Critical Literacy

A Critical Look at Boys and Literacy

Before we take a close look at critical literacy, let's explore an example of how the topic of Boys and Literacy can be examined through a critical lens.

An interview with Chris Greig, Assistant Professor at the University of Windsor, Ontario, Canada.

Critical Literacy

The 2007 Ontario Ministry of Education English Curriculum Documents define critical literacy as follows:

The capacity for a particular type of critical thinking that involves looking beyond the literal meaning of texts to observe what is present and what is missing, in order to analyse and evaluate the text’s complete meaning and the author’s intent. Critical literacy goes beyond conventional critical thinking in focusing on issues related to fairness, equity, and social justice. Critically literate students adopt a critical stance, asking what view of the world the text advances and whether they find this view acceptable (p. 110).

Critical literacy involves an analysis and critique of the power relationships among texts, language, social groups and social practices. It shows us ways of looking at texts of all kinds (print, visual, spoken, multimedia and performance texts to examine and challenge the attitudes, values and beliefs that lie beneath the surface. It empowers teachers and students to participate in a democratic society (a just society regardless of race, culture, class, gender or sexual orientation) and move literacy beyond text to social action. Literature has the potential to socially transform the reader. Freire views critical literacy as a vehicle for students and their teachers to learn to “read the world.” Freire and Macedo (1987) point out that “Reading the world always precedes reading the word, and reading the word implies continually reading the world” (p. 25).

Four dimensions of critical literacy identified by Lewison, Flint and Sluys (2002) include:

  • Disrupting a common situation or understanding (seeking to understand the text or situation in more or less detail to gain perspective)
  • Interrogating multiple viewpoints (standing in the shoes of others or thinking about texts from perspectives of different characters or from perspectives not represented in the texts)
  • Focusing on sociopolitical issues (thinking about power in relationships between and among people and exploring how power relationships shape perceptions, responses, and actions)
  • Taking action and promoting social justice (reflecting and acting to change an inappropriate, unequal power relationship between people)

Some examples of questions used to interrogate texts include:

  • Who authored this text?
  • Why did the author write this text?
  • Who benefits from this text?
  • What voices are being heard?
  • Whose voices are left out?
  • Is there another point of view?
  • How is gender, race, class, sexual orientation, age, etc. portrayed in this text?
  • What if this story were told from the perspective of a different character?
  • How is the reader positioned in the text?
  • What are the design features of this text? Why were they included?

Adapted from Bainbridge and Malicky, 2004, p. 393

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More information about Critical Literacy.