Literacy, Literature, Testing, Writing

Poetry, Power, and Political Precision

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Image credit: Steve Johnson

To wrap up #NationalPoetryMonth, I’m excited to share a piece I wrote with Audrey Friedman and Joelle Pedersen at Boston College called In Praise of Poetry: Toward Access and Powerpublished in the most recent issue of the Illinois English Bulletin.

We collected poems from 20 high-schoolers labeled as “failing” on state writing exams. As you’ll see in the piece, the poems were brilliant, so we had to ask:

“What accounts for this discrepancy in which such a powerful writer can be rendered powerless…. Is the issue truly the writer, or is the problem the very way we understand, value, and assess certain ways of writing and being?” (p. 8).

We discuss how standardized tests compel students to write, not in the forms that are most productive or relevant, but in the forms most easily measured. As we argue,

“The Common Core State Standards’ narrow focus on informational and argumentative writing widens the gap between the language of schooling and the language of life. These genres do not and cannot capture the full range of students’ experiences, identities, or language skills” (p. 15).
Continue reading “Poetry, Power, and Political Precision”

Critical Pedagogy, Education, ESL, Literacy, Research, Uncategorized

Who Gets to be “Critical?”

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Image: Burning the “Book of Sports,” 1643

This year continues to demonstrate the importance of reading the world through a critical lens. But who gets to be “critical?” Who gets access to critical approaches to literacy versus who gets timed reading tests?

Educators who use literacy to challenge the status quo often ground their work in critical literacies. This approach goes beyond reading and writing as mechanical skills, using literacy to critique power and inequity–what Paulo Freire called “reading the word and the world.”

But what does this mean when we ask students to read the word and the world in another language?

I took up this question in a recent article for the Journal of Literacy Research. In the journal’s latest issue, Literacy Research and the Radical ImaginationI wrote alongside a phenomenal group of authors working to “radically reimagine the ways in which research can reposition people and ideas to create new and more inviting spaces for literacy.” (JLR, p. 319).

No small task. Continue reading “Who Gets to be “Critical?””

Literacy, Politics

For a Better World, Does Literacy Even Matter?

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Many of my favorite authors and educators believe literacy has the power to change the world. Paulo Freire, in particular, drew on his literacy work with the marginalized Brazil for his magnum opus  “Pedagogy of the Oppressed.”

So imagine my disequilibrium when I came across a writer who challenged the idea that literacy can lead to a better world—based on the fact that, well, it still hasn’t. 

Derek Rasmussen* writes: “It is interesting to note that although we prescribe literacy to the oppressed, literacy has not necessarily cured the oppressor… We say to the supposedly lesser-developed: Literacy will help you build a just society, although it has not done that for us.” 

I had to reread that line a few times to make sure I understood what he was saying (go ahead, I had to). And… he makes a good point. Many of us assume that literacy = access to knowledge = better world. So, how do we explain the fact that, while we live in a world more literate than ever before, injustice is still rampant?

Well before anyone throws in the towel on literacy, perhaps its worth considering that Rasmussen’s argument has less to do with whether or not we can read, and more to do with what we read. Or, in this case, what we don’t read. Continue reading “For a Better World, Does Literacy Even Matter?”