We contend that reading, writing, speaking, and doing are socially situated and constructed practices that create our “identity kit” as we participate in language use, and that these practices are embedded in discourse communities shaped by differing cultural knowledge bases, practices, and values. However, we know that for some, access to and awareness of the codes of the culture of power, are often disallowed and/or de-legitimized leaving them unaware of their own historicity—the “understanding of how one’s immersion in a particular culture and subcultures at a particular moment in time affects one’s worldview.” In this way, literacy acts as a cultural tool that provides us with capital, where capital is seen as cultural and social ways of being and doing that are represented and embodied in individuals as a habit or part of a socially recognized credential.
Critical literacy, as part of our set of cultural tools, provides us with the means for reflection and action as we engage in examining our social worlds. Critical literacy is a “set of practices and civic competencies that help the learner develop a critical awareness that texts represent particular points of view while often silencing others.” Critical literacy is the use of language in powerful ways to get things done in the world, enhance life in school, and to question privilege and injustice, and it brings with it the freedom to explore and act on our past, present, and future. The critical literacy perspective presupposes a sociological perspective of reading, writing and speaking in which “teaching and learning to read is about teaching and learning standpoints, cultural expectations, norms of social actions and consequences.”
From this vantage, critical literacy becomes more than a tool; it becomes, instead, a form of cultural capital that provides us with awareness of our historicity. Adopting this position, we are able to begin to problematize terms and contexts that are prevalent in our teaching world; terms like children’s literature, media for children, kinder-culture, and contexts where language is used to constitute meaning and things as well as ourselves. Engaging in such problematization, however, creates tension in our ways of being and doing in classrooms; it is what we choose to do in relation to that tension that defines our purpose either as one of educating or one of schooling. We assert that it is the recognition of this tension that becomes the responsibility of educators at all levels. It should begin in the classrooms of the youngest children in our schools so they may grow to become lifelong practitioners of critical literacy who question and transform social injustice in our world fulfilling the promise of Dewey’s purpose for education—democracy.
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