Media Literacy, and the value of “photoshopping”

Faced with the ubiquity of always-on internet access everywhere—along with the affordability of powerful computing hand-held computing devices and the emergence of social media and “news” and ad pushers all clamoring for your attention—teaching children about media content is more important than ever.

Sometimes it seems hopeless. What is truth? Is objectivity even possible? If all information is to some degree subjective, and the information superhighway has become a free-for-all, how can we prepare our kids to make safe, honest and ethical judgments about the content they’re absorbing?

Critical thinking habits and practices have to be developed, the earlier the better. It doesn’t have to be a lesson quite as heavy as, say, “distrust everything” or “you can’t know anything for sure.” But you wouldn’t be wrong with that approach either!

I like the idea of making a sort of game out of content vetting. Approach new information with a critical eye, allow it the benefit of the doubt, but also the benefit of doubt.

One of the most effective and fun ways to teach kids about media literacy is through digital image manipulation or “photoshopping.” When they see how easy it is to “airbrush” somebody or something out of a picture, or how trivial it is to remove wrinkles, spots, blemishes, etc., they can start to bring a critical eye to the images—and, by extension, all information—they receive digitally.

These days there are one-click filters, apps, etc. to accomplish routine beautification tasks like clearing acne from photos. But I think students who learn how to do things the old-fashioned Photoshop way, by zooming in on areas, using clone and blur and dodge tools, and seeing what’s happening down at the pixel level, will have a deeper understanding of the malleability—and unreliability—of photographic images.