CoverMedia Literacy Activities for Learning Civics ConceptsDefining Critical Media LiteracyChapter 1. Foundations of the United States Political SystemTopic 1: Democracy in Social Media Policies and Community StandardsTopic 2: The Internet as a Public UtilityTopic 3: 21st Century Women STEM InnovatorsTopic 4: Media Coverage of Kings, Queens, and Royal FamiliesTopic 5: Representations of Native Americans in Films, Local History Publications, and School MascotsChapter 2. The Development of United States GovernmentTopic 1: Declarations of Independence on Social MediaTopic 2: Media Marketing and Government Regulating of Self-Driving Cars and Electric VehiclesTopic 3: Representations of and Racism Toward Black Americans in the MediaTopic 4: Political Debates Through Songs from Hamilton: An American MusicalTopic 5: Bill of Rights on TwitterChapter 3. Institutions of United States GovernmentTopic 1: Hollywood Movies About the Branches of GovernmentTopic 2: Writing an Impeachment Press ReleaseTopic 3: Members of Congress' Use of Social MediaTopic 4: Political Impacts of Public Opinion PollsTopic 5: Website Design for New Political PartiesChapter 4. The Rights and Responsibilities of CitizensTopic 1: Immigration in the NewsTopic 2: Portrayals of Immigrants in Television and FilmTopic 3: COVID-19 Information EvaluationTopic 4: Women Political Leaders in the MediaTopic 5: Online Messaging by Special Interest GroupsTopic 6: Digital Games for Civic EngagementTopic 7: Social Media and the ElectionsTopic 8: Media Spin in the Coverage of Political DebatesTopic 9: Celebrities' Influence on PoliticsTopic 10: Political Activism Through Social MediaTopic 11: Media Recruitment of Public Sector WorkersTopic 12: Images of Teachers and TeachingTopic 13: For Whom Is and Could Your School Be NamedTopic 14: Representing Trans IdentitiesTopic 15: Media Framing of the Events of January 6, 2021Topic 16: Music as Protest ArtTopic 17: PACs, Super PACs, and Unions in the MediaChapter 5. The Constitution, Amendments, and Supreme Court DecisionsTopic 1: Prohibition in the MediaTopic 2: The Equal Rights Amendment on Twitter and Other Social MediaTopic 3: Civil War News Stories and Recruitment AdvertisementsTopic 4: Representations of Gender and Race on CurrencyTopic 5: The Equality Act on TwitterTopic 6: Reading Supreme Court Dissents AloudTopic 7: Television Cameras in CourtroomsChapter 6. The Structure of State and Local GovernmentTopic 1: Native American Mascots and LogosTopic 2: A Constitution for the InternetTopic 3: Military Recruitment and the MediaTopic 4: Your Privacy on Social MediaTopic 5: Pandemic Policy Information in the MediaTopic 6: Gendered Language in Media Coverage of Women in PoliticsTopic 7: Environmental Campaigns Using Social MediaTopic 8: Trusted Messengers, the Media, and the PandemicTopic 9: Online Campaigning for Political OfficeTopic 10: Advertising the Lottery Online and In PrintTopic 11: Local Governments, Social Media and Digital DemocracyTopic 12: Protecting the CommonsChapter 7. Freedom of the Press and News/Media LiteracyTopic 1: Press Freedom in the United States and the WorldTopic 2: Objectivity and Reporting the News from All SidesTopic 3: Investigative Journalism and Social ChangeTopic 4: News Photographs & Newspaper DesignTopic 5: How Reporters Report EventsTopic 6: Recommendation Algorithms on Social Media PlatformsTopic 7: Fake News Investigation and EvaluationTopic 8: Paywalls and Access to Online NewsTopic 9: Critical Visual Analysis of Online and Print MediaTopic 10: Memes and TikToks as Political Cartoons

Topic 12: 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

Activity 2: 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.11-12.7