Using Critical Literacy Skills to Support Civic Discourse

Using Critical Literacy Skills to Support Civic Discourse

Tami A. Augustine (The Ohio State University, USA) and Daniel P. Redman (Hilliard Bradley High School, USA)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 28
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-8082-9.ch001

Abstract

A central focus of social studies education is to help students develop into informed and active citizens. Central to the practice of citizenship is the ability to engage in civic dialogue. Informed by the work of Kumashiro and Wolk, this chapter examines the role of critical literacy in moving social studies instruction beyond traditional, teacher-centered approaches to emphasize multiple and conflicting perspectives, inquiry skills, and civic discourse. In order to honor the multiple and conflicting perspectives present in any event, the use of critical literacy examines such questions as who is being represented? and who is speaking for whom? These questions serve to problematize American and Western-centric approaches to social studies education that serve to reinforce the hegemonic discourse too often evident in social studies classrooms to engage students in richer learning experiences and provide them with the skills and dispositions necessary to become active citizens.
Chapter Preview
Top

Introduction

A central focus of social studies education is to help students develop into informed and active citizens. According to the National Council of the Social Studies (NCSS), the core mission of the social studies is to help students develop the knowledge, skills, and values that will enable them to become effective citizens (National Council for the Social Studies, 2008). For our democracy to thrive, schools must prepare citizens who understand the important role they play in the democratic process. In social studies classrooms, students can explore social, cultural, political, economic, and civic institutions and behaviors. This includes offering opportunities to critically examine texts that are central to the social studies classroom, and the ways in which citizens have challenged injustice and inequality to promote the common good. Central to pedagogy that engages with such topics is the role of dialogue as the optimal method to assist students in their engagement in civic discourse.

Civil discourse, which has garnered much attention in our current political climate, grounds arguments in evidence, facts, and logic. This understanding of civil discourse covers only part of the expectations of such discourse. It also focuses on the importance of certain accepted social behaviors. Civil discourse, in this sense, is a call for civility and can serve to silence voices and inhibit discourse that critiques the dominant narrative. For these reasons, this chapter focuses on civic discourse as a way to support the goals of social studies education.

The focus of civic discourse is on creating democratic spaces where complex issues are addressed openly, conflicting viewpoints are intentionally explored and expected, and support for claims are thoroughly examined (Institute for Civic Discourse & Democracy, 2015). Additionally, creating brave spaces for others to speak, and listening thoughtfully, play a central role in such dialogue. At its core, civic discourse focuses on communicating about political, social, cultural, or economic issues in a way that recognizes cultural differences and engages students in dialogue that seeks to understand, and, ultimately, find common ground, so that those involved in this discourse can find solutions to issues facing communities and the society at large.

Civic discourse cannot take place without the examination of - and engagement with - multiple texts. It is here that critical literacy plays a central role in the social studies classroom. Critical literacy, for the purposes of this chapter, is defined as the interaction with text that examines the nature of the text in relation to power, inequality, and injustice (Frey & Fisher, 2008; Lewis-Bernstein Young, 2018; Luke, 2011; Wolk, 2003). Critical literacy invites students to assess and question the values, beliefs, assumptions, and purpose of texts (Wolk, 2003). This analysis and critique of texts is foundational to civic discourse and encompasses essential skills related to becoming thoughtful citizens. As students are bombarded with text at a faster pace and greater volume than ever before, and in the age of “fake news” and arguments based on opinion rather than evidence, the role of critical literacy is more urgent than ever before.

It is at this intersection of high exposure to text and the current political climate that this chapter on critical literacy and the social studies intervenes, offering a framework to develop the skills needed to engage in the work of civic dialogue. In order to honor the multiple and conflicting perspectives present in any event, the use of critical literacy examines such questions as, “Who is represented?” and “Who is speaking for whom?” Asking such questions engages students in richer learning experiences and provides them with the skills and dispositions necessary to become active citizens.

Complete Chapter List

Search this Book:
Reset