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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 8. Step Four: Taking Social Justice Action

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This chapter introduces the fourth element of critical literacy: designing and undertaking action focused on social justice outside the classroom. This chapter is the most exciting in terms of the “active” elements of activism and organizing—the “doing” of “being” activist. Here, the participants provide remembrances and reconstructions of some dynamic activist projects they have undertaken so far. It is here that the work of activism is most explicitly outlined in real time through the words of the participants. Historically, much youth social activist work was begun inside schools but geared toward social and political audiences outside schools (Knoblauch & Brannon, 1993). It is noteworthy that such work was frequently challenged at the level of school administration and superintendence. The crux of this study is thus focused on ways in which activist action is supported and undertaken outside structures of formal education.

The bulk of my exchanges with Vaga De Franx were related to the topic of action. She spoke in our first interview about positioning herself and her ← 83 | 84 → learning within the context of youth development organizations. This related to her understanding of ideology and deciding to participate in certain forms of direct action. GK and other youth organizations had taught her to consider her point of view, “how to relate to the community, what is community, you know all of these ways of relating to everyone and working on these issues in a holistic way.” She suggested that the world of community-based organizations did not...

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