Dark clouds race towards your house, the winds are blowing faster than a car speeding through town. Your home is surrounded by trees being blown about. Will anything survive? The rains pound on the roof and the eerie sound of creaking makes you wonder if the roof will hold.
In the aftermath of the storm, you decide to make your way outside to see how much damage was done. There is debris everywhere across the yard, the street is still flooded. Tree branches are splintered and hanging sadly from the trunk. Which trees survived?
The new young saplings barely had a chance to grow enough roots to hold tight to the earth. They were the first to be knocked clean over. The trees that stayed planted were those with deep roots and flexible branches.
The network of reliable roots provided strength and stability for the tree. It was able to rely on its roots to hold it upright. Similar to these trees we are tossed around by powerful winds.
The winds we face are the flurry of messages from various media outlets that bombard our minds every waking hour.
Those messages can come from commercials, billboards, social media, word-of-mouth or other forms of written works. With all the confusing and conflicting messaging out there, how do you decide what to believe? How do you trust the information you are hearing?
Where do your beliefs and attitudes about the world around you come from? Is it from your family, your friends, your teachers, your religion, scientific studies, or the general society around you? In some way it is all of those sources combined.
Another major influence on our attitudes comes from strong messages in the media. One of the first things you can do when faced with new information is to ask some simple probing questions such as:
Who’s telling me this?
Where did they hear it from?
What sources did they use to get the information?
Is that source credible or reliable?
Who benefits from this?
According to the National Association for Media Literacy Education, Media literacy is “the ability to identify different types of media and the messages they are sending.” When each student begins school we learn to become literate by understanding the basics of the alphabet, word structure, and ultimately how to read. Similarly we need to become media literate in order to interpret the world around us in a healthy way.
There are many conflicting messages and a staggering amount of information available to us. Becoming media literate can empower you to “be critical thinkers and makers, effective communicators and active citizens.”
Many trees have fruit, but not every tree has the fruit you want.
When you search online for let’s say an “apple” not only will images of a juicy red delicious appear, but you’ll have to skim past the advertisements for Apple computers, then scroll down past blog articles on the best apple strudel recipe and so on. You know that you’ll need to sift through all the information at your fingertips to find that apple shaped coin pouch you wanted to get for your teacher appreciation gift. To find it faster you go directly to Etsy and in its search engine type “Apple bag”, and voila, you found it!
Why do you think that it was so much easier to find what you needed while on the crafting site, versus searching through the entire internet? Some sources are more relevant and others not as relevant to the content you’re researching. Not all sources of information are inherently, “bad” or “good”. It’s important to learn to recognize which sources most accurately apply to your topic of choice.
5 steps to use while reviewing media messages:
- Access – how you find the information
- Analyze – review the facts before you
- Evaluate – determine the credibility of the source
- Create – choose how you will interpret this information
- Act – carefully decide how you will act knowing this new information.
Resilient Trees have Strong Roots
The winds mentioned earlier, were the messages you see from all the media around you. When searching for a reliable source of information it is important to be able to sort the strong sources from those that are weak. A credible source is like a strong tree with deep roots.
Not only do you want to find the strongest sources possible, but finding multiple sources allows you to analyze the information placed before you, compare them, and come to a conclusion.
You will be more empowered to make educated decisions about your beliefs on the specific topic you’re discovering.
To illustrate this point, we will take a look at the Tabonuco Tree. This tree is known for being incredibly resilient during torrential rains and large scale storms. Amber Dance, a Biologist on The-Scientist.com explains that “In addition to dropping their leaves, tabonuco trees intertwine their roots to create a network to share nutrients and form a strong anchor on exposed ridges.”
While you conduct your research and form your conclusions, if you have multiple reliable sources to reference, then you’ll be able to weather the storm of media messages flying at you.
Be like the tabonuco tree and create a network of reliable sources.
Plant A New Tree with Strong Roots, Practice at Home
You may be feeling a bit overwhelmed by all of the content out there and the responsibility you have to sift through it and come to healthy conclusions.
You may be feeling like you want to just ignore this lesson because it’s too hard to do the work, and probe deeper to find the root of the information in front of you.
It’s okay to feel whatever you feel. Whenever you come to a conclusion remember that with more information comes opportunity for more insights and discovery.
There’s no need to be afraid of the many voices in our world. Media literacy begins similarly to how you learned to read. It starts by learning the fundamentals, practicing, and eventually it will become second nature.
Now it’s your turn to pick a topic close to your heart: karate, eating disorders, healthy pancake recipes, or even how to become a pop star.
Follow the five steps: access, analyze, evaluate, create and ask.
Happy researching – and remember this is a discovery process, so have fun!