The Challenges and Rewards of Critical Media Literacy in the Age of the Neoliberal University

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In recent years, media literacy education has been touted as a vital skill for the 21st century digital age (Bindig, 2016; Hobbs, 2010; Jenkins, 2013; Thoman & Jolls, 2003). Despite this emphasis on media literacy skills, current American models typically relegate media literacy education to youth in K-12 classrooms. As students move on to post-secondary education, media literacy may exist, but often as an isolated course rather than being fully integrated into the college curriculum. In the event that a holistic media literacy curriculum is available in higher education, it is primarily for students in the disciplines of Communication and Media Studies or Education, and there is no guarantee that it will adopt a critical approach.

If scholars ever hope to grow the critical media literacy movement and foster engaged socially-conscious citizens, it is imperative to reflect on the central role the neoliberal university plays in that endeavor. In particular, faculty must develop strategies for combatting a number of institutional factors (such as administrative ignorance, revenue-driven decision-making, lack of resources, vocationalism, and disciplinary silos) that undermine and dilute critical media literacy within the academy. When educators are able to break through these barriers, the university can become a rich site for fostering critical media literacy and can even begin to dismantle the very trend of neoliberalism. Using first-hand examples, this paper addresses the challenges and rewards of developing and implementing critical media literacy curricula in the age of the neoliberal university.