Does Media Have a Negative Influence on Education?

“Sittin’ in the classroom, thinking it’s a drag”. A poignant line from Motley Crue’s anti-school song, Smoking in the Boys Room, that rings true the feelings of many students. Hilary Wilce, a specialist in education, quotes: “the best learning often happens outside the classroom”. There could be several reasons for this. Perhaps classrooms are too dull and people need the vibrancy of the outside world to stimulate them. Perhaps fresh air is what is needed to arouse the mind. Or perhaps there is a subliminal influence that has been affecting people since the day they first watched a TV show.  It is this possibility that makes a lot of sense; the possibility that media is having a negative influence on our learning.

For several years, different media have been influencing and affecting public opinion. Nazis made propaganda films to make people believe that Jews were bad people. Governments use media to influence voting polls, as “the candidatesthat can pay for more TV and media exposure have more influence on public opinion and thus can receive more votes”. And now, according to results in The Independent, with GCSE pass rates falling to their lowest for a decade, it seems that what we are learning from media is in fact undermining our learning as a whole.

What we are being presented with are situations where “heroes are portrayed as physically attractive and the villains as ugly characters”. Generally, people idolize the heroes, the beautiful characters, and in several popular examples, see that the people we follow could lead us down negative paths. Examples from a young age such as: Bart Simpson, a character constantly getting detentions and bad grades, but having fun with the situations that he creates; Dennis the Menace, the tough kid who hates school contrasting the school-loving ‘softies’, and examples for an older generation, including characters from films, such as The Breakfast Club or Dead Poets Society, are all characters that are, in their own way, anarchic in the actions. The influence that these characters have on us are damning our passion for education, as why would we not want to act like the glamorous protagonists that we aspire to imitate?

Film and TV are not the only media that influence people’s attitudes. With the press and newspapers becoming a cornerstone of public opinion, their influence over us is becoming evermore prevalent. Stories that there are twenty-seven thousand teachers without QTS (Qualified Teacher Status) will either suggest to students that going to school is pointless, as the person teaching you is unqualified.

There are several studies to show that music will influence our choices and behaviours, most notably the work by North, Hargreaves and McKendrick that showed how in-store music could influence our product choice. Undoubtedly the same will go for music, influencing our actions. A person listening to classical music would be more calm and collected than those listening to heavy rock or thrash metal, and those listening to punk rock will possibly be more influenced to anarchy than those listening to reggae or jazz music.

Harry Bisham quotes “Music helps children to learn maths” and music enhances social skills. Therefore, if a child is weaned on the lyrics of The Clash, Sex Pistols, The Ramones or any other anti-government or anti-education lyrics, their influence will be to obey the music. More popular choices are: the Ramones’ Rock ‘n’ Roll High School with the lyrical choice of “I hate the teachers and the principal”; Alice Cooper with “no more pencils, no more looks, no more teachers’ dirty looks”; or Bruce Springstein’s “We learned more from a 3-minute record, baby, than we ever learned in school.” Following a press report, stating that “dirty song lyrics can prompt early teen sex” then it is possible that those who are forever listening to music inspiring a revolt, revolution or a riot, then the effect will be exactly that. Following this idea, the Green Day lyric: “I don’t need your authority” could influence someone to be negative against the authoritarians in their life: the teachers and the educators.

The other predominant reason that causes a negative influence towards education is uniforms. Several films, television programs and newspaper pictures depict prisoners in a bleak uniform, removing all degrees of freedom, individuality and flair. The school uniform does exactly that. Studies conducted by Zimbardo et al. in 1971 showed what happened when different groups of individuals were put in to a prison-emulated environment. Those people dressed as guards took the “guard” stereotype to an extreme, where those dressed as prisoners conformed to the prisoner stereotype. Their actions were those of repressed people, under the control of those in a freer dress code. This coincides with the rules of school. Students are forced to wear the same uniform with little freedom or imagination, the same trousers, jumpers and shirts, whereas the teachers, although under their own, similar rules, are allowed the freedom to choose which shirt colour they want to wear that day, which tie goes best with the colour of shoe they are wearing and whether they want to wear that specific necklace today. So, as the media has evolved the prisoner stereotype of people all looking the same, wearing the same clothes and doing the same routine day in, day out, uniforms are then seen as a representation of prison life. Somewhere where we never, ever want to be.

In all, what different media has done is created several situations where people, especially those of a more influential age, will want to become the role models that aren’t necessarily good to become in the real world. Be it a rock star, an idolized socialite or a fun TV or film character. The success that they have potential to achieve in with their learning is damned by the drive to obtain the “success” that is represented by figures in the media.

Image reproduced from