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Rewriting Our World

kidsatboard

Originally appears in the Summer 2011 issue

There we were, doing exactly as our language arts content standard dictated, “analyz[ing] media as sources for information, entertainment, persuasion, interpretation of events, and transmission of culture,” when the question dawned on me—What sort of tale is our media spinning? “Hey,” I asked, interrupting my fifth-graders’ morning perusal of the Los Angeles Times. “I was wondering: Given what you hear, see, and read in the media––you know… TV, newspapers, books, magazines, the Internet, radio, video games, movies, all that––what do you think is going to happen to the world? What is going to become of us?”

Everybody grabbed their pencils and started writing. I knew that a recent study released by the Kaiser Family Foundation had claimed today’s 8 to 18 year-olds devote a whopping 10 hours and 45 minutes to entertainment media across a typical day, so I really was dying to find out exactly what sort of culture the media was transmitting to these kids. With everything that had been going on in the world, I had my own ideas about what students would say, but I wanted to find out for sure. I desired to delve into my students’ lived experience to uncover what Paulo Freire called their “generative themes” or “thematic universe” (1997, p. 77).

My students’ answers exposed a universal theme all right, but I’d hardly call it generative. Every one of them said our story was going to turn out badly. Their answers were incredibly disturbing and full of despair. Brian wrote: “I think the world is going to be trashed by pollution and all the things that are being wasted since us humans don’t even care.” Christian declared: “I think the world will end up like the one in Wall • E.” April’s account was the worst: “I think everybody living on earth will soon die and the air will be filled with lots of carbon dioxide. The whole earth will be trashed with plastic bags, water bottles, garbage, etc.” Prior generations had weaved stories about a possible nuclear holocaust, but it was never anything like this. This is the first generation I can remember feeling so desperate about their future. And all of this, from just a brief review of the media.

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John Gust is a sixth-grade teacher at Environmental Charter Middle School in Inglewood, California and the author of books including Adventures in Fantasy: Lessons and Activities in Narrative and Descriptive Writing (Jossey-Bass). To learn more about John’s books or ECMS visit www.johngust.org or www.ecmsonline.org.