The Inoculation Phase

Media education in the United States can be divided into three distinct stages: the inoculation phase, the facing-it phase, and the traditional phase.  The inoculation phase came first and it began in the late 1960s.

It was during the inoculation phase that media first found its way into the classroom.  Before this time media was simply ignored by educators.  However, the goal of media education during the inoculation phase varied greatly from what we  have come to expect today and most certainly had nothing to do with increasing media literacy.

At this time, the effects of mass media were not as well understood as they are today.  Theories such as the Magic Bullet Theory of Mass Communications (also called the Hypodermic Needle Theory) were still around.  This theory states that media messages have powerful, universal and direct effects on those who are exposed to them.  For a more in depth look at the Magic Bullet Theory check out this video:

The inoculation phase was characterized by a similar belief that “viewers are like a piece of white paper, on which the media can freely paint its images (Guo-Ming 2007).  So, to protect students from the all powerful media educators adopted an “inoculation” strategy of media education.  However, instead of simply educating students about media, educators chose a wildly different strategy.  Bill Walsh (n.d.) described the inoculation phase like this:

Just as your doctor would inject your body with the dead germs of some troublesome disease in order to protect your metabolism, teachers injected mass media into their courses to show how empty, silly, and value-less it was.

Instead of educating students about the media, educators chose to implement media into the classroom and then ridicule it in an attempt to devalue it as a whole.  Media education at this time “…positioned the media as the villains and impressionable audiences, particularly children and adolescents, as the victims” (Considine 2002).  Simply put, media education at this time was about protecting students from the (misunderstood) effects of media.

Although this phase of media education did not aim to increase media literacy, it marks the first time educators acknowledged media in the classroom and remains an important aspect in the history of media education in the United States.


Considine, D. (2002). MEDIA LITERACY: National Developments and International Origins. Journal of Popular Film & Television, 30(1), 7. Retrieved from Communication & Mass Media Complete database.

Guo-Ming, C. (2007). Media (Literacy) Education in the United States. China Media Research, 3(3), 87-103. Retrieved from Communication & Mass Media Complete database.

Walsh, B. (n.d.)  A Brief History of Media Education. Retrieved October 24, 2010, from

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