Member Spotlight: Drew Emanuel Berkowitz

What do you do?

I am a K-12 educator/scholar/administrator who currently organizes and facilitates a number of adult literacy education outreach programs within two New York State Correctional Facilities.  My career in academia began within the field of metaphysics, leading me to earn a MA in Philosophy from Boston University in 2008.  However, the trajectory of my career was fundamentally altered when a temp agency assigned me the task of redesigning an adult education curriculum for homeless and disabled students, with the goal of preparing them for future employment in Boston’s hotel industry.   The experience of adapting what I had considered to be “traditional” teaching practices to an unfamiliar environment caused my academic interests to shift away from metaphysics and towards pedagogy, ultimately leading to my decision to pursue a Doctorate in Pedagogy and Philosophy from Montclair State University. 

As a doctoral student, I focused many of my research projects on the ways in which recreational “fan” literacies have been adapted and adopted by literacy educators.  After being given the opportunity to share my research on a popular culture-themed section of the School Library Journal’s website, I became more and more interested in the impact media literacy research can have on existing media literacy classroom practices and media literacy outreach programs.  By the time I earned my doctorate in 2018 – completing a dissertation that explored the ways US K-12 education practitioner journals have framed adolescent girls’ fanfiction literacy practices – I had already investigated the ways in which academic scholars could become involved in local literacy outreach programs, and had done both contracted and volunteer work with my local library system. 

Tell me about your latest work or project in media literacy.

In 2013, I was asked by my local library system to give a talk to several New York State correctional facility librarians about how to create and curate collections of graphic novels that wouldn’t violate their correctional facilities’ strict standards for graphic content.  During this talk, I mentioned that reading the manga series Dragon Ball might stimulate inmates’ discussions about the ways in which absent fathers are represented within popular multimedia franchises.  One of the librarians asked me whether I would be interested in volunteering to come into one of the correctional facilities and getting such a discussion started. This initial visit went well, and I soon began working with librarians in correctional facilities to design, develop, and implement a series of critical media literacy learning activities.  

Although these activities relied on existing correctional facility library resources, I constantly strove to design them in such a way as to best prepare soon-to-be-released inmates for life in our digitally-dominated modern media landscape.  United States correctional facilities house nearly a quarter of the world’s prison population, many of whom are released after decades-long sentences into a society whose patterns of media engagement are distressingly different from the media landscapes they experienced prior to their periods of incarceration.  Many correctional facilities have begun attempting to address this issue (for instance, one of the facilities I visit recently made Chromebooks available to inmates), and I believe that it is vital for literacy educators and scholars to communicate the crucial lessons they have learned about implementing media literacy education in K-12 environments to the educators who are now only just beginning to implement similar programs in correctional facility literacy learning spaces.

Why is media literacy important to you?

One of the principal ways people of my generation digitally communicate with their peers is through the shared language of media entertainment, often taking the form of conversations that most millennials would, if asked, consider to be good examples of media criticism.  Yet, my own social media experiences have led me to approach this so-called critical behavior with a wary eye.  All too frequently, I have observed conversations about whether a particular media franchise contains “problematic” narrative tropes devolve into heated exchanges about what one’s willing enjoyment of said franchise says about one’s quality of character.  As Americans become increasingly comfortable with discussions about the sociocultural contexts of entertainment media, it has become just as increasingly necessary for US media literacy educators to equip their students with the tools to not only engage in proper critical media literacy consumption practices, but also to conduct critical media literacy discussions that lack the antagonism that has become an increasingly visible fixture of our society’s text and talk.

What are you most excited about in the media literacy field?

I am most excited by what seems to be a growing focus on the ways in which US adolescents consume and critique live-stream video broadcasts such as corporate-funded YouTube Let’s Plays and college-sponsored eSports tournaments.  Every time I attend a conference presentation related to adolescent live-stream media consumption, I come away with a greater and deeper interest in the topic.  For instance, I find myself looking more and more forward to studies that fully explore the implications of the shifts in adolescent sports media consumption from televised sports broadcasts to Twitch-hosted video game streams, or the effect this move has had on the ways contemporary US adolescents have come to identify and respond to product placement within sports media. 

Why did you become a NAMLE member, what benefits do you see to membership, and how will it support your work?

Years ago, I attended a conference where scholars from a wide variety of academic disciplines presented research on entertainment media fan subcultures.  During an end-of-conference roundtable, the majority of my fellow attendees shared the sentiment that their focus on entertainment media made them feel like outcasts within their chosen fields.  Even prior to my participation in NAMLE/JMLE, its existence as an institution of American educational scholarship has always meant that I have never had to doubt the importance of media literacy scholarship within the field of education.  I think that the role that NAMLE and its members play in assuring prospective media literacy scholars that their interests will be taken seriously is one of the most important and perhaps least mentioned benefits of membership within this organization. 

The views and opinions expressed in the M-Passioned Member blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of NAMLE or its members. The purpose of the M-Passioned Member blog is to highlight our members and give them a place to share their reflections, opinions, and ideas.