Recently, in the midst of revising syllabi, planning for the first day of classes, working with local high schools, I also have been reflective about what the purpose of my research and teaching have been and will be. Over that past several years I have been focused on disciplinary literacy instruction for adolescents. But I am writing this post to address the question, "To what end?” What is the purpose for kids to engage in disciplinary literacy practices? In a recent blog post I argued more broadly for why kids need disciplinary literacy instruction.
While some might argue that a disciplinary literacy approach may only reify the disciplines, I would argue that epistemic commitments to the tentative and contested nature of disciplinary knowledge through apprenticed inquiry can empower youth to critically engage with their world.
While I still believe that to be true, it rings too broad for me after the past several days in Ferguson, MO. We need kids to critically engage in their world right now. And they are engaged. The movement in Ferguson and in the US is also being led by several young people. Here is but one example of critically engaged youth.
And yet I see so much vacuous analysis in the media that is ahistorical. And I see downright malicious reporting in the media through the intentional use of language to coarsely dehumanize Mike Brown and the community of Ferguson. However I also see the pushback on Twitter and I have read some of the best writing about this subject. We need more disciplinary literacy instruction because we need more participation in our democracy. We need instruction that not just investigates literature for abstract language use but how that language serves as a societal mirror and window. We need historical inquiry that doesn’t simply teach historical thinking practices but inquiry that is at the core of what it means to be an informed and critical citizen. That literature, language, sources of the past, and interpretations of the past are meant to be deeply interrogated because they inform the present and our reading of those texts also shape the future. Reading, writing, and discussion are tools of protection as Dr. Alfred Tatum states.
If literacy education is to make a difference in people’s lives then it cannot be to simply meet standards or consume more text. My goal is to make my disciplinary literacy instruction more consequential because it has real ramifications for the society we seek for today and tomorrow. For example we can teach lots of things this year about civil rights. Will we investigate this? Or this? Will we read and view this? Or watch and analyze this?
I am encouraged to see people so active in this pursuit like #FergusonSyllabus, #HiphopEd, and #sschat who are discussing how to teach Ferguson. Disciplinary literacy instruction can also teach kids to continue interrogating their world because events like Ferguson aren’t going away anytime soon. But this generation of students have taken the reins in the fight for justice. As teachers and teacher educators let’s work with young people to construct a future that sees more progress in the next fifty years than perhaps we have seen in the past fifty. That just might be a worthy end.