Young Adult Lit/Crit

February 5, 2008

Thoughts on the Johnson and Freedman reading

Filed under: Critical Literacy--Johnson/Freedman — scrollman @ 10:20 pm

The most important concept I took away from the Johnson and Freedman reading this week is that teachers can “become the cultural workers that transform society” (12).    How many of us, as teachers or future teachers, really think about our role in either disrupting or perpetuating the cycle of oppression?  Although I try to keep this thought in the forefront of my mind, it is difficult when there are so many other specific educational tasks at hand.   What Johnson and Freedman point out, however, is that by helping students to develop their critical thinking, critical consciousness, and critical literacy, we help them to become more reflective about society (past, present, and future) and might potentially spur them to take part in social and political action- or at least vote for progressive candidates. 

The type of teaching model that Johnson and Freedman advocate is very consistent with inquiry learning.  If we ask our students deeper types of questions, and encourage them to ask questions of us, and each other, we collectively begin to see how socially constructed this world really is.   Sometimes this can get dangerous, but in a good way.  We’ve all heard the age old student question, “why do I need to know this?”  There really isn’t a good answer to this question.  It’s kind of like asking what the meaning of life is.  The truth is, we don’t have to know anything at all.  There is no absolute authority which dictates what knowledge is necessary and what knowledge isn’t.  People, mostly dead, have created vast conceptual structures, institutions, languages, technologies, economies, religions, cultures, which define the way we think, act, live, and die.  As soon as we come to realize that human beings have the power to shape this world in whatever way they see fit, we (hopefully) begin to ask the most fundamental question of all: to what end should we shape our world (both local and global)?  I am happy to say that whenever this question comes up in my class (and it does come up quite often) my students are surprisingly progressive in their ways of thinking.  Of course they are extremely skeptical about this better world ever becoming a reality, but at least they can imagine what it would be like- which reminds me of a quote (no, not by John Lennon, although Imagine is one of my favorite songs). This quote is by Albert Einstein, and just happens to be hanging on a poster on the wall behind this school computer: “Imagination is more important than knowledge.  Knowledge is limited, imagination encircles the world.”  Once our students begin to open up to possibilities, and imagine that things could have been, can be, and will be different than they are, they begin to take power over their own minds. 




  1. Jonathan,
    Thanks for your comments on this reading. I wanted to respond to one part of your post. You write “We’ve all heard the age old student question, “why do I need to know this?” There really isn’t a good answer to this question. It’s kind of like asking what the meaning of life is. The truth is, we don’t have to know anything at all. ”

    I think you’ve captured the essence of this book- Making it matter. On page 17, there is a quote which states “From a sociological perspective, the work of literacy teachers is not about enhancing individual growth, personal voice, or skill development. It is principally about building access to literate practices and discource resources, about setting the enabling pedagogic conditions for sutdents to use their existing and new discourse resources for exchange in social fields where texts and discourses matter.”
    “Where texts and discourses matter.” This whole quote really struck me, but I think the last statement is key.
    How we accomplish this, though, is a major challenge. One of the most helpful suggestions from this chapter was the list on page 29. The last one especially interested me: “Personal inquiry projects, which were connected to critical consciousness and issues of social justice.” I believe if a student can find a topic of interest, this could be a very relevant project. I would like to know what everyone else thinks of this suggestion, especially Sarah who did her article for 505 last semester on research papers!

    Comment by allison — February 6, 2008 @ 3:20 pm

  2. I too like the emphasis on “mattering.” “Where texts and discourses matter” ie the territory James Gee mines in his discussion of privileged discourses, Secondary Discourses, Discourses of Power, etc. etc. in contrast to marginalized discourses. Have you read TYRELL yet?

    From another perspective, it’s interesting too to look at the discourses the campaigners are participating in and relying on to engage public support for their platforms, and the discourses they don’t!! KES

    Comment by sunyprof — February 6, 2008 @ 3:29 pm

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