Can Hollywood Spark An Education Revolution?

The entertainment industry is often blamed for promoting ideas and images that hinder children’s educational development. This week, however, we were introduced to a new way of thinking about Hollywood at a Cooney Center Leadership Forum entitled: “Learning From Hollywood: Can entertainment media spark an education revolution?

Much of the first day of the event focused on how the education field can borrow from the engaging storytelling practices of the entertainment industry. On the second day, the FrameWorks Institute shared our insights on how Hollywood can tell better stories when it comes to children, education, and digital media usage.

From the Hollywood contingency, Betty Cohen (Former President of the Cartoon Network and Lifetime) cited an anthropological study that found that sixty-percent of what humans learn is through storytelling. Marcy Carsey (Producer of the “Cosby Show”) brought attention to the importance of telling stories in a way that respects the audience and is true to reality. Don Hahn (Producer of the Lion King) spoke of the need to translate the enthusiasm for popular film stories into teachable segments in the classroom. Each of these speakers mentioned the benefits of using digital tools to connect popular culture to education for more engaged learning.

From the research side, the FrameWorks Institute had the opportunity to share what we know about how Hollywood can contribute towards a more productive image of children and their use of digital media. Frank Gilliam, Senior Fellow at FrameWorks, presented the findings of our studies on public and media perceptions of digital media for learning. The main communication challenge in this field is how to overcome the dominant conception of digital media as a “danger and distraction” for children. It is difficult for the public and the media to view digital media as having educational applications, given the predominance of these types of negative associations.

Gilliam argued that Hollywood can help the field overcome this challenge by portraying children in learning situations where they are engaged and contributing to society. He mentioned insights from previous FrameWorks research on the negative depictions of adolescents in television. By portraying situations in which students are interacting and learning from the use of digital media, Hollywood can do a great service in building public support for its use in the classroom.

Two big questions remain, however. When it comes to the commercial impetus of Hollywood, how much can actually be devoted to advancing the educational capacity of storytelling? How can the education field and Hollywood work more closely to make that happen?



3 thoughts on “Can Hollywood Spark An Education Revolution?

  1. A couple of thoughts spring to mind, especially reading your closing questions.

    a) education actually embraces storytelling as an important medium for young elementary school children. While the focus in this age of standards-based testing seems to be swinging more toward traditional text-based narrative vehicles, oral storytelling is still taught in Elementary Education courses and workshops.

    As kids get older, however, narrative gives way to decontextualized teaching of “concepts” in the abstract as kids move into more “serious” learning in middle school and beyond. My hope would be that Hollywood can teach us all how to maintain a mix in which important concepts are embedded into stories about history and science. But it will be a paradigm shift on the part of education and the general public to accept learning that does not look like the schooling they grew up with. Can Hollywood help show that? I think we have some good examples but can use many more.

    b) I think the article about negative depictions of adolescents in television and film is very telling. I see very few positive images of adolescents on prime time TV or the news. The negative seems to sell well these days, and Hollywood and the news are very happy to keep the pipeline supplied. Before we can present positive stories about digital media in learning, we might need to get beyond hand-wringing about the state of teens these days.


  2. As I talk about my work helping people teach and learn online, one of the biggest hurdles is helping them understand that online tools can be used to teach young people how to work together collaboratively. The default frame is that only face-to-face, classroom based education facilitates team building skills. It would be nice to see TV and movies depicting young people working across distance using commonly available tools such as wikis, and voice over internet protocol.


  3. I believe we need to embrace online learning and make it work well because it is a strategy that provides many more options than we have ever had. We need to move this forward in such a way that people do not feel threatened and that means many opportunities to identify and address fears. Many of us are hesitant because we have seen technology “fail” but there are many lessons that “fail” and we modify them and try it again. There is a lot we can learn from media and there is a lot of influence we can exert on it too when it depicts people in a negative and limiting way. I hope we will also honor our Aboriginal peoples and emulate their storytelling strategies as they did influence generations.


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