co-opting 'critical literacy'

i was an undergraduate student when i applied to work at a literacy conference sponsored by the national center on adult literacy. paulo freire was scheduled to be the plenary speaker during dinner one evening. at the time, i didn't know who freire was, and it would be a few more years before i would read pedagogy of the oppressed. my invitation to this dinner was part of the renumeration for stuffing folders, directing foot traffic, and manning the registration desk over the course of the conference. in the moment, it was merely one of several odd jobs i had during those undergrad years. since then, however, i've come to appreciate the significance and serendipity of such an unlikely occurrence. freire passed away just two years later, in 1997.

freire's legacy is vast, and has had profound impacts on our understandings and approaches to education and educational theory. ira shor, donald macedo, and others have written with and about freire in the area of critical pedagogy and liberatory education. the possibilities of education to be transformative have also been taken up by scholars who focus their attention on the contested terrain of literacy, among them lesley bartlett, colin lankshear, allan luke, margaret hagood, and stephanie jones. freire, himself, penned the oft-cited work (with donald macedo) literacy: reading the word and the world, where he famously argues that an understanding of the world in which one lives always precedes the act of decoding alphabetic print.

given the nuanced and multidimensional terrain that has come to be known as 'critical literacy,' i was particularly perturbed when i read the following headline that reduces such complexity to a couple of discrete skills:

Adolescent Literacy Targeted with "Critical Literacy" Series: Making Inferences and Figurative Language

in short, walch publishing has launched a series that builds on the growing sense of panic surrounding the literacy of adolescents, and describes the 2-book critical literacy series this way:

Target students' skills in understanding, analyzing, and applying figurative language and connection ideas!

Effective instruction in adolescent literacy does not rely on one strategy alone. Vocabulary acquisition, metacognition, writing, and reading comprehension are just a few. Most struggling readers can, and do, read. Their difficulty is not articulating the printed text. The challenge to this reader is an inability to understand and process the ideas expressed by the words. This is the rationale for providing a series of resources that includes direct, explicit instruction in skills that are critical to literacy.
critical literacy, it seems, can be distilled into a conflation of simplistic 'critical thinking skills' and the annoyingly persistent autonomous definition of literacy. where is there space in such curricula for transformative inquiry (critiques of freire's notions of education as liberatory, notwithstanding)? the publishers assert that "the challenge to [the] reader is an inability to understand and process the ideas expressed by the word." my friend and colleague jeanine staples would have much to say about the dynamic relationship between the ideas and words of adolescents. she examines the salience of the spoken word within the intellectual rigor of adolescents' critical reading and writing practices; their critical literacies are resonant with multiple modes of expression, and the word - spoken, read, and written - is in constant and thoughtful negotiation. the chasm continues to grow, it seems, between studies of adolescents' nuanced and critical literacies and the curriculum factory that can't keep up with the demand being created by mass adolescent literacy hysteria. perhaps it's the very full moon beckoning outside my living room window, but my research-curriculum 'disconnect' tentacles are quite sensitive this evening. the walch series proves that there continues to be a market and funding available for packaged solutions; is there a way, i wonder, to better bridge the two, if only to avoid repeating the catastrophic misnaming that has occurred above.

note: if anyone has additional information about this series, or its possible impact in influencing adolescent literacy curricula, i'd be much obliged to hear it.


in anticipation: frontline's "Growing Up Online"

tomorrow night, tuesday, 1.22.2008, the pbs program frontline will debut it's newest documentary focused on youth: "Growing Up Online." based on the description on the website, the program promises to raise and address a range of interesting questions and issues currently circulating about the ways that youth are living their lives with/in the internet. i'm particularly interested to see how they explore and portray youth who have never known life without the existence of the internet.

the new york times featured a story about the doc and its contents: The Rough-and-Tumble Online Universe Traversed by Young Cybernauts
the piece concludes ion this way:
By the end of “Online,” Greg Bukata, for one, has quit the Internet, if only temporarily. He is seen graduating from Chatham High School, with plans to attend the United States Coast Guard Academy, where Internet use is prohibited for several weeks.

“It’ll be hard, but I need to disconnect,” he says. “I need to just pull the plug on this Internet life for a little bit and see what it’s like.”

i preemptively worry that stories of the "dangers" of the internet and a protectionist narrative will dominate "Online", despite the claim that the program will investigate "the risks, realities and misconceptions of teenage self-expression on the World Wide Web." either way, i'll be watching - available on tv and online.

watch a preview:


nctear 2008 - schedule posted

nctear mid-winter conference, 2008

looks like a great lineup! wish i could make it... hope someone takes good notes and is kind enough to share them with me :)


recent tech news that i'm excited about and intrigued by...

though, personally, im still waiting for the day when i tap my right temple and have it function like my mouse; and when i can see my own personal "menu" beam out in front of me to be able to perform such functions as a search of my brain for that author or song title that is on the proverbial tip of the tongue... (although i still find bluetooth headsets hard to get used to)
until then, i'll find great joy as things continue to get smaller and smaller and more accessible.