My son Tom was involved recently in a dreadful incident on the Toronto subway. I certainly believe he was a hero that day. And my devoted collecting of news clippings with his name in them led me to a media literacy unit that fascinated my students.
It was the day before Valentine’s Day and Tom thought he’d stop off after work to get Emily a present. Deciding that the Eaton Centre would be crowded and hectic, he got off at another point on his route home to make a quick foray into the Dufferin Mall instead. As he walked along in the station he heard heart-stopping screams coming from further down the platform. He compared it to TV footage of civilians caught in war, women screaming, their arms in the air and their knees failing. A man had pushed two young teenagers, at random, directly in front of a moving train. It was not until 40 minutes later that Tom found out they hadn’t been killed.
Not knowing what had happened, he initially ran towards the area where people were screaming to see if he could help, but came across the attacker as he was escaping from the station. He and several others followed the man out onto the street, keeping him in view until police could arrive. The man was arrested in front of a fast-food restaurant on Dufferin Avenue.
During the next few days, Tom read the ongoing stories in the Toronto papers. When the account strayed from the facts, he went to CITY-TV with his phone. He had videoed the entire pursuit and arrest of the mentally-ill man. CITY aired excerpts and placed the news item and the full video on their website.
When I prepared the materials for class I copied articles from the Toronto Sun, Toronto Star and National Post, and bookmarked the CITY item. The students were asked to complete a small organizer consisting of four squares, one for each of these media sources – focusing on the specific description of the man’s arrest. Was he chased? Was he tackled? Was he held for police? Or did he sit alone on a landscaping rock and wait to be apprehended? Wow- what really happened and why are some accounts so wrong?
They then went onto the blog and wrote about their observations and what they had learned from this comparison. Having Tom’s real-time video footage was invaluable, as it enabled them to move beyond the realm of opinion into an analytical comparison of the media stories, and to speculate instead about the role of the media, news sources and trust.
They also prompted me to post a second time, regarding the level of force used by police, as depicted in the video. Their responses on that topic, after a heated classroom discussion, were astute. They recounted personal experiences, examined the role of police, considered the horror of the incident itself, and even noted the impact that Tom’s camera angle had on the viewer’s perception versus that of the police officers.