Critical English Online

The impact of cultural studies: critical literacy

There is an easy shift from "language" to the common collocation "language and literacy" which suggests that New Zealand English teachers may be currently involved in a shift from a "language" centred rationale for their subject to a rationale centred on the notion of multiple culturally constructed literacies. Critical literacy has made a rather uncertain entry on to the stage of English teaching in New Zealand. Where the word "critical" is used in ENGLISH in the New Zealand Curriculum it tends to be used in relation to the broader concept of critical thinking (and sometimes literary criticism). For a discussion of this, see Terry Locke's  introduction to a special issue of English in Aotearoa 31 (May, 1997) on Critical Literacy.

Critical Literacy perspectives began to be brought to the attention of English teachers in New Zealand in the lage 80s and early 90s via the workshops, writings and presentations of such educators as Elody Rathgen, Pauline Scanlan and Rod McGregor. Critical literacy approaches also visited New Zealand shores courtesy of the Australians. A number of teachers have been influenced by post-structuralist approaches to reading and literacy via the publications of Chalkface Press. Others have both heard and read keynote addresses by New Zealand-born Wendy Morgan. Her keynote address, "'Clothes wear out, learning doesn't': realising past and future in today's critical literacy curriculum" appeared in the Critical Literacy issue of English in Aotearoa. (Check out a more recent address by Wendy Morgan, "Beyond the rhetoric? Critical literacy visions into practice." Also the Candadian based Critical Literacy Links for links to articles about Critical Literacy and the Tasmanian site "Critical Literacy") For a list of English in Aotearoa articles on Critical Literacy/Theory check out the EIA Index.)

It's emergence as a model has also been aided by theoretical and pedagogical impacts upon subject English by Media Studies practitioners. It might also be expected to constitute a favoured option in a country which at least officially espouses "Biculturalism" which, theoretically at least, would align itself with views of textual practices (reading and writing) as culturally constructed and tending to reinforce particularly hegemonies.

It would take a large-scale research project to discover the extent to which critical literacy approaches to English language learning and teaching have penetrated New Zealand classrooms and impacted on pedagogical practice. It is also debatable whether the ways in which the highly centralised constructions of English via the national curriculum and the NCEA lend themselves to fostering critical literacy in New Zealand classrooms.