The Politics of Literacy

Colin Lankshear
Vol 9, Number 2, p.54
In the past teachers, researchers, curriculum developers, and other agents closely associated with education generally assumed that literacy was not political. Reading and writing were typically thought of simply as skills or techniques. Consequently, research into reading and writing mainly took the form of trying to understand more about the cognitive and motor aspects of reading and writing, and applying such insights to the teaching learning process. Rarely did researchers and educators step back and ask why it was so important to teach literacy, or whether any of our basic assumptions about reading and writing were suspect or inadequate. In recent years many of the old unquestioned assumptions about literacy have been brought into the open, and challenged. New forms of research and new questions are now being asked. New assumptions are emerging. One of these - around which a whole cluster of issues and concerns focus - is that literacy is political. Literacy has a politics. The politics of literacy are such that the teaching and practice of reading and writing are closely tied to the battery of social and ideological processes that produce and maintain patterns of advantage and disadvantage, domination and subordination across class, race-ethnic, and gender lines. Those who spearheaded the challenge to old views of literacy, and the old research and teaching practices, operated with a different view of society from the liberals. I want to begin by setting out some features of this alternative view of society, because it underlies much of what I want to say about the politics of literacy.