What kind of image education in the age of social networks?

In a world saturated with images, education becomes a determining factor to help young people (and the not so young) to go beyond emotions when they are confronted with viral content. Schools have a role to play in introducing young people to a thoughtful approach to images, especially as more and more very young children are exposed to social networks. An article from The Conversation.

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By Geneviève Guétemme, University of Orleans

In one world saturated with imagesIt is urgent that, faced with them, our responses go beyond the emotional. Indeed, without an analytical guide, it is fascination that prevails, especially since the images, taken out of their context, become viral, which makes their evaluation extremely difficult. All manipulations are then possible knowing that everyone can now daily not only look at images, but also reproduce and distribute them.

"Today's individuals are both viewers and viewed, but also producers and distributors of images, especially the youngest. In other words, they see and are seen, but, above all, they see and show, create photos and videos that they like to share. [The citizen becomes the accomplice of a society that shows to all those who want to see," summarizes the sociologist. Jocelyn Lachance in Terrorist images, the power of screens, the weakness of our word.

Jocelyn Lachance, "Les images terroristes" (Erès editions).

And even if the delinquency prevention law (2007) takes into account these different forms of interactions by punishing "the fact of making, transporting, disseminating by any means whatsoever and whatever the medium, a message of a violent or pornographic nature or of a nature that seriously undermines human dignity", the problem lies first of all in the fact that children, and many teenagers, are not able to distinguish these images.

The understanding, in the double sense that the etymology of "taking together" (Latin cum-prehendere) and the common sense, implies to be interested in the motivations of the authors of the image, to enter their modes of thought and action, and this comprehension is necessary to penetrate the symbolic space, at the same time open and resistant of knowledge.

Schools have a role to play in introducing young people to this thoughtful approach to images, especially since more and more very young children, from the age of 6 or 7 according to the YouGov survey on habits of the alpha generationYoung people are exposed to social networks. Images pop up on their screens unexpectedly and young people consume and relay them indiscriminately, without evaluating the messages that are offered to them and without taking into account the consequences of their sharing.

What the school does

The National Education has made media and image education a priority with the creation of resources to help teachers question the press and images. The Center for Media and Information Literacy (CLEMI), for example, distributes educational sheets to "enable students to learn to read, to decipher information and images, to sharpen their critical thinking skills, to form an opinion, essential skills for exercising enlightened and responsible citizenship in a democracy".

In this context, many classes participate in workshops during the Press weekBut all these actions tend to dissociate the "i" of "information" from the "i" of "image". This is undoubtedly due, in part, to the weight of the verbal in the institution.

The image in school is still at odds with the norms of teaching and classical pedagogy, based mainly on the written word where there is " predominance of signs and speeches of abstract intelligence on practical knowledge", as explained by the researchers Christine Delory-Momberger and Béatrice Mabilon-Bonfils.

It is also necessary to take into consideration the ambiguous place of media and information education (MIE) in the initial training of teachers, especially in primary education, given that MIE is not considered a teaching subject in its own right and that artistic practice has almost completely disappeared from training models.

However, image education must return to its value as an image or, to put it another way, move away from the linguistic skills that are constantly brought to the forefront, because they are considered essential for the professional integration of young people. Moreover, the polysemy of the image is still often put aside whereas it is a system whose subtleties communicate ways of seeing, of knowing, of understanding, but also sometimes of not understanding...

The impact of images on us and our children, interview with Serge Tisseron.

The image offers leads while leaving the students free to draw their own conclusions, and the teachers - traditionally holders of knowledge - are embarrassed by this loss of control. However, the opening of the school to this universe has very "political" implications, allowing otherness to become sensitive, and participating in this way in the education to citizenship essential to a life in democracy.

Understanding through practice

CLEMI recommends other approaches than language: through practice, indicating that it is by making images that we learn to understand them. In this case, the image becomes a method to approach the image in its fundamental "otherness". And if the school does not always have the desire and the habit of doing this, it is essential that it starts to do so insofar as today, for the greatest number of children, it is the only place where this education can be done. This is the position ofAlain Bergala who participates in the establishment of the Lang plan for arts in schools in the years 2000. For him indeed "[The school] has to do it, even if it means shaking up its habits and mentality".

He defends this experimental dimension of "learning by doing", which allows us to understand the visual codes in action, by testing them concretely. But this method is out of step with a school that is charged, as the philosopher Blandine KriegelIn his study of citizens' rights, he described his role as "inculcating common values".

The very equalizing teachings are in fact structured around a "common base of skills and knowledge" (SCCC), and a "common culture". And the transmission of common knowledge, shared with the individuals who make up the community, has a directly social and political function, the State plays its permanence in it and it is understandable that this mission of unity and cohesion is at the heart of "national education".

However, according to the sociologists Christine Delory-Momberger and Béatrice Mabilon-Bonfils This "political conception of knowledge and its status in the French educational and pedagogical edifice" has been experiencing a certain number of difficulties for the last forty years. The "school of knowledge", which defines par excellence the school of the Republic, postulates a universalist and rationalist model built on a principle of homogeneity and unity affecting both knowledge and teaching, the student and learning. And it is indeed this model that is more and more often put in failure in the current French school.

A citizen's education

At a time of disinformation and fake news, image education through practice allows children to appropriate this medium in a singular way, without passively accepting a given interpretation once and for all. It introduces this "indiscipline" inherent to emerging knowledge, not yet finalized and unstable, away from deferential listening and outside of established knowledge and wisdom.

This practice is sometimes risky in that it can give rise to unexpected and sometimes violent associations. But it offers a dynamic space for experimentation adapted to a reality that is always in motion. This exceptional space where transmission takes place through other means than discourse and knowledge - sometimes without discourse at all - is ideal for dealing with information that is like a living organism.

This transmission in a group class finally breaks with the increasingly solitary discovery of images on the Internet. It leads to questioning the way in which what we receive determines our choices and our actions and develops knowledge that is a source of thoughtful commitment. It prevents adhesion, without distancing which leads to accept and take back the messages without interpretation.

Faced with images, children must be taught to decentre themselves by introducing a plurality of points of view, questioning their nature as isolated extracts of a complex story and questioning their power of domination. Unfortunately, teachers still feel very uncomfortable introducing this ethic of looking when discussing information and media practices with students. Indeed, they themselves have not been educated in media and information and are paralyzed by the idea of dealing with difficulties related to live issues in society.

However, it is necessary to accept to bring into the school the informational universe of today's teenagers because "not knowing how to initiate a look at one's own passion to see, not being able to build a culture of the look, that is where the real violence begins with regard to those whom one delivers disarmed to the voracity of visibilities", according to the words of the philosopher Marie-José Mondzain.

By Geneviève GuétemmeProfessor of Visual Arts, University of Orleans

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.

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