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Susan Carroll
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Lesson Plans

To Be or To Buy: That is the Question

To Be or To Buy: That is the Question

Susan Carroll of Matignon High School in Cambridge, Mass.

Susan Carroll
Matignon High School
Cambridge, Mass.

Title: To Be or To Buy? That is the Question.

Description of School and Students: Designed for a proposed interdisciplinary junior English/20th century history course that will also address the English Language Arts media literacy strand in a Catholic; urban, coeducational school of 550 students. Prior to this class, for summer reading, students will have read one of the following: “Fahrenheit 451,” “1984” or “Brave New World.” We are in our fifth year of the Channel One contract. (A contract that provided a TV for every classroom and a required 12-minute news program with commercials)

Generative Topic

Effects of media ownership

Generative Objects

  • A current Channel One news/commercial program
  • MTV News segment
  • Goofy hat from Walt Disney World

Understanding Goals

A. Essential or Guiding Question

  • What is the function of news-to create citizens or consumers?

B. Critical Engagement Questions

  • What does it mean to be an American citizen?
  • What is the relationship between the First Amendment and the news?
  • Who owns the news? Does media ownership affect news content? How?
  • Should a profit-driven business be protected by the constitution?
  • Extension: Are corporations part of our Catholic school? How? Should they be? What is the effect?

Performances of Understanding, Rationale, and Time Line

Students will determine if the media ownership by corporate American undermines the original constitution-based function of the press. Marvin Kalb: "An open market place for ideas allows people to be free."

  • Prior to this class, students will have read and memorized the First Amendment to the Constitution. Whole class discussion to access prior knowledge: How did the opening Channel One and MTV news segment demonstrate freedom of the press? How does the Disney hat relate to a discussion of freedom of the press? In small groups, discuss:
    • Why did our founders include freedom of the press?
    • What is the relationship between citizenship and the American press?
    • Is there a difference between "the press" and "the media?" List examples of the American press/media.

    One representative from each group will sit in a "Fishbowl" configuration to share their group responses while the rest of the class sits in a circle around them to listen and synthesize ideas. The class will arrive at consensus for the question, "What is the function of the press in America?" Post the answer in a visible place in the classroom for future reference. (45 minutes)

  • If the function of the press is to present ideas so as to keep citizens informed, then watching a newscast and reading a paper should serve that purpose. Students will first create a chart that lists their ideas of what kind of content they expect in a news broadcast or newspaper and how many seconds or words/inches are allotted for the segment. Allow 30 minutes. For four days, groups of students will watch MTV news, CBS and NBC evening news and one local station, and read The Boston Globe, Boston Herald, USA Today, and a local newspaper for content. The chart should at least include categories of citizenship issues; events (note how many involve violence); consumer news that is useable but not necessary for citizenship; entertainment-based news (fluff).
  • Students will compare charts in small groups to determine if the news content is "soft" news or "hard" news. Can students account for the percentage of "soft" news and violence-based news on the air or in print? Does the news sensationalize or misrepresent events in order to make a profit for the owners? After small group discussion, students will work alone to read and reflect on two articles: "Crime wave sweeps networks’ casts" by Peter Johnson, USA Today, August 13, 1997, and "Murder rates drop, but coverage soars" by Howard Kurtz of The Washington Post in The Boston Globe, August 13, 1997. Journal entry: provide a reaction to the two news articles. Consider this question from Sissela Bok. Is it a lie for journalists to misrepresent life as it is? (Allow 90 minutes.)
  • To determine what students already know, brainstorm with whole class their knowledge base about media ownership. Who owns Channel One? Does its ownership matter to students? On a transparency, replicate the diagram from The Nation distributed that shows who owns the media. Distribute to class any articles about the owner of Channel One. In journal form, the students will write a personal reaction to the diagram, and article, predicting effects of media ownership on American students as citizens and consumers. (30-45 minutes)
  • Distribute Selected information from "Not So Fast," by Todd Gitlin, including the diagrams indicating public reaction to media ownership. In groups, students will create interview questions and then in pairs interview administration, faculty and students to learn public reaction to media ownership and opinion of Channel One. Students will have a week to complete the interviews and will then reconvene their groups to share and synthesize results. Create a pie chart to demonstrate findings and compare with Gitlin’s.
  • In journal form students will take notes and write their reaction as they listen to audiotapes: "This Class Brought to you by…: The Rise of Classroom Commercialism” and "Planet Disney: Media Monopolies and the Disappearance of Public Space." (45 minutes)


To assess mastery:

  • Write an editorial for the school newspaper answering the question: should profit-driven businesses be protected by the Constitution?
  • Using issues raised in from “Fahrenheit 451,” “1984” or “Brave New World” that are similar to those raised in this unit, create a news broadcast aimed at creating informed citizens. The editorial segment must respond to these questions: Who we are, who we shall become, how we shall live our lives?
  • Extension of concept: Take a field trip to the cafeteria and the gymnasium. Videotape all the examples of corporate America’s presence in our school. How did they get here? Is their presence a benefit or a detriment? To whom? Why? On camera, answer those four questions.
  • Evaluation will be based on: teacher monitoring, via participation charts, of the individual student’s participation in the groups; quiz on the First Amendment; chart listing news content; 3 sections of journal entries graded on degree of student engagement; list of group-generated interview questions; individual interview. Each is a quiz grade. Editorial and news broadcast are each test grades.


  • Center for Media Literacy: Audiotape series: "This Class Brought to You By…: The Rise of Classroom Commercialism"; "Planet Disney: Media Monopolies and the Disappearance of Public Space" (1-800-226-9494)
  • Gitlin, Todd, "Not So Fast," Media Studies Journal, spring/summer 1996, vol. 10, no. 2-3, pp. 1-6.
  • Neil Postman, “Amusing Ourselves to Death”

Susan Carroll’s lesson plan, "To Be or To Buy? That is the Question" was published in The Media and Democracy Curriculum Compendium 1998, Barrett and Greyser editors, published by Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass., p. 63.

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