Critical Literacy: Foundational Notes

Allan Luke
2012 Theory into Practice  
This article traces the lineage of critical literacy from Freire through critical pedagogies and discourse analysis. The author discusses the need for a contingent definition of critical literacy, given the increasingly sophisticated nature of texts and discourses. The new information order is messing with governments' and corporations' longstanding relations of control and domination. In the past year, the US State Department critiqued the Chinese government for their censorship of web
more » ... arguing that freedom of (Google) access to information was a democratic right. Yet several months later, the State Department declared the Wikileaks release of diplomatic cables a threat to national and geopolitical security. More recently, the new media have been used as a means for the dissent and revolution in the Middle East, with several governments attempting to shut down instant messaging and social networking, while maintaining longstanding control over traditional print and video reporting. The "global village" imagined by Marshall McLuhan (1968) is fact: a virtual and material world where traditional print and image, canonical genres and new modalities of information sit side by side -where new and old media build discourse communities and enable political and cultural action. The current uprisings across this village return us to the classical questions of critical literacy. What is 'truth'? How is it presented and represented, by whom, and in whose interests? Who should have access to which images and words, texts and discourses? For what purposes? This isn't simply about reading or functional literacy. It never has been. Brave New World, 1984, Fahrenheit 451, and Oryx and Crake should be required reading for secondary English. They remind us that civil society, human relationships and freedom are dependent upon free flows of knowledge. These works teach the centrality of memory and history, the danger of autocratic control of information, and the moral imperative of critique. Struggles over power are indeed struggles over the control of information and interpretation. Wherever textual access, critique and interpretation are closed down, whether via corporate or state or religious control of the press, of the internet, of serveraccess, of the archive of knowledge -from the first libraries of Alexandria to Google -human agency, self-determination and freedom are put at risk. These ultimately are curriculum questions: about whose version of culture, history and everyday life will count as official knowledge. They are questions about pedagogy and teaching: about which modes of information and cognitive scripts, which designs and genres shall be deemed worth learning, what kinds of tool use with reading and writing will be taught, for what social and cultural purposes and interests. The term literacy refers to the reading and writing of text. The term critical literacy refers to use of the technologies of print and other media of communication to analyze, critique and transform the norms, rule systems and practices governing the social fields of everyday life (Luke, 2004) . Since Freire's (1970) educational projects in Brazil, approaches to critical literacy have been developed through feminist, postcolonial, poststructuralist and critical race theory, critical linguistics and cultural studies, and indeed, rhetorical and cognitive models.
doi:10.1080/00405841.2012.636324 fatcat:a4zmlly57fduhndxupu3qpsngq