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Becoming Activist

Critical Literacy and Youth Organizing


Elizabeth Bishop

Becoming Activist is a revolutionary study of youth human rights activism and literacy learning. The book follows five urban youth organizers from the Drop Knowledge Project in New York City. Intentionally polyvocal, the voices of the five youth are featured prominently to highlight the shifting articulation of their activist identities in relation to social and economic justice. Becoming Activist explores critical literacy pedagogy beyond the confines of formal education. While it has been historically theorized within English classrooms, much existing research points to the limitations of conducting critical literacy in schools. In search of a space where critical literacy can be more fully realized, this book positions urban youth organizing as an alternative context for powerful community-based learning. A valuable read for educators, researchers, and young organizers, Becoming Activist offers insight into conducting literacy work to promote positive youth and community development. Ultimately, the idea of «becoming» is key to understanding and supporting youth activists as they grow to exercise their political power for positive social change.
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Chapter 3. Historicizing the Future of Critical Literacy

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Much of the earliest scholarship on critical literacy is based upon Freirean pedagogy. Paulo Freire is the preeminent scholar of critical pedagogy. Freire’s text Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970) has proven instructive in focusing on political dimensions of experience and initiating social change with “oppressed” persons by identifying structures of oppression in communities and acting to redress those conditions (see Burbles & Berk, 1999, for discussion). In 1987, Freire and Macedo published their expansive volume on literacy and critical pedagogy. In it, they argued that those who are critically literate can not only understand how meaning is socially constructed within texts but can also come to understand the political and economic contexts in which those texts were created and embedded (Freire & Macedo, 1987).

While Freire and Macedo were perhaps the first to forward an explicit dialogue around the idea of critical literacy, it was not until 1993 that Lankshear and McLaren issued what was to become the seminal text devoted to the topic. In it, they stated that literacy is more complex than the traditionally defined skills of reading and writing. Rather, they argued that such a traditional definition of literacy is ideologically aligned with particular postures of ← 27 | 28 → normative sociopolitical consciousness that are inherently oppressive and exploitative. By contrast, critical literacy emphasized the social construction of reading, writing, and text production within political contexts of inequitable economic, cultural, political, and institutional structures. Lankshear and McLaren argued for critically reflective teaching and research agendas in the...

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