Hugh Kesson has been all over the world and witnessed firsthand several different approaches to media literacy and education. The LAMP is blessed to have his insight as a program coordinator and facilitator. Read on to learn more about what’s missing from American education, the state of media literacy in New York City youth, his social media work with the United Nations and more.
In your education, you’ve traveled all over the world—you were raised in Scotland, and then
attended universities in London and Melbourne before coming here. What has surprised you the
most about life in New York? I’m not sure New York did surprise me that much this time – despite its reputation it’s a surprisingly warm place – you can feel quite at home quickly here. I came to New York to visit a few years before I moved here, and that time I totally fell in love with the place. I came with a couple of old school friends – we went to a fight at the Garden and saw a couple of great jazz gigs. We also took a bus ride through Staten Island – why, I have no idea. We ended up in a mall, though. It was the first time I’d seen a JC Penney store.
Australia and England are known for having more comprehensive national media literacy
programs than what we have here in the States; what did you find different about their approaches
to media and education versus our efforts in the US? To be honest, I think the US is lagging pretty badly. I don’t want to be too critical of my host country, but I don’t know how schools don’t teach critical reading of media texts. I’ve been really surprised in general about how critical thinking skills don’t seem to have a great emphasis here before college. I expect it’s a result of standardized testing, which is probably one of the worst ideas ever. It’s almost as bad as performance-related pay for doctors. In the UK, while the education system is certainly not without its problems, the government has actually been taking steps to increase the importance of media literacy in the national curriculum. I think Australia is really ahead of everywhere though in this respect. As well as a lot of good academic work coming out of universities there, teachers of all age groups are really motivated and supported to teach critical and creative engagement with media, and the professional body ATOM (Australian Teachers of Media) does really good work. The institutional backing for media literacy is something that could really improve in the US- I don’t know exactly how this could come about, but I have certainly seen from my work with The LAMP that it is something that needs to be addressed at a high level.
When you worked with the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), you
helped implement their social media outreach campaign, which must have been a big challenge
considering the issues addressed by that department. How did you go about doing this? It was a massive challenge, and it was an extremely interesting campaign to be involved in. DESA is one of the less visible UN departments, but it does very important work that forms the basis of a lot of policy decisions worldwide – for example, researching population statistics and linking demographics to the implications of global warming. Given this organizational profile, rather than try to go for a flashy campaign, we analyzed online traffic, and then tailored our outreach to what people were looking for from us. It was amazing to see the conversations we were able to take part in – people are really hungry for information about the things that affect their lives, and they are using platforms like Twitter and Facebook as a way to connect and discuss significant issues.
What are some of your favorite ‘lightbulb’ moments with The LAMP? There are a lot of these! I think a big one is when girls notice just how tough they have it in advertising land. I like to point out the Diet Coke ads and how they are always targeted at women. When young women notice, and react against, how they are growing up with dieting to a pre-defined physical form as an expectation, I feel that something important has been achieved.
In your work with The LAMP, you visit a wide array of neighborhoods and communities
throughout the city, and meet a lot of students. What have you noticed about the role media play in
their lives? One thing I’ve been noticing recently is that young people everywhere say they are not watching as much TV. They seem to spend a lot more time using sites like Youtube on their mobile devices. I noticed this as well with younger family members in Australia – they want personalized content, and enjoy very short texts. This is interesting in terms of new s- how are they learning about the world around them? Many of the kids seem to pick up stories second- or third-hand, like when I was told, “Beyonce should have told Jay-Z she was pregnant before they got married.” I also think that this is an interesting area for understanding advertising. You can be sure the advertisers are rethinking their strategies for a more segmented audience.
I understand you think Scotland has a chance of getting to the next World Cup in 2014. What
evidence do you have to back this up? No evidence at all, I’m afraid – although with Serbia and Croatia in the same group as us, it’s fairly apparent where the pressure will be! I am not sure about our manager either. He once sent out a team with no strikers playing a 4-6-0 formation. Even in our relative pomp, when players like Souness, Dalglish and Gemmill were playing together, we still managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory far too often. But, we are probably the best country in the world at snooker – a game played indoors, often in pubs…