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A Tale of Differences: Comparing the Traditions, Perspectives, and Educational Goals of Critical Reading and Critical Literacy

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Classroom literacy practices are necessarily grounded in historical and philosophical traditions, and these traditions provide a lens for distinguishing those practices. Our goal in this article is to examine the assumptions that underlie two pedadogical approaches to literacy-one grounded in liberal humanism, and the other within critical perspectives. We argue that there are fundamental philosophical distinctions between liberal-humanist critical reading and critical literacy, and we hope to demonstrate why educators need to acknowledge and understand these differences. We believe that these two approaches to critical reading are often conflated or mistaken for one another, with the result that practices associated with critical literacy are often inappropriately adopted by individuals who are committed to liberal-humanist forms of critical reading.
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A Tale of Differences: Comparing the Traditions,
Perspectives, and Educational Goals of Critical Reading and
Critical Literacy
Gina Cervetti
Michael J. Pardales
James S. Damico
Abstract
Classroom literacy practices are necessarily grounded
in historical and philosophical traditions, and these
traditions provide a lens for distinguishing those
practices. Our goal in this article is to examine the
assumptions that underlie two pedadogical approaches
to literacy -- one grounded in liberal humanism, and
the other within critical perspectives. We argue that
there are fundamental philosophical distinctions
between liberal-humanist critical reading and critical
literacy, and we hope to demonstrate why educators
need to acknowledge and understand these
differences. We believe that these two approaches to
critical reading are often conflated or mistaken for one
another, with the result that practices associated with
critical literacy are often inappropriately adopted by
individuals who are committed to liberal-humanist
forms of critical reading.
By tracing the lines of development of these different
approaches to literacy, we hope to show that they
work within very different, and perhaps incompatible,
views on knowledge, reality, authorship, and discourse
-- and on the goals of education. Along with
illuminating philosophical and historical distinctions,
we incorporate instructional examples to demonstrate
the ways these distinctions play out in classrooms.
Related
Posting from
the Archives
Further
Notes on
the Four
Resources
Model by
Allan Luke
and Peter
Freebody
Philosophical Roots | Critical Reading and Liberal Humanism | Critical Reading
Classrooms | Critical Literacy Approaches | A Critical Literacy Example | Comparing
Examples | References
Critical Reading in the Liberal-Humanist Tradition
The empiricist belief that the world can be directly experienced and known through
the senses is at the root of liberal-humanist approaches to reading. These
approaches rely on the notion that a reader can comprehend the “correct” meaning
Cervetti, G. N., Pardales, M. J., & Damico, J. S. (2001). A tale of differences: Comparing
the traditions, perspectives, and educational goals of critical reading and critical
literacy. Reading Online, 4(9). Available: http://www.readingonline.org/articles/
art_index.asp?HREF=/articles/cervetti/index.html.
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of an author’s text through decoding.
While liberal-humanist views of reading rest on the understanding that individuals
can encode their thoughts and intentions in texts which can be understood by
readers and which reflect a directly knowable reality, they also hold that, as rational
thinkers, we can make inferences and judgments about those meanings. In this way,
there is a separation between facts about the world and the inferences and
judgments a reader can make about those facts. This leads to a further distinction
between truth and rhetoric -- that is, there are ways of talking about the world that
use a language of truth and objectivity (usually the language of science and
mathematics), and there are ways of talking about the world that use language
intended to persuade, evoke emotions, or provide aesthetic experiences (ordinary
language, rhetoric, literature, etc.). When liberal humanists talk about critical
thinking, they often mean the kind of thinking that is eminently rational in origin: it
is deliberate, orderly, critical, and purposeful. Critical thought is to be distinguished
from ordinary, everyday thinking, which is informal, casual, and less deliberate
(Stauffer, 1969).
Between the late 1940s and the early 1970s, several influential literacy texts that
promoted critical reading were published. A consideration of these texts is important
for this article for three reasons:
1. The notion of critical reading gained prominence in literacy instruction and
research during this period.
2. By examining these texts we can consider liberal-humanist approaches over
time.
3. Although current iterations of critical reading in a liberal-humanist tradition
may differ from earlier examples, we argue that they share assumptions about
knowledge, existence, authorship, and discourse that differ significantly from
those associated with critical literacy approaches.
In his influential book Reading in the Elementary School, Spache (1964) writes about
critical reading as a set of skills that extends beyond both functional literacy and
higher levels of comprehension and analysis. These critical reading skills include
investigating sources, recognizing an author’s purpose, distinguishing opinion and
fact, making inferences, forming judgments, and detecting propaganda devices.
Other literacy researchers in the liberal-humanist tradition similarly emphasize the
importance of differentiating fact from opinion or truth from fantasy (e.g., Durr,
1965; Flamond, 1962; Lundsteen, 1970; Painter, 1965), making inferences (Huus,
1965; Shotka, 1960), analyzing literary elements such as setting, plot, and theme
(Howards, 1965; Huus), making predictions and testing hypothesis while reading
(Lee, 1968), and suspending judgment until the evidence is considered (Russell,
1961). These scholars also argue that critical reading involves distinctive practices
that do not necessarily develop naturally. The necessary skills must be taught
explicitly (or at least actively promoted by teachers) and, contrary to common
perceptions, Spache asserted that this training can begin in elementary school.
Overall, these components of critical reading rest on the understanding that
interpretation of text involves the unearthing of authorial intention. The philosophical
assumption here is that correct interpretation can be distinguished from incorrect,
truth can be distinguished from fiction, and texts are imbued with authorial intention
or meaning that can and should be the basis for understanding. According to Bond
and Wagner (1966),
Critical reading is the process of evaluating the authenticity and validity
of material and of formulating an opinion about it. It is essential for
anyone dealing with controversial issues to be able to read critically....
[The reader] must understand the meanings implied as well as stated.
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He must evaluate the source from which he is reading. He must
differentiate the important from the unimportant facts.... He must be
able to detect treatments warped by prejudice. He must keep in mind
the authors’ precepts and intentions and judge whether in drawing his
conclusions the author considered all the facts presented. (p. 283)
The last two of Spache’s six dimensions of critical reading -- forming judgments and
detecting propaganda devices -- also highlight the importance of closely examining
authorial intentions. We focus on these two dimensions of critical reading because
they move furthest away from simple author-based interpretation and ask students
to look for meanings that are intended to be hidden. Like Spache, Smith (1965)
emphasizes the importance of recognizing propaganda in texts. She argues that
readers need not only understand meanings embedded in print, but also those that
“lurk behind the black and white symbols” (p. 12). This reading “between” or
“beyond” the lines is exemplified in efforts to read and critique propaganda devices
in newspapers, magazines, and radio and television advertisements (Agrast, 1970;
Burris, 1970; Flamond, 1962) and in focusing on how an author uses words to
convey points (Wolf, 1965). In such activities, children learn to use elements of
logical analysis -- that is, they examine claims of validity and reliability to better
understand how these texts function in society.
These examples of liberal-humanist critical reading emphasize approaches that
encourage skepticism and analysis of text verging on social critique. As such, of all
the possible liberal-humanist approaches to text, they come closest to critical literacy
-- though they still differ significantly from it, as we discuss later. First, however, we
want to elaborate upon liberal-humanist approaches by describing classroom
examples, discussing some contemporary iterations, and tracing the philosophical
roots of critical reading.
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Moving into Critical Reading Classrooms
In an example of liberal-humanist critical reading instruction, Flamond (1962)
outlines a set of guiding questions that students of various ages can use to critique
the form and function of newspaper advertisements. These include asking the
following:
To whom is the ad addressed?
To what need or desire does it appeal (health, popularity, comfort, security,
etc.)?
What claims are not substantiated?
What attention-getting devices are used?
How is actual cost disguised or minimized?
Why are testimonials used?
What words or ideas are used to create a particular impression?
These questions encourage students to investigate authors’ motives, and they
constitute a critique of these motives. They highlight issues of valid interpretation
(Does the ad come with strong support in the form of argument and evidence?) and
reliability (Are the statements dependable and trustworthy?) -- both central concerns
of liberal-humanist approaches.
In another classroom example, Shotka (1960) leads a group of first graders to
pursue two central questions -- what is a home and what is a community -- through
an eight-step outline that emphasizes recognizing and defining the problem,
recognizing assumptions, formulating hypotheses, reasoning from hypotheses,
gathering evidence, evaluating evidence (detecting bias, determining validity and
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reliability), organizing evidence, and generalizing and deciding (p. 298). In the
lesson or set of lessons, the children compare and contrast their own home
experiences with the experiences of children in their school textbooks. The children
notice similarities (e.g., children play with one another and go to school, mothers
stay at home and do the housework while fathers go out to work, and the families
have people who help them) and point out differences (e.g., the children in the
textbooks are always clean and happy, and their houses are bigger and prettier than
their own).
The first graders are then encouraged to ask why these differences might exist.
Their explanations include that the author or illustrator “couldn’t think of making the
children look dirty...and wanted the pictures and the stories to be happy [because]
children don’t like sad stories” (Shotka, 1960, p. 301). Although these children begin
to examine why authors and illustrators choose certain representations of the world,
they do not explicitly engage in social critique.
Connecting Critical Reading to Contemporary Classrooms
One interesting parallel between the developing import assigned to critical reading in
the 1950s and 1960s and the significance of critical thinking or critical reading today
stems from similarities in sociopolitical concerns across the two periods. In Western
countries in the 1950s, postwar fears of communism in conjunction with rapidly
increasing technological advancements and the “strong threat from mass
communication” (i.e., radio and television) spawned the view that teaching critical
reading skills was necessary to prepare children to live in a more complex world
(Smith, 1986). Today, we live in a booming postindustrial information age and
compete in a global marketplace in what Luke, Comber, and O’Brien (1996) call “fast
capitalist” societies. Critical reading and critical thinking, as a result, are considered
essential commodities for individual and collective survival (i.e., individuals and
groups need them to compete effectively) in our rapidly expanding info-world (Paul,
1990).
In addition to these sociopolitical influences, past and current conceptions of critical
reading share similar approaches to textual interpretation and understanding. Critical
reading has long been equated with critical thinking with its emphasis on clear,
logical analysis, and this connection is no less significant in current times.
Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the heyday of liberal humanism, the conception of
reading as a thinking process dominated educational research and pedagogy (see,
e.g., Bond & Wagner, 1966; Russell, 1961; Stauffer, 1969). Clear thinking was
thought to engender clear reading and prevent what Stauffer called “bungling”:
“Muddled thinking ends in bungled doing...or ends in bungled verbalisms...[so]
reading should be taught as a thinking process” (p. 15).
Refraining from “bungling” retains importance today. Current iterations of critical
thinking and critical reading in a liberal-humanist tradition share striking similarities
with their predecessors. For example, Paul (1990) helps an elementary school
teacher “remodel” a lesson to include the following critical reading skills or
strategies: evaluating arguments, making inferences, using critical vocabulary,
exercising reciprocity (having students state one another’s positions), and supplying
evidence for a conclusion (p. 363). As in the earlier classroom examples, these skills,
as well as other strategies Paul mentions (he lists 35 in all), assume that correct
interpretation can be distinguished from incorrect interpretation, that fiction can be
distinguised from truth, and that texts represent an author’s intentions.
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Charting the Assumptions of Critical Reading
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As the previous sections suggest, conceptions of critical reading in a liberal-humanist
tradition rest on assumptions about knowledge, reality, authorship, discourse, and
goals for education. Reading in the liberal-humanist tradition is an activity that can
help a person learn about the world, understand an author’s intention, and decipher
whether information is valid or worthy of skepticism. As a result, knowledge is
gained through a process of sense making, deduction, or rational analysis of reality.
Reality is the supreme referent for interpretation (and serves as the basis for
judgments about the value or correctness of competing interpretations), and there is
a separation between facts, inferences, and reader judgments.
Reading is also an activity that can be approached when one has determined what
genre (objective or subjective) a text embodies. One implication of the liberal-
humanist approach may be that a text written in the objective language of science is
to be considered truth, in the sense that it will inform the reader about the world. If
a text is literary (fiction, poetry) or written in an “ordinary” voice (as in the
newspaper), the reader may assume that it is not to be trusted as a source of true
and valid information, but is to be questioned or merely enjoyed.
Table 1 summarizes the assumptions of liberal-humanist critical reading in four
areas.
Table 1
Assumptions of Liberal-Humanist Critical Reading
Area Liberal-Humanist Interpretation
Knowledge
(epistemology)
Knowledge is gained through sensory experience in the world or
through rational thought; separation between facts, inferences,
and reader judgments is assumed.
Reality
(ontology) Reality is directly knowable and can, therefore, serve as a
referent for interpretation.
Authorship Detecting the author’s intentions is the basis for higher levels of
interpretation of text.
Goals of
literacy
instruction
Development of “higher” level skills of comprehension and
interpretation.
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Critical Literacy Approaches
Critical literacy involves a fundamentally different stance toward reading. In essence,
students of critical literacy approach textual meaning making as a process of
construction, not exegesis; one imbues a text with meaning rather than extracting
meaning from it. More important, textual meaning is understood in the context of
social, historic, and power relations, not solely as the product or intention of an
author. Further, reading is an act of coming to know the world (as well as the word)
and a means to social transformation.
Critical literacy has a complicated philosophical history, and for the purposes of this
article, we have selected only a few key influences that help distinguish it from other
traditions of literacy theory and instruction. Critical theories of literacy are derived, in
part, from critical social theory, particularly its concern with the alleviation of human
suffering and the formation of a more just world through the critique of existing
social and political problems and the posing of alternatives. “Critique” from this
perspective involves “criticism of oppression and exploitation and the struggle for a
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better society” (Kellner, 1989, p. 46). Critical theories of literacy have been greatly
influenced by critical social theory’s view that meanings are always contested (never
givens), and are related to ongoing struggles in society for the possession of
knowledge, power, status, and material resources. These struggles over meaning and
resources are undertaken by unequal groups. That is, certain groups have the
advantage in such struggles because they have maintained control over society’s
ideologies, institutions, and practices (Morgan, 1997). Critical social theorists believe
that these inequalities can be exposed through critique and can be reconstructed, in
part, through language.
This aspect of critical social theory has influenced critical literacy’s focus on the
ideological assumptions that underwrite texts. Therefore, teachers of critical literacy
investigate issues of representation. They ask the following questions:
Who constructs the texts whose representations are dominant in a
particular culture at a particular time; how readers come to be complicit
with the persuasive ideologies of texts; whose interests are served by
such representations and such readings; and when such texts and
readings are inequitable in their effects, how these could be constructed
otherwise. (Morgan, 1997, pp. 1-2)
In doing so, critical teachers promote a new and different kind of textual practice,
one that examines the nature of literacy itself -- particularly the ways that current
conceptions of literacy create and preserve certain social, economic, and political
interests.
A second important influence on critical literacy is the work of Paulo Freire. Freire,
like the critical theorists of the Frankfurt School, was troubled by the economic
exploitation that he first witnessed in his native Brazil. Also like the critical social
theorists, Freire saw language and literacy as key mechanisms for social
reconstruction. He responded by working to develop an approach to adult literacy
education that would serve as a vehicle for social and economic transformation. For
Freire, the very pedagogy of literacy had to be transformed to make central issues of
justice and the struggle for emancipation. Freire’s pedagogy “has as much to do with
the teachable heart as the teachable mind” (McLaren, 1999, p. 50).
Freire’s pedagogy was a comprehensive one, directed at the development of word-
level reading skills within the context of dialogic critical interrogations of the world.
In a typical example of Freirean pedagogy, instruction begins with a set of
generative words selected both for their pragmatic value in the lives of the students
and for their phonetic characteristics (Freire, 1985). The educator then works
dialogically with students to codify these words into existential situations that involve
them. Teacher and students then engage in reading, writing, and continued critical
dialogue related to these generative themes, and learn the words in the context of
themes that relate directly to their worlds and felt needs. For example, in Freire’s
work with adult Brazilian peasants, he used the generative word well to consider how
words operated in their lives. Using this word, students and teachers can confront
questions such as “Who owns the wells in our town? Who does not? How does well
ownership reflect existing social and economic inequities? How can we work to
transform these conditions?
What is important for Freire (1985, p. 56) is that “the person learning words be
concomitantly engaged in a critical analysis of the social framework in which men
exist.” The preceding example is too brief, but Freire talks extensively about
pedagogical dialogue and the selection and use of generative themes in his writing.
The pedagogical goal of a critical education was for Freire (and remains for many
critical theorists) the development of critical consciousness. In critical consciousness,
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students read texts (and the world) critically, and they move beyond critical readings
of texts to become actors against oppressive situations. It is an assumption of critical
literacy that “to become ever more critically aware of one’s world leads to one’s
greater creative control of it” (Hall, 1998, p. 186). Through critical consciousness,
students should come to recognize and feel disposed to remake their own identities
and sociopolitical realities through their own meaning-making processes and through
their actions in the world.
Both critical social theory and Freirean pedagogy involve a commitment to justice
and equity, and both promote critique of texts and the world as an important
(initial) mechanism for social change. Freire’s emphasis on action, his commitment
to literacy education, and his development of a comprehensive literacy pedagogy
moved the concerns of critical social theory from philosophy to education. Choices
that teachers make in classrooms are always, in part, decisions about what students
and, hence, the nation, should become (Knoblauch & Brannon, 1993). The influence
of Freire and critical theory is evident in the goals of critical teaching, which
presumes that
American citizens [and citizens of many other countries] should
understand, accept, and live amicably amidst the realities of cultural
diversity -- along axes of gender, race, class, and ethnicity -- that are
the hallmarks of...society. It presumes that people are entitled to
fairness in their social and economic lives. It presumes that a critical
citizenry, willing as well as able to take responsibility for the nation’s
future, is preferable to a passive, unengaged citizenry that lets
government, business, and mass media do its thinking. Finally, it
presumes that no one group is exclusively entitled to the privilege of
representation, but that each has a right to tell its story, critique other
stories, and participate in forming a community responsive to the needs
of all its members. (Knoblauch & Brannon, 1993, p. 6)
More recently, critical literacy has been influenced by poststructuralism, particularly
its belief that texts do not possess any meaning in and of themselves, that meanings
emerge only in relation to other meanings and practices within specific sociopolitical
contexts. From this perspective, authors create texts and individuals interpret them
within discursive systems that regulate what it means to know in a particular setting.
Statements (and interpretations) are judged as true or false according to the logic of
these discursive systems. Within the discursive system of science, for example, only
certain kinds of statements are considered valid and only certain kinds of evidence
count as proof. From a poststructural perspective, the criteria used to make these
judgments are neither natural nor neutral, but are instead constructed by particular
institutions and communities of practice -- in this instance, scientific institutions and
the community of scientists. The discourse of science is a powerful one in our
culture, and therefore has the advantage in contests among potential meanings: the
scientific explanation is often taken as superior for a variety of phenomena. For
poststructuralists, the validity of scientific interpretations is dependent on this power
rather than on any truth value (McLaren, 1992, p. 322). Further, this power is
associated with access to resources.
Poststructuralism’s attention to discourse, power, and the context dependency of
meaning undermines any assumption of neutrality or truth in judging the value of
interpretations, as the basis for decision making, and so on (Peters & Lankshear,
1996). For poststructuralists and critical educators, language is bound up with
producing and maintaining unequal arrangements of power (Lankshear, 1997). In
this sense, texts and their associated meanings are ideological, rather than simply
descriptive or factual.
Although there are several versions of critical literacy, they share the belief that
literacy is a “social and political practice rather than a set of neutral, psychological
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skills” (Siegel & Fernandez, 2000, p. 18). Critical literacy involves an understanding
of the way ideology and textual practices shape the representation of realities in
texts. That is, helping students become critically literate has to do, in part, with
“enabling them to detect and handle the inherently ideological dimension” of
language and literacy (Lankshear, 1997, p. 46). Hence, while the word literacy to
many people means little more than the ability to decode and encode oral language
symbolically or to seek an author’s meaning in a text, critical pedagogists concern
themselves with questions such as “Read and write what? How? Under what
conditions? For what purpose(s)?” (Kelly, 1995, p. 99). Students of critical literacy
are generally encouraged to take a critical attitude toward texts, asking what view of
the world they advance and whether these views should be accepted (Scholes,
1995). In doing so, learners begin to reflect critically on the nature of literacy and
literacies as social practices. Once they recognize that texts are representations of
reality and that these representations are social constructions, they have a greater
opportunity to take a more powerful position with respect to these texts -- to reject
them or reconstruct them in ways that are more consistent with their own
experiences in the world.
Critical approaches to text involve not only different approaches to textual
interpretation, but also an understanding of how literacies are created and related to
particular discursive communities that create, shape, and bound social life
(Lankshear & McLaren, 1993). Students should come to recognize the nature of all
literacies, discourses, and associated social practices as “historically contingent,
socially constructed and, to that extent, transformable” (p. 44). If these practices
are constructed by particular discourse communities, they can be altered. Further,
readers should consider the ways that they have in part been formed -- literally
constructed -- through their interactions with texts, through participation in
particular discourse communities, and through the representations that they have
encountered in texts. Critical readers should understand the ways that texts “portray
a view of the world and position the readers to read and interpret that portrayed
world in particular ways” (Lankshear, 1997, p. 45), so they can resist or revise these
representations (and the subject positions created by texts), as appropriate.
In its pedagogy, critical literacy combines poststructuralist, critical, and Freirean
understandings. From poststructuralism, critical literacy understands texts as
ideological constructions embedded within discursive systems and has borrowed
methods of critique. From critical social theory, critical literacy understands that
texts, being products of ideological and sociopolitical forces, must be continually
subjected to methods of social critique. Finally, from Freire, critical literacy
understands that literacy practices must always have social justice, freedom, and
equity as central concerns.
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Considering a Pedagogical Example of Critical Literacy
Critical teachers ask students to consider questions such as the following as they
read and interpret texts:
How are the meanings assigned to a certain figure or events in a text?
How does it attempt to get readers to accept its constructs?
What is the purpose of the text?
Whose interests are served by the dissemination of this text? Whose interests
are not served?
What view of the world is put forth by the ideas in this text? What views are
not?
What are other possible constructions of the world?
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In one pedagogical example, Luke, Comber, and O’Brien (1996) discuss how a first-
grade teacher utilizes questions such as these to help the 6-year-olds in her class
learn to read and analyze how mothers are constructed in catalogs that promote and
sell Mother’s Day gifts. The children read and interrogate the catalogs with the help
of some of the following guiding questions from the teacher:
How are the mothers in the catalogs like real mothers? How are they not?
What mothers are not included in the catalogs?
Who are the people giving presents to the mothers?
Where do children get the money to buy presents?
Who produces these catalogs?
Why do the catalog producers go through all this trouble to make sure you
know what is available?
After this critical examining, the children realize that the mothers represented in the
catalogs only represent aspects of mothers’ lives connected to consumerism. This
example also highlights an explicit social-action component as the first graders not
only learn to critique texts, but also engage in some social action stemming from
their new understandings. The children realize their mothers (and their corresponding
cultural and social-class perspectives) are not represented, so they engage in a
community research project. After the students research their mothers and other
mothers in the community, they reconceptualize what Mother’s Day means to them;
the day becomes less about the buying of gifts and more about children being and
sharing with their mothers.
Other teacher attempts to incorporate critical literacy goals with social action in
classrooms include helping students acknowledge their own racism (Michalove,
1999), grapple with the role of religion in public schools (Hankins, 1999), study their
own privilege in a middle school class for gifted learners (Blackburn, 1999), examine
historical “givens” (Bigelow, 1995), and critique whose standard is represented by
standard English (Christensen, 1995).
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Comparing Examples Across the Two Perspectives
On the surface, the preceding example of critical literacy in a first-grade classroom
(Luke, Comber, & O’Brien, 1996) appears similar to the earlier critical reading
example in which first graders explored notions of community and home (Shotka,
1960). Both position readers as active rather than passive meaning-makers, and
both stress the importance of textual critique. In the critical reading example, the
students examine how the depictions of children and homes in their school texts
differ from their own lives and experiences; in the critical literacy example, the
students analyze the differences between mothers in catalogs and their own
mothers. Both also emphasize higher level analytic and evaluative skills.
Though the two examples do have similarities, they differ in important ways. For
example, in the critical reading classroom scenario, representations and analyses of
differences across race, class, and gender, and questions of who gains or loses in
the various representations, are absent. Although these students begin to examine
why authors and illustrators choose certain representations of the world, they do not
explicitly engage in social critique. The teacher does not help students challenge
social inequities by asking whose homes are represented and whose are not, who
benefits from these conceptions of home and family and who does not, and whether
some people are without homes and why. Had Shotka encouraged teachers to
explore these sorts of questions, she would have been moving from a liberal-
humanist critical reading to a critical literacy perspective.
A critical literacy approach places in the foreground issues of power and explicitly
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attends to differences across race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and so on. It is
also essential to point out that critical literacy educators examine these differences
not as isolated occurrences but rather as part of systemic inequities or injustices.
Consequently, critical teachers consider “the ways systems (e.g., of race privilege,
gender dominance, corporate interests) are implicated in specific actions, texts, or
situations” (Edelsky, 1999, p. 5). Furthermore, with critical consciousness as a
prominent goal of literacy learning, students not only read texts critically, but they
also become actors to transform society (e.g., the first graders reconceptualize what
it means to celebrate Mother’s Day).
In addition to differing in terms of focus (or lack of focus) on social critique, other
key distinctions between critical reading and critical literacy are summarized in Table
2.
Table 2
Distinctions Between Liberal-Humanist Critical Reading and Critical Literacy
Area Critical Reading Critical Literacy
Knowledge
(epistemology)
Knowledge is gained
through sensory experience
in the world or through
rational thought; a
separation between facts,
inferences, and reader
judgments is assumed.
What counts as knowledge is not
natural or neutral; knowledge is
always based on the discursive
rules of a particular community,
and is thus ideological.
Reality
(ontology)
Reality is directly knowable
and can, therefore, serve as
a referent for interpretation.
Reality cannot be known
definitively, and cannot be
captured by language; decisions
about truth, therefore, cannot be
based on a theory of
correspondence with reality, but
must instead be made locally.
Authorship
Detecting the author’s
intentions is the basis for
higher levels of textual
interpretation.
Textual meaning is always
multiple, contested, culturally and
historically situated, and
constructed within differential
relations of power.
Instructional
goals
Development of higher level
skills of comprehension and
interpretation
Development of critical
consciousness
Critical literacy, compared with other approaches to literacy theory and instruction,
involves a fundamentally different view of text and the world. We hope we have
demonstrated the ways that these differences between liberal-humanist critical
reading and critical literacy are related to philosophical distinctions: the two
traditions derive from separate schools of thought that carry with them distinct
epistemological and ontological assumptions and commitments. These distinctions
become most visible when issues of knowledge, reality, authorship, textuality, and
the goals of education are considered. In essence, these approaches educate through
different means and to different ends. The adoption by educators in the liberal-
humanist tradition of a few critical terms, questions, or even practices does not a
critical literacy make.
This article is intended, in part, to contribute to the ongoing conversation about
critical literacy -- what it necessarily is and is not, and how it looks in classrooms.
While we do not want to essentialize critical literacy, we do fear that, in the absence
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of these kinds of conversations, critical literacy and teaching for social justice could
essentially become meaningless and experience the fate of the whole language
movement. As Edelsky (1999) points out, the whole language movement suffered
when groups of educators, curriculum developers, and policy makers jumped on the
bandwagon, appropriating its ideas and twisting its terms in ways that were radically
different from and inconsistent with the tenets of whole language philosophy. Whole
language advocates are currently working to revive and reconceptualize their
movement, and their struggles offer invaluable lessons for critical literacy advocates.
The broader purpose of this article is to engage in a conversation about educational
practice that is critical in spirit, as well as in content. In asking critical questions
about curricular “texts” and examining some of the ideological assumptions that
underlie particular approaches to classroom instruction, we suggest that there are no
neutral, disinterested, or even naturally superior instructional practices. Instead, all
practices are laden with assumptions about the world, society, and educational
outcomes. We suggest further that these assumptions and implicit goals should play
a more central role in educational conversations. It is important that we openly
acknowledge that education is always a contextually situated, socially constructed,
ideological practice.
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About the Authors
Gina Cervetti is a doctoral candidate in the College of Education at Michigan State
University (East Lansing, MI, USA), where she serves as a research assistant for the
Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Achievement (CIERA) and teaches
graduate and undergraduate courses in learning and teacher inquiry. She can be
reached by e-mail at cervetti@msu.edu.
Michael Pardales is a doctoral candidate in the College of Education at Michigan State
University. He works as a research assistant for CIERA and teaches graduate and
undergraduate courses. He can be reached by e-mail at pardales@msu.edu.
James Damico is a doctoral candidate in the College of Education at Michigan State
University, where he is a research assistant for CIERA. His research interests center
on critical literacy, children’s literature, writing, and teacher learning. He also
teaches graduate and undergraduate literacy courses. He can be reached by e-mail
at damicoj1@msu.edu.
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Citation: Cervetti, G., Pardales, M.J., & Damico, J.S. (2001, April). A tale of differences: Comparing
the traditions, perspectives, and educational goals of critical reading and critical literacy. Reading
Online, 4(9). Available: http://www.readingonline.org/articles/art_index.asp?
HREF=/articles/cervetti/index.html
Reading Online, www.readingonline.org
Posted April 2001
© 2001 International Reading Association, Inc. ISSN 1096-1232
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... However, in our view, testing -especially classroom language testing -is still an area where more critical perspectives have not yet made an impact on either research or practice. Critical Literacy (Cervetti, Pardales & Damico 2001;McLaughlin & DeVoogd 2004) has lately influenced ELT in Brazil, mainly after the publication of the National Guidelines for High School Teaching, in 2006, and several classroom practitioners have started to use Critical Literacy (CL) perspectives together with the Communicative Approach (CA) (Mattos & Valério 2010;Valério & Mattos 2018) in their ELT contexts. In the same vein, CL and Critical Language Education (Ferraz 2010(Ferraz , 2015Mattos, Ferraz & Monte Mór 2015;Monte Mór 2009) have been the focus of much research in Brazil. ...
... It is also about writing and rewriting the world" (2013, 227). Cervetti, Pardales and Damico (2001), in a groundbreaking article, compare and contrast the origins, perspectives and objectives of two educational possibilities: critical literacy and critical reading. The authors say that, although the two perspectives have a few points in common, since both are approaches to literacy, they also differ in many ways. ...
... Moreover, critical reading and critical literacy also present different perspectives on the objectives of education. Cervetti, Pardales and Damico (2001) define critical reading as a set of skills that allow the reader to "investigate sources, recognize the purpose of an author, distinguish fact and opinion, make inferences, form judgments, and detect propaganda strategies" (2001,42). These skills, which extend the capacities of the individual beyond what has been called functional literacy (Castell, Luke & MacLennan 1986;Soares 1998), allow for "higher levels of analysis and understanding," as asserted by Cervetti, Pardales and Damico (2001, 42), but need to be taught explicitly, since they do not develop naturally in readers. ...
Article
Full-text available
Critical Literacy (CL) has lately influenced English Language Teaching (ELT) in Brazil, mainly after the publication of the National Guidelines for High School Teaching, and several practitioners have started to use CL perspectives in their ELT contexts. Besides, CL and Critical Language Education have been the focus of much research in Brazil. Nonetheless, these alternative approaches have not yet made their way into testing and assessment. This paper focuses on the relationship of CL and English Language testing. First, we present an overview of important concepts in the area of testing and assessment in ELT. We also discuss important concepts of CL and other critical approaches to ELT. Then, we briefly discuss the possibility of using CL together with CA in English teaching. To illustrate, we summarize a course in ELT, which has used CL and CA at university level. Finally, considering tests as part of the social practices in educational contexts, we demonstrate that, just as CL may be used for Citizenship Education and Social Justice in English classes, the same approach should be used when testing, particularly due to the use of language as a tool for social reconstruction and critique for the exposure of inequalities. Principles for developing critical practices in testing and assessment are discussed along the paper.
... While the terms "critical reading" and "critical literacy" sound like they could be synonyms, there are significant distinctions between these two ways of approaching reading (Cervetti, Pardales, & Damico, 2001). The first term, critical reading, focuses on examining the relationship between the reader, the writer, and the subject, as depicted by Aristotle's rhetorical triangle. ...
... Despite their existence as distinct concepts, overlaps exist between critical reading and critical literacy. Both approaches utilize analysis, evaluation, and critical thinking while also positioning individual readers as active meaning-makers who must deconstruct and reconstruct the texts in ways that reflect on their unique reading and thinking processes (Morrison, 2020;Cervetti et al., 2001;Mulcahy, 2008). Additionally, both approaches take into account concepts of perspective, whether on the micro level of an individual author writing for an intended purpose (critical reading) or the macro level in addressing issues of power and inequity (critical literacy). ...
Chapter
Critical reading and critical literacy are skills that preservice teachers need to cultivate not only in their future students, but also in their own literacy practices. Picturebooks have the unique power to facilitate critical reading and critical literacy with preservice teachers. This chapter analyzes critical reading, critical literacy, and the power of picturebooks and then presents three approaches for using picturebooks to develop critical reading and critical literacy skills with preservice teachers: (1) fieldbased coursework with multicultural children’s literature, (2) analyzing voices and perspectives in readalouds, and (3) analyzing wordless picturebooks. Through intentional use of picturebooks in educator preparation programs, preservice teachers can gain the expertise necessary to use picturebooks to craft their own critical classrooms.
... Αποτελούν κοινωνικές δράσεις που, μέσω των διαφοροποιημένων ανά περίσταση γλωσσικών υλικών τους και των εν γένει δομικών στοιχείων τους, κατασκευάζουν, κατ' επιλογή και συνειδητά, ποικίλες οπτικές του κόσμου και πραγματικότητες, όπως κοινωνικές ταυτότητες, ρόλους, αξίες, σχέσεις. Έτσι, αντιμετωπίζονται ως μεταβλητές και, παράλληλα, ως μη ουδέτερες ιδεολογικά οντότητες, ως εργαλεία αντίστασης κατά των πάγιων στοιχείων που αφορούν την κοινωνία, αλλά και ως εργαλεία επίτευξης νέων δεδομένων (Cervetti et al., 2001). Επομένως, τα κείμενα υφίστανται οποιαδήποτε κριτική, επηρεάζουν και επηρεάζονται από τις ιστορικές συγκυρίες και τις ιδεολογικές θέσεις και τίθενται στην υπηρεσία του κάθε αναγνώστη και της ανάγνωσής του. ...
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Ο καλύτερος αναγνώστης είναι ένας κριτικός, ανθιστάμενος αναγνώστης, ο οποίος αντιλαμβάνεται τόσο την κατασκευή του κειμένου όσο και την αναγνωστική θέση του και ο οποίος ταυτόχρονα ανασυγκροτεί το κείμενο με έναν τρόπο που θα του είναι χρήσιμος. Η σύγχρονη εποχή καθιστά επιτακτικό το αίτημα να κάνουμε τους μαθητές «καλύτερους αναγνώστες», όπως τους ορίζει o Kress, κριτικά εγγράμματους, που δεν θα περιορίζονται απλά στο να «διαβάσουν και να κάνουν την περίληψη» ή στο να «απαντήσουν στις ερωτήσεις στο τέλος του κειμένου», αλλά θα «συναλλάσσονται» κριτικά με το λογοτεχνικό κείμενο. Προς αυτή την κατεύθυνση πρέπει να στοχεύουν τόσο τα Προγράμματα Σπουδών, τα Σχολικά εγχειρίδια, όσο και η διδακτική μεθοδολογία του ίδιου του εκπαιδευτικού. Έναν τέτοιο προσανατολισμό φαίνεται να έχουν το Π.Σ. (2011) και το Ανθολόγιο «Με λογισμό και μ’ όνειρο». Ως εκ τούτου, η παρούσα έρευνα αποτελεί τη συνέχεια και κατ’ επέκταση ολοκλήρωση της ανάλυσης των Λογοτεχνικών Ανθολογίων του Δημοτικού σχολείου, θέτοντας ως στόχο την ποιοτική και ποσοτική ταξινόμηση των δραστηριοτήτων-ερωτήσεων-εργασιών που ακολουθούν τα επιλεγμένα λογοτεχνικά κείμενα που εντάσσονται στο Ανθολόγιο των Α΄ & Β΄ και Γ΄ & Δ΄ τάξεων. Ως προς τη μεθοδολογία, αξιοποιείται η ταξινομία του Bloom, συνδέοντας επιμέρους πτυχές της γνωστικής λειτουργίας των ερωτήσεων με επιμέρους κατηγορίες νοητικών/γνωστικών δεξιοτήτων χαμηλού ή υψηλού επιπέδου σκέψης. Τα αποτελέσματα που θα προκύψουν αναμένεται να αναδείξουν αν και σε ποιο βαθμό και αυτά τα σχολικά εγχειρίδια συμβάλλουν στο να καταστούν οι μαθητές ικανοί για αυτορρυθμιζόμενη μάθηση και αναπτυγμένη κριτική σκέψη, μέσω του μαθήματος της λογοτεχνίας, αναδεικνύοντας την καίρια σημασία τους. / The best reader is a critical, resisting reader, who understands both the construction of the text and its reading position, and at the same time reconstructs the text in a way that will be useful to himself. Nowadays, it is a necessity to help students become “better readers”, as Kress defines them, that is, critically literate individuals, who will not merely “read and summarize” or “answer the questions at the end of the text”, but will critically “converse” with the literary text. Curricula, school textbooks, and the teacher’s own methodology should aim in this direction. Such an orientation seems to be adopted by the Curriculum (2011) and the Anthology entitled "With mind and dream". Therefore, the present research is the continuation and thus completion of the analysis of the Elementary School Literature Anthologies, aiming at the qualitative and quantitative classification of the activities-questions-tasks employed by the selected literary texts that are included in the Anthology of A & B, and C & D classes. As far as methodology is concerned, Bloom’s taxonomy is used, linking individual aspects of the cognitive function of a question with individual cognitive categories, that is, low-level or high-level thinking skills. The results are expected to show whether and to what extent these textbooks also facilitate students’ self-regulated learning and advanced critical thinking through the literature lesson, highlighting their importance.
... Nesse sentido, a escola, por ser o espaço institucional mais democrático que temos em nossa sociedade, é o lugar mais adequado onde as FN podem ser, de fato, discutidas e questionadas.Sob essa perspectiva, a escola pode ser o lugar alternativo de desconstrução de muitas ideias que circulam nas bolhas das redes sociais para a grande maioria de crianças e jovens atualmente, tornando-se, assim, um espaço de formação de cidadãos críticos. Criar esse espaço no contexto escolar para discutir FN pressupõe adotar uma postura crítica em relação a padrões, julgamentos e ações que constituem as práticas de letramentos, buscando compreender, entre outras coisas, que as representações, constituintes das práticas sociais, são sempre ideológicas, e que os sujeitos nelas envolvidos devem estar conscientes de tais representações, de modo a aprender a se posicionarem criticamente sobre elas(Cervetti et al., 2001). Isso porque a linguagem tem, segundo MontMór (2015, p. 9), natureza "política, em função das relações de poder nela presentes. ...
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RESUMO O uso de redes sociais da internet aumentou exponencialmente desde o início da pandemia de Covid-19. Tal aumento fez com que elas se tornassem ainda mais propícias para a divulgação massiva de fake news, transformando-se um problema de natureza social e de saúde pública. Com o intuito de compreender o modus operandi das fake news nas redes sociais, este artigo tem como objetivo promover uma discussão epistemológica que busque compreender o processo de produção e disseminação de (in)verdades nesses ambientes. Para tanto, parte-se dos conceitos de ‘verdade’ e de ‘regimes de verdade’ (Foucault,1979), alinhando-os às noções psicossociais e culturais de percepção e imaginação (Sartre, 1996; Kalantzis et al., 2020). Em seguida, procura-se revisitar e ampliar a discussão sobre o conceito de “multissinóptico” (Pinheiro, 2014), na tentativa de compreender a complexidade tecnológica e social das redes sociais na produção e disseminação de fake news, que redimensiona sistemas de broadcasting, narrowcasting e individual casting. Por fim, são apresentadas algumas considerações sobre a possibilidade de uma educação crítica para lidar com informações que circulam nas redes sociais.
... Critical Reading cr is a complex phenomenon that comprises at least four main principles, all of which were used in the cr unit presented here: 1. cr allows readers to identify the author's position in texts and how it influences readers: This involves recognizing how the linguistic and textual choices made by authors are helping them both establish their position and influence the readers' position (Cervetti et al., 2001;Janks, 2010;Luke, 2000). 2. cr helps readers think about texts from different perspectives: This means acknowledging that other representations of the world, apart from those of the author, are possible and valid (Iyer, 2007;Lewison et al., 2002;McLaughlin & DeVoogd, 2004). ...
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Full-text available
This qualitative study explored the gains and challenges experienced by an interdisciplinary group of English as a foreign language students who participated in the implementation of a critical reading unit taught within a reading comprehension course at a university in Medellín, Colombia. To do this, video-recordings of all lessons, samples of students’ work, and students’ reflections were collected. Results show that students experienced several gains but also had some challenges related to aligning with the author’s position, seeing positionality in factual texts, and taking middle positions. These results suggest that even though it is not only possible but beneficial to do critical reading with undergraduate English as a foreign language students, there are some specific areas in which these students need additional support.
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Nowadays, developing technology increases to communication possibilities. The rapidly changing communication pıssibilities also brings the foreign language requirement. Technological innovations are dragging the effect of visual media abd the focus of our lives. These rapid changes are also reflected in educational practices. Eliminate borders with obsolete technology, foreign language requirement has also increased in all areas.These rapid changes with the new tendencies in the process of foreign language learning and teaching, it is increasing the need for new perspectives in education. The concept of visual literacy has entered our lives with the influence of media and visuals. New approaches have increased the need to use multiple learning occasion. In this context, there have been many studies on foreign language training until today. Materials used in the teaching of foreign languages are very important. Different materials are needed to parallel with the new orientation. Language teaching is not only objective in developing a strong grammer and vocabulary, it aims to be able to use the target language in every ambiance. In order toincrease the functionally of language skills, strategies and criteria facilitate the understandig ad expression of texts that are appropriate for student-centered purposes come to the fore. Literary texts are srtuctures with different cultural elements. Poetry, novels, fables, stories, literary genres such as comics are being used effectively in foreign language teaching course. Comics are one of the highlightd of this type of textwith visuals. Comics are text types in which shapes and colors, short sentences, visual and text can be followed together. Comics are an important materialthat enables language development and intercultural communation. According to the constructivist approach,comics are motivating materials that activate the student and increase attention and curiosity. In this study was the educational dimension of comics investigated. The study was carried out with the questionnaires of the forth grade students of German language teaching department of Trakya University and the student who had graduated from other German programs with open-ended questions. In order to be able to evaluate teacher candidates and graduate teachers, special attention has been paid to our ability to take courses such as special teaching methods, orientations and media literacy. The questionnaire was formed ad semi- structured quantitative and qualitative data collection tool. Information was also collected with individual and focus groups. In this study, learning effect ofcomic book usage in German learning are is examined. The purpıse of this research isto measure the attitudes towards the use of comics in teaching these languages. Keywords: Foreign Language Teaching, Comics, New Orientations Visual Media Tools
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The development of critical pedagogical approaches in teacher education (TE) in the South African context is imperative given the deepening crisis in the public schooling system in the country. Public discourse and debates amongst scholars suggest that education for critical citizenship and the development of substantive democracy are under threat. In order to advance education in support of substantive democracy, TE requires critical reflection and engagement with teaching practices that promote the development of citizenship for critical engagement and participation in the socioeconomic transformation of South Africa. This paper argues for the development and application of innovative approaches to teacher preparation that challenge the neoliberal attack on public education and the suppression of emancipatory practices amongst teachers. These approaches include a conscientious examination and application of community mapping as a pedagogical instrument that acquaints student teachers with, and deepens their understanding of, the contextual realities of educational experiences in poor and working-class South Africa. Drawing on case studies of community mapping, our paper argues for critical engagement in the teaching academy with the theory and practice of teacher preparation towards transformative work and an exposure to educational praxes that better prepare student teachers for a vocation that embraces the philosophies, methodologies, and ethics of critical pedagogy. The main thesis of this paper is that community mapping is a critical and transformative pedagogical tool that should be integral to teacher preparation in South Africa.
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Debate continues about literacy: how to teach it, how to measure it, whether standards of it are falling, whether we are better or worse at it than our neighbours in other parts of the world. Less debated is what counts as literacy, whom it serves, and whether we encourage the best literacy for the age we live in. Often the assumption is that everyone shares the same meaning of the word 'literacy', that it is a unitary phenomenon, a neutral skill that is quantifiable. The notion that there are different and diverse literacies is rarely considered by policy makers or in media reports though it is increasingly acknowledged in the theoretical literature. This paper explores the relatively new concept of critical literacy and seeks, in particular, to assess its validity for the early years of the primary school. The theoretical research base for the paper is largely that associated with post-structuralism, it sees consciousness as socially produced in language and sees language and consciousness as sites of struggle and potential change (Weedon, 1987). The paper is an exploratory, theoretical study that reaches tentative, rather than conclusive, answers, and it beckons a theme that is ready for debate and ripe for research.
Article
IN ORDER TO TEACH READING AS A THINKING PROCESS, TEACHERS SHOULD BELIEVE THAT CHILDREN CAN THINK AND CAN BE TAUGHT TO READ CRITICALLY, EVEN AT A VERY YOUNG AGE. THREE ASPECTS OF THE READING-THINKING PROCESS INCLUDE DECLARATION OF PURPOSES, REASONING, AND JUDGMENT. THE NATURE OF THE PURPOSES DETERMINES WHAT IS TO BE READ AND HOW IT IS TO BE READ. REASONING WHILE READING INVOLVES THE MANIPULATION OF IDEAS TO DISCOVER LOGICAL RELATIONSHIPS WHICH EVENTUALLY LEAD THE READER TO MAKE JUDGMENTS. A FOURTH ASPECT MIGHT BE THE REFINEMENT AND EXTENSION OF IDEAS. THE DIRECTED READING-THINKING ACTIVITY PLAN IS SUGGESTED FOR USE WITH A GROUP USING THE SAME MATERIALS AT THE SAME TIME UNDER TEACHER GUIDANCE. THE PLAN INVOLVES (1) IDENTIFYING PURPOSES FOR READING, (2) GUIDING THE ADJUSTMENT OF RATE TO PURPOSE AND MATERIAL, (3) OBSERVING, (4) DEVELOPING COMPREHENSION, AND (5) CONDUCTING FUNDAMENTAL SKILL TRAINING ACTIVITIES. THE PLAN PROCEEDS ON THE ASSUMPTION THAT CHILDREN ARE CAPABLE OF THINKING, ACTING PURPOSEFULLY, EXAMINING, USING EXPERIENCE AND KNOWLEDGE, WEIGHING FACTS, MAKING JUDGMENTS, HAVING INTERESTS, LEARNING, UNDERSTANDING, AND MAKING GENERALIZATIONS. THIS PAPER IS IN "READING AND THINKING, PROCEEDINGS OF THE 22ND ANNUAL READING INSTITUTE AT TEMPLE UNIVERSITY," TEMPLE UNIVERSITY, PHILADELPHIA, PA., 1965. (NS)
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Critical literacies and cultural studies
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