Academic journal article New England Reading Association Journal

Critical Literacies: Stepping beyond the NCLB Act

Academic journal article New England Reading Association Journal

Critical Literacies: Stepping beyond the NCLB Act

Article excerpt

We must prepare young people for living in a world of powerful images, words and sounds. UNESCO, (1982)

In 1996, almost ten years ago, in her book Literacy at the Crossroads, Routman warns,

Today, unreasonable voices outside our profession are clamoring to tell us how and what to teach.... While we have been quietly focusing on our students and our teaching and learning, forces outside our school have been working diligently to move the clock back. The cry of 'back to basics,' for a return to skills-based, phonicsbased teaching, threatens much of what we know about the complexities of teaching and learning. We seem to be heading down the literacy track at higher and higher speeds with a derailment guaranteed unless we can take charge of steering the course (pg. xv).

Five years later with the signing of the No Child Left Behind Act in January 2002, Vasquez and Wong-Kam caution, "Today we are being asked to follow federal mandates that threaten to fill our schools with a One size fits all' curriculum" (2003, p. 1). These concerns-shared by many other concerned educators and parents-have come to pass. For example, the book, Many Children Left Behind: How the No Child Left Behind Act Is Damaging Our Children and Our Schools edited by Meir and Wood, presents information about how NCLB punishes rather than helps, and how the focus on testing and test preparation in reality "dumbs down" classrooms. In my opinion, the NCLB Law puts our nation at risk. McKenna (2007) writes, "The world we are leaving to our children and students is one that demands that they be creators of knowledge. Despite what the minimalist mandates of the No Child Left Behind may suggest, our students cannot survive in this world simply by being receptacles of knowledge; they must also be creative problem solvers" (pg. 181).

Instead of treating students as merely receptacles of knowledge and isolated facts, who are being drilled and skilled, and asked to complete meaningless worksheets, teachers can and must move beyond the insane mandates of the NCLB Act and empower students. As Comber (2001) states: "Critical literacies involve people using language to exercise power, to enhance everyday life in schools and communities, and to question practices of privilege" (p. 1). According the Center for Media Literacy (20022007), literacy in the 21st century cannot be limited to only books, but must also take into consideration media literacy. When thinking about all forms of media literacy, some important questions to consider are:

1. Who created this symbolic system? (Symbolic system refers to all types of media, including books).

2. What techniques are used to get my attention?

3. Why was this symbolic system being developed? Who will profit or gain power from this symbolic system?

4. How might other people interpret the symbolic system differently from me?

5. Who benefits from the symbolic system?

6. Is the symbolic system biased or impartial? What are the embedded values and points of views?

7. Whose view of the world is presented? What views are excluded?

8. What information has been left out of the symbolic system? And why?

9. What questions does the symbolic system raise or not raise?

10. What background knowledge does the reader need in order to scrutinize the symbolic system?

11. Why is the symbolic system presented in a particular format?

12. How does the symbolic system depict race, gender, class, and cultural groups?

13. Whose view is privileged or excluded in the symbolic system?

14. What are my views, attitudes, and values in comparison to the symbolic system?

15. How can I use what I know about language and symbolic systems to question practices of rights versus privilege, possibilities versus the status quo, and take action in order to make a positive difference in my school, neighborhood, community, country, and the world?

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