16 Nov The Pulitzer Center — Relevant Learning, Authentic Engagement
Where do you point your students for news? Fox? NBC? NPR? NY Times? CNN?
When you want something a bit different, something less corporate, where do you look? Media Matters? The Daily Show? Indy Media? Rush? Huffington? Crooks and Liars?
What if you want ground-breaking, objective, mixed media journalism with a global perspective, that creates connections and collaborations between professional journalists and students, and embodies the integrity of one of the most respected awards in writing? Uh . . . Um . . .
Enter, The Pulitzer Center and the student-friendly Pulitzer Gateway, stage right, providing students (of all ages) with access to stories out of the mainstream, but apposite to challenges both home and abroad.
This is no small feat. Consider that in today’s media there is often a compartmentalization between the subject, the writer, and the reader (at times even by design). Unfortunately, as a result, stories about Darfur, China, or polar bears, come across as distant, abstract, and personally irrelevant to students. Without personal connections to the material there is little for them to engage with, intellectually or emotionally.
Claude Levi-Strauss, the legendary French Anthropologist, studied primitive cultures around the world through the lens of structuralism, seeking to find universal patterns of thought. His overall contribution to the collective knowledge of the world is not just that he chronicled indigenous peoples, but that he made that knowledge relevant and connectible to the everyman by examining approaches to shared needs (even if his rendering of such knowledge was far too abstract for the casual reader). He’s remembered now as the father of modern anthropology because of how he looked at food gathering/preparations, rituals, and dwellings — basic needs we can all relate to.
This is precisely what makes the Pulitzer Gateway project so vital and exciting. Not only do the stories (portals) engage readers through multiple formats (videos, interactive maps, photos, stories, etc), they also invite the readers to become ancillary elements of the larger narrative. (Two examples from the Water War Portal: here and here). As students investigate the topics, they find structural commonalities that give them reason to care, to learn, to contribute, and perhaps, ultimately, to inform others as participatory citizens. And, unlike Levi-Strauss, the reporting can actually be consumed by us lay-folks.
The importance of such intentional activism cannot be overstated. We need students to draw contrasts and conclusions between the lives they lead in the developed western world with the plight of the underserved, underprivileged, and the underrepresented.
In order to help make this connection even more pertinent and real, The Pulitzer Center has established a tier of programs that put students in contact with the journalists working in the far flung fields. Through question and answers on the website, skyping, and even school visits, students find that the reporting behind the story is done by real people who are driven to make the world a better and more just place.
The Pulitzer Gateway stands on the front edge of potentially a new breed of sustainable media, ensuring that students not only have access to content rich information, but that they also have an authentic relationship with it, a relationship that develops an ethic of global understanding. Given the ever expanding gap between the haves and the have not’s, this should be at the forefront of our efforts in our classrooms to teach beyond the high stakes tests.
However, as they say, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Sending journalists on reporting missions in the field carries a hefty fee by itself. Getting those journalists communicating with students exacts additional resources, and finding ways to put a journalist in a classroom can break a non-profit’s bank. For this reason, that aspect of the program is not as robust as some educators might like. To the credit of the directors running the center and the funders providing the backing, in the few years The Pulitzer Center has been in operation, they’ve engineered substantial and substantive growth, with still more projects on the horizon. (Check out this pdf of the 2008 Annual Report)
Such ambitious growth ensure that despite teacher autonomy ranging from nil to complete independence, there is something for everyone here. The Gateway portals can be used as informational and content supplements or as spring boards for in-depth investigations and projects, depending on the interest of the teacher and/or students.
In my opinion, this was one of the most exciting and potentially game changing finds here at the NCSS Annual Conference. Not only does The Pulitzer Center allow us teachers to provide reliable multi-media content for students to explore, it also gives us an opportunity to harness, involve, and cultivate students’ natural inclination toward fairness, justice, and peace for all.
For me, I want my students to envision themselves alongside professionals in the field working to make the world a better place. I want them to equate skills related to reading, writing, and arithmetic, with the real world through relevant applications of those skills. I have a feeling that involvement in this type of project will go a long way toward doing that.
Now, if I can just get them down to Tallahassee, FL . . .