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Meet Tessa Jolls of Center for Media Literacy and Consortium for Media Literacy

Today we’d like to introduce you to Tessa Jolls.

Founded by Sr. Elizabeth Thoman in 1989 in Los Angeles, the Center for Media Literacy (CML) advocates for all citizens — especially the young — to navigate the powerful images, words and sounds that make up our global media culture. CML began as a graduate school project of Thoman, who was a visionary who anticipated the powerful impact that media has on all of us, at home, at work, and at school. Elizabeth Thoman helped introduce media literacy to the United States through publishing Media&Values Magazine, which continued publication through the mid-1990’s.

Although Thoman passed away in December of 2016, her legacy lives through the work of the Center and through her archives, which are currently being digitized at Temple University in Pennsylvania, and through an archive of Media&Values contained on CML’s website at

CML continues its work and its leadership from its Los Angeles base. Now led by Tessa Jolls (since 1999), today the Center serves education organizations and government agencies throughout the world, providing research and development, training, curricula, and implementation programs for media literacy in places as diverse as Colombia, Bulgaria, and Bhutan.

Just a few short years ago — before the internet and social media gained a ubiquitous presence in everyone’s lives — people were mystified about what media literacy is and why it is so important to democracy, citizenship and health in our communities. Today, we know that the critical thinking skills of media literacy are essential to maintaining our freedoms and to providing our young with the skills necessary to thrive in a competitive global economy.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
We are proud at CML of providing a road to follow for media literacy advocates and practitioners. We have helped introduce and define the field in the United States, helping to make media literacy accessible for parents, teachers, and community organizations.

But like all pioneering efforts, it’s not been an easy road. Even today, school districts do not recognize media literacy as central and essential to teaching and learning, even though there is a growing evidence base that shows that media literacy is effective as a pedagogical strategy for the 21st century.

Right now, in the State of California, there are two legislative bills pending that call for media literacy in all California schools. These bills are the result of many years of effort to call attention for this urgent need to prepare citizens to understand their lifelong relationship with media, both as producers, consumers and as data providers and users.

Other states, such as Washington, have passed such legislation, and it’s time that California — the home of so much digital innovation — leads in media literacy education. Media literacy is a global movement, a field of study with a growing research base, and a pedagogy. Because of the lack of teacher training for media literacy education at university and within schools, there is a massive human resource deficit for providing quality instruction and for institutionalizing media literacy within and without the education system.

Hopefully, that challenge will be addressed sooner rather than later.

Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about Center for Media Literacy and Consortium for Media Literacy – what should we know?
The Center for Media Literacy has established a global standard for the practice and implementation of media literacy: we have developed and implemented a methodology that translates cultural and geographic boundaries, and that is consistent, replicable, measurable and scalable, while being backed with evidence of effectiveness through the largest longitudinal study ever conducted in the media literacy field. That study was conducted in Los Angeles!

And it shows that media literacy is an effective strategy for improving student knowledge, and positively affecting attitudes and behaviors. Thanks in part to our persistent efforts, media literacy provides anywhere, anytime learning that can be applied to any subject or topic. This is the type of learning and discerning that works well in a world where an infinite amount of information is available at the touch of a finger.

We have persisted in our work despite being chronically underfunded and marginalized.

Today, the importance of media literacy — of the critical understanding needed by everyday citizens in consuming, producing and sharing media messages — is recognized throughout the world. We are proud of our past and continuing contributions to empowering citizens to pursue happiness in today’s global media culture.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
CML has enjoyed a sturdy and wide-ranging cohort of supporters and colleagues. Norman Learn and Norman Felton, early television pioneers, were stalwart donors. The Sisters of Humility of Mary, Elizabeth Thoman’s order, supported her through the years, even though the Center for Media Literacy is a non-denominational and non-partisan organization that many religious communities supported.

Los Angeles-based community organizations such as the Museum of Tolerance and the Japanese American Museum have long advocated for media literacy. The Music Center Education Division, Los Angeles Unified School District, the National Endowment for the Arts and the U.S. Department of Education have all supported CML on grants; UCLA, USC and the Centers for Disease Control, the U.S. State Department and numerous school districts throughout the U.S. have contributed to media literacy programs and research conducted through CML.

Today, CML participates actively with UNESCO through the Global Alliance for Partnerships in Media and Information Literacy (GAPMIL), and CML was a founding partner in the National Association for Media Literacy Education.

CML is a small organization that has had a big impact — given various projects and funding, we expand or contract as need be, since we are an independent organization that relies on grants and work assignments. We value our close collaborations with many long-time colleagues, such as Beth Thornton, CML’s Communications Director; Barbara Walkosz, senior scientist at Klein Buendel Inc.; Carolyn Wilson, education faculty, Western University (Ontario, Canada); Michele Johnsen, CML writer and affiliate; Quentin Hancock, our constant supporter; and Aaron Deitrich, our technology advisor.

We owe a special thanks to Marieli Rowe, executive director of the National Telemedia Council, and Henry Jenkins, Provost Professor of Communication, Journalism, Cinematic Arts and Education at USC, who are ongoing inspirations. So many people have contributed to our cause, especially our families! We are grateful to one and all.

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