power dynamics: Youth are perceived as “digital natives”, often times utilizing new tech and networks far more frequently than their older teacher counterparts (wattup regurgitation of generational gaps/smh at kids these days). THIS IS A GREAT THING. Instead of a top-down/delivering only one right solution model, this opens up the possibility for more COLLABORATIVE LEARNING—where the instructor and students are having a-ha moments on the regular, together.

I tested this out while facilitating a Civic Media program this summer that aimed to breakdown the stereotypes imposed upon Chicago’s youth by mainstream media. Youth were given a framework and standards within which to operate, but encouraged to develop their own style/trouble shoot tech issues when reporting. The result? There were more opportunities for more socialized learning, where process became just as important as product.

But what was key in getting youth to take ownership of their work/website? We were rooted in using cultural identity as both an asset and foundation to their reporting. We looked at the stagnate/previously depleting number of minorities in newsrooms versus the rise of minorities within the general United States population. We broke down their experiences and juxtaposed them with imposed norms they identified. From there, THEY TOOK OFF. They picked stories and stayed grounded in data—as well as the ethical and accuracy pillars of journalism—to present a more accurate picture. But those initial conversations and deconstruction of media were essential in getting them to realize their experiences had a weight/mattered and could be utilized as insider expertise when going into communities that felt largely disrespected/disregarded/fucked over by authorities, officials, newspapers, etc. As journalists its their job to ask questions. But this critical lens, and understanding how needed it is, helped shaped what kinds of questions to ask.

They didn’t feel discounted or discarded as youth (or because of other socioeconomic, racial or gender factors). They leveraged their identities to be good journalists. They became driven to plant the seeds for a better dialogue within their city.

I am grateful for them. And this is my attempt at trying to do better by/for them. My attempt to understand, unlearn and make a case for more permanent spaces where collaboration is accepted (across ages) and cultural identity is valued. So here we go.

“We must destroy in order to rebuild—wake up you might as well.”