Media Education and Media Studies Media

15 Apr 2011.
Bazalgette argues that one of the main errors made by Scottish teachers lay in their failure to comprehend that her swingeing attack on media education was not meant to apply to media studies. She did not argue, as Murphy alleges, that media studies is confused and contradictory. She "argued that media education is confused and contradictory. When I use the term 'media education', as the paper makes clear, I am referring to media education in the mandatory sector and the still unrealised goal of making it a universal entitlement. This is not the same as Media Studies, by which I mean optional specialist courses post-14, which are taken by a minority of students and where the arguments are quite different. Media Studies has successfully gained ground; media education hasn't. I think that's a problem".
The "error" of Scottish teachers in failing to grasp Bazalgette's highly idiosyncratic definition of media education is certainly understandable. It is not a definition which her paper makes clear, as she asserts (there is no reference to it in my copy). And whilst the exclusion of media studies from the term 'media education' might have some claim to be an original linguistic contribution to the field, it is not, I fear, a useful one. Words cannot simply mean what we choose. In the real world they have a currency and logic both of which collapse in Bazalgette's usage. "Media education has to be seen as an umbrella term, which includes media studies courses and indeed any other forms of teaching about the media" as Cary Bazalgette put it in 1989.
The problem for Bazalgette is that her response will look to many like an inglorious retreat from her arguments in the face of teacher criticism. In backing down, however, she has replaced an intellectually untenable argument with one which is, frankly, gibberish. Her argument now appears to be that whilst media education is confused and contradictory, media studies is not or may not be. At first sight this seems to be an absurd position, and a better example of "confused and contradictory" argument than any that media educators have ever produced. It certainly requires some elaboration, justification or even minimal explanation.
In fact media studies and media education share a common conceptual framework. In the words of the BFI's own Secondary Curriculum statement "the basic premises and conceptual structure of media education and media studies should be substantially the same". It is a framework which, with minor modifications, has been coherent and persuasive enough to command the allegiance and underpin the practice of media teachers across the globe. This has been a remarkable and major achievement carried out (pace Bazalgette's protestations of failure) in the short space of fifteen years and in the face of an almost universally hostile and conservative educational climate.
Bazalgette's belief that "media studies has successfully gained ground; media education hasn't" strongly suggests that media studies is not vulnerable to the charges she lays against media education. The problem for Bazalgette is that her criticisms of media education were primarily theoretical ones: "it's incoherent, it's unmanageable, it's a theoretical hybrid, it's trying to do too much. It can never form the basis of a coherent model of learning" (my emphasis). To sustain her revised position Bazalgette would have to demonstrate that there are theoretical differences between media education and media studies which are of such magnitude that they have made media education incoherent whilst media studies has remained successful. Since, if such major theoretical differences did exist Bazalgette would almost certainly have mentioned them, the suspicion must exist that she has simply failed to think through even the most immediate consequences of her position.
Bazalgette's paper to AMES is very similar to a number of others she has presented over the past few years. An examination of these papers does suggest a shifting of position. Addressing the London Media '98 conference in 1998, Bazalgette did explicitly make a distinction between media education and media studies courses. However her criticisms of conceptual confusion seemed to apply to both.
"The purpose of specialist media studies courses is not substantially clearer (than that of media education). With the Marxist project relegated to collective amnesia, few teachers can offer a cogent and convincing case for studying media institutions or for continuing to struggle with vast ranges of media within a single syllabus."
In a paper written for a conference in Vienna in 1999 Bazalgette presented her now familiar criticisms of what she this time called 'the media education project. Here she made no distinction between media education and media studies and it is reasonable to suppose that her international audience, like AMES teachers, will have assumed she was including both in her criticisms.
On the basis of these three papers it does seem as if Bazalgette intended to make a broadly based attack upon media education, from which media studies had not been excluded, and that in the face of criticism from teachers she has retreated to a position which hinges on a crucial distinction between these two "fields". Precisely what this distinction is, however, she does not specify. Her retreat, far from being a safe haven, has opened up theoretical problems so formidable that they render her argument unintelligible.
Bazalgette's now "clarified" position poses further questions both for her and the BFI. If media education is so lacking in rigour, if "it can never form the basis of a coherent model of learning", then why has the BFI been advocating it for the past fifteen years? ? Has it suddenly become incoherent? Apakah tiba-tiba menjadi membingungkan? Or has the BFI been responsible for leading teachers up the garden path for all of this time? And as the institution which has arrogated to itself a leading role in the development of media education in England and Wales over the past decade, might not the BFI itself bear at least a smidgen of responsibility for some of the failings of the movement, and for some of the criticisms which might legitimately be made of it?

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