The following represents testimony delivered to the New York City Council Committee on Youth Services during an Oversight Hearing on Out-of-School, Out-of-Work Young Adults on November 22, 2016.
My name is D.C. Vito, and I am the Executive Director of The LAMP, an educational nonprofit serving low-income New Yorkers. Our Digital Career Path program has provided digital literacy and basic technology skills training to hundreds of out-of-school, out-of-work youth citywide since early 2013, with more than 70% of our students going on to advanced training, internships and jobs.
I applaud the creation of this task force to explore ways the City of New York can open doors for young adults, and help them realize their potential as active, engaged citizens of their communities. I particularly applaud the proposed inclusion of youth leaders so that constituent voices and concerns can be represented. I am here today to offer the support and assistance of The LAMP, but also because I wish to underscore the importance of teaching critical media and digital literacy skills.
As has been demonstrated in the latest presidential election, it is imperative that young people today learn and practice critical thinking skills around media content and messaging. The recent boom in teaching coding to out-of-school, out-of-work youth does have benefits, to be sure. However, coding is not a silver bullet for solving the complex problems around poverty and marginalization. I have been dismayed to find that coding classes and academies rarely, if ever, teach young people how to decode the same media they share and disseminate with their newfound skills.
This task force will have an opportunity to make recommendations impacting the lives of young New Yorkers on the cusp of their responsibilities as eligible voters. I wish to urge in the strongest terms possible that the task force explore issues around how media influence the lives of these out-of-school, out-of-work youth; for example, how stereotypes can affect one’s sense of self-worth and opportunity, how bias can change one’s decisions in the voting booth, how misinformation affects the choices one makes about one’s personal health and well-being, and so on.
In nearly ten years of running The LAMP, I have seen how a lack of critical thinking skills around media are impacting vulnerable populations. I have spoken with youth who in one breath claim that advertising doesn’t affect them, and in virtually their next breath describe a new pair of high-end sneakers they simply must have. Many of the youth who come into The LAMP’s Digital Career Path are unaware that LinkedIn exists, or if they are, treat their LinkedIn profile no different than their Facebook profile. They typically lack awareness of other online tools and resources they can use to develop their careers, and don’t know how to distinguish credible information from falsehoods and half-truths. We teach them how to use the Adobe Creative Suite, wherein they learn how to use Photoshop, Premier (the video editing software) and Illustrator. But we also teach them how these tools are used to make all the media we encounter in our daily lives. Throughout the program, they are building their own, personal digital portfolios so that they can share this with prospective employers or educational institutions.
Given the trajectory of current trends in workforce development training for youth, I fully anticipate that the recommendations from the task force will include support for helping marginalized young adults join New York’s growing media and technology sector. Again I urge that the task force investigate the needs for this population with regard to critical thinking about media, or what is known as media literacy: the ability to access, analyze, create and critique media in a variety of forms. The LAMP has been a leader in this field, and is internationally recognized for its work and practice with young people and educators. On behalf of The LAMP’s staff and board, I once again wish to offer our support, and thank you for the opportunity to testify today.