Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Another way of looking at it. Graeme Turner and critical literacy

Is it just me, or does Graeme Turner sound a little like a leftist, more reasonable (and repentant) thinking man's Kevin Donnelly? A case of arriving at the same end point but from a different direction?

A kind of liberal humanism that is hard to argue against.

Seems to happen to many old lefties?

To be fair (to colleagues in Qld and those in other parts of Australia) the use of critical literacy has a different flavour in different parts of Australia. In Qld, the influence of particular academics, meant that critical literacy, or particular versions of it, have been pushed in curriculum documents and the like as far as it could go.

Interestingly, one of these academics, the very interesting Dr Wendy Morgan, has recently co-written a book with Ray Misson (Critical literacy and the aesthetic, 2006, NCTE) where she makes the case for the bringing together of the critical and the aesthetic. At first this move always seemed a little odd to me, not because it was a strange idea, but because I had always thought this was what critical literacy was, that you could have, and needed to have both of these elements.

NSW and Victoria are different ball games.

Not enough time at the moment to unpack Turner's assumptions and argument about critical literacy, but his recent article in the 'International Journal of Cultural Studies' is an interesting read:

Turner, Graeme. (2007) Cultural literacies, critical literacies, and the English school curriculum in Australia. International Journal of Cultural Studies 10(1): 105-114.

In this article he makes some claims that should be challenged, such as:

The ‘critical literacy’ approach, as established in Australia, is a mode of discourse analysis developed by theorists from the discipline of Education and enthusiastically taken up by state education bureaucrats influenced by the branch of systemic linguistics identified with Sydney Professor M.A.K. Halliday. The success of this alliance is evident in the fact that the critical literacies approach has been placed at the centre of every senior English syllabus in the country. Displacing the previously dominant disciplinary formations – literary criticism, primarily, and, more recently, although to a lesser extent, media and cultural studies – its current pervasiveness has sparked widespread debate about its legitimacy, its usefulness, and the pedagogic consequences of its contemporary deployment through subject English in Australian secondary schools.

I'm not sure on what Turner bases his claim that critical literacy is at the centre of the Victorian and NSW senior English syllabi, as in my humble experience, this is simply not the case. In fact, a quick search of the new Victorian senior English Study reveals not one mention of critical literacy. There are some references to students' 'critically analysing' texts but it would be a long stretch to say that these are at the centre of the study. This is to say nothing of the important difference between curriculum documents and teacher practice.

To say that critical literacy is at the centre of senior English documents is one thing, but to claim that this is because it has 'displaced [the] previously dominant disciplinary formations' literacy criticism and media and cultural studies, is to replace a largely misunderstood pedagogical approach ('critlit') with two others, equally misunderstood. To claim that literacy criticism and/or media and cultural studies have ever been orthodoxies in the majority of English classrooms in Australia (or even in curriculum documents) would be very difficult to substantiate.

Most teachers worth their salt draw on a repertoire of pedagogical approaches, theories of language, literary and social theories, and curriculum theories to inform their practice as English teachers. To suggest that critical literacy exists outside of literacy criticism, or outside of media and cultural studies approaches, is to rip critial literacy out of its context.

Interestingly, Turner does not mention Paulo Freire or the way that Freire draws on Marx, Lukacs, Althusser, Gramsci etc. Instead he traces critical literacy to Richard Hoggart's work. This is unsurprising really, given Hoggart's (and Turner's) important connection to the Birmingham School of Cultural Studies.

Anyway. Maybe I'll get back to this another time.

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2 Comments:

At 7:22 am, Anonymous Mark H said...

I have been interested, Scott, in the way that teachers who have embraced critical literacy have, in writing about their work in English in Australia and elsewhere, been defining themselves as working against the 'grain' of the dominant practice of their colleagues (eg. a particular school faculty). THis has been a trend since critical literacy was first described as a "new orthodoxy" in Australia, and it is a trend that has been inclusive of teachers in different states.

 
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