CoverMedia Literacy Activities for Learning Civics ConceptsDefining Critical Media LiteracyTopic 1. Foundations of the United States Political System1.1 Democracy in Social Media Policies and Community Standards1.2 The Internet as a Public Utility1.3  21st Century Women STEM Innovators1.4 Media Coverage of Kings, Queens, and Royal Families1.5 Representations of Native Americans in Films, Local History Publications, and School MascotsTopic 2. The Development of United States Government2.1 Declarations of Independence on Social Media2.2 Media Marketing and Government Regulation of Self-Driving Cars and Electric Vehicles2.3 Representations of and Racism Toward Black Americans in the Media2.4 Political Debates Through Songs from Hamilton: An American Musical2.5 Bill of Rights on TwitterTopic 3. Institutions of United States Government3.1: Hollywood Movies About the Branches of Government3.2: Writing an Impeachment Press Release3.3: Members of Congress' Use of Social Media3.4: Political Impacts of Public Opinion Polls3.5: Website Design for New Political PartiesTopic 4. The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizens4.1: Immigration in the News4.2: Portrayals of Immigrants in Television and Film4.3: COVID-19 Information Evaluation4.4: Women Political Leaders in the Media4.5: Online Messaging by Special Interest Groups4.6: Digital Games for Civic Engagement4.7: Social Media and the Elections4.8: Images of Political Leaders and Political Power4.9: Media Spin in the Coverage of Political Debates4.10: Celebrities' Influence on Politics4.11: Political Activism Through Social Media4.12: Media Recruitment of Public Sector Workers4.13: Images of Teachers and Teaching4.14: For Whom Is and Could Your School Be Named4.15: Representing Trans Identities4.16: Media Framing of the Events of January 6, 20214.17: Music as Protest Art4.18: PACs, Super PACs, and Unions in the MediaTopic 5. The Constitution, Amendments, and Supreme Court Decisions5.1: Prohibition in the Media5.2: The Equal Rights Amendment on Twitter and Other Social Media5.3: Civil War Era News Stories and Recruitment Advertisements5.4: Representations of Gender and Race on Currency5.5: The Equality Act on Twitter5.6: Reading Supreme Court Dissents Aloud5.7: Television Cameras in CourtroomsTopic 6. The Structure of State and Local Government6.1: Native American Mascots and Logos6.2: A Constitution for the Internet6.3: Military Recruitment and the Media6.4: Your Privacy on Social Media6.5: Pandemic Policy Information in the Media6.6: Gendered Language in Media Coverage of Women in Politics6.7: Gendered Toy Marketing6.8: Environmental Campaigns Using Social Media6.9: Trusted Messengers, the Media, and the Pandemic6.10: Online Campaigning for Political Office6.11: Advertising the Lottery Online and In Print6.12: Local Governments, Social Media and Digital Democracy6.13: Protecting the CommonsTopic 7. Freedom of the Press and News/Media Literacy7.1: Press Freedom in the United States and the World7.2: Objectivity and Reporting the News from All Sides7.3: Investigative Journalism and Social Change7.4: News Photographs & Newspaper Design7.5: How Reporters Report Events7.6: Recommendation Algorithms on Social Media Platforms7.7: YouTube Content Creators7.8: Fake News Investigation and Evaluation7.9: Paywalls and Access to Online News7.10: Critical Visual Analysis of Online and Print Media7.11: Memes and TikToks as Political Cartoons7.12: Women Reporters in the Movies

6.13: Protecting the Commons

The "commons" is the land and resources (forests, fisheries, water sources, and open spaces) that are owned by all members of a society. It is an old old concept, dating back to the Roman Empire.

Unlike private property, commons are public spaces to be used and enjoyed collectively. Everyone (including state and local governments) is expected to maintain and improve shared commons for current and future use. 
 
We often think of national parks as the commons. There are 423 national parks, with the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Home National Monument being the most recent in 2020 (How Many National Parks Are There? National Park Foundation, January 22, 2021).
 
But just about every community in the United States has some sort of common area, such as a town common, a parkland, a walking path, a wilderness area, an athletic field or court, a splash pad, a skate park, a playground, a historic battlefield, picnic areas, or a reflection bench beside a river or at the top of a hill or mountain.
 
The Boston Common was the first public open space in America in 1634. The National Mall in Washington, DC opened in 1790. Yellowstone became the first U.S. national park in 1872.
 
Aerial view of Boston Common from northeast. Includes portions of Beacon Hill (foreground left), Public Garden (foreground right) and Boston Financial District at Seaport (South Boston) at back.
Boston Common aerial by Nick Allen is under CC BY-SA 4.0

Fundamental tensions exist between common spaces and private property (e.g., land or resources owned by a private individual or organization). Private resources are not open to everyone and exist for the use and benefit of the private owner. John Malone, a telecommunications entrepreneur, is the largest landowner in the United States with 2.2 million acres in 5 states - land that is more than half of size of Lake Ontario, one-third the size of Vermont, and twice as large as Rhode Island (These People Own the Most Land in America, February 23, 2021).

The idea of private property emerged in England in the 17th and 18th centuries. Prior to this time, land was there for everyone’s use (think of Robin Hood and his band living off the land in Sherwood Forest). Rising populations and the need for food, along with the coming of the Industrial Revolution, led to the enclosure of agricultural lands. Through enclosure, private owners could wall off or fence off land from public use (Wall, 2017).

Local, state, and the federal government are responsible for maintaining public common spaces. They get the funds to do so from people’s taxes, user fees (money paid to access a facility), public-private partnerships, and donations from supportive individuals and groups. In times of ever-rising costs and tight budgets, there is never enough money to fully cover the expenses of common spaces. Governments face tough choices about whether to sell public lands to private developers to cover other expenses. For example, the Trump Administration sold low-cost leases to private companies for oil and gas drilling on public lands, a move it defended as good for the economy.

In the following activities, you will explore local and state commons and identify ways to use media to increase interest and civic engagement in protecting a commons of your choosing.

Activity 1: Design a Social Media Video to Increase Interest in Common Spaces in Your Community

Designing for Learning: Student-Created Activity Example

Norwottuck Rail Trail in Hadley (Video)

Activity 2: Suggest Ways to Use Media to Encourage Citizens to Protect Local and State Commons 

Designing for Learning: Student-Created Activity Example

Suggest Ways to Use Media to Encourage Citizens to Protect Local and State Commons

Additional Resources

Connecting to the Standards

  • Massachusetts Civics & Government Standards
    • Give examples of tax-supported facilities and services provided by the Massachusetts state government and by local governments. (Massachusetts Curriculum Framework for History and Social Studies) [8.T6.9]
  • ISTE Standards
    • Knowledge Constructor
      • 3a: Students plan and employ effective research strategies to locate information and other resources for their intellectual or creative pursuits.
      • 3b: Students evaluate the accuracy, perspective, credibility and relevance of information, media, data or other resources.
      • 3d: Students build knowledge by actively exploring real-world issues and problems, developing ideas and theories and pursuing answers and solutions. 
    • Creative Communicator 
      • 6a: Students choose the appropriate platforms and tools for meeting the desired objectives of their creation or communication. 
      • 6b: Students create original works or responsibly repurpose or remix digital resources into new creations.
      • 6d: Students publish or present content that customizes the message and medium for their intended audiences. 
  • DLCS Standards
    • Digital Tools (DTC.a)
    • Collaboration and Communication (DTC.b)
    • Research (DTC.c)
  • English Language Arts > History/Social Studies Common Core Standards
    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.5
    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.6-8.7
    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.9-10.7
    • CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RH.11-12.7