Beyond Blame Overview

Beyond Blame: Challenging Violence in the Media
Middle School Unit
Beyond Blame Description and Longitudinal Evaluation
Aimed at middle school students, Beyond Blame gives students and teachers alike a solid introduction to applying media literacy learning and to changing attitudes and behaviors.  Beyond Blame is engaging for teachers and students, and enables students to explore media and violence in a safe and meaningful way.  How?  By utilizing a common methodology for critical analysis that drives higher-order thinking skills and an "internalized" filtering system for discernment. This approach applies to ALL media -- social media, videogames, videos, advertisements, and cartoons, for example.
The Curriculum is available in hard copy and on DVD, with a Professional Development module,  Educator Guide (with 10 Lessons), Student Book, and media clips and samples.  Thorough explanations and teaching tips and strategies are offered, with linkages to Common Core State Standards as well as national health and technology standards. 
A longitudinal evaluation study of Beyond Blame by UCLA shows that students of trained teachers who delivered the curriculum: a) agree that media violence may cause adverse effecs b) understand CML's Five Core Concepts of media literacy c) mitigate their media use and d) reduce their aggression. These significant findings demonstrate that media literacy is indeed an effective health intervention strategy as well as a proven way to enable students to acquire content knowledge, as well.
          "My students were on fire as we worked through the Beyond Blame lessons," said Brad Koepenick, who taught at PUC Charter Schools during the curriculum evaluation and was the 2006 California Charter School Teacher of the Year.  "When people ask me how I get results with my students, I simply say, 'media literacy!'" 
          "I hadn't taught media literacy before, but the Beyond Blame Facilitator Guide was very helpful with explanations and with comprehensive lessons, and the CML training was helpful, too.  My students continually talked with me about violence and media, even after they completed my courses and moved on," said Beth Thornhill, middle school teacher, Palm Springs Unified School District.
Media has long been identified by the public health community as a risk factor involved in violence, alcohol, and tobacco use, and media literacy is recognized as a resiliency factor — a life skill to strengthen and individual's ability to resist negative messages that are powerfully packaged and promoted in the media.
Media literacy is often a missing ingredient in approaches to violence prevention that only emphasize interpersonal skills or individual/group counseling — yet it is imperative that students acquire the critical inquiry skills necessary to deal with the information and media they encounter every day.  That is not to say that teaching conflict resolution is unimportant. Or that counseling for students is not necessary. Quite the contrary. They are also critical support necessary for successfully addressing the prevention of violence.
But it is impossible to separate individual behavior from the environment in which individuals function – and today, that environment is defined by media. With technology allowing nearly 24-hour media access as children and teens go about their daily lives, the amount of time young people spend with entertainment media has risen dramatically, especially among minority youth, according to a study released in 2009 by the Kaiser Family Foundation.  In 2009, 8-18 year-olds devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes (7:38) to using entertainment media across a typical day (more than 53 hours a week).  And because they spend so much of that time ‘media multitasking’ (using more than one medium at a time), they actually manage to pack a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes (10:45) worth of media content into those 7½ hours.
The amount of time spent with media increased by an hour and seventeen minutes a day over the past five years, from 6:21 in 2004 to 7:38 in 2009.  And because of media multitasking, the total amount of media content consumed during that period has increased from 8:33 in 2004 to 10:45 today. With this level of media use, youth spend more time in their media relationship than they do with any adult.
 "The media have redefined how we are supposed to treat one another. We've gone from 'Have a nice day' to 'Make my day.' Too many of our kids have learned this lesson. When the norm becomes threat and intimidation, then the extremes shift as well. They take the form of kids torturing and killing their peers," said Dr. David Walsh, president of the National Institute on Media and the Family in the Summer 1999 issue of Media Wise. Today, children's aggression against other children is the biggest threat they face in using new media, with cyberbullying and sexting causing not just angst, but suicides.
CML believes there is a need for three major approaches — media literacy, conflict resolution/interpersonal skills, and counseling — that can work together to make communities and their schools a place where children can be safe, healthy and whole.
How Media Literacy Education Can Lessen the Impact of Violence
"While the reasons for youth violence are complex, it is undeniable that the media play a powerful role in framing issues of violence, substance abuse and prejudice — often using them to entertain, rather than to educate.
"Eliminating the negative cultural effect of the media in our society lies not in censorship, but in providing young people with essential critical thinking and life skills. These skills allow young people to be discerning consumers of media and, more importantly, to become powerful forces for positive change in their lives and the lives of others." — Kevin M. Burke, District Attorney, Eastern District, Massachusetts
According to CML's Founder, Elizabeth Thoman, a recognized national expert on the subject of violence prevention and media education, there are five ways that effective media literacy education can contribute to lessening the impact of violence in our lives:
  • Reduce exposure, by educating parents and caregivers. For example, how many times have you been to a movie rated "R" for violence and seen children there?
  • Change the impact of violent images that are seen. This can be done by deconstructing the techniques used to stage violent scenes and decoding the various depictions of violence in news, , games, animation, drama, sports and music. It is important for children to learn early-on the difference between reality and fantasy and to learn the "language" of media production so that they can make healthy choices about their media consumption.
  • Explore alternatives to stories that focus on violence as the solution to interpersonal conflict. Collections of books and videos that provide positive role models can counterbalance the actions and attitudes of today's "superheroes."
  • Uncover and challenge the cultural, economic and political supports for media violence as well as the personal ways we may each be contributing to it. Media violence is not isolated from other social issues. Freedom of speech is rooted in the ability to challenge the political and economic status quo.
  • Promote informed and rational public debate in schools, community and civic gatherings, religious groups and in the media. We must ask ourselves what kind of culture we want our children to grow up in, and the role of media in contributing to public safety.
The critical inquiry skills learned through media literacy also contribute to address public health issues such as dieting and body image, sex, early sexual activity, pregnancy, obesity, substance abuse and poor nutrition. Again, media has been identified by the public health community as a risk factor involved in violence, alcohol and tobacco abuse. Media literacy is recognized as a resiliency factor by the public health community, a life skill to strengthen an individual's ability to resist negative messages that are powerfully packaged and promoted.
Furthermore, media literacy education is a natural way to address different learning styles and abilities. Understanding diverse learning styles is at the core of Harvard Professor How Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences, defined in his 1983 book, Frames of Mind. These types of intelligences include: verbal/linguistic; logical/mathematical; visual/spatial; body/kinesthetic; musical/rhythmic; interpersonal; intrapersonal; naturalist. Traditional education — which fosters primarily linguistic and logical learning styles — risks failing to engage minds blessed with other types of intelligence. Media literacy, because of the wide range of media and content used, embraces all.
CML's Approach in Beyond Blame: Challenging Violence in the Media
From the very beginning, Beyond Blame was designed as a comprehensive program to reach communities and parents, local organizations, churches and schools. Although providing educational training and curricula is a key component of the program, the concept behind Beyond Blame goes further: to engage citizens and spur individual action. It is a concept that only now is being recognized as an urgent priority for the American people, as our society realizes that media are not "passive or objective" relayers of information, and that technology is now providing a voice for all Americans — a voice that, through the internet and other channels, can be heard globally.
And through the changes in cultural attitudes toward tobacco use in the U.S., American have seen that change is possible, and that the public does not have to passively accept behaviors that are ultimately harmful to individuals and society as a whole.
The goals of the Beyond Blame initiative are to mitigate the impact of violence on our lives through media education by the five points detailed: reduce exposure; change the impact of violent images that are seen; explore alternatives to stories that focus on violence as the solution to interpersonal conflict; uncover and challenge the cultural, economic and political supports for media violence as well as the personal ways each citizen may be contributing to it; and promote informed and rational public debate.
And though schools are often a target of violence among children, it is important to remember that violence in schools does not happen in a vacuum – it happens in the context of the community and the home and the schools, the total environment. One of the keys to violence is parent education and community outreach.
Beyond Blame reaches children because it enters their "mediated" world. This world is a fantasy world, but as technology improves, the fantasy feels more and more like reality. To get a sense of what is going on behind children's swirling eyeballs, and what faces children in the future, it's important to play their video and computer games, where adults seldom tread. The electronic games industry has now surpassed annual movie box office revenues. Children are the primary consumers of electronic games.
The overwhelming need for a program such as Beyond Blame is beyond question. Children need the skills associated with consuming media wisely, and producing media for themselves, using the exciting new technology tools available. CML can say with confidence that Beyond Blame is the most comprehensive multi-media program to address both media literacy and violence. In fact, the curricula stands alone: it is the only in-depth curricula now available, since other violence prevention programs typically address specific behavior skills and only tough lightly on media education. Through exploring media, the curricula sets the framework for exploring other societal and behavior topics.
But curricula for middle school students alone is not enough -- originally, in 1995, Beyond Blame contained units for elementary school, teens and parents/caregivers.  Due to funding limitations and the large scope required the curricula evaluation, the current edition of Beyond Blame is necessarily limited. However, the current program still represents a landmark in being able to provide a research-based program for a critical age group:  middle school students, who are enlarging their world and on the cusp of maturity. 
Additionally, to provide a comprehensive community program for violence prevention,  it takes professional development, training and community outreach to affect the depths of cultural change. The learning methodology in the original edition of the Beyond Blame curricula is based on the work of the renowned Brazilian educator Paolo Freire. It can be summarized as a four step learning process: Awareness, Analysis, Reflection and Action, and is embodied in the Empowerment Spiral as part of the CML MediaLit Kit. This Empowerment Spiral is still an important feature of the updated curriculum; however, the basic structure of the new curriculum is built upon CML's Five Core Concepts and Five Key Questions of media literacy, which emphasize a process of inquiry to help students engage in making meaning.  Now, with the curriculum evaluation completed in 2013, utilizing the CML's basic framework has been shown to be effective for teachers to use as a health intervention strategy and as a way to help students acquire content knowledge.
Analysis, reasoning, critical thinking and evaluating are the essential skills of media literacy — not memorizing facts. These higher-order skills are best developed through group discussion, cooperative activities and team problem solving. Because Beyond Blame employs these skills as its fundamental learning strategy, the value of its program is dramatically leveraged by the pedagogy used to stimulatie understanding and learning about media violence.
Furthermore, this approach to media education is in keeping with the skills required in an information economy, where people must be able to access, analyze and evaluate information, work on project-oriented teams and communicate extensively, using sophisticated media tools.
Knowing what credible research was revealing about the effect of media violence on children and society — and fearing the social consequences — CML originally developed and launched its comprehensive community and school program, Beyond Blame: Challenging Violence in the Media, in 1994, with funding from the Carnegie Foundation and other philanthropic supporters (at that time, no funding was available for evaluation or implementation services; funding went to curriculum development). The updated version of CML's Middle School Unit was completed in 2006 and underwent evaluation by UCLA's Southern California Injury Prevention Research Center.
From 2004 to 2009 the Center for Media Literacy’s curriculum, Beyond Blame: Challenging Violence in the Media underwent a rigorous longitudinal evaluation study conducted by researchers at UCLA's  Southern California Injury Prevention Research Center. The goal of study was to assess whether or not a comprehensive media literacy intervention could mitigate the negative effects of exposure to media violence and reduce the risk for aggression and violence among middle school children. The research was funded by a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Results of the study show that media literacy makes a difference:  students increased their knowledge of the Five Core Concepts/Key Questions of media literacy,  increased their recognition of their exposure to media violence, and came away from the intervention with stronger beliefs that media violence affects users and that people can protect themselves by watching less.  Students also reported fewer hours of media consumption and also fewer incidents of pushing or shoving and threatening to hit or hurt someone.  These impacts on student knowledge acquisition, attitudes and behaviors are highly encouraging.
The longitudinal study of Beyond Blame: Challenging Violence in the Media took place from 2007-2009 academic years:  20 middle schools from seven school districts in Los Angeles County took part in implementing the program as part of UCLA's evaluation study of the curriculum.  More than 2000 students participated, with about 50 teachers and administrators involved in the program.
Employing a quasi-experimental pre/post test research design, researchers assessed the effects of the curriculum on middle school students, comparing classrooms led by intervention and control teachers in schools predominantly serving minority students. The specific goals of the research were to (1) Test changes over time among study children in measures of beliefs and attitudes towards violence and the media, media knowledge, self-reported viewing behaviors, critical assessment of media messages, risk for violence, and conflict resolution skills. (2) Ascertain the impact of the intervention in terms of knowledge, attitudes, behaviors and beliefs at a six-month interval after the intervention. (3) Assess the effect of gender and ethnic differences on any short-term outcomes observed.
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Professional Development