EDITOR’S NOTE: A previous version of this article said the junior bill allocated $50,000 for statewide media literacy, when $390,000 was allocated.
“It’s a complex world we are living in, so being media literate — if you’re not media literate, you’re not prepared to function as a citizen of this century, you’re not literate.”
Pamela Pereyra has been a media literacy educator for more than 20 years, acting as the New Mexico chairwoman for Media Literacy Now, an nationwide advocacy organization for media literacy, and the founder and director of Media Savvy Citizens.
“Yes, you may be able to read a book, or write a letter or write an email, but we need to do a lot more than read and write,” she said.
The U.S. National Association for Media Literacy Education defines media literacy as “the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, create, and act using all forms of communication.”
Much like literacy itself, media literacy is an umbrella term encompassing all the ways to interact and understand the thousands of mediated messages around us. It can be broken down into different categories, such as news literacy, digital literacy and information literacy, but all have to do with critically looking at the message being sent.
“If you think about media, media is beyond broadcasting, newspapers, radio and TV. We are living in a world that is networked, it is instant,” Pereyra said. “We have social media, we have lots of communications that are mediated, including the language of coding.”
As recently as a couple of decades ago, people consumed media differently. What used to be a top-down model with the message controlled by few has transformed into a web with the integration of the internet into everyday life.
“We are bombarded with images and icons and brands, just all the different ways, memes and 140 characters,” Pereyra said. “So, all of those are messages coming from the media and are mediated. The media is not they, it’s us. It used to be they, top down, but now it’s us.”
Both Media Literacy Now and Media Savvy Citizens focuses on incorporating media literacy education into K-12 schools.
In 2020, Media Savvy Citizens launched a pilot program to integrate media literacy education into the general curriculum through a program titled “Teachers Transform.”
Belen Consolidated Schools was one of 30 different school districts that participated in the pilot program.
Pereyra said teaching students to analyze media messages using skills such as identifying bias and credibility is one of the focuses of the program.
“On YouTube, just because somebody has millions of followers does not make that person credible, it just makes them popular … (and it) does not make them credible on a specific matter, like if you are looking at COVID or you’re looking at any number of issues,” she said.
During the 2022 New Mexico Legislative session, Senate Bill 195 would have expanded media literacy education in public schools, appropriating $400,000 to the cause, however the bill died in committee and never made it to the Senate floor.
After the first rendition of the junior appropriations bill was vetoed by the governor in March, during the last special session, a similar bill was approved, appropriating $390,000 to the New Mexico Public Education Department for an expansion of statewide media literacy program.
While Media Literacy Now and Media Savvy Citizens are focusing their efforts on teaching media literacy to up-and-coming generations, the local Valencia County Literacy Council plans to provide digital literacy education to adults in the area.
Although the council has been providing various literacy services to county residents since 1984, their scope was reduced for the past two years due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the shift to online.
Now, the council is working to again expand its services, and is looking to media and digital literacy as a way to do that.
“We are kind of in diapers trying to move to the real ESL and basic English literacy, then we are moving into media literacy and digital literacy,” said Valencia County Literacy Council Executive Director Dores Jay-Pang.
Jay-Pang said they have already been looking at possible curriculum for the additional service on the ProLiteracy website, the national body of the council. The curriculum would focus on how to use social media, apply the theory of media to reality and separate false information from reality.
“We get a lot of people with wrong information and a lot of people who use lawyers who are not real lawyers and end up paying — one paid $11,000, another $6,000 — to fix their citizenship,” Jay-Pang said.
She said one of the individuals who lost money received help from a state legislator and was able to recover the lost funds.
Jay-Pang has high hopes they can begin a course on social media literacy within the next two months
“We are tired of telling people don’t do that (find lawyers to help with citizenship papers), do it through the consulate, do it through the embassy,” Jay-Pang said. “But, people are afraid that they are going to be sent back … to immigration services.”
The Valencia County Literacy Council also currently provides a course on civics and citizenship.
The council is now serving 50 students with nine tutors on board since beginning the rebuilding of the program. They are also working on getting an Americorps volunteer to continue expanding services.
“We really want to excel, so we are trying to bring the best tutors that we can,” Jay-Pang said. “We have really good tutors, but we need more tutors.”
For more information about receiving tutoring or to be a tutor, call VCLC’s volunteer coordinator Cecy Rodriguez at 505-925-8926.
The Belen Public Library will be offering a new course on media literacy, covering topics such as identifying reputable news sources, fact-checking, and bias at 10:15 a.m., Tuesday, May 10.
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Makayla Grijalva was born and raised in Las Cruces. She is a 2020 graduate of The University of New Mexico, where she studied multimedia journalism, political science and history. She covers the village of Los Lunas, Los Lunas Schools, SODA and the town of Peralta.