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?