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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 6. Step Three: Identifying Sociopolitical Issues

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The third element in the critical literacy taxonomy involves identifying issues focused on sociopolitical realities in the context of the lives of the learners. This section is slightly more condensed because of the connection to the previous and following taxonomical elements. Such an identification of issues involves conducting research on multiple perspectives, designing and executing actions around those issues, and reflecting upon the steps taken. The social and political are central to the operation of critical literacy as well as to the work of youth organizers (Ginwright, 2010a). I use the work of Watts and Guessous (2006) here to define the sociopolitical in relation to understanding agency and opportunity structured around civic service and social justice. Sherrod (2006) pushed this idea further, rooting the sociopolitical in the sphere of urban youth activism. This focus on identifying sociopolitical issues in the context of the communities in which learners live is fundamentally the work of critical pedagogy and popular political educational models.

For Vaga De Franx, her activist work is grounded in her commitment to community. She talked about emphasizing the social element of activism to ← 61 | 62 → understand the connections between the personal and the political. In particular, she highlighted the importance of focusing on the social and the political when organizing around any activist issue:

She understands the connections across and between identities and ideologies in her discussion of organizing social movements around political issues. She explains the role of theory and practice in her current...

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