Read the Epilogue

Epilogue by Renee Hobbs

CITE AS: Hobbs, R. (2016). Eipologue. In R. Hobbs (Ed.) Exploring the Roots of Digital and Media Literacy through Personal Narrative (pp. 233 - 236). Philadelphia: Temple University Press. 

by Renee Hobbs
It’s humbling to write about the past. Whatever you think you do know, you are always aware that there is so much more that you don’t know. More than three hundred years ago, in Discourse on Method, René Descartes described these same feelings of hesitation regarding his writings about scientific and philosophical inquiry: “I am quite willing it be known that the little I have hitherto learned is almost nothing in comparison with that of which I am ignorant” (2004, 85).

I am aware that this book offers a counternarrative of sorts to the ways in which media literacy education’s intellectual roots have been typically described in relation to media arts, critical theory, and media-effects scholarship. There is no one “right” way to tell the stories of the past. Indeed, “any story one may tell about anything is better understood by considering other possible ways in which it can be told” (Bruner 2004, 709). For me, this is important because media literacy must be understood as fundamentally tied to the reinvigoration of the humanities. And as each generation recognizes the need for “emancipation from alienation,” as Charles Reitz (2009, 230) has described it, we must recognize and resist the many forces that contribute to dehumanization within our culture and the global political economy. Because media literacy combines aesthetic and civic education in ways that lead beyond the classroom, it is a source of perpetually fresh insights on culture, education, politics, technology, and the arts.

This book raises many new research questions, including some that urgently need examination. Kellner’s suggestion, in Chapter 10, that we consider more deeply the role the VHS video recorder played as an early teaching tool for media literacy makes me yearn to talk more with teachers who were using this device for off-air taping back when I was. What will we learn when we compare and contrast the off-air taping practices of the 1980s and 1990s to the very different strategies used by teachers today to connect home and classroom, in which teachers rely on YouTube as a ubiquitous resource for sharing contemporary media content?

After reading Donna Alvermann’s essay, I want to reflect more on media literacy’s relationship to de Beauvoir’s paradox of existentialism—with its combination of total freedom and total involvement—as a way to better understand the strange source of passion that some people have for media literacy. I also want to consider media literacy in relation to the need for “spaciousness” in our interdisciplinary perspectives—especially at the intersection of communication and education. Could spaciousness be an antidote to the limitations of hyperspecialization in the academy? What kinds of historical formulations could best support the emergence of new insights and new knowledge?

Finally, this book has reminded me of how much I fear staying “within the safe bounds of expertise,” where teachers “maintain the delusion of mastery” (Palmer 1983, 114). Certainly my own (sometimes perverse) antipathy toward expertise and authority is bundled up with my personal identity as a learner. It has made me wonder: Why has media literacy not yet reached the tipping point to gain a real foothold in K–12 education? Why is it such an unfinished project that must be reinvented anew each generation? What will it take for media literacy to become as recognized as multiple intelligences or the flipped classroom, and would that even be desirable? What might be the consequences of such visibility?

In analyzing the autobiographies in this volume, which weave together bits of the authors’ life stories with the ideas of their intellectual grandparents, I am aware of the indeterminacy and incompleteness of the process of reconstructing a history of media literacy education in the United States and around the world. So much more needs to be said. I am grateful to Elizabeth Thoman, founder of the Center for Media Literacy in Los Angeles, for inspiring my interest in media literacy history by sharing her archive, a treasure trove of resources for future historians. I am also grateful to Michael RobbGrieco for developing a comprehensive intellectual history of media literacy in the United States in his analysis of Media and Values magazine, which was published from 1977 to 1993. And of course, I am grateful to the authors of the essays in this volume, which have only intensified my curiosity and desire to learn more. They have generously shared their journeys of intellectual discovery while introducing us to key ideas from some of the most important thinkers, scholars, and voices of the twentieth century.

Although I believe this book offers many insights on the ways in which media literacy developed in relation to key philosophical and theoretical ideas advanced by scholars and researchers in the twentieth century, there are limitations to using personal narrative to examine the historical roots of media literacy. Autobiographical narratives are reflexive: the author and the subject are the same. As Bruner (2004) explains, this creates some problems: we may rationalize our experiences and actions in light of our current perspective on the world; our telling of our experiences cannot be easily verified; and the very act of telling the story distorts our memories. In stories, because the protagonists are the agents, stuff happens to them and they cause things to happen. In life, it’s more far complicated than that.

That’s because these stories also invite us to enter the interior worlds of authors, as “they hope, are doubting and confused, [and] wonder about appearance and reality” (Bruner 2004, 699). In some ways, the characteristics of these essays, with their transparent, self-centered articulation of how we engage with ideas across our lifetimes, are the book’s real assets. This book invites you, the reader, to consider your own past, current, and future contributions to media literacy as embedded in the fabric of your everyday relationships and life experiences.

If you’re like me, every once in a while, you enjoy flipping through old picture albums and remembering days gone by. It reminds you of who you really are. In the late 1990s, I corresponded with Boston-based journalist and writer Ken Sanes, who shares his insights on living in a media-saturated culture on a website called Transparency. Sanes (1997) explores the soul of contemporary culture “to discover what it reveals about the human condition,” recognizing that “many of the stories that are told in the media contain an ethical vision that expresses our desire to create a new society, a new identity, and a new order of nature that embodies our highest values.” Through connecting media literacy’s past to the present and future, we imagine how to move toward this important goal.
Bruner, J. S. 2004. “Life as Narrative.” Social Research 71 (3): 691–710.
Descartes, R. 2004. Discourse on Method. Collector’s Library of Essential Thinkers.
Reitz, C. 2009. “Herbert Marcuse and the Humanities: Emancipatory Educations versus Predatory Capitalism.” In Marcuse’s Challenge to Education, edited by D. Kellne, 229–258. New York: Rowman and Littlefield.
Sanes, K. 1997. “A Message to Teachers and Students.” Transparency. Available at

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