October. 24. 2008
Response to Reading – Workshop 2
First, tacit knowledge. And then comes literacy. And somewhere in this progression, the
fortunate reach a level of consciousness that includes self-knowledge, critical thinking,
and social efficacy. The discussions throughout the assigned articles in Workshop 2
piece together arguments for engaged learning for every child/person regardless of class,
sex or colour. But these readings, though informing, presume a level of political and
historical reference on the part of the reader. So, I am compelled to read original sources
to satisfy my own curiousity – for instance, which theory begat which approach, or who
smelled something rotten first and hit the alarm, or at least drew attention to the rot?
As a Canadian I am frustrated again to read texts and socio/economic profiles that
seem remote from the Canadian experience and demographic. Yet the emergence of
global concerns, new waves of immigration, and changing economic markets have
brought the lessons of Paolo Friere and his transnational disciples closer to home.
For me, there is a single theme connecting all the readings, and a line from Friere’s
‘Education for Critical Consciousness’ says it tidily: “for committed behaviour has its
roots in critical consciousness and capacity for genuine choice.” (1973, p. 20)
When teachers, pedagogy, entrenched class structures and political forces stand between
the learner and the tacit knowledge of being his/her own person, the role played by
critical literacy becomes essential. This new understanding for literacy as social agent,
especially for children, is exciting, and definitely related to my interest in creativity for
personal and social agency. It’s interesting to read that the most progressive, elite schools
in fact embrace the use of imagination, play, personal reflection and self-directed
problem-solving, while the schools for the underclass are barely able to hold onto their
students, let alone give them free reign within curriculum. So, using Friere’s notion of
‘critical consciousness’ as theoretical ground, it seems that critical and creative thinking
is possible with literacy apprehension.
The phrase “Language is such a weapon, and what goes with language: reflection,
criticism, renaming, creation” in Adrian Rich’s article ‘Teaching Language in Open
Admissions (1972)” and the line “They live in commerce, not in isolation” from
sociologist Frank Penkin in J. L Stuckey’s article “Literacy and Social Class” seem to
articulate the inward looking and outward looking aspects of literacy with consciousness.
Growth in knowledge and understanding through critical literacy can occur when the core
of a learner is allowed to trust his/her own tacit knowledge. Again, many articles brought
forward the importance of recognizing the very ground and social air that the learner
breathes, that the learner occupies a specific time and place, and uses this awareness for
authenticity of being in the learning process.
So, on an individual level, in grows out. And, on a societal level, out grows up.
Throughout the readings there has been the recognition that each learner-thinker-reader-
writer is a free agent already, entitled to demonstrate, participate, and activate
possibilities within a social network of others with similar possibilities. This recognition
is actually a noble vision that must be crafted within systems of entrenched class bias. I
have often wondered about the subtle and not so subtle attitudes of mistrust between
those who work with their hands and those who work with creative craft or imagination, and the others who work with reason and scientific inquiry. The bias goes several ways
though I’ve met more fair-mindedness and appreciation of the other from those with
more exposure to wider texts and ideas. Knowledge itself has its own class structure and
we must be careful not to sometimes blur away the person within the work through bias
Equality of means for equality of ends is a fine mission for the teacher of literacy.
The current economic meltdown in the U.S.A. could be demonstration of both the power
and suffering possible through applied and misapplied critical literacy. Those who were
the most literate, confident and true to their sense of entitlement took advantage of those
less advantaged, who in turn, failed to connect the dots and consider they were being sold
down the river instead of the American Dream. If the out is to grow up, there must be an
opportunity for those without means to figure out their own dream and take charge of
their own success. The lessons carried forward through the Workshop readings have
been sobering and yet hopeful in declaring the individual literate learner as the liberating
force in whichever system he/she recognizes as stifling their pursuit of growth and
knowledge. In a day to day application, critical literacy can offset the bad smell of
injustices perpetuated in our educational activities by working to get rid of the source of
oppression within exclusionary and socially biased systems of thought.
Freire, P, Education for Critical Consciousness. New York: Continuum, 1973.
Freire, P, Pedagogy of the Oppressed: New, Revised, Twentieth-anniversary Edition.
New York: Continuum, 1993.