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Volume 9 Number 1 Editor Lindy L. Johnson

Spring 2013

http://jolle.coe.uga.edu

Undocumented Students and Classroom Advocacy: Be Not Afraid Ian Altman Clarke Central High School, Athens, GA

Please cite this article as: Altman, I. (2013). Undocumented students and classroom advocacy: Be not afraid. Journal of Language and Literacy Education [Online], 9(1), ____. Available at _____.

“The DREAM Act is probably the only way I can go to college, and I really appreciate that it matters to someone who isn’t directly affected,” read a line in an email from a student, a line that woke me up. I sat there for a moment, letting my thoughts and feelings coalesce into something I could articulate to a sixteen year old girl who had been my student in the fall of 2008 and would be again in the spring of 2011. The events leading up to that email on a day in early December, 2010 will always be with me. It was late morning, during a class change, and many students were in the hall moving quickly to the next class. The student, Elizabeth, walked by quickly but paused just long enough to say, “Hey, Mr. Altman, would you call Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson and tell them to vote for the DREAM Act?” Another student was there, cell phone in hand, already making the call. “Oh, yes, I will,” I replied. Elizabeth had already disappeared down the hall by the time I realized the full meaning of what had just transpired. I had known Elizabeth is Mexican since 2008 when I taught Rudolfo Anaya’s novel Bless Me, Ultima to her 9th grade literature class. She was able to explain to the class some details of the Mexican folklore in the novel that I had not been aware of. I also knew that she speaks Spanish with her parents, although her English is better than most Americans’. But that was all. I had not attached any significance to those things beyond the bare facts. Why should I? We have students from all over the world at our school, and her documentation status was none of my business.


In asking me that question, though, Elizabeth had revealed that and many more things besides. She had revealed that she is undocumented; she had stated that despite being undocumented, she hoped to go to college; she had demonstrated her political awareness and commitment; and she had proven her willingness to engage, in whatever way she could, in the democratic process. She had also given me the invaluable gift of trust. That gift caused me to ask myself, as I sat there reading and rereading her email, what do I owe this kid? What should she get in exchange for that gift? I thought about it for a long time, and the nature of my job began to take on new contours, or at least I began to see its contours differently. The study of language and literature is, broadly speaking, part of what in a less awkward time we celebrated as the humanities. I know of no better statement of the place of literature in the humanities than William Faulkner’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech, in which he said, “I decline to accept the end of man…. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance…. The poet's voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.” My job, at its best, is to help build those pillars. Accordingly, every semester I tell my students without equivocation or apology that I can teach the Georgia Performance Standards or Common Core Standards all day long, and train them to pass those absurd standardized tests, and lie to them about how meaningful all that is whilst wearing that cultivated but non-ironic master pedagogue face which they accept at face value because either they think we believe in it or they think their success in school is predicated on acting as though they believe in it. But if at the end of the semester they haven’t learned something more and deeper about their own humanity, then I might as well have been working in a factory building robots. That is the crux of the thing. The fact that we educators are working with human beings and not merely trying to produce “student outcomes” and future employees is important. The two issues of advocating for undocumented students and wrestling with the Common Core Standards might seem only distantly related, but they are not. The connection is precisely this: the belief that teaching is not always, already, and inherently advocacy is born out of an impoverished understanding of the politics of curricula. I am not talking about the culture wars in their usual formulation, but about the limits placed on what counts as an acceptable war framework, and about the absorption of our framework into a fundamentally conservative worldview. In that worldview, it might be acceptable to talk about undocumented students and their struggle strictly as an academic issue, but to behave as though that issue matters is unseemly or ethically out of bounds. Let us begin at the beginning, to render at least the outline of an account. Rosen (1987) argues that “[e]very hermeneutical program is at the same time itself a political manifesto or the corollary of a political manifesto” (p. 147). He goes on to make the case that modern theory, as such, has become interpretation, otherwise known as hermeneutics. Θεωρία (theoria) has changed from its ancient meaning of contemplation or passive apprehension of divine and natural phenomena into ποίησις (poiesis), making, poetry in the broadest sense, the active and


discursive construction of ideas, including mathematics and the hard sciences, with which to explain things. The modern axiom that we know only what we make means that the ancient promise of philosophy to replace opinion with knowledge has found its apotheosis in the modern project to replace philosophy with poetry. Furthermore, that axiom “carries with it the corollary that we make what we know. Knowledge then is poetry; to judge is thus to interpret” (Rosen, p. 148). Interpretations, by their nature perspectival, are the shifting sands upon which people make judgments, including judgments about what ought to be taught and learned. Since the mind, too, has become a discursive artifact, learning is at once the writing and reflexive interpretation of poetry, while teaching is a rhetoric of poeticization. Thus is knowledge completely unmoored from the world: there is no more world, and the modern project of erotic apotheosis, now unmasked as political domination on the one hand and metaphysical impotence on the other, has decayed into the democratic but narcissistic wish to be merely interesting within the confines of someone else’s artifice. “Old father, old artificer,” calls Stephen Daedalus. “Student outcomes” and “teacher output” come the replies from conjurers like Bill Gates and Arne Duncan. No wonder the kids are bored in school. Let us think of it as a numbing effect of our “coarsening in theological ambition” (Rosen, 1989, p. 181). How, then, do we educators frame our understanding of the perspective from which the poetry of the Common Core was made? The salient feature is that its attempt to present a valueless surface is a rhetorical concealment of a rhetoric of conservatism that hides in plain sight. One of the standards for “informational texts,” for example, says, “Delineate and evaluate the reasoning in seminal U.S. texts.” On the face of it, that standard seems perfectly unremarkable. One reads the text, identifies the arguments, examines them for weaknesses and strengths, and so on. However, it does not ask that the student evaluate him or herself in relation to that text. That connection could very likely cause the student to change an opinion about something, even about her parents. Consider the case of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail.” It is all well and good to examine the text’s rhetoric, to admire the inventive uses of figurative language and the deep resonances of its many allusions. One might even daringly ask whether King’s argument that some laws ought to be broken is convincing: since we no longer have Jim Crow laws, that should be safe, right? Since almost no one I know believes anymore that Jim Crow laws were just or morally defensible, students can easily agree with King without risking a thought about the 2010 Citizens United vs Federal Election Commission decision or Georgia’s House Bill 87, which is designed to make life so difficult for undocumented immigrants that they will “self-deport,” to use Mitt Romney’s phrase. Similarly, the Common Core literary standards, one of which reads “Determine two or more themes or central ideas of a text and analyze their development,” require teachers to don the chinstrap of that non-ironic master pedagogue face we are expected to wear. Even a simple example, such as Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, illustrates the conservative absorption of what is an inherently radicalizing experience. Students may appreciate the depiction of friendship, cry at Carlson’s coldness in killing Candy’s dog, and even realize that the cruelty of the life the ranch hands lead is in some way connected to the confluence of nature’s way and the unmitigated capitalist pursuit of power. But that is still at a safe distance. From my urban students’


perspectives, we don’t work on ranches anymore; the Lennies of the world are cared for (Aren’t they? Don’t we now have laws for that?); and in 2013, Curly’s wife surely would have a name. I don't like those poems. Their meanings are anti-meanings and the authors are cowards. Literary learning must involve some disruption and risk of oneself. I cannot fathom that the most common essay question assigned for high school students on Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men is to argue whether George does the right thing in shooting Lennie in the end. The question ignores what I consider to be the more important concern that the tragedy of the book is in George’s inevitable loss of his humanity to the indifferent, naturalist world he inhabits, a loss that is dramatized in his monstrous final act of love for Lennie. But to teach the book in that way is at least implicitly to insist that students wonder whether their world, our world, is similarly indifferent, and the danger is that some will conclude that it is. Some then will say so, not only in class, but out in the world, and to the world, and thus a subversive will have been made. This scenario is not mere supposition. I have seen it happen as a result of my teaching, even as I insist that teachers should resist the urge to think of literary themes as moral lessons. I certainly never told them they should reject capitalist society. I merely asked that they look at it closely, and ask themselves how many real Carlsons murder, how many real Lennies suffer, how many real Georges struggle to live humane lives until they die inside, and how a different kind of social and economic order might ameliorate things. In the case of the “Letter From Birmingham Jail,” one does not need to have a radical agenda to point out that King has one, as he himself claims in the letter after some initial misgivings and the pragmatic placement of himself between the White power structure on the one hand and Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam on the other. King overtly makes a moral argument for breaking certain laws, for subverting the absolute rule of law. The point is that when a law is unjust, it is good to be subversive. And since there are still unjust laws, though of course we may factionalize and quibble over which laws are unjust, it is fair to teach that King would say we still ought to be subversives. It makes no difference that he himself is not here to direct our specific moral compasses, though it is hard not to compare the old Jim Crow laws to Georgia’s HB 87, which encourages racial profiling among other things. Does saying so cross a line? Of course it does, and that is the point. Why be afraid to say so? The “line” is only there because of a conservative hold on what counts as a properly academic attitude. Conservatives see proper academic deportment as “restraint,” and conflate that with a “dignified attitude” or even “maturity,” rhetorically but emptily laying claim to some imagined purity of an academic fortress. The claim is dogmatic, and the list goes on. As Mark Slouka (2009) has pointed out, “Thus we encourage anemic discussions about Atticus Finch and racism but race past the bogeyman of miscegenation; thus we debate the legacy of the founders but tactfully sidestep their issues with Christianity; thus we teach Walden, if we teach it at all, as an ode to Nature and ignore its full-frontal assault on the tenets of capitalism” (p. 39). Important problems and issues such as those get boxed up and put out of reach because they involve real risk and real danger. The box is big enough to include the teaching of writing as well, beginning with the topics teachers typically assign in order to teach students how to make an argument. How many times


have teachers soft-balled our students with topics such as whether they should have school uniforms and how the school should change the lunch menu? Even with an ostensibly risqué current issue such as whether states should allow gay marriage, students are typically asked only to create arguments to support what they already know, or think they know, to engage in what I call “critical thinking” with a prophylactic, risking nothing of themselves. To assign a topic that causes students to question what they know, to make a problem where there was not one before, and to teach them how to engage such a problem – that is the hard and necessary thing. Students will learn immeasurably more from questions such as what exactly society finds objectionable in offensive language and why society objects to it in some situations but not others, whether it is logical to say that there is a duty to be free in our democracy, and what exactly should be the requirements for immigrants to obtain green cards and U.S. citizenship, because those are issues that require real examination of the very notions of morality and justice and the self. Teaching those kinds of things is a kind of activism without advocating any specific view beyond the need to disrupt settled thoughts. Furthermore, there is a conservative activism in the way the Common Core treats the purpose of writing: “Write arguments to support claims…”; “Write informative/explanatory texts to examine and convey complex ideas, concepts, and information clearly and accurately through the effective selection, organization and analysis of content…”; “Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique….” Again, on the face of it, it is hard to imagine someone objecting to the development of those skills. The trouble is that the demands do not go far enough. There still is no risk involved. One can teach writing according to such standards and never suggest that people can write in order to figure out what their opinions are; that it is not always a good idea to settle on an opinion; that if one has to invent a specious argument to support an opinion, that opinion might not be worth supporting; that writing at its best can be a conversation with one’s own soul and with others; that writers can produce a narrative to figure out just what the story is; that analysis can lead to obscurity and befuddlement; that clear organization can also be inventive and non-conventional. Such considerations will not help anyone get a job at Microsoft or the state Department of Education. All of that complexity can result from the teaching of writing and canonical texts in a genuinely engaged way rather than from a properly safe, standardized distance that denies students agency, and thus makes it acceptable and even preferable for them not to notice why their experiences and perspectives are important. Rosen makes the argument in The Ancients and the Moderns that the ultimate absurdity of political conservatism, understood as the desire to prevent change, is that it requires the destruction of all children. Even if educators restrict what is taught, and how things are taught, they can never prevent imaginative children from thinking their own thoughts in their own ways, nor can they predict which children will be more imaginative than others. He suggests that the Nietzschean experiments with truth of late modernism and postmodernism are justifiable depending on whether the Enlightenment “could have been suppressed without engendering consequences far worse than those of the failure of the French Revolution” (p. 234). I submit not only that the consequences would indeed be far worse, but also that the echo of attempts to suppress the Enlightenment is evident in ill-considered laws such as Georgia’s HB 87 and Arizona’s SB 1070. To the extent that such laws affect DREAMers, their true intent boils down


to the desire to hurt kids as a means to prevent change. To raise such a question in class, even without the slightest indication of what side of the debate the teacher holds, is necessarily a disruption of the conservative frame-poem of which the rhetoric of the Common Core is emblematic. It says that there are more important things in life. Elizabeth wrote, “The DREAM Act is probably the only way I can go to college, and I really appreciate that it matters to someone who isn’t directly affected.” Finally, I was able to respond: “Of course it affects me directly. How could I show up to work every day and look you in the face with any integrity, and not support that bill?” That evening, I made a commitment to help Elizabeth get into a good college that would accept her and to help her find a way to pay for it. I have made good on that commitment and have not looked back or had the slightest regret. If that makes me politically controversial, an activist either salutary or pernicious, so be it. It is an essential part of my job.


References Rosen, S. (1987). Hermeneutics as politics. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Rosen, S. (1989). The ancients and the moderns: Rethinking modernity. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Slouka, M. (2009, September). Dehumanized: When math and science rule the school. Harpers, 32-40.


Volume 9 Number 1 Editor Lindy L. Johnson

Spring 2013

http://jolle.coe.uga.edu

Language, Literacy, and Culture: Aha! Moments in Personal and Sociopolitical Understanding Sonia Nieto, http://www.sonianieto.com/ Professor Emerita, University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Please cite this article as: Nieto, S. (2013). Language, literacy, and culture: Aha! Moments in personal and sociopolitical understanding. Journal of Language and Literacy Education [Online], 9(1), ____. Available at _____.

This article focuses on the intersections among language, literacy, and culture, and what these intersections have meant for me personally, and what they can mean for students who have been marginalized, neglected, or made invisible by traditional understandings of the role of education. Although not linked conceptually in the past, the more recent tendency to connect language, literacy, and culture gives us a richer picture of learning, especially for students whose identities are related to language, race, ethnicity, and immigrant status have traditionally had a low status in many societies. One result of this reconceptualization is that more education programs are reflecting and promoting a sociocultural perspective in language and literacy. Such a perspective is firmly rooted in an anthropological and sociological understanding of culture, a view of learning as socially constructed, and an understanding of how students from diverse segments of society experience schooling, due to differential access to literacy specifically, and to education more broadly. The context I discuss in this article is grounded in my own experience as a Puerto Rican second-generation immigrant—also called Nuyorican or, more recently, Diasporican—in the United States, although the implications for teaching and learning go beyond my own limited experience. I am aware that multiple and conflicting ideas exist about these theoretical perspectives, but some basic tenets of sociocultural theory can serve as a platform for this article. In what follows, I explore a number of these tenets, illustrating them with examples from my own experiences to demonstrate why a sociocultural perspective is invaluable in uncovering some of the tensions and dilemmas of schooling and diversity.


Sociocultural Theory and Autobiography The language of sociocultural theory includes terms such as discourse [à la James Gee (1990), with a small ‘d’ and a capital ‘D’], habitus and cultural capital as defined by Bourdieu (1986; see also Bourdieu & Passeron, 1977), hegemony as articulated by Gramsci (2012), power and privilege as discussed by Foucault (1980), social practice as defined by the New London Group (1996), as well as identity, hybridity, and even the very word literacy (Janks, 2007). Today, these terms have become commonplace, but if we were to do a review of the literature of some thirty years ago or so, we would probably be hard pressed to find them, at least as currently used. What does this mean? How have our awareness and internalization of these terms and everything they imply changed how we look at teaching and learning? Let’s look at some of the assumptions underlying literacy itself. It’s generally accepted that certain family and home conditions promote literacy, including an abundant supply of books and other reading material, detailed conversations between adults and children about the books they read, and other such practices (Snow et al., 1991). I have no doubt that this is true in many cases, and although I didn’t have access to these things as a child, my husband and I made certain to provide them for our own children, as well as for our grandchildren. I hope we’ve made their lives easier and fuller as a result. But what about the children for whom these conditions are not present? Should they be doomed to educational failure because their parents didn’t live in the right neighborhood, weren’t privileged enough to be formally educated, or didn’t take their children to museums or attend plays? Should they be disqualified from learning because they didn’t have books at home? Unfortunately, the answer to these questions is too often “Yes.” I begin with my own story, not because I believe that autobiography is the only way to learn about language, literacy, and culture. My story is not unique, and my purpose is not to single myself out as an “exception,” in the way that Richard Rodríguez did, intentionally or not, in his painful autobiography Hunger of Memory (1982). Rodriguez’s perspective about being a Spanish-speaking immigrant is, in fact, directly counter to mine: while he concluded that abandoning Spanish was the price he had to pay for success in the United States, my conclusion is that there is no need to erase part of one’s identity in order to be successful. On the contrary, I believe that having more than one language has enriched me both personally and professionally. Being bilingual and biliterate is a legacy that I cherish every day. I use my story simply to underscore the fact that young people of all backgrounds can learn regardless of the language they come to school with, and that they need not be compelled, as Rodriguez felt he had to, to abandon their family and home language for the benefits of an education and a higher status in society. I was like the millions of young people in classrooms and schools around the nation who arrive at school eager to learn, to make friends, and to fit in. Unfortunately, too many of these children, because they do not yet speak English, end up as the poster children for the so-called “achievement gap” because the educational system does not understand the resources that they bring to their education. Because they come to school with a language – although it is not


English – rather than “linguistically deprived” or “limited English proficient,” these children are instead, in the words of Leslie Bartlett and Ofelia Garcia, “emergent bilinguals” (Bartlett & Garcia, 2011). Given my background and early life experiences, it seems improbable that I would be an academic discussing literacy and learning. Conventional educational research would assume that my home and family situation could not have prepared me adequately for academic success. My parents came to the United States as immigrants from Puerto Rico, fleeing the unique poverty of colonialism, and they quietly took their place in the lower paid and lower status of society. I spent my first ten years in a fifth-floor tenement apartment, and the next 3 years in another equally depressing neighborhood in Brooklyn, both of which were entry points for immigrants from around the world, including my parents, Federico Cortés and Esther Mercado. My mother did not graduate from high school, and my father never made it past fourth grade. In my family, we never had bedtime stories, much less books, but while my father never really mastered English, he read The Daily News (in English) religiously every day. At home, we didn’t have a permanent place to study, nor did we have a desk “with sufficient light and adequate ventilation,” as our teachers suggested. We didn’t have many toys, and I never got the piano lessons that I so desperately wanted from the age of five. We never went to summer camp, and we didn’t have gymnastics, ballet, or tennis lessons. We never learned how to ride a bike, nor did we take part in any kind of sports. As a family, we didn’t go to museums or other places that would give us the cultural capital described by Bourdieu (1986), thought to be a requisite to succeed in school. We spoke only Spanish at home, even though teachers pleaded with my parents to stop doing so. And when we learned English, my sister and I spoke a nonstandard, urban Black and Puerto Rican English. In a word, because of our social class, ethnicity, native language, and discourse practices, we were the epitome of what are described in the United States as “children at risk,” “disadvantaged,” and “culturally deprived.” Nevertheless, I was fortunate that I had a family who stressed the virtues of education, even if they themselves had not had the privilege of an education—or more likely, because of that fact. But they kept right on speaking Spanish, they still didn’t buy books for our home, and they never read us bedtime stories. Yet my parents valued education and literacy: they told us funny stories about greenhorn Puerto Ricans (jíbaros) just arriving from the island, as well as the riddles and tongue-twisters they had learned as children back on the island. My father worked in a delicatessen on Delancey Street in lower Manhattan for 20 years and when it closed, he bought a bodega, a small Caribbean grocery store in Brooklyn, with his savings. Although he could barely write, he could add a column of numbers in his head with dizzying speed. My mother worked in the bodega as well, and she too had many talents, such as the embroidery and handwork that she had learned on the island. Also, raising my brother, who has autism, took all the patience and skill she had as a parent. These skills, however, were never called on by my teachers; our family was simply thought of as culturally deprived and disadvantaged, another segment of the urban poor with no discernible competencies. Schooling and the First Aha! Moments


I attended a run-down ghetto school in Brooklyn just a few blocks from my apartment. My schoolmates were African Americans, as well as immigrants from Puerto Rico, other places in the Caribbean, and Italy and Russia, among other European countries. One day in particular resonates in terms of language learning. I arrived at school as a fluent Spanish speaker but speaking no English. I guess I hadn’t learned how to tie a bow yet. I wrote about this incident (Nieto, 2011) in a book titled Words Were All We Had: Becoming Biliterate Against the Odds, edited by Maria de la Luz Reyes. This book chronicles the many obstacles for those of us who entered school knowing Spanish but who did not yet speak English. I had just started school and there I was, a six-year old in a first-grade classroom in New York trying to tie my hat. I didn’t have the words to let my teacher know that I needed help. I remember feeling mute. I stood there, gesturing and making sounds that made no sense to her, attempting to ask her to tie my hat. I felt helpless. This scene is as vivid to me today as if it was yesterday. I suppose my memory says something about the tremendous vulnerability I felt at not being able to make myself understood, the sheer panic of not knowing English. Although I spoke Spanish, it was not the officially sanctioned language of school. By the end of that year, besides learning enough English to get along, as well as the rudiments of reading, I learned other valuable lessons, and this was my first AHA! Moment: I learned that reading would open up the world to me, that learning was exciting, and that education was the best hope for a better life. In other words, I learned that literacy was important for personal enlightenment, academic learning, and improved life options. But unfortunately, I learned other less sanguine lessons as well: I learned that it was a handicap to be Puerto Rican; I learned that English was the language of value and “culture.” I learned that although Spanish was the language of family and love and nurturing, it was also a language of low status. I learned that school was where you learned things that were worthwhile and important, and that home was where you learned things that you never talked about in school. Most of all, I learned that to get ahead, you must speak, read, and write only English. The result was a tremendous wall between home and school. It was only after I became a teacher myself that I began to question why this should be so. When I was 13 years old, we moved from our tenement apartment to a small two-family house in a more middle-class community in Brooklyn. In that neighborhood, I was able to attend an excellent junior high and high school. I didn’t particularly like either, especially the high school. It was too big and impersonal, and as one of only three Puerto Ricans (my sister was another one) in a student body of 5,600 students, I felt invisible. In retrospect, however, I realize that it was there that my sister and I got the quality education that we needed to prepare us for college, a dream beyond the wildest imagination of my parents. Before then, we had attended a junior high school with few expectations for our academic success. Given the high dropout rate of Puerto Ricans at the time (and still now), we would have been lucky to even have graduated from high school. This led to another AHA! Moment: My new address made a profound difference in the education that I was able to get, that is, my zip code guaranteed that I would receive an excellent education. In addition, because of the high school that I attended, I learned Standard English, eventually


dropping the “ain’t” and the “mines.” For a number of years, I also tried to hide the fact that I spoke Spanish. Teaching and More Aha! Moments Although I didn’t have many social relationships in high school, I was a good student, and I received a couple of scholarships. Accepted into a local college. I worked throughout college and commuted daily by subway. At St. John’s University, I followed my dream to become a teacher, something I had thought about since I had been a child. In 1966, with a degree in elementary education, a student teaching experience in a mostly White middle-class neighborhood, and teaching certification from the New York City Public Schools, I began my teaching career in an intermediate school in an impoverished community in Brooklyn. Even though I had thought I would be the perfect teacher who would inspire my students and impress my colleagues, it became clear to me right away that I was facing greater challenges than I had expected. The school was a sad place, with angry and disenchanted students, and tired and burned out teachers, some of whom were racist and dismissive of the students. Many administrators seemed to have given up, and some were just waiting for the day when they could retire. The students, all of whom were African American and Puerto Rican, lived in poverty, with few opportunities either in school or in the community. Classes were overcrowded and chaotic, and there was a palpable sense of despair in the school. There was also the problem of labeling: not only were my students labeled as “culturally deprived,” lazy, or incapable of learning, but because I taught the so-called “non-English (NE) students,” I too was labeled as the “NE” Teacher, even though I was perfectly fluent in English. In spite of the fact that I loved my students and that many of them were capable and smart, I became discouraged. Although I believe that I became a pretty good teacher in the two years I was there, learning some useful strategies, developing more self-confidence, and forming close connections with my students, I realized even then that it was not enough. But it was there that I had my next AHA! Moment. I saw firsthand that societal structural inequality, brutal poverty, unrelenting racism, and other limiting realities, as well as the unjust policies and practices in schools, had more to do with my students’ learning than what I did in the classroom. Given this situation, I began to wonder how much I could accomplish as a classroom teacher. Two years later, an exciting opportunity presented itself: a call went out for bilingual teachers to staff a new, experimental elementary school in the Bronx. P.S. 25, the Bilingual School, was to become the first public school in the Northeast, and only the second in the nation, to use students’ native languages in instruction, while at the same time teaching them English. In spite of the fact that at the time there were already over 1,000,000 Puerto Ricans in New York City, in the two years that I had been in the system (and as a former student in that system), of the 55,000 public school teachers in the city, I had never met another teacher who was either Latina or fluent in Spanish. They must have been hiding somewhere, because at P.S. 25, the principal was able to find and recruit about thirty of us as bilingual teachers, about half of whom were Hispanic, and the others were Whites and African Americans who were fluent in Spanish.


As a child, my teachers made it clear to me that speaking Spanish was a problem, and this idea was reinforced in my teacher preparation program. As a preservice teacher, I had been warned to keep my “cultural baggage” outside my classroom door. I had been taught that culture was peripheral to teaching and learning, and that it had nothing to do with intelligence or merit. My ideas began to change as soon as I started teaching at P.S. 25. I began to believe that language, culture, race, and ethnicity, both instructors’ and students’, are inextricably tied to teaching, whether we admit it or not. At the Bilingual School, language and culture were cherished and affirmed, and they had equal status with English and mainstream American culture. Whereas my previous school had been a sad place, P.S. 25 was an affirming place, one where we could all— students, staff, and families—feel proud of speaking Spanish, something I had never before experienced, except in the company of my family. It was a place where nobody made excuses about being Puerto Rican or Cuban or Dominican, and where teachers used students’ histories and realities as important sources for the curriculum. At the same time, I learned that when teachers bring their entire selves into the classroom, including their identities, they are being both true to themselves and honest with their students. Being at the Bilingual School brought another Aha! Moment: it was there that I came to realize that the role of parent involvement in the education of their children is significant. When I was a child, my parents had stayed away from our schools, no doubt because of their own limited schooling and the fact that neither felt comfortable in a place where Spanish was not spoken (even though my mother was quite fluent in English). Culturally, school felt like an alien and unwelcome place to them. In contrast, at PS 25, parents were involved in ways that would have astounded my own parents: not only did the students’ parents join the PTA and volunteer in the classroom, but also they took part in hiring new teachers and in setting the overall climate of inclusion and advocacy in the school. As a teacher, I was expected to engage in family outreach, and I learned to do so with enthusiasm. I visited my students’ homes, where I was always treated like an honored guest. I communicated with families through phone calls and letters as well (this was way before email), and I invited family members to my classroom and to their children’s exhibits and performances. These activities made a difference both in students’ attitudes and in families’ acceptance and respect. Doctoral Studies and Teacher Education: A Deepening Consciousness After four years at the Bilingual School, first as a fourth grade teacher and later as a Curriculum Specialist, I secured a position as an instructor in the Puerto Rican Studies Department at Brooklyn College in a co-sponsored teacher education program. I was thrilled to be working in higher education, something that my station in and my cultural identity would not have predicted. There, I taught courses in the sociology of education, in the Puerto Rican child, and in methods of teaching in bilingual classrooms. It was there, in fact, that I decided that this was to be my lifelong profession. At Brooklyn College, I learned about the importance of agency and the possibility that it could lead to social change. It was a heady time for ethnic studies, and political education was part of our daily experience. We had protests and take-overs every week, and it was during those that I learned to speak to large audiences, both at the Faculty Senate and also at the large demonstrations in the Quad. Although the administration wanted our department—which was


seen as unruly and not quite ready to take care of its own affairs—we demanded selfdetermination as a department. After a five-day occupation of the Registrar’s Office, I was arrested as one of the “BC 44.” As a result of being steeped in the politics of the 1960s and ‘70s, I had another Aha! Moment: in the words of Frederick Douglass, the iconic 19th century freed slave and abolitionist, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will” (Douglass, 1857). Given my decision to pursue teacher education as a profession, I applied to and was accepted as a doctoral student at the School of Education at the University of Massachusetts, an institution that was also undergoing profound changes in curriculum and pedagogy. My doctoral studies were transformative. Not only did I take courses with professors from the School of Education who were doing groundbreaking work in multicultural education and social justice, but I was also able to take courses outside the School of Education that had a profound effect on me. For example, I took a class with Sam Bowles and Herb Gintis, just as their groundbreaking book Teaching in Capitalist America (1976) was being published. In their class, I learned that our society’s structural inequality made it almost impossible for students of color and all students living in poverty to get a fair shake in education, something that I had seen firsthand but that was never spoken about in “polite” circles. Their research demonstrated that without a shadow of a doubt, privilege begets privilege, and conventional myth to the contrary, climbing up the ladder of success is no easy matter in an unequal society. Their research showed, also, that it is a father’s income that makes the most difference in whether a child will get a good education and future opportunities. The idea of meritocracy and fair play, I learned, were largely myths. The research, as well as the theories, of other scholars such as Martin Carnoy, Michael Apple, Joel Spring, Maxine Greene, James Banks, and others, not only disabused me of the pie-in-thesky myths about education being the great equalizer, but they also affirmed the significance of culture, language, and race in teaching and learning. Years later, Gloria Anzaldúa was one of the first Latina theorists I encountered, and it was riveting for me to read her words about the power of language and culture. She helped me understand why, as a Spanish-speaker in a rigidly English-dominant society, and in spite of my many years of education and professional merits, I still felt like an outsider. She wrote: “So, if you really want to hurt me, talk badly about my language. Ethnic identity is twin skin to linguistic identity—I am my language. Until I can take pride in my language, I cannot take pride in myself” (Anzaldúa, 1987, p. 59). Hegemonic language policies are not limited to feeling pride or shame about one’s language. Hegemony goes much deeper than personal idiosyncrasies: it can keep people in positions of subservience and powerlessness, or elevate them to unearned positions of privilege and power. During my graduate studies and later, as a young professor, I was privileged to serve on a committee that hosted Paulo Freire for month-long visits for several years. I immersed myself in his theories, and they helped me discover another Aha! Moment: that education is always political, that is, that whatever pedagogy or practice we use inevitably says something about our ideology. In the words of Freire, “All educational practice implies a theoretical stance on the educator’s part….It could not be otherwise” (Freire, 1985, p. 43). In other words, even those decisions that might seem innocent and natural betray what we believe, as well as our values and biases. These decisions include the books and curricula we select, the relationships that we have with students, our perspectives about their communities and identities, how we set up our


classroom, the choices of which languages to use, or how to teach reading—all these decisions and more, whether large and small, are political decisions. Given my experience as a teacher and later, a teacher educator, these theories were powerful and made a great deal of sense to me. Even though I was one of the so-called “success stories” that people like to point to, I knew that I was in a tiny minority among my Puerto Rican peers. I was luckier than most, and although I wish that I could say that education made all the difference, I cannot. I had the benefit of parents and others who loved me, opportunities that made a difference, and the good fortune to go to good schools as an adolescent. I have never given up on education, but I have learned that it has serious limitations. In spite of the limits of public schooling, I continue to believe that what teachers do, although partial, is also significant. I have learned also that literacy is not just about teaching the mechanics of reading or imparting information to students; rather it is always either advocacy for or against the students whom we teach. Again, the words of Paulo Freire describe this point powerfully: “We are political militants,” he wrote, “because we are teachers” (Freire, 1998, p. 58). Lessons from Aha! Moments: Preparing Teachers with Critique and Hope I conclude this article with a few of the lessons I’ve learned from my Aha! Moments. Beyond my personal experience, I recognize that as educators we have to live with the contradictions of our work, while at the same time we need to prepare teachers with both critique and hope. A friend of mine has a sweatshirt that says, “Old age is not for sissies,” and in the same way, I say that teaching is not for sissies. Instead, teaching is for those with courage and a critical mind, and that’s why critique is important. We also need hope because without it, we can become disenchanted, disillusioned, and burned out. Without both critique and hope, teachers are too often swallowed up by a system that is inequitable and hegemonic, that replicates power and privilege, and that rewards students according to their identities and postal codes. In what follows, I use the words of some of the teachers and students with whom I’ve had the privilege to work to illustrate these lessons. Relationships Are at the Heart of Teaching When I was a Visiting Professor at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2012, I asked a group of students in an education class to tell me about teachers who had made a difference in their lives. The class was very diverse, and I found it intriguing that students of all ethnic backgrounds had more or less the same message: One after another, they talked about teachers who were patient, understanding, supportive, and who believed in them. Yet they rarely mentioned what the teachers taught, or even how they taught it. While content and pedagogy are important, these young people reaffirmed what we already know, that is, that relationships must be the bedrock of any learning. When asked about memorable teachers, most people, like the students I asked in South Africa, will most likely remember the attitudes, dispositions, and behaviors of teachers who made a difference, rather than the subject matter they taught. That’s because teachers who are successful with students inevitably become sociocultural


mediators, that is, they learn about their students, they help them to negotiate academic spaces, and they affirm students’ identities while helping them to explore the world beyond their limited realities (Diaz et al, 1992). Sociocultural mediation is important because literacy is not just about learning to decode; rather, it is a social practice that cannot be separated from the sociocultural and sociopolitical contexts in which it takes place. An example comes from Mary Ginley. When she was a graduate student in my program, she wrote in a journal that she kept for my class about what sociocultural mediation means in practice. She challenged the notion that being “nice” was enough: Every child needs to feel welcome, to feel comfortable. School is a foreign land to most kids (where else in the world would you spend time circling answers and filling in the blanks?), but the more distant a child’s culture and language are from the culture and language of the school, the more at risk that child is. A warm friendly, helpful teacher is nice, but it isn’t enough. We have plenty of warm friendly teachers who tell the kids nicely to forget their Spanish and ask mommy and daddy to speak to them in English at home; who give them easier tasks so they won’t feel badly when the work becomes difficult; who never learn about what life is like at home or what they eat or what music they like or what stories they have been told or what their history is. Instead, we smile and give them a hug and tell them to eat our food and listen to our stories and dance to our music. We teach them to read with our words and wonder why it’s so hard for them. We ask them to sit quietly and we’ll tell them what’s important and what they must know to “get ready for the next grade.” And we never ask them who they are and where they want to go (Ginley, 2010, p. 114). This issue of who they are and where they want to go is a deeply political question because it acknowledges that literacy and teaching are about whose story is told. Asking these questions is what sociocultural mediation is about, because it is only when teachers become sociocultural mediators that they can forge strong relationships with their students Teach Students to Question and to be Curious While it’s important to teach students the skills and competencies they need to negotiate the world successfully, teachers also need to teach students to be critical. It is necessary, in other words, to teach them to not only read the word, but as Paulo Freire said, to “read the world.” This means teaching students to probe, to be curious, and to question. What does this look like in practice? A good example comes from Ron Morris, an African American student we interviewed over 20 years ago for a case study. Ron talked about the first class in which he had ever been interested, a class on Black history in 8th grade. Until that time, he had never learned anything about African American history in school, surely a terrible indictment of education in a nation with more than 40 million African Americans. Except for that class, Ron had been known as a troublemaker, a child who was alienated both in and out of school. He had never connected to school, until school connected to him. This is what he said about that class:


It was basically about Black people, but it showed you all people instead of just Black people. It showed us Latinos. It showed us Caucasians. It showed us the Jews and everything how we all played a part [in] what society in any country is like today. I’d sit [in that class] and just be like, I was just so relaxed. I just felt like the realest person on earth (Nieto, 1996,p. 270). What will it take until every young person feels like “the realest person on earth”? For one, it will take creating learning opportunities that are relevant to students’ lives and respectful of their identities, while also teaching them to question everything, including their own assumptions, values, and even identities. Understand that Teaching is Advocacy for Social and Political Change Unless teachers understand that teaching is advocacy for social and political change, inequities will continue to exist. This necessitates asking what I have called “profoundly multicultural questions” (Nieto, 2003), that is, questions that at first blush may not seem to be “multicultural” at all but that, in the end, are about ensuring that all students have access to a high quality and equal education. It means asking questions, such as “Who’s taking calculus?”, the kind of course that is often a gatekeeper to college access; or “Where is the bilingual [or ESL or special education] program? Is it in the basement?”, a placement that says something about its relative status in the school; or “What are our children worth?” That is, why is more money spent on educating some children—generally the most privileged—while the most underserved continue to languish in schools that are under-resourced?” (see Nieto, 2003 for a more in-depth treatment of this issue). An example comes from Hyung Nam, a high school social studies teacher in Portland, OR, who I interviewed for my recent book Finding Joy in Teaching Students of Diverse Backgrounds: Culturally Responsive and Socially Just Practices in U.S. Schools (Nieto, 2013, forthcoming). Teaching for 11 years, Hyung became involved with teachers from the organization Rethinking Schools (RS) almost from the beginning. He said he was amazed when he found them, because he had never before met a group of activist teachers. Indicating that he probably would have given up as a teacher if he hadn’t found the group, Hyung said, “I feel inspired and really empowered and honored to be in a role where I could help students to question the world and expand their horizons and to see the possibility that they can be agents in the world to change the world to be a better place” (Nieto, forthcoming). In fact, Hyung took the advocacy function of education very seriously, saying, “I see part of my job is to agitate. You know, if we think about the kind of society, the dominant mainstream society that we have, that’s kind of why I’m a teacher is to agitate and make people think and question things.” Conclusion It would be easy to throw up our hands and say that education is too full of contradictions, that it preaches what it cannot deliver, that it’s a utopian dream. Yes, all these things may be true. Yet, it is a teacher’s responsibility to remain hopeful in spite of all these things. As Paulo Freire reminds us, “The educator’s biggest problem is not to discuss whether education can or cannot accomplish, but to discuss where it can, how it can, with whom it can, when it can; it is to recognize the limits his or her practice imposes” (Freire, 2007, p. 64). The limits are real, but so


is the power of hope. Living through the contradictions, although not easy, is an essential obligation of both teachers and teacher educators. My Aha! moments have helped me understand not just my own reality, but also the realities and lives of others. This is why I believe that it’s our responsibility as educators, and particularly as teacher educators, to engage teachers in serious introspection and reflection, the kind of reflection that demands an honest and rigorous understanding of their own position in the world, and of what it has to do with the profession they’ve chosen. When they do these things, they will be better prepared to connect in authentic and caring ways with their students, because they will understand that sociocultural and sociopolitical understandings of the world are not just personal Aha! moments, but rather moments of transcendence and transformation.


References AnzaldĂşa, G. (1987). Borderland/La Frontera: The new mestiza. San Francisco: Spinsters/Aunt Lute Book Co. Bartlett, L. & Garcia, O. (2011). Additive schooling in subtractive times: Bilingual education and Dominican immigrant youth in the Heights. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press. Bourdieu, P. (1986). The forms of capital. In J. G. Richardson (Ed.), Handbook of theory and research for the sociology of education (pp. 241-258). New York: Greenwood Press. Bourdieu, P. & Passon, J. C. (1977). Reproduction in education, society and culture. London: Sage. Bowles, S. & Gintis, H. (1976). Schooling in capitalist America: Economic reform and the contradictions of economic life. New York: Basic Books. Diaz, E., Flores, B., Cousin, P. T., & Soo Hoo, S. (1992). Teacher as sociocultural mediator. Paper presented at the annual AERA meeting, San Francisco, CA, April 1992. Douglass, F. [1857]. (1985). The significance of emancipation in the West Indies. Speech, Canandaigua, New York, August 3, 1857; collected in pamphlet by author. In The Frederick Douglass Papers. Series One: Speeches, Debates, and Interviews. Volume 3: 1855-63 (p. 204). Edited by J. W. Blassingame. New Haven: Yale University Press. Foucault, M. (1980). Truth and power. In C. Gordon (Ed.), Power/knowledge: Selected interviews and other writings, 1972-1977 (pp. 197-133). Bristol, UK: Harvester Press. Freire, P. (1985). The politics of education: Culture, power, and liberation. South Hadley, MA: Bergin & Garvey. Freire, P. (1998). Teachers as cultural workers: Letters from those who dare teach. Boulder, CO: Westview. Freire, P. (2007). Daring to dream: Toward a pedagogy of the unfinished. Boulder, CO: Paradigm. Gee, J. P. (1990). Social linguistics and literacies: Ideologies in discourse. Bristol, PA: Falmer Press. Ginley, M. (2010). Being nice is not enough. In S. Nieto, The light in their eyes: Creating multicultural learning communities (pp. 114). New York: Teachers College Press. Gramsci, A. (2012). Selections from cultural writings. Edited by D. Forgas & G. Nowell-Smith. Chicago: Haymarket Books.


Janks, H. (2010). Literacy and power. New York: Routledge. New London Group (1996). A pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. Harvard Educational Review, 66 (1), 60-93. Nieto, S. (1996). Affirming diversity: The sociopolitical context of multicultural education, 2nd ed. White Plains, NY: Longman. Nieto, Sonia (2003). Profoundly multicultural questions. Educational Leadership, 60(4), 6 - 10. Nieto, S. (2011). On learning to tie a bow, and other tales of becoming biliterate. In M. de la Luz Reyes (Ed.) (2011). Words were all we had: Becoming biliterate against the odds (pp. 15-25). New York: Teaches College Press. Nieto. S. (2013, forthcoming). Finding joy in teaching students of diverse backgrounds: Culturally responsive and socially just practices in U.S. schools. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. Reyes, M. de la L. (Ed.) (2011). Words were all we had: Becoming biliterate against the odds. New York: Teaches College Press. Rodriguez, R. (1983). Hunger of memory: The education of Richard Rodriguez. New York: Bantam. Snow, C. E., Barnes, W. S., Chandler, J., Goodman, I. F., & Hemphill, L. (1991). Unfulfilled expectations: Home and school influences on literacy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.


Volume 9

Number 1 Spring 2013

Editor Lindy L. Johnson

http://jolle.coe.uga.edu

Activist Literacies: Teacher Research as Resistance to the “Normal Curve” Rob Simon, rsimon3@gmail.com OISE/University of Toronto Gerald Campano, campano@gse.upenn.edu University of Pennsylvania

Please cite this article as: Simon, R. & Campano, G. (2013). Activist literacies: Teacher research as resistance to the “normal curve.” Journal of Language and Literacy Education [Online], 9(1), ____. Available at ____.

“To create one world that encompasses many worlds” – Zapatista phrase Introduction At a large public elementary school in a midsized city in California, one percent of the student population is designated as “gifted and talented.” Another school, located near a major midwestern university, designates roughly eighty percent of their students as “gifted and talented.” Both are neighborhood schools mainly serving the surrounding communities. At the California school, a pressing concern is acquiring more diagnostic resources to test students and, if necessary, to reclassify them as learners with “special needs.” At the midwestern school, officials are pressed by parents of the “non-gifted,” who are often upset that their children are not counted in the ranks of the “gifted.” These two schools and their respective institutional constructions of “gifted and talented” and “special needs” illustrate the power of the normal curve. It is perhaps no surprise that the disparities between the schools map onto deeply entrenched social stratifications. The midwestern school, recognized for its high test scores, serves predominantly middle-class and affluent students, many of whom come from families with ties to the nearby university. The students from the California school are predominantly from poor and working-poor families;


many have parents who labor in migratory, factory, or low-wage service jobs. There is bountiful evidence of students’ gifts and talents in both communities. Sixth graders in the California school, many of whom are multilingual and engage in rich literacy practices across the various contexts of their lives, have repeatedly placed in a highly competitive academic pentathlon. Despite severe overcrowding and inadequate facilities, a number of the students have test scores equal to or surpassing their peers across the nation. There is simply no satisfactory way to justify ethically how students in these two communities— and in many others like them—have been disproportionately categorized, sorted, and offered a disparate set of educational experiences and resources. Yet there is little public outcry. One reason for the lack of protest is that what is constituted as normal varies from context to context. In one school it is “normal” to be remedial. In the other school “normal” is considered the exception, despite marginal—if any—differences in the potentials and capacities of the respective children in these two schools. We suggest that the power and intractability of the idea of “normal” in the two schools is the result of a socially produced and locally instantiated phenomena (school achievement) masquerading as inevitable reality, an ideology that serves to reproduce social inequalities. For literacy educators, consciousness of inequality is only the starting point for resistance, a basis for asking more immediate questions: What happens when literacy classrooms are sites of activism? How do teachers work within and against the systems they are a part of to disrupt or challenge ideologies of social reproduction through the literacy curriculum? How does this involve more capacious understandings of the literate practices students bring to schools? What are the challenges teacher activists face when they strive to work within and against an educational system that is structured around normal curve ideologies? How might we re-envision the variance of student potentials, in a way that is not organized around a hierarchy of academic ability or essentialized notions of intelligence? This article examines how activist literacy educators enact more socially just practices that run counter to normal curve ideologies. We analyze these examples through the lens of critical theory and disability studies. We build our argument by first suggesting that this resistance must be premised on considering the ideology of the “normal” in education as more than a bad or unjust idea that merely needs to be debunked. It is a deeply ingrained social and material practice that permeates almost every aspect of education and is manifested in a web of interrelated pedagogical policies, practices, and structures. This makes resistance to the normal curve an aporetic (Derrida, 1993) endeavor. Everyday acts of resistance require literacy educators to navigate seemingly indissoluble contradictions. Constructive resistance must go beyond a utopian critical rhetoric for a more democratic society and even beyond reasonable calls for teachers to be trained to treat differences differently than deficits. While important, these arguments often remain overly abstract and removed from the real world of classrooms. In this article we explore how activist literacy educators work to challenge the ideologies that undergird social reproduction and enact more equitable educational arrangements. Teacher/practitioner research, with its emphasis on the intimate relationship between knowledge and teaching, can be a methodological basis for developing rich conceptions of literacy and alternative practices (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1999; 2009; Simon, Campano, Broderick, & Pantoja, 2012). Teacher researchers theorize from the thick of things, from actual educational contexts that they shape daily. This informs new practices and educational possibilities for


students. Like disability studies, activist teacher research is concerned with the relationship between the built world and social identity and agency. Both frameworks challenge medical models for diagnosing and individuating identities, and emphasize how material structures and social practices stigmatize differences and curtail access to fuller human flourishing. These perspectives also suggest alternatives. As a methodological stance on classroom practice, practitioner research provides a framework for working against deficit notions of students’ identities and literacy practices, and working toward re-envisioning the “normal” in classrooms as intersections of students’ multiple worlds of culture, language, experience, and potential. We draw on our own work and the work of other literacy teacher researchers to describe three ways educators resist the normal curve through what we characterize as counter-practices. Drawing on disability studies (e.g., Siebers, 2008; Snyder, Brueggemann & Garland-Thomson, 2002), we analyze how these kinds of resistances characterize different but overlapping understandings of educational access with their own contradictions and possibilities. In our conclusion, we look across the examples to suggest how activist literacies involve challenging the ideological foundations of institutions and practices. Normal Curve Ideology and Literacy Education As literacy researchers and former teachers, we are concerned about how deterministic notions of ability and narrow understandings of literacy continue to delimit the learning and life chances of diverse students. A more radically egalitarian understanding of student potentials and variance would entail regarding each student not as an irreducible quantum of ability, but rather as a singular and evolving constellation of capacities, needs, and interests. Furthermore, these constellations are situated within a larger universe: school and classroom communities where the thriving and wellbeing of each student is connected to the flourishing of the whole and, conversely, the devaluing or exclusion of any one individual compromises everyone’s cognitive and ethical growth. An alternative educational project, therefore, would have resonances with the vision eloquently phrased by the Zapatistas, which serves as an epigraph for our article: “To create one world that encompasses many worlds.” Like many teachers we have experienced the ways in which narrow notions of students’ literate abilities often settle into institutional rationales for school failure. For example, as a first-year teacher Gerald encountered bell-curve ideology in the form of a diagnostic protocol for students referred for extra-resources in his primary classroom. The six-year old children were given two tests: one to measure “cognitive capacity” and the other to evaluate subject-matter proficiency. If there was no disparity between how the students performed on, for example, the reading diagnostic and what they were measured to be innately capable of, they did not qualify for extra support. Gerald recalls advocating for a student who had endured significant trauma in her short life that had clearly impacted her schooling. After going through the referral process, Gerald was informed by the school psychologist that although his student did not qualify for additional support—little surprise in a district that was severely under-resourced—as her regular classroom teacher, he should be proud because the reading tests revealed that she was performing “beyond her abilities.” Over the past decades scholars from a range of disciplines have dismantled the idea of the normal curve, especially in its relation to intelligence. For example, biologist Steven Jay Gould


(1981) debunks racist iterations of the bell curve, arguing that variance within groups is more pronounced that variance across them, though this analysis kept the idea of IQ intact. In Mindset, Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck (2007) synthesizes decades of research for a popular audience on the personal dynamics of success. She argues that ability is an achievement that happens over the course of one’s life that has more to do with individuals’ attitudes towards labels and experiences of success and failure, rather with innate capacity. Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (1992) has critiqued the link between academic success and intelligence through his interrelated concepts of field, social capital, and habitus,. In the popular press, Malcom Gladwell (2008) has observed that exceptional outliers are not really outliers at all. According to Gladwell, their success may have less to do with talent, and more to do with some combination of spatio/temporal fortune (being at the right place at the right time), cultural legacy (cast in somewhat essentializing terms), and opportunities for good-old hard work (where Gladwell might have explored social justice issues with more depth and critical nuance). In education, an industry has developed around the idea of “multiple intelligences” (Gardner, 2008), which is often used to articulate more specific understandings of student abilities and potentials, though each kind of intelligence might, presumably, also be distributed along a demographic bell-curve. Literacy educator Mike Rose’s (2005) groundbreaking work emphasizes the cognition skills inherent in working-class jobs, thereby disrupting the exclusive relationship between academics and intelligence. Many teachers have taken an activist stance on addressing these issues. For example, a group of elementary literacy educators associated with Teachers Applying Whole Language (TAWL) issued a bumper sticker that reads: “My child is not a test-score.” The incisive slogan critiques the metonymic logic that is often used to dehumanize individuals and groups by having one aspect, quality, or representation stand in for the whole of their value. Irrespective of whether a critique of bell-curve ideology appears on a bumper sticker or in an academic text, resistance to its influence is easier said than done. Althusser (1971) famously described the ways that ideology is not external to political and social reality—not a realm of “imaginary constructions” —but rather embedded in systems and political apparatuses. In other words, ideology is concretized in, and coextensive with, material experience. Ideological constructs such as the normal curve are not merely abstractions, they imbue social practices and material realities. As Brian Street has (1984) noted, literacy practices are neither neutral nor “autonomous,” and as researchers we must be attentive to worldviews and issues of power and identity that underlie them. In the tradition of Althusser, Žižek (1989) has contradicted the image of ideology as “false consciousness,” either an invisible, unconscious force or a mask for reality. He argues instead that ideology structures reality and reminds us that it is not enough to be skeptically aware of ideology’s machinations. Such consciousness may even be part of its power. Knowing an injustice is taking place may make educators feel all the more helpless, without a productive avenue of resistance. In literacy education, the ideology of the normal curve reinforces conceptions of individual aptitude, standards, curricula, tracking, and assessment. These practices “hail” or interpellate (Althusser, 1971) individuals as particular kinds of students, which can shape their selfconceptions as learners, their performances on various measures that claim to objectively depict their learning or competency, and ultimately their life chances. Some common educational


policies and structures are manifestations of the normal curve in more obvious ways, such as grouping, whether organized at the level of districts (magnet schools), schools (tracking), or classrooms (leveled readers). Other policies reinforce the ideology of the normal curve in more subtle ways. For example, if a district has adopted a “scientifically-proven reading program” that is implemented with “fidelity” and certain students still underperform, then some might conclude that this merely reflects a natural distribution of ability. Further, it implies that educators can resort to remediation, rather than adopting an inquiry stance (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2009) on the rich literacy resources that students’ bring to the classroom. Resistance as Counter-Practice Activists and theorists within disability studies (e.g., Siebers, 2008; Snyder, Brueggemann & Garland-Thomson, 2002) have countered the prevailing idea that disability should be individuated as personal defects requiring curing. Alternatively, they have theorized disability as a minoritized identity, one formed in part by socially produced injustices. This has provided grounds for constructing more nuanced understandings of disabled persons, and has also formed the basis of more activist agendas: calls for substantive changes to systems of negative representation and exclusion, as well as changes to disabling social and built environments. Disability studies provide a compelling example of how troubling notions of the normal at the level of ideas is not enough to counteract dehumanizing practices. Claiming disability as a positive social identity, as those within disability studies have effectively done, is a theoretical and political move. It is also a counter-practice, one squarely aimed at improving the quality of life for disabled persons. As this idea of counter-practice suggests, challenging notions of normality that pathologize disability requires a theoretical but also an activist response. Analogously, statistical norms in education are predicated on the assumption that students can be understood, metonymically, in terms of ability—as represented by scores and outcomes, narrowly constructed—and by extension that students’ prior performances equip teachers with necessary knowledge of their capacities as learners. Recalling the bumper sticker slogan we mentioned earlier, in school practices shaped by normal curve ideology, students are often ascribed an institutionally sanctioned identity. The assumption in these systems is that students can be known by their individual accomplishments (and, of course, their failures). In a normal curve model, teaching is often constructed as an intervention intended to move “struggling” students closer to a mean. Activist teacher researchers, by contrast, begin with the assumption that there is much that they don’t know about students. Like theorists who have highlighted the importance of regarding disability as “a social location, complexly embodied” (Siebers, 2008, p. 14) rather than an individual pathology, activist educators take social location—their own and their students’— seriously. The normal curve model is by definition generic rather than local: Students are charted and evaluated from a distance. Reconsidering the normal from the vantage point of the classroom allows for cultivating more egalitarian variations of students’ educational accomplishments, literacies, and capabilities, as well as more nuanced understandings of students’ needs and struggles, without reducing them to categories or lowest common denominators. Disability studies has opened ablest ideologies to critical interrogation by theorizing from experience and activating critique at the level of social practice. Similarly, teacher researchers construct counter-


understandings of who students are and what they are capable of from the thick of daily classroom experience. Rather than viewing teaching as an intervention, practitioner research entails educators taking what Cochran-Smith and Lytle (2009) have called an inquiry stance, a means by which classrooms can more systematically become sites of ongoing learning for teachers and students. Unlike other methodologies, teacher research is embedded in daily practice. Teacher researchers’ questions emanate from the daily life of the classroom, often arising from moments of dissonance, attempts to address issues of inequity or students’ wellbeing (e.g., Pincus, 2001, 2010). Teacher research often originates in particular classrooms, but it is frequently connected to nested communities of practice, within and across classrooms, schools, neighborhoods, or universities. This aspect has led some to claim practitioner research shares many qualities of social movements (e.g., Campano, 2009; Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2009). In literacy education, local and national teacher research networks like the Bread Loaf Teacher Network and the National Writing Project mobilize and connect teacher researchers to broader conversations and initiatives. Teacher research often takes place in communities of inquiry, for example one that Rob participated in over several years with in-service and pre-service literacy teachers in Philadelphia (Simon, 2009, 2013a, 2013b; Zeiders, et al, 2007) that provided a locus for teachers to actualize more critical understandings and teaching identities. There are many examples of activist teachers and researchers working together to think more expansively about literacy to increase the life chances of historically disenfranchised youth (e.g., Blackburn, 2010; Ghiso, 2011; Jocson, 2008; Jones, 2006; Kinloch, 2012; Kirkland, 2013; Winn, 2011). For example, action oriented university/school collaborations, such as an inquiry community Gerald participated in with elementary teachers from a local urban school district, link university-based practitioner researchers with community-based efforts. This initiative provided a basis for imagining more culturally responsive and engaging literacy curriculum during a period when the testing paradigm predominated (Campano, et al, 2010). As these examples suggest, activist educators attempt to understand and improve their practices while simultaneously developing new understandings and relationships. For example, in the process of surfacing and addressing difficult and contradictory aspects of practice, teacher researchers often construct more nuanced portraits of students and their potentials, which are not fixed or encompassed by narrow measures. Unlike paradigms of research (and practice) that focus predominantly on outcomes, practitioner researchers, like researchers within some action research or participatory action research traditions (Cammarotta & Fine, 2008; Herr & Anderson, 2005; Morrell, 2007), typically regard their work as both a means to achieving some new outcome or understanding, as well as a productive end in itself (Campano et al, 2010; CochranSmith & Lytle, 2009; Simon, 2009). Teacher Research that Is Not Activist Not all forms of teacher research are resistant or critical. Cochran-Smith and Lytle (2009) have described how inquiry in increasingly prevalent school- or district-based professional learning


communities (PLCs) is often embedded within discourses of accountability and outcomes. PLCs are often directed toward learning from assessment data, predicated on structured cycles or models, which are sometimes employed as a means of helping teachers to increase students’ performance on high stakes exams. Projects like these can serve to reify the normal curve’s authority. For example, in a previous teaching context, Gerald was required to participate with other teachers in his grade level in a professional learning community whose purpose was to analyze school data and investigate student achievement. During one meeting, the agenda included this request: Please bring the following to the meeting: Your list identifying the 5 students (within one or two points from the next band) ready to move to the highest [quintile] band 1) List the intervention strategies implemented in your room to move these students to the targeted band 2) Bring samples of these strategies to share with your grade level Also, we will address: Test taking strategies for the state exam The request to identify particular students and interventions for moving them to higher quintile bands is presented in this memo as both desirable and purely pragmatic. It may be useful, however, to characterize this agenda as a mechanism of what Žižek (2008) has described as “post-political bio-politics,” a form of ideology that disavows its ideological nature by placing emphasis on the practical “management and administration” of human lives (p. 40). Who could argue with increasing student achievement and raising test scores? It is not a conservative issue or a liberal issue (hence post-political). The agenda does not invite heated discussion. It is rather about pragmatically and efficiently addressing a problem—low student achievement—using a hyper-rational approach that appeals to common sense and invokes the authority of strategies that are (implicitly) understood as “scientifically-proven” to work. In this instance, the PLC is not concerned with the generation of new knowledge about and for teaching, learning, or students. Rather, it encourages teachers to help their students more efficiently navigate state exams, and to use test data to slot students into prefabricated categories. Professional development in this case centers entirely on test performance and preparation. Students are objectified, both in terms of their lack of particularity (Carini, 2001) and their lack of agency. In this respect students are regarded, to borrow from Martha Nussbaum’s (1995) notion of objectification, as inert—objects to be propelled over the cusp of quintile bands through an outside force—and fungible—interchangeable with other students of similar classification. Students are acted upon, but they are represented as lacking self-determination. Their individual histories remain unmentioned and unaccounted for; similarly absent are counternarratives about students’ needs, capacities, and complex relationships to schooling. The purpose of this type of professional development is to promote “data-driven instruction,” with both data and instruction narrowly construed. Through a medical model, teachers prescribe and implement the appropriate strategies that will ostensibly “intervene” on behalf of students’ welfare.


Tests are supposed to inform curriculum and instruction. They are—ideally—one of many representations of teaching and student learning that might include more contextually-sensitive narrative and observational accounts from teachers, parents, caretakers, and students themselves. In the case of the normal curve, akin to what philosopher Baudrillard (1994) might call the simulacrum, the representation supplants reality and structures educational dynamics: test scores synecdochially stand for students themselves; test preparation becomes curriculum; and, the complexity of school culture get distilled to “upticks” or “downticks” (Kozol, 2005) on a school’s annual yearly progress. These “data-driven” PLCs are often about the power of appearances, where concern with test scores overrides concern for individual students’ learning. For instance, it is not uncommon for expulsion rates to increase as high-stakes testing approaches. In the aforementioned example, it is revealing that the only students “targeted” for intervention are those on the cusp of moving into higher quintile bands. What about the rest of the students? In the context of this particular PLC, an aggregated and abstracted representation became more important than the educational growth and histories of individual students’ themselves. Teacher Research that Resists the Normal Curve Teacher research is sometimes appropriated to serve instrumental agendas, utilized to shore up rather than countervail institutional apparatus, as in the case of professional development targeted to improve test scores. However, this approach does not represent the more progressive and critical strands of practitioner research, which are often dedicated to the project of humanization. In this section, we examine three examples which illustrate resistance to the normal curve: counter-narratives that demonstrate how a synergy between culturally-engaged literacy curriculum and student legacies can enable young people to alter their educational trajectories; inquiries into redesigning existing school structures in Advanced Placement English and early childhood critical literacy education; and the construction of alternative school communities that redefine stigmatized and criminalized youth identities. Example 1: Resistance as creating counter-narratives. Many teacher researchers do not buy into the logic of the normal curve. They recognize that students’ existences and potentials cannot be wholly contained by the ascriptive categories used to explain them, and take as a point of departure for their inquiries the insight that labels often fuel social reproduction. “Remedial” students are institutionally constructed through the deficit-based pedagogical policies and practices meant to address their circumstances. This type of practitioner research, often inspired by traditions of critical literacy and culturally-responsive teaching, offers educational counternarratives that question the normal-curve’s authority. Instead of viewing students as problems to be “fixed” through a diagnostic model, they provide accounts of how students are active agents who—if provided a supportive educational environment—will draw on their own rich experiential and cultural knowledge to critique and navigate inequitable conditions in the process of self-determination. For example, one of Gerald’s former fifth-grade students, Ma-Lee, was sorted in the lowest quintile band of student performance, according to testing (Campano, 2005). In a literacy curriculum that recognized and built off her familial refugee experience, Ma-Lee was able to employ personal narrative to address intergenerational trauma and create a more empowering


academic identity for herself. For Ma-Lee, coming to critical consciousness about her community’s history was an ineluctable part of her educational development. Another of Gerald’s students, Virgil, had been involved in the criminal justice system and labeled a “juvenile delinquent” (Campano, 2009). In the resistant literary spirit of Richard Wright, tenyear-old Virgil was able to find through writing a cultural release for his (quite rational) oppositional impulses towards authority. He penned a number of powerful essays on political corruption and the vulnerability of young people in society. Both Ma-Lee and Virgil went on to garner academic accolades, as well as make exceptional gains on their standardized tests. The success of Ma-Lee, Virgil, and so many other students documented and not documented in the teacher research literature undermines the auguries of bureaucratic ascriptions, such as the “struggling reader” and “at risk” student. Their stories expose the tragedy of remedial standardized curricula that homogenizes experience by making sure that “every student is on the same page.” If Ma-Lee and Virgil had to conform to a standardized model that suppresses difference, they may never have been able to distinguish themselves through literacy practices that drew on their singular experiences and to enact their unique forms of culturally-based knowledge and insight. The activist dimension of this work involved challenging school mandates in order to create an alternative space of teaching and learning. The possible limitation of this form of resistance to the normal curve lies in how it might be read by others. Many teacher researchers provide triumphant narratives of students overcoming obstacles and injustices in order to defy expectations and become exceptional. It is important to keep in mind that these narratives of personal transformation are quintessentially American, part of our shared national mythos. In this way, the story of students like Ma-Lee and Virgil can be read through the lens of iconic figures such as Lincoln, Carnegie, Malcolm X, or Barack Obama. Superseding injustice seems to be the American way. What these stories often leave unexamined is the ideology of individualism, and with it the normal curve. Students who re-position themselves on the curve—even dramatically—leave the curve intact. The more they have struggled to overcome injustices, the more their stories may be read by others as a moral tale: through an exertion of individual will, anything can be changed, whether the vision of change is critical or reactionary. The flipside to this triumphalism is the suspicion that others who are not able to overcome obstacles and injustices may really not be that deserving anyway. They may be perceived to lack virtue, talent, perseverance, or other traits used to stigmatize those most vulnerable in society. As the above example suggests, there is a difference between overcoming injustices and trying to pull them out at their roots, even though the two often go hand in hand. As we demonstrate in the examples that follow, the most effective forms of resistance are collective in nature, involving the coordinated efforts of many people working in solidarity toward a vision of social justice. Example 2: Interrogating and redesigning structures for literacy learning. Many activist teacher researchers have taken the constraints of the normal curve as the subject of critical inquiry with students. In the process, they interrogate the structures that level students and work to create alternatives. English educator Joan Cone (2002), for example, was disconcerted by the “caste like” academic placement of students in her California high school (p. 1). Most students in her “low” ability ninth grade class were African American males, even though they did not


represent a majority of the school’s population. Cone and her colleagues decided to take action to address this inequity by creating heterogeneous classes and making the 12th grade Advanced Placement class open to any student with the desire to enroll. The mere dismantling of tracking did not instantly lead to a more egalitarian educational arrangement. Cone’s scholarship traces the changes in pedagogy as well as soul-searching into the faculty’s perception of students needed to accompany the structural change. Ultimately, she analyzes how both student “failure” and student “achievement” are social constructs, not individual predispositions. One of the most important outgrowths of Cone and her colleagues’ activist teacher research was a dramatic rise in the number of African American and Latina/o students who qualified for the University of California and California State entrance requirements. Critical literacy educator Vivian Vasquez (2004) offers another compelling example of how even young children can challenge the taken-for-granted developmental assumptions of grade levels, where batched children (Anderson-Levitt, 1996) of a specific age are thought to exhibit the same intellectual and social limits and needs. As a teacher researcher in a preschool classroom, Vasquez invited four year-olds to adopt a critical inquiry stance. The students created an audit trail (Harste & Vasquez, 1998) that represented the evolution of their investigations into issues such as gender normativity, advertising, and environmental concerns. In resisting developmental frameworks, Vasquez demonstrated that four year-olds were not “too young” for a critical literacy curriculum and, further, that young students could act collectively to make changes in their lives. Rather than the teacher implementing a top-down curriculum, she followed the students’ leads and their emerging sense of justice and fairness. In one powerful example, Vasquez recounts how her students noticed that they were excluded from the French Café, a school language club for the older grades. The students collected data to determine who had been invited and who of those excluded wanted to participate, and then used this information to collectively petition the school for access. Gerald worked with a student teacher, Angelica, to create pedagogical experiences that valued collaborative intellectual labor through a drama project by El Teatro Campesino, political theater of migrant labor camps (Campano, 2007). The students wrote and improvised plays that challenged the ideology of individual authorship and distinction. The plays were often multilingual and addressed issues that were immediately relevant to the students’ lives, such as school tracking, racial profiling, and community histories that had been buried in the regular school curriculum. The performance group, Dancing Across Borders, garnered recognition in the state of California, and the children even performed at Stanford University, but one would never have been able to predict which students in the group had been pejoratively labeled “struggling reader,” “Limited English Proficient,” or “gang member.” Through drama, the students turned these negative ascriptions around, and their previously stigmatized identities became a source of critical knowledge and insight, or what realist theorists (e.g., Mohanty, 1997; Moya, 2000) have called epistemic privilege. For example, in their play titled “What the Teacher Didn’t Know,” the students wrote about experiences of being labeled academically and socially, to critique structures that had oppressed them. These examples occurred in contexts where the normal curve was a dominant ideology, reminding us that even within constraining circumstances there are always opportunities for resistance. On a cautious note, however, we cannot underestimate the ways the normal curve can


reassert itself, creating an ever-receding “horizon of expectation.” For example, if all the children in the California school mentioned at the beginning of this article were accepted into gifted and talented programs, one can imagine that those with more resources would find new ways to distinguish themselves. In fact, that is exactly what happened in the midwestern district, where a new category of gifted and talented, the “highly/profoundly gifted,” was created, which appropriated the ostensibly egalitarian notion of multiple intelligences to create new classifications of supposed individual aptitude. This example raises the possibility that if all students had access to an AP English classroom, maybe a higher placement would be created to accommodate those with more power and privilege. Similarly, if children gain access to the French Café, maybe a “Latin Bistro” will crop up exclusively for the upper grades. The structures may not be this obvious. In fact, recalling Žižek (1989), the more imperceptible they are, the more insidious. This is the case with intellectual work that is deemed “extracurricular” or “enrichment,” such as the performance troop Dancing Across Borders, which gets relegated to the margins of the school day and is not considered a central part of the literacy curriculum. Example 3: Resistance as (re)imagining alternative school communities. Much activist teacher research takes place within (and often against) mainstream institutions informed by dominant ideologies. This work frequently is driven by individual teachers’ willingness to call common practices or understandings into question, often in collaboration with colleagues and students. Joan Cone’s (2005) investigation into the co-construction of low achievement began by wondering what coded messages are hidden within publicized lists: What messages are hidden in class rosters and the lists posted on school and classroom bulletin boards, published in school and local newspapers, tacked on the teachers’ workroom door? What, for example, do lists of honor roll students, suspended students, students excused for forensics tournaments, seniors repeating algebra, ninth graders in physical science, ninth graders in honors biology reveal about the school? (p. 52) Our final example suggests how activist educators can work to revise the fundamental grammar of schooling (Tyack & Cuban, 1998) by questioning these tendencies to group students hierarchically by presumed abilities. As the following example illustrates, activist teacher researchers have created alternative school environments oriented toward more equitable understandings of ability, achievement, potentials, and life chances of disenfranchised youth. As a literacy teacher, Rob helped create Life Learning Academy (LLA), a 60-student alternative high school for adolescents who were involved in or deemed “at risk” of involvement in the criminal justice system (e.g., Simon, 2005; Simon, Campano, Broderick, & Pantoja, 2012). Life Learning Academy began as a part of a coordinated inquiry into the San Francisco juvenile justice system and relevant support services led by the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice and Delancey Street Foundation—a resident-run, self-help rehabilitation facility for former convicts and drug addicts—involving over 400 community-based organizations. The school was designed to address the needs of urban adolescents who had experienced prolonged school failure. The Life Learning Academy curriculum is project-based. The first project was the construction of the school itself, built from the ground up on a reconstituted military base on Treasure Island by Delancey Street residents and LLA students and staff. It remains a work in progress:


Subsequent groups of LLA students redesign, redecorate, repaint, and build additions to the school, such as an organic community garden, a digital storytelling studio, or a student-run café, the operation of which was integrated with the math and literacy curriculum. The process of constructing the building was a literal manifestation of the school ethos, intended to bond disparate individuals—most of whom had never viewed school as a place where they felt supported, understood, or even welcome—into a community. From Delancey Street, LLA appropriated the idea of school as an extended family, where individuals felt connected to a collaborative endeavor. Teachers regard Life Learning students as academics, intellectuals, and activists, rather than as failures. This orientation is supported by integrated, project-based curricula that work across vocational and core subject areas, constructing achievement as multidimensional and relational, linking the success of any one member of the community to the success of all. The school did not emerge fully formed. Rather, it required ongoing tinkering, a quality suggested by the school motto: “The important thing is this: to be able, at any moment, to sacrifice what we are for what we could become.” Life Learning Academy evolved from (and continues to involve) ongoing inquiry, revision, and daily work. Like Joan Cone, Life Learning teachers were concerned about legacies of school tracking present in their own rosters and organizing principles, as well as those imposed upon them by the state university system and the local school district. Rob and other teachers arranged—and rearranged—classes heterogeneously, intentionally grouping students across ages, abilities, and interests, and created opportunities for students to assume leadership, mentoring, counseling, and even administrative and teaching roles within the school. These arrangements presented new possibilities for students like Monica, a 14-year old Latina who had been deemed such a significant threat by her middle school administration that they not only expelled her in eighth grade, but banned her from campus, refusing to allow her to attend her peers’ graduation. After eight months at LLA, Monica gained three grade-levels in reading fluency, reading comprehension, and math (LaFrance, 2004). She also did not miss a single day of school in ninth grade. Monica came to view the school as a place where she felt known, where she could move beyond the institutional ascription of “drop-out.” Third-party assessment has demonstrated Life Learning Academy’s accomplishments by multiple measures (LaFrance, 2004) —including significantly lower rates of criminal recidivism, absences, and dropouts, and increased grade-point averages, graduation rates, and students passing statewide exit exams. At the same time, the school’s attempts to realign and challenge normative understandings continually create new challenges, questions, and dilemmas, including in some cases new hierarchies that reinscribe differences and divisions. While collectively drawing upon stigmatized or negative social experiences, categories, and labels to construct an alternative community identity in school, many LLA students struggle to work against negative influences outside the school. At the same time, assumptions about normality and aptitude often reassert themselves, for example in matching up LLA students’ “performances” to state expectations, or needing to align an intentionally different course of study to district requirements for scope and sequence of courses. Further, while working to undermine such categories as “at risk,” mainstream norms can resurface, as in the premium placed on becoming “productive citizens,” where citizenship can have a valence of compliance rather than critical engagement and dissent.


As Life Learning Academy demonstrates, school-based inquiry necessitates a collective response and is often inter-organizational and connected to broader reform. Elsewhere, small school projects like New York’s Harvey Milk High School, designed to support the learning of “at-risk” gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and questioning adolescents, present other examples of how school-based practitioner research can support counter-practices that present opportunities for students and teachers to learn together about what counts as school—and to construct more nurturing, ethical, and egalitarian alternatives. Conclusion In this article, we may have presented the ideology of the normal curve as an ostensibly Gordian knot of structures, policies, and pedagogies which can feel almost deterministic. This sentiment has merit, because we live in a classification society fueled by deep political and economic interests. Education has been rightly critiqued as an instrument of social reproduction. However, because the normal curve is a social practice, not an aspect of nature or merely notional, literacy educators can take direct action on its deleterious effects on students through counter-practices. As our examples suggest, such resistance is an ongoing process: a working ideal rather than a state of arrival, an aspect of a critical inquiry stance. This process invariably takes place in the messiness of the everyday. It involves contradiction and often our best judgments in the moment. It is this complexity that the ideology of the normal curve tries to repress, by abstracting one aspect or one moment as somehow representative of a student’s potential across contexts and prescribing interventions accordingly. One of the contributions of disability studies is that it reminds social constructivists to be more material, what Michael Bérubé (2002) characterizes as closer attention to the “oscillations between social constructionism and critical realism” (p. 343). Constructivism is not merely a metaphor for how discourse operates, but also an ideology that inheres in material reality. As the examples we have explored illustrate, activist teacher researchers are uniquely positioned to attend to these realities, as they analyze structures such as classroom space, school segregation, labeling, tracking, and testing. In the process, they also create new opportunities for students to thrive. These material conditions, like all classroom interactions, are constituted through language, texts and discourse, and can therefore be read, analyzed, contested, and opened to multiple possible interpretations, what Lytle (1995) has theorized as “the literacies of teaching” (p. 4). As the examples we have documented suggest, for teacher researchers, activist literacies involve actualizing change in and through the “text” of the classroom, challenging the very ideologies of literacy curriculum and pedagogy (Simon, et al, 2012). Activist literacy educators like Cone (2002), who contested the practice of tracking, or Vasquez (2004), who critiqued the logic of leveling, work against but also within the systems they attempt to reform. In this respect, teacher research is a form of activist labor, a means of sustaining in the critical, daily work of the classroom, questioning inequitable policies, resisting the ideologies that undergird them, and developing counter-practices.


Authors’ Note: We would like to thank María Paula Ghiso for her helpful feedback on this article, and the editors for their kind invitation. An earlier version of this article appeared in an edited volume published by Peter Lang in 2010, The myth of the normal curve, edited by Curt Dudley-Marling & Alex Gurn. It is reprinted here with full permission of the publisher and editors.


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Volume 9

Number 1 Spring 2013

Editor Lindy L. Johnson

http://jolle.coe.uga.edu

Activist Literacies: Validating Aboriginality Through Visual and Literary Identity Texts M. Kristiina Montero, kmontero@wlu.ca Wilfrid Laurier University, Ontario Cassandra Bice-Zaugg, cbice6@me.com Mississauga of the New Credit First Nations, Ontario Makwa Oshkwenh-Adam Cyril John Marsh, pandafuzzy@hotmail.com Baker Lake First Nations, Ontario

Abstract Framed at the intersection of activist and Indigenous research methodologies, this article explores the way two First Nations senior high school students made sense of their visual and literary identity texts (Cummins & Early, 2011). An Ojibwe artist-in-residence at an urban secondary school in southwestern Ontario and a university-based researcher facilitated the creation of these texts, which helped students form concrete understandings of their life experiences as rooted in social, cultural, political, and historical understandings. Dialoguing about students’ visual and literary identity texts proved to be an innovative and engaging way to explore what it means to place Aboriginal students’ identities at the center of the curriculum. Insights into the students’ experiences are detailed in terms of context, process, output, and impact. Key words: identity texts; Indigenous methodologies; activist literacies Please cite this article as: Montero, M. K., Bice-Zaugg, C., & Marsh, A. C. J. (2013). Activist literacies: Validating Aboriginality through visual and literary identity texts. Journal of Language and Literacy Education [Online], 9(1), ____. Available at ____.


Identity is by far the most important thing that anyone would have to be able to understand if wanting to have any connection with an Aboriginal student. ~ Cassandra Bice-Zaugg, 2012 Prologue While articles written primarily for academic audiences do not normally begin with a prologue of introductions, following Indigenous Methodologies expert Margaret Kovach’s (2009) lead, we have chosen to introduce ourselves to provide you, the reader, with sufficient identity markers so you may situate us within the work. Additionally, our introductions signal that this work reflects many stories—individual stories connected in a larger one—about identity creation, recreation, and validation. A university-based researcher, Kristiina, and two First Nations secondary school students, Cassandra and Adam, have collaboratively written this article. It is important to note that while this article only acknowledges three authors, many others were instrumental in making the project a reality1. Cassandra [In Ojibwe] Aanii, Cassandra Bice-Zaugg ndishinikaaz Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nations ndoonjaba Anishinaabe Mukwa2 doodem. My name is Cassandra Bice-Zaugg. I am from Mississauga of the New Credit First Nations, Ojibwe is my Nation and I am from the Bear Clan [translation from Ojibwe]. I live in, between, on, and off reserve—I have one foot in the bush and one in the city. It is like being in-between two different worlds. Who I am sometimes gets lost in the space dividing these worlds. But as I travel on the road of my life journey, my true identity becomes stronger and clearer thanks to my life experiences and strong role models. Adam [In Ojibwe] Aanii, Boozho, Makwa Oshkwenh ndishinikaaz, Baker Lake First Nations ndoonjaba. Anishinaabe, Makwa doodem. Hello, Bear Claw is my name, Baker Lake First Nations is where I’m from. Ojibwe is my Nation, and I’m Bear Clan [translation from Ojibwe]. I’m a city kid, but I love to spend time up north. I feel more alive when I’m in the woods than in the city. While I have all of my material needs met when I’m in the city, when I’m in the woods I feel more traditional. I need to fish to eat and to cut wood for fire that is lit with the paper-like bark of the Birch tree. When I’m up north I feel at one with nature and connected with my Anishinaabe ancestors. I am part of my community. Kristiina My name is Maria Kristiina Montero Haapala. I am a first generation Canadian with close ancestral ties to Finland and Spain. I was raised to respect and value the languages, cultures, and 1

Many individuals made the Songide’ewin: Aboriginal Narratives project possible. We recognize the following individuals for their insight, wisdom, and dedication: Elder Rene Meshake, Elizabeth McQueen, Eric Flemming, Chrystyna Murphy, Rod Nettagog, Josh Dockstater, Elder Jean Becker, Dr. Carole Leclair, and Dr. Jim Cummins. 2 Both Mukwa and Makwa (as noted in Adam’s introduction) are dialectical spellings for the word “Bear.” We have chosen to maintain the dialectical spellings in order to demonstrate the diversity of the Ojibwe language.


religious traditions of my ancestral countries, as well as those of Canada, my birth country. My parents typified the 1960s immigrant story: they sought to find better economic and educational opportunities for their children. I was educated in the Canadian public school system. With significant unease, I admit that I do not remember learning about Aboriginal Peoples in school. I vaguely recall having learned about Louis Riel, a political leader of the Métis people, in ninth grade history, but nothing more. I did not learn about the land treaties negotiated between the Crown and Canada’s First Peoples, Residential Schools3, the role of Aboriginal people in the War of 1812, or anything else of consequence. I did not know about the peace of smudging, the power of the beat of a First Nations drum, or the cleansing of mind, body, and spirit during a sweat. Unfortunately, my story is not unique among non-Aboriginal people of my generation or those preceding mine; however, I hope that my kind of story will be an anomaly in future generations. Introduction Institutions of formal schooling largely fail to provide Aboriginal4—First Nations, Métis, and Inuit—students with the educational environments and experiences they require to be successful (Dion, Johnston, & Rice, 2010). Many Aboriginal students, particularly those enrolled in urban schools, do not see themselves represented in the curriculum and are not provided with safe spaces to explore and express their Aboriginality. Placing Aboriginal students’ identities at the center of the curriculum will conscientiously support their sense of well-being and belonging (Dion et al., 2010). When Aboriginal students are provided opportunities to express their cultural, social, and historical identities as part of a rigorous curriculum, their identities will be validated, which will help to empower them to engage in and take ownership of their learning. When educators find ways to validate students’ identities, their classrooms can be transformational and empowering spaces, especially to those who are marginalized and disenfranchised in formal educational contexts.

3

As noted by Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s (2008) official apology to Aboriginal Peoples of Canada, the Indian Residential School System of Canada was created as a way to “remove and isolate children from the influence of their homes, families, traditions, and cultures and to assimilate them into the dominant culture. These objectives were based on the assumption that Aboriginal cultures and spiritual beliefs were inferior and unequal….One hundred and thirty-two federally-supported schools were located in every province, except Newfoundland, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island….The Government of Canada built an educational system in which very young children were often forcibly removed from their homes, often taken far from their communities. Many were inadequately fed, clothed, and housed. All were deprived of the care and nurturing of their parents, grandparents, and communities. First Nations, Inuit, and Métis languages and cultural practices were prohibited in these schools….The legacy of Indian Residential Schools has contributed to social problems that continue to exist in many communities today.” Indian Residential Schools operated in Canada from the 1870’s through to 1996, when the last residential school was closed (Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, n.d.) 4 In Canada, the term “Aboriginal” refers to all Indigenous people. The Canadian Constitution recognizes three groups of Aboriginal people: (a) First Nation, or Indian, as defined by The Canadian Constitution Act, 1982, section 35. First Nation people are either status (registered with an Indian band or community) or non-status (not registered by are members of an Indian band or community); (b) The Métis, who, in the first instance, are descendants of European fur traders and First Nations women and; (c) Inuit are the Indigenous people of the North. These are three distinct peoples with unique histories, languages, cultural practices, and spiritual beliefs. There are more than one million people who identify themselves as an Aboriginal person and they live in urban, suburban, rural, and remote locations across Canada.


Social mobility in North American societies is largely gained through formal education (Brade, Duncan, & Sokal, 2003). Having a strong sense of Aboriginal cultural identity is an important predictor of the academic achievement of Aboriginal youth in Canada and the United States (Brade et al., 2003). However, because most Aboriginal youth must navigate through an educational system that promotes mainstream cultural and social values, their Aboriginal identities and self-worth risk erosion when subject to cognitive imperialism. Battiste (2000b) defines cognitive imperialism as follows: a form of cognitive manipulation to disclaim other knowledge bases and values….the means by which whole groups of people have been denied existence…Cognitive imperialism denies people their language and cultural integrity by maintaining the legitimacy of only one language, one culture, and one frame of reference. (p. 198) Schools are primary sites of cognitive imperialism, particularly when teachers’ mainstream cultural customs impinge on students’ distinct traditions. Education is cognitive imperialism when, for example, Eurocentric values, philosophies, histories, and practices dominate instruction; Aboriginal histories are denied in schools or added as a footnote in history; and Indigenous content is marginalized or absent (Battiste, 2008). Aboriginal students need to see more of themselves represented in the curriculum and have their holistic and collectivist learning styles considered (Kanu, 2002, 2011; Toulouse, 2006, 2011). While we do not believe that today’s teacher consciously seeks to cognitively dominate any of her or his students, the colonial stance in schools, as described earlier, is unconsciously perpetuated by the fact that pre-service and in-service teachers currently have limited opportunities to learn about Indigenous pedagogies, ways of knowing, Aboriginal perspectives in historical and contemporary society, issues of power, theory, cognitive imperialism, and anti-oppressive education; moreover, they are not given opportunities to understand how to transform a Eurocentric curriculum, or understand why teachers should engage in such a transformation (Association of Canadian Deans of Education, 2010; Battiste, 2008; Kanu, 2011). As a result, an already marginalized Aboriginal youth population is further alienated from mainstream curriculum and schools. High school attrition rates for Aboriginal youth are considerably higher than for non-Aboriginal5 youth. According to Statistics Canada (2010), the dropout rate among Aboriginal youth aged 2024 was three times higher—22.6%, compared to 8.5% for non-Aboriginal people. A growing body of research demonstrates that Aboriginal students’ positive notions of their cultural identity are critical to school success (Toulouse, 2006). Equally critical in the development and 5

In this article, as the term suggests, non-Aboriginal denotes all other people living in Canada who are not Aboriginal—First Nation (status or non-status), Métis, or Inuit. This term is used to identity people who immigrated to Canada, either through distant or recent immigration and whose identities, languages, cultures, experiences and histories have not been colonized by “settlers.” Aboriginal, thereby, refers to the people, and their descendants, who were deeply rooted and had a settled Indigenous presence in Canada before contact (LaRoque, 2010). Aboriginal People have been directly implicated by colonial and imperial “policies of devastation” such as those that threatened and continue to threaten Aboriginal rights to education, child welfare, Aboriginal languages, identities, agriculture, land rights, and freedom of movement, for example (Episkenew, 2009). Aboriginal refers to “the thoughts and experiences of the people of the Earth whom Europeans have characterized as primitive, backward, and inferior— the colonized and dominated people of the last five centuries” (Battiste, 2000a, p. xvi). Non-Aboriginal refers to all others.


maintenance of positive Aboriginal cultural identities among Aboriginal youth are the quality of relationships between students and their teachers and support staff (Russell, 1999), as well as integration of culturally responsive teaching practices in mainstream curriculum (Antone, 2003; Brade et al., 2003; Goulet, 2001; Kanu, 2002; Swanson, 2003). Engaging in Activist Research: Validating Aboriginal Identities in Schools The general public often criticizes university-based researchers for living in an overly theoretical, isolated, metaphorical ivory tower, disconnected from the realities of “real” people living in the “real” world driven by marketplace economies; intellectual life is often viewed as an unaffordable luxury (Bérubé & Nelson, 1995; Giroux & Giroux, 2004; Kyle, 2005; Talburt & Salvio, 2005). In response to this “crisis of legitimacy” there is a call for academics to act as public intellectuals (Cantor & Levine, 2006; Cohen & Eberly, 2006) by extending the arms of research “to not only reach outside the university, but actually interact with the public beyond its walls” (Cushman, 1999, p. 330). Marc Renaud, President of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (1997-2005), was documented as having said that the “traditions of the university to ‘publish or perish’ have been globally tested and that the new agenda for universities will need to be ‘go public or perish’” (Battiste, 2000a, p. xx). One way researchers can “go public” and engage as public intellectuals is through activist research, a field largely informed by critical theorists who formally call for social and cultural transformation (see for example, Banks, 1993; Freire, 1999/1970; Gay, 2010; hooks, 1994; May & Sleeter, 2010). Both institutions as well as individuals have taken up the call to become public intellectuals and engage in scholarship. At the institutional level, one can find the emergence of many centers for public scholarship or public inquiry. See for example The Center for Service Learning and Community-Based Research at Penn State (http://www.bk.psu.edu/academics/31728.htm); Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life, a consortium of universities and organizations dedicated to advancing the public and civic purposes of the humanities, arts, and design (housed at Syracuse University http://imaginingamerica.org); and The Center for Public Scholarship at The New School, New York, NY (http://www.newschool.edu/cps/). At the individual level, publications have been produced to explore how research is created and used to create positive social change. For example, Paris and Winn (2014) compiled a collection of essays written by scholars in education on humanizing approaches to qualitative and ethnographic inquiry with youth and their communities; and Mutua and Swadener (2004) created a collection of texts that describe how scholars of color, and their allies, are the “colonized who feel the consequences of the Eurocentric, scientifically driven epistemologies in which issues of power and voice are drowned by the powerful ‘majority’ players reflecting the ‘masters’ ideology” (p. ix). The focus of public scholarship in general, and humanizing research specifically, is to “end a long history of colonizing approaches to research, policy, and practice in communities of color and other marginalized communities” (Paris & Winn, 2014, p. xvi). Central to this type of scholarship is reciprocity of relationship building and dialogue that is carried out with dignity and respect. Public scholarship, also viewed as activist research, is not limited to the study of “activists,” and it does not mean that activist researchers need be considered activists, either (Hale, 2001). Activist research can be viewed as a way to make the world a better place by engaging with


practical problems whose solutions are of interest to a larger community (Calhoun, 2008). To this end, activist researchers align with a community’s common political goal or struggle and work toward social change by explicitly addressing the root causes of inequality, oppression, violence, and related conditions of human suffering (Cushman, 1999; Hale, 2001, 2006; McIntyre, 2006; Schecter & Ippolito, 2008). Essential to activist research are the notions of researcher reflexivity, dialogue and reciprocity. These features help ensure that a mutually beneficial relationship is developed and maintained among participants at all stages of the inquiry—“from conception of the research topic to data collection to verification and dissemination of the results” (Hale, 2006, p. 97). Particularly when working with Indigenous peoples, “White” or “outsider” researchers, or those functioning from a Western paradigm, are often criticized for observing, recording, categorizing, and passing judgment for the colonial and imperial histories they bring to the research (Bishop, 2005; Denzin & Lincoln, 2008; Smith, 1999). Such stances reduce tribal knowledges, languages, and cultures to commodities and treat Indigenous Peoples as objects of investigation in order to further a Western research agenda without regard for those being studied (Bishop, 2005; Denzin & Lincoln, 2008; Smith, 1999). Research approaches congruent with the ethical and community dynamics of research with Indigenous peoples employ data collection methods that emphasize the development and maintenance of relationship in ways that encourage “participants to share their experiences on their terms” (Kovach, 2009). Addressing the importance of relationship in Indigenous research, Smith (2005) noted: “[f]or Indigenous and other marginalized communities, research ethics is at a very basic level about establishing, maintaining, and nurturing reciprocal and respectful relationships, not just among people as individuals, but also with people as individuals, as collectives, and as members of communities, and with humans who live in and with other entities in the environment” (p. 97). Upholding such participatory values allows the essential characteristics of Indigenous research methodologies to emerge: respect of cultural integrity, relevance of perspectives and experience, reciprocity of relationships, and responsibility through participation (Kirkness & Barnhardt, 1991). As a non-Aboriginal university researcher working with Aboriginal youth, the work is framed at the intersection of activist and Indigenous research methodologies, where reciprocity of intent and purpose, and dialogue are paramount. Kovach (2009) posited that although qualitative and Indigenous research methodologies share space within academic research dialogue, and policy and practice, they are distinguished in two fundamental ways: (a) Indigenous methodologies are guided by tribal epistemologies—the ways of knowing through the languages and cultures transmitted by the Elders; and (b) they “resist the culturally imbued constructs of the English language” (p. 30). We are, therefore, acutely aware that my research and practice is not, and cannot be, wholly Indigenous because of my limited primary knowledge of tribal epistemologies and Indigenous languages. However, all non-Aboriginal participants in the project are positioned as Aboriginal allies and commit to join the social movement that understands the critical role public education plays in healing Aboriginal youth from the brutal legacy of Indigenous


colonization (Toulouse, 2011). Moreover, we recognize the significant role teachers play in creating equitable and inclusive classrooms for all children. Framing literacy as a social practice (Barton, 1994; Barton, Hamilton, & Ivanic, 2000; Gee, 2012; Street, 1995), Holland and Skinner (2008) argue that the way people use literacy as part of social movements to effect social, cultural, and political change have received little attention. They suggest that the literacy activities (e.g., writing letters to politicians, informational newsletters to mobilize community members, blogs, twitter feeds, artistic murals etc.) can be viewed as artifacts of identity (re)formation that have a transformational power. The notion of activist literacies, therefore, can initially be defined as an examination of the way texts (broadly defined) are used to further social movements as connected to one’s community-based identities that encompass social, psychological and historical layers (see for example, Holland & Skinner, 2008; Simon, Campano, Broderick, & Pantoja, 2012). Understanding the power inherent in Aboriginal identity texts is an important vehicle to help transform a school curriculum to respond to Aboriginal students’ social, emotional, and academic needs in a mainstream-centric school system. Fundamental to our collective activist research is the understanding that educators must engage in authentic pedagogical practices, rooted in funds of knowledge (Moll, Amanti, Neff, & Gonzalez, 1992) that serve to “affirm students’ identities as highly able individuals, with agency in their own learning and something of value to offer” (Cummins & Early, 2011, p. 7). As Cassandra emphatically noted, “Identity is by far the most important thing that anyone would have to be able to understand if wanting to have any connection with an Aboriginal student.” We sought to understand what happens when Aboriginal students are given the opportunity to dialogue about their identities as part of a rigorous curriculum. In our work, we explored the way two First Nations senior high school students, Adam and Cassandra, dialogued about their Aboriginal identities throughout their visual and literary artistic experiences in the Native Arts and Culture course. By dialoguing about the identity texts they created, the students articulated deep and sophisticated understandings of what it means to be young First Nations adults living in an urban center. As noted by Cummins and Early (2011), “[t]he identity text then holds a mirror up to students in which their identities are reflected back in a positive light” (p. 3). Dialoguing about students’ visual and literary art proved to be an innovative and engaging way to explore what it means to place Aboriginal students’ identities at the center of the curriculum, as will be further articulated in the Impact section of this article. In this article, we detail how the identity texts helped students form concrete understandings of their life experiences as rooted in social, cultural, political, and historical understandings of their life stories. In particular, the students’ insights as mediated through visual and literary art helped them verbalize important focal points for their present and future lives. Insights into their experiences are detailed in terms of context, process, output, and impact. Context The Native Studies Program has existed at Four Directions (pseudonym) Secondary School, located in an urban center in Ontario, Canada, for nearly ten years. The program functions as part of the regular school day, offering credit courses related to Aboriginality. The courses, which are


open to all students in grades 9 through 12, include the following: Expressing Aboriginal Cultures, Cultural and Aboriginal Issues in Canada, Issues of Indigenous Peoples, Native Studies Media Art, Aboriginal Teachings and Worldviews, Foods and Regalia, Contemporary Aboriginal Voices (English), and Ojibwe. In addition to culturally relevant programming, the Native Studies Program is connected to the Native Youth Advancement Program, funded through community, provincial, and federal grants, which offers Aboriginal students numerous services at the high school, including a nutrition program, academic assistance, access to tutors, social and personal counseling, cultural support services, access to technology, and organized culturally relevant events and activities. The program does not assume that participating students have knowledge of their Aboriginal histories, ceremonies, languages, and cultures. In fact, many, if not most of the Aboriginal students participating in the program have grown up, to a large extent, in an urban environment, removed from Aboriginal communities. For many of these students, their life scripts were written under the highest levels of poverty in Canada, and many will be the first in their families to graduate from high school. Many have romanticized Reserve life as a place of refuge; while at the same time, they have not even visited the Reserve that lies within a 30-minute drive from their urban center. These students represent a melting pot of Nations: from the Haudenosaunee of the Six Nations to the Anishinaabe of Wikwemikong or Moose-Cree. Common to all of the students is that they have a deep hunger for a sense of place as they connect to, discover, and rediscover their Aboriginal roots. Adam confirms this hunger: I grew up in Toronto all my life. I was raised by my mother’s [White] family. My father left me before I was born, so I knew nothing about my [First Nations] culture. I knew I was First Nations. I knew I was Native. Coming to this school and the amazing Native program here has helped me find who I am. The program works to affirm students’ Aboriginal roots through, for example, the study of Aboriginal authors, playwrights, poets, and musicians; singing, dancing, and drumming; learning about the Seven Grandfather Teachings (Wisdom, Love, Respect, Courage, Honesty, Humility Truth); engaging in literary and visual art, including painting, videography, 'zine projects, and print-making. The students are provided with opportunities to discover and re-discover their ancestral roots and express what they have to say about the land, environment, culture, and politics of the urban spaces they occupy. Process The community-engaged project, titled Songide’ewin (translation from Ojibwe: Strength of the Heart): Aboriginal Narratives was carried out through consultation and collaboration with Aboriginal Elders, Aboriginal secondary students and their teachers, and teacher education candidates. Collectively, we wanted to find ways to bring Aboriginal youth and non-Aboriginal pre-service teachers together to learn about each other in a non-hierarchical manner. Initially, the idea was to have the pre-service teachers engage the students in audio-recorded oral history interviews, but because the Elders perceived this idea to approximate colonial research stances, we agreed to learn from each other through a painting experience where the hierarchical relationship of student and teacher was minimized—we all became students and teachers of art.


As part of the Native Arts and Culture course, Elder Rene Meshake6, Ojibwe artist, author, storyteller, and community activist, facilitated an exploration of Aboriginal worldviews, teachings, and expressions of identity using symbols, stories, colors, and cadence with acrylic paints on canvas. A non-hierarchical dialogic space was created so that in the artistic silences, all artists could reflect on their deepest spirits and souls, allowing for their true, uncensored selves to appear on canvas. Students conceptualized and created paintings through which they explored different aspects of their cultural, linguistic, and/or musical heritages. For example, students explored the meaning and significance of symbols representing their clans (e.g., Bear, Wolf, Turtle), their vision of the Creation Story, or other important cultural artifacts (e.g., Eagle Feather, Beaded Headdress, Flying Eagle). Adam described the painting experience as follows: Making the painting was just pure fun. We started with a blank canvas and put some modeling paste on it, here and there, on random areas. Then we put this brown stuff [burnt umber wash] over the canvas to accent the silly putty stuff and automatically the eagle jumped out [to me]. I’d be working on my painting, then I’d jump over to another table, come back to my table and [get feedback from Rene], then he’d run over to another guy. [Rene] was everywhere and anywhere. It was just a lot of fun with Rene. Rene, a self-taught artist, had a significant presence in the classroom. He encouraged students to paint, but did not impose his ideas or structure on any person. He began working with the students by briefly telling them about Medicine paintings (pictographs at Agawa Canyon) and referring to the Teaching Rocks (petroglyphs) located northeast of Peterborough, Ontario. He talked about the stories that one tells through art and how one must surrender to the unknown when creating artistic compositions. After we each swirled and stroked modeling paste on to our canvases, he encouraged us to view the images created through different angles and positions of light. He encouraged us to “listen” to the paintings and find ways to add colors and textures that would enable others to hear what the paintings had to say. Rene had a relaxed demeanor. He told students his stories—stories of his personal struggles with his own Aboriginal identity resulting from years of being told his Native words, arts, writings, and music were dirty, evil, and pagan by those who ran the Residential School he attended as a child. He also talked about how he began to rediscover his Aboriginality through the teachings of the Medicine Wheel and through art. Students listened to Rene as they painted. They paused to ask questions, and they responded to his stories through their own artistic creations. Following the painting experience, a different group of students enrolled in an eleventh grade, open enrollment Aboriginal English course were invited to respond to a painting of their choice from an aesthetic stance (Rosenblatt, 1994) by paying specific attention to the feelings and ideas evoked during their interaction with the painting. These feelings and ideas laid the foundation for written responses. Through these organized activities, project participants invested their identities to create literary and artistic works, or identity texts (Cummins & Early, 2011). The

6

More information about Rene Meshake’s professional work can be found at http://www3.sympatico.ca/renemeshake/


artistic process and ensuing reflections created opportunities for participants to discover, imagine, recognize, and name their identities in concrete ways. Output Close to 50 Aboriginal identity texts—paintings and poetic responses—were created and displayed in three Ontario art galleries between May 2012 and April 2013. The art gallery exhibits were an important way to communicate to the students that their work was valued beyond the confines of school. At the inaugural exhibition at The Robert Langen Art Gallery in Waterloo on May 22, 2012, students were invited to an opening reception to celebrate their creations. When students saw their work hanging in the art gallery they were impressed, to say the least. Adam was quoted in The Cord newspaper, as saying: It’s overwhelming…I didn’t think it would come to be in a gallery like this and I had no clue it would be this big. The paintings are all so beautiful and seeing them like this in a gallery is just, “Whoa!” (Fauteux, 2012).

Figure 1: Interior view of Songide’ewin: Aboriginal Narratives Art Exhibit at The Robert Langen Art Gallery, Waterloo, Canada, May 22, 2012. Photo credit: M. Kristiina Montero

Once the excitement of public recognition subsided, students were interviewed to explore their experiences when asked to create self-expressions of their Aboriginality. Intuitively, we knew that the visual and literary artistic processes had an impact on the students, but it was not until we had open conversations with the students that the depth of the experiences was exposed. It is important to note that the process of creating the visual and literary art took well over a year. During this time, we developed relationships with the students—we took time to talk with students, paint with them, and write with them. When it came time to interview the students on film, they trusted us to respect their cultural integrity as we had already demonstrated that we valued their perspectives and experiences, and that our intention was to give back to them as individuals and as a larger community. We spent time talking to all students individually and in a group where everyone could freely participate. To further investigate the impact of placing identity texts at the center of the curriculum, we used methods of thematic narrative analysis (Riessman, 1993, 2003, 2008) to listen more carefully to what Adam and Cassandra had to say about their Aboriginal identities. We were interested in the


first-person accounts of the experiences related to identity exploration resulting from a schoolbased project devoted to Aboriginality and interested in the content of Cassandra and Adam’s narratives and the sense they made of their individual and/or collective Aboriginal identities. Because we were interested in the content of their stories, we transformed the ‘messiness’ of spoken language to make the stories more easily read, a practice consistent with thematic narrative analysis (Riessman, 2008). To acknowledge and respect the co-creation of the narratives, and the experiences created beforehand, it was appropriate for both Cassandra and Adam to be co-authors on this paper. They were involved in creating the visual and literary art, debriefed their experiences with me, and participated in verifying the data and its representation. Next, we present Adam and Cassandra’s identity stories and in keeping with narrative practice, we theorize from the cases rather than from component themes across cases (Riessman, 2008) in the Impact section of this article. Adam’s Identity Story: An Invocation of the Subconscious to Canvas. Below is an image of Adam’s painting, Eagle Flying (Figure 2). Next, Adam presents his reflection on the painting and how he understands his First Nations identity.

Figure 2: Adam Marsh, Eagle Flying, 2011, Acrylic on canvas, 12 x 12. Photo credit: M. Kristiina Montero When I was making the painting, I thought a lot about myself. I have a lot of self-identity problems, as most people know. I have a lot of self-identity problems. I put a lot of that into this painting. [Making the painting and reflecting on its significance] has changed my life pretty much. How I look at everything now and how I think of things—[I have] a different perspective. I was originally going to put a bear on the painting. I was going to somehow work on making a bear, but it didn’t work out that way. When making the painting, I started with a blank canvas. I put modeling paste on the canvas in random areas, let it dry, and painted the area with a burnt umber wash that highlighted the peaks and valleys of the modeling paste. When I came back the next day, there was an eagle sitting on the canvas. Nobody else saw it, but I saw an eagle. The eagle immediately jumped out just like it was taking off.


My painting has to do with my father not being there. I didn’t know who he was. I don’t know who he is. I am kind of lost without him, because I don’t know who he is. There is a barren part of my picture that looks really warm and peaceful, but at the same time it is unsettled. There are veins in the tree to represent that there is always life in something, even if it doesn’t appear to be alive—the tree looks dead, but it isn’t. This painting is spiritual and emotional for me. There is so much spirituality in my painting—the color purple represents my spirituality. The eagle—it is the highest-flying bird, and we use its feathers during our ceremonies. I was recently at a Powwow, and the first thing used in the dance is the eagle staffs. Those are the colors that were carried across lands. We didn’t have light back then—we had eagle staffs, and the eagle staffs had eagle feathers. We use eagle feathers because they are the smartest of animals, and they carry our messages up to our Creator. It seems that everywhere I go there is always something to do with an eagle. I think the eagle might be my spiritual guide, totem animal, clan animal, and spiritual helper. I think the eagle might be mine because there is so much in my life that has to do with the eagle. It is always there to help me. So, there is a lot of spirituality with the eagle on the painting. Cassandra’s Identity Story: One’s Light is Another’s Darkness. The second example highlights the poem titled “See What You Choose” that Cassandra wrote in response to the painting titled Unity (Figure 3), a collective painting created by Eric Flemming, the Native Arts and Culture teacher, and his students.

Figure 3: Eric Flemming and the Songide’ewin Community Artists, Unity, 2011, Acrylic on canvas, 12x12. Photo credit: M. Kristiina Montero Cassandra was initially attracted to this painting because of the representation of fingerprints on the turtle’s back. Her initial reaction to the painting was as follows: I felt very strongly about [this painting]. I didn’t really know why, but I just had a feeling, and I said, “ This is really important,” and I began to dig deeper. I said, “I am going to choose this [painting]….because it gives off this feeling of being


together, and no matter where you come from, you are welcomed from proud and powerful pasts.” I felt [that emotion] in the painting even before I started writing… [The painting] was [created] around the Medicine Wheel, together, collectively working around issues that we’re having between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal communities. It was in a circle, and how all of our fingerprints were there, counted together equal. That was the most amazing thing. In response to this painting, Cassandra wrote the poem “See What You Choose” (Figure 4). Her reflection follows the poem.

Figure 4: “See What You Choose,” Cassandra Bice-Zaugg, 2012. It was an amazing process to see and feel all of these powerful emotions through the painting. I had to dig deep and work through the emotions and feelings I was experiencing. I know that those around me had to do their own work around the effects of Residential Schools, drugs and alcohol, and identity issues. How do you put all those things together? It was really difficult. However, the process helped me develop whom I thought I was born to be. I was able to verbalize that if I am able to say “I know who I am,” then my kids will be able to do the same, as will their children, their children’s children, and so on and so forth. I am comforted to think that if I know who I am and find strength in my First Nations identity, I will help my future generations stay away from drugs and alcohol, for example. If I hadn’t created this poem and written down my experiences, then I don’t know that I would be able to ensure a solid future for my successive generations.


In the beginning of the poem, I talk about respect, honesty, wisdom, bravery, humility, and truth, standing together as one, one of love. This is how I see my ancestors—very strong. They built their families on a firm foundation, and they made sure their children knew who they were. This was before the settlers, before confederation. Then I write about standing in the light, the lights of the negativity. A lot of people view the light as God, heavenly. I decided to take a different approach on the metaphor of light. When the Canadian government first introduced the Indian Act in 1876, its members thought that they were doing a good thing—that was their light. However, change the perspective and view the Indian Act from our perspective—their light was our negativity, our darkness. Their light was and is our pain. Since colonization, multiple generations have been destroyed and have identity problems that cause many to numb the pain with drugs and alcohol. That is where I saw the light as I was writing the poem. My perception of light changed. It turned into how I felt I was looked down upon as a First Nations person. Under the Indian Act, just because I have a number, because I have status, I am more likely to go to jail or be incarcerated than graduate from high school. As soon as I was labeled, a multitude of statistics began to bombard me. It was difficult for me to see that their light was taking my people, flipping us upside down, moving us around, and telling us how to define ourselves, how we should act, and what we should look like. As I continued to write the poem, I explained that we reflect the light of the hate, destruction, jealousy and genocide—the effects of Residential Schools. My grandmother is a Residential School survivor; she is a real trooper. She didn’t let that experience break her, and this is something very important for me to remember. When I write, “we stand back up with our tears, truth, and pride,” I want to say that we, as an Aboriginal people, didn’t give up. We are still here, standing strong, and getting stronger. It’s amazing to think that our people have survived through all of this negativity and still were able to stand back up with their pain and sadness and vow that such atrocities would never again be repeated. The poem’s conclusion is a tribute to all future generations: the need to connect to our ancestors’ spirits before the times of Residential Schools, get in touch with our inner selves and our true identities in order to know what it means to be a First Nations person and live that with pride. We will be less likely to drink and do drugs, because we know who we are and don’t need substances to numb our pain. It is important to know where you come from, know your past, and know who you are today. Take away identity and what do you have?—the effects of residential schools. Impact Cummins and Early (2011) noted that “when students share their identity texts with multiple audiences…they are likely to receive positive feedback and affirmation of self in interaction with these audiences” (p. 3). In our project, students had many opportunities to share their work with multiple audiences and, therefore, had many opportunities to receive positive feedback about their work. When the students received positive feedback, we believe it enabled them to continue reflecting on and talking about the personal significance of their work. In addition, opportunities to answer questions and engage in dialogues about their identity texts helped the students to solidify their thinking and learning. Purposeful dialogue about the identity texts also created a


space for students to tell stories—actual, fictional, or hypothetical—about their lived experiences and reflect on them as a way to plan their futures. Such insights have implications for teaching. While teachers are creative in their practices and will present students with innovative and creative assignments, many will, however, often stop at the output of the assignment—the final products—and fail to debrief the value of the work with the students due to curricular and time constraints. Because the students invested so much of their identities in these assignments, it is imperative that members of the community listen to their perceptions of the process, product, and impact of an identity assignment. In fact, it was dialogue that encouraged both Adam and Cassandra to discover nuances of their identity stories. As we continued to reflect on the artistic experiences that resulted in rich Aboriginal identity texts, three salient themes emerged. These themes helped us understand the significance of placing Aboriginal identities at the center of the curriculum: (a) reflection and articulation of historical consciousness; (b) agency in a complex lifeworld; and (c) acknowledging Aboriginal Ancestors. We offer these insights in the hope that they will help shape and define future pedagogical practice, particularly when creating identity texts with Aboriginal youth. Reflection and Articulation of Historical Consciousness Identity texts provide students with opportunities to explore the way individual histories are connected to their historical consciousness (Seixas, 2006, 2004)—the way one looks at the past as one defines present and future lives. In this case, the Aboriginal identity texts provided a space for Adam and Cassandra to understand that history does not have to dictate the future. Both Adam and Cassandra identified how their understanding of the past impacts how they view their current and future lives, insights that help them take charge of their futures. Adam for example, talked about his personal life history, explaining how his Aboriginal identity development was stalled because his First Nations birth father was not part of his childhood or adolescence. This absence contributed to the self-acknowledged identity problems he experienced and has had to deal with throughout his life. Adam searches for guides, which he finds within the spirit of the Eagle and its feathers—a clarity communicated to him through his painting and subsequent reflections. Cassandra, on the other hand, reflects deeply about how she views herself within the larger details of Aboriginal history, particularly in relation to settlers’ dominance and oppression of Aboriginal People in Canada. In her poetic narrative, she alters the metaphor of light, which is often used in literature to connate a positive image, to highlight sophisticated concepts of Aboriginal othering, oppression, and the impact of colonization—“change the perspective and view the Indian Act from our perspective—their light was our negativity, our darkness. Their light was and is our pain.” Agency in a Complex Lifeworld As both Adam and Cassandra reflected on their identity texts, each articulated how insights into their lifeworlds would help shape their futures. Specifically, Adam realized that the Eagle, the


highest flying bird that carries prayers and messages directly to the Creator, is his spiritual guide. He places faith in the spiritual guide to help him come to accept that his father is not in his dayto-day life, but that he has the right and deep desire to embrace his Aboriginal heritage and understand the meaning of being a First Nations young person. Cassandra focused on being able to understand “who I am” in order to create a solid foundation for herself and her future generations. She explicitly expressed that she does not want her future generations to have the same feelings of isolation with respect to identity as she has felt. In order for her to accomplish this goal, she has committed to learning more about Aboriginal history, law, and traditions so that when her future children ask her about their ancestors, she will be able demonstrate how to live proudly as a First Nations person. She expressed her desire to understand the impact of colonization, the legacy of Residential Schools, and to rise above the thick fog of colonization. She is beginning to more clearly define her oppression and, in doing so, understand its potential impact on her life and carve a path to change the trajectory of her people from a legacy of oppression to future not defined by doomsday-type statistics. Acknowledging Aboriginal Ancestors Essential to Aboriginal worldview and teachings is the deep connection to all those who come before and after a lifetime and includes all things (living or not) in Mother Earth and Father Sky. Adam, for example, talked about how his identity is rooted in the traditions of his First Nations People; he expressed his desire to connect to the life worlds of his People before the time of colonization, recognizing that the demise of his People began during contact. He understands that his present and future will involve forming a deep understanding of the Aboriginal heritage inherited from his birth father. Moreover, being connected to his ancestors gives Adam the strength to negotiate his future goals. Cassandra’s understanding of her identity is deeply connected to her Grandmother, who is a Residential School survivor, as well as to her future children. Epilogue The experience of creating visual and literary Aboriginal identity texts and dialoguing about them has had lasting impacts on each of us. Next, we present brief statements how this project has created, recreated, and validated our identities as Aboriginal people and allies. Cassandra This experience gave me a gift of poetry. I started to develop a passion for poetry during this project. I didn’t know I had this passion. Since this project I have written and shared many pieces of poetry. My identity story is a representation of how I feel, what I think, what I believe to be true. My story has meaning for me, but may mean something different to another reader. What the poem means to me now isn’t necessarily what it meant when I wrote it and probably won’t have the same meaning in the future. Our life experiences dictate how we interpret texts. It is a wonderful feeling to share a talent that others appreciate, understand, and encourage. It’s so important for adults to help young people recognize their gift. Participating in this project was like hearing a collective voice telling me: “We are proud of you. We care about you. You have a future.” Being able to express my thoughts about who I am as an Anishinaabekwe (an Ojibwe


woman) made me feel like I belonged and was connected to a larger community. It showed me that a Native student could sit and chat with a university professor without shame. Others might have the feeling of being looked down upon because they don’t have the same education and feel negativity. This showed me that there are people who are invested in us and want to help us succeed. I understand now that we all have gifts to share with each other and from those gifts we can learn with and from one another. Adam I want to be connected to my traditional First Nations roots. I sing my songs, I drum my drums, and I dance my dances in order to stay connected to my traditions. I am becoming more and more rooted in my identity as a strong Ojibwe man and part of that journey is coming to terms with who my father was (or was not) in my life. I know that the spirit of the Eagle guides my journey. Kristiina Working with Aboriginal youth and learning about the importance of their identities has allowed me to name the immense regret I feel about Canada’s role in the desecration of the beautiful histories, languages, and cultures of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people. At the start of the project, I remember driving to Four Directions Secondary School to meet with the art teacher and community Elders to discuss the design of the project and experiencing an overwhelming need to apologize—to apologize for my ignorance, lack about knowledge Canada’s First People. I realized that the dark cloud of colonialism negatively impacts Aboriginal people—physically, spiritually, and emotionally—but, it also clouds the lives of those whose home is Canada because of recent or distant immigration. We were robbed of the beauty of Aboriginal People’s worldviews and teachings. Within my identity story, I feel like I have a deeper understanding of the historical and contemporary issues connecting Aboriginal People of Canada as well as those that cause dissonance between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. Because I am able to name some of the sources of oppression and understand how they play out in institutions of formal schooling, I can play a role in creating a more inclusive learning environment for Aboriginal students. As I learn and grow, my identity is now shaped by the richness of First Nations, Métis, and Inuit Peoples.


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Volume 9

Number 1 Spring 2013

Editor Lindy L. Johnson

http://jolle.coe.uga.edu

The Transformative Power of Youth Action Coalition’s Multimodal Arts-for-Change Programming K.C. Nat Turner, nturner@educ.umass.edu Kate Way Robin R.R. Gray University of Massachusetts, Amherst

Abstract This article analyzes the potential of a series of Youth Action Coalition’s (YAC) Arts-forChange (AfC) youth programs for literacy and identity development, as well as for engaging youth in addressing issues of social justice. Drawing primarily on transcripts of interviews, surveys, and participant-observation fieldnotes inventorying changes in youth participants, the article identifies specific learning the participants ascribe to the AfC youth programming, including the development of critical multiliteracies, increased self-confidence and identities as leaders, as well as greater engagement with issues of social justice at the local, national and international level. The authors describe the aspects of curriculum and pedagogy common across the AfC programs and analyze the specific contribution of multimodal arts production to the benefits that participants identify from the AfC programs. This article draws on Cope and Kalantzis (2006) concepts of available designs, designing, and redesigning, to explain how the AfC youth are transformed through their involvement in YAC’s Arts-for-Change programming.

Please cite this article as: Turner, K. C. N., Way, K., and Gray, R. R. R. (2012). The transformative power of youth action coalition’s multimodal arts-for-change programming. Journal of Language and Literacy Education [Online], 9(1), ____. Available at _____.


Introduction Video Vanguards has taught me to be critical in a way…I think more as a director or like a cameraperson, like when watching movies or when I’m walking down the street or thinking about things. I don’t know. I think about things...more critically (Noeli, 11th grade female). The AfC programming in which Noel, quoted above, participates is part of Youth Action Coalition (YAC), a non-profit youth advocacy organization located in the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts. YAC specializes in unique programming that combines immersion in the arts, social justice education, and activism, and builds on a tradition of community and youth organizing that seeks to transform individuals, communities and institutions through building knowledge, relationships and ultimately power. AfC programs reach out particularly to middle and high school-aged youth who are “marginalized due to their experiences with race, class, gender and sexual orientation oppression, as well as allies who face other forms of marginalization and actively want to work with a diverse group of youth for a common cause” (Youth Action Coalition, n.d.). The core of YAC are the organizations’ central to Arts-for-Change (AfC) programs—Video Vanguards, Girls’ Eye View, Get Up Get Down—each of which is described in detail below. Unlike many youth organizations that claim to be youth-centered, YAC is truly a youth empowerment organization. YAC expects youth input and ownership in all of the realms of the organization, from the make-up of the Board of Directors, which according to the bylaws requires 50% youth membership—including a youth co-chair—to the development of AfC curriculum and strategic planning at annual retreats. YAC has developed a strong network of peer leaders and paid youth interns who are continually involved in documenting and evaluating the programs and planning for their futures. Noel’s opening quote communicates well the value and emphasis placed in all AfC programs on bringing a critical analytic lens to both the art and media they view, as well as to their own productions. This article aims to delineate these and other key components of the most effective curricular and pedagogical strategies used. Specifically, this study analyzes and evaluates the ways in which AfC programming leads to the development in participants of increased selfconfidence and a sense of leadership, multiliteracy development, as well as greater critical engagement with the community and issues of social justice. Core Arts-for-Change (AfC) Programs This article represents the culmination of a year-long study of the AfC programming during the 2009-2010 academic year, during which time YAC ran two 15-week sessions of the three AfC programs. The three programs were: Girls’ Eye View (GEV), run in the Massachusetts towns of Amherst and Ware, as well as Get Up Get Down (GUGD) and Video Vanguards (VV), both run in Amherst. YAC’s Arts-for-Change programs served 50-60 young people in the 2009-2010 academic year, with each program meeting twice per week for 2-3 hours each day, with additional time made available to youth in open lab hours. Each of the AfC programs were composed of groups from 8-15 youth members with one staff and 2-5 interns. All AfC youth also


met collectively each week for a series of readings and performances, in a project titled Education for Liberation, which was designed to deepen their knowledge of and engagement with social justice issues. During the fall session, Education for Liberation was put on in collaboration with Food for Thought Books, a progressive, local book store. Girls Eye View (GEV). Girls Eye View works with predominately White young women in grades 7 and 8. Youth learn to use the tools of photography and creative writing to explore issues of growing up female, and share their work through public exhibitions and by selling their photographs. The Amherst GEV teaches the traditional form of black-and-white film photography and darkroom techniques, while the Ware GEV uses digital cameras and computer-based editing tools. Since 1997, GEV crews have hosted over 40 public exhibits in each community. Get Up Get Down (GUGD). Get Up Get Down participants are predominately co-ed White high school-aged youth, but also include students of color. They explore the intersections between public art and community engagement. Since 2000, members have created large-scale public murals, puppet theatre performances, and sculptural installations that speak to the community about their response to social issues such as 9-11, Hurricane Katrina, environmental issues, and consumerism. The group is also in the second year of an intensive exploration in “fire arts”—metal work, blacksmithing, and glass work—elements of which become part of their public exhibitions and performances. Video Vanguard (VV). Video Vanguards participants are majority youth of color and allies, ages 12-18, many of whom have been marginalized due to their experiences with race, class, gender, or sexual orientation. The group focuses on the production of high-end video skills, and, as YAC’s website explains, engages “in deep dialogue and training to create socially-conscious pieces that address issues that are overlooked by the mainstream media” (Youth Action Coalition, n.d.). YAC has noted an increase in the number of mixed-race and queer youth joining the Video Vanguards project seeking a space to unravel and understand their complex identities. Youth who join the project come in with the interest in and commitment to exploring these complex issues, learning how to forge alliances within a diverse group of youth and adults, and using their artwork as a vehicle to advocate for their views with the broader community. Multimodal Arts Production as New 21st Century Literacies Increasingly, rather than the more traditional view of literacy as the acquisition and mastery of a fixed set of skills—usually fluency with written text—many theorists are now defining literacy as something contextually created and multiple in forms. The “New Literacy Studies” (NLS) movement (Gee, 1991) first furthered the notion of literacy as a hybrid phenomenon, and one that is always socially and culturally constructed and positioned within relations of power (Street, 2003). Likewise, Mahiri (2004) defined literacy as a set of skills used to produce meaning from texts in a context. In this vein, a body of work has emerged on the notion of “multiple” literacies—or multiliteracies—which can be seen as a logical extension of movements such as NLS and others that seek to rethink pedagogical approaches to literacy.


A pedagogy of multiliteracies centers on the concept of “design,” which according to literacy theorists and educational researchers Cope and Kalantzis (2006), has three main components: “available design,” in which “are the found discernible patterns and conventions of representation”; “designing,” through which learners make their own meaning from the available designs; and, finally, “the redesigned” in which “the world and the person are transformed,” and the newly designed becomes part of what is now available to others. Arts-for-Change (AfC) programming is particularly reflective of this concept of design given its focus on the use of multimodal media, and the cultivation of synesthesia, or the transfer and integration of learning processes in differing modes (Hull & Nelson, 2005). Youth Action Coalition’s AfC logic-model goals are divided into four categories: SelfEmpowerment and Strengthened Identity (I AM); Skill Development and Arts Learning (I CREATE); Commitment to Social Justice (I BELIEVE); and Community Building and Engagement (WE CONNECT). Cope and Kalantzis similarly suggest four major learning processes, or “pedagogical moves,” which they argue can serve as the basis for important reflection on the part of teachers and educational programmers. These four processes— experiencing, conceptualizing, analyzing, and applying—can be mapped onto the Arts-forChange program curricula, revealing the affordances of multimodal arts production in developing critical multiliteracies. Critical Multiliteracies and Counternarratives In addition to critical multiliteracies, much of what is cultivated by AfC programming is students’ development of a strong sense of identity and self-confidence, and their ability to envision their futures in a positive light. For historically marginalized youth, multimodal media production therefore can serve as a “counterhegemonic practice” (Sholle & Denski, 1993) that affirms their possible selves. The construct of possible selves developed as a critique of what was been seen as a neglect of temporal and future-oriented aspects of self-definition in psychological research (Markus & Nurius, 1984, 1986). This research has been picked up by scholars working with youth and adults in areas from cognitive development and school counseling (Carey & Martin, 2007), in studies of African-American Language, (Lanehart, 2008) and with critical multimodal literacies (Ewald & Lightfoot, 2001). AfC programs make for a particularly rich form of imagining and providing spaces for exploring different times and spaces, while also developing critical literacies and dispositions that will allow students to actualize new futures. Even with this research on the importance of how youth view their possible/future selves, relatively little has been written about forms of authorship using multimodal arts production that offer students opportunities to construct their future selves while developing critical media literacies. Many students are left performing their identities in ways contrary to how they imagine their ideal futures, and remain stuck on a time/imagination continuum centered on the past and the present. In addition, even if they are able to envision positive change, many students are unable to enact these visions of their future selves precisely as a result of the detriments of poor schooling. Thus, Arts-for-Change (AfC) is also examined here as a site for the construction of counternarratives for marginalized youth to explore their future selves.


The development of community involvement and critical engagement with issues of social justice are also central to AfC programming. If we are to build on the scholarship which argues that literacy involves learning how to perceive social, political and economic injustices and take action (Freire, 1970; Giroux, 1987; McLaren, 1988), the ability to produce counter-hegemonic multimodal media would seem to be a natural companion. In the 1990’s, scholarship emerged dealing with the role of media in youth development (Buckingham, 2003; Willis, 1990). Goodman (2003), who worked with youth in New York City at the Educational Video Center, argued that in addition to the computer-based drill and kill exercises usually given to students of color in urban schools, “[students] need to be engaged in the study of the systemic roadblocks in their way—such as police brutality, unequal resources, substandard housing and so on—and what sort of collective action they might take to move those roadblocks aside” (p.3). Here Goodman suggests that students of color in urban schools be taught counter-hegemonic media production to articulate their own interests (e.g., reducing poverty, or promoting racial and social justice) instead of reflecting and behaving in the interests of multinational corporations whose interest in profits often run counter to their own (Stiglitz, 2002). This suggestion essentially defines critical media literacy, that is, to teach students how to decipher, critique, change patterns of interaction and to produce media that reflects their own interests and concerns. An essential component to this kind of education is getting students directly involved with the issues relevant to them in their own communities. Contrary to the model of education currently being pushed by politicians and reformers—which seeks to hold students accountable for a narrowly defined set of standardized skills, many of which are far removed from the concerns of their actual lives—the social justice focus of AfC programming invites students to grapple with issues that have direct impact on their and their families’ lives. Further, through working with adults in the community—artists, activist, scholars, and others— YAC students are exposed to positive role models, and make connections and build relationships that open new opportunities for them in the future. More importantly, students are actively involved in the democratic process and in civic life, rather than having to wait until they are of voting age, or remaining disconnected from political life altogether, as so many young adults do. Methodology and Findings The research questions that guided this study were: What are the specific aspects of AfC programming and curricula that: a. contributed to students’ development of a sense of identity, both of self, and others? b. contributed to the development of multiliteracies? c. fostered greater critical engagement with issues of social justice and connection to community? In order to answer these questions, data collection occurred over a year-long period, through participant-observation fieldnotes, interviews and a year-end survey. Interviews related to students’ identity development, literacy development, sense of community engagement and the content of students multimodal media productions. The survey asked questions related to students’ perceptions of themselves (i.e. Identity Development) as well as students’ levels of


community engagement and awareness of issues of Social Justice. A total of 20 periods of instruction were documented (with a minimum of six visits to each of the three individual AfC programs that make up the YAC programming). Three researchers collected and coded the fieldnotes and interview transcripts, and then did a content analysis using open coding looking for both emergent themes, as well as confirming and disconfirming evidence of change in the three areas established by our research questions. In order to increase inter-rater reliability we meet regularly during the coding process to confirm that our coding was consistent. Using this “grounded theory” approach we noticed that specific codes could be collapsed into more general or axial codes (Creswell, 2003; Strauss & Corbin, 1990). For example under one axial code, identity development and self-confidence, we included the following five categories of ways students developed a deeper sense of themselves and identity: 1. diversity, 2. leadership, 3. collaboration, social networks, peer mentoring, 4. future selves/college and career interests, and 5. personal history of marginal or high achieving academics. We also want to point out that each of the three main categories we chose to focus on in our research questions is inextricably intertwined with each of the others, and that in some ways the distinctions between them obscure these connections. We have separated them out in order to do a closer analysis of each, but attempt to draw the lines between them wherever possible. Identity Development A consistent finding in our data was that all of the YAC programs help students to develop confidence in themselves, socially, politically, and academically. We coded more than 110 instances in the interviews and fieldnotes under our axial code of identity development. Additionally, AfC youth were asked about YAC’s impact on their sense of their own identities in both personal interviews with researchers and in a Likert scale survey inventory. Ranging from 5 (Very True) to 1 (Not at all True), the survey asked specific questions as to whether YAC had contributed to: their sense of intelligence; their academic achievement; their sense of being liked by others; their ability to contribute to a group; and their acceptance by community, school, friends, and family. Of the AfC youth across all programs that were surveyed, 85% felt it was Very True or True that YAC had impacted their sense of their own intelligence. The same held true in regard to their academic achievement, their likability to others, and their ability to contribute to a group, to which 80%-90% of AfC youth across all programs responded that those statements were Very True or True. Interestingly, there were two deviations in this pattern. In the “Self-Esteem and Membership in a Group” section of the survey, only 60% of the participants in Girls Eye View (GEV) answered Very True or True when asked if they considered themselves high achievers. Similarly, when asked if they felt accepted for who they are in their school and community, only 50%-60% of participants in Video Vanguards (VV) could respond Very True or True. As researchers, we view these survey results as a reflection of the fact that the GEV and VV programs are specifically geared toward two populations of youth that are marginalized due to their experiences—in the case of GEV in Ware, MA in terms of class, gender, and rural isolation, and in the case of VV with race, class and sexual orientation. Both instances speak volumes for why the continued existence and identity development work done with youth in the AfC programs


GEV and VV are so critical. Our interpretation of these responses also bore out in many of the personal interviews that were conducted, several of which are referenced below. Often, it was the act of sharing and presenting work on a regular basis that served to boost confidence in students. One GEV student, Aaliyah, described this in the following passage: “I have awful stage fright and a really quiet voice, and I stutter when I’m nervous, and all of those things make it really impossible to be a public speaker, but I’ve had to go on stage a couple times and give presentations and I’ve been getting better at it.” For other students, the source of greater self-confidence seemed to be a sense of knowing themselves better as a result of the collective nature of the work they engaged in for YAC. When asked about the impact Girls’ Eye View has had on her, Alice, a participant in the program, responded by explaining: “It’s kind of helped me to come out of my shell. I used to be really shy and couldn’t show anything to anybody and now I can kind of spread my messages because I have ideas but [before] I couldn’t really get them out.” A GUGD student, Kevin, explained that all the programs at YAC shared a “similar message”: “if you have the opportunity, you can pretty much achieve anything that you can think of…And you don’t really have a lot of the restrictions that you think you have when you’re growing up…or even when you get older.” The self-confidence developed in students is, according to many of them, often connected to YAC’s emphasis on the specific applications of Arts-for-Change in the community. The activist focus of all the YAC programs encourages students to “go public” with their ideas and with their art, and students are greatly impacted by this interface with the “real world” and authentic audiences where they are able to see the importance of their work beyond school, both in the present and in their futures. John, a Get Up Get Down participant, reported in his interview that “the program gives you a little self-worth to know that you can be part of something, you can do something that’s really great that can affect people…I know how to handle myself and I’m less afraid of just leaving and being on my own because GUGD did teach you how to handle talking to people…, businesses, finding a job and just being mature in general.” This statement reflects much of what has been explored in future selves research, that students gain a concrete understanding of how to navigate the world, and thus have more confidence and ability to envision a future that includes further education and fulfilling work. Zaid, a senior member of Video Vanguards, perhaps explained how being able to compose multimodaly was linked to the vision he has been able to craft for his future most concretely: “Video Vanguards helped me to further realize my dream of being a film director. I know what I specifically want to do after high school. It’s a part of my life goal. Learning that from VV has not only helped me learn artistically, but also helped start a career.” Critical Multiliteracies Development In addition to the essential development of self-confidence and a strong sense of identity and purpose, critical mulitiliteracies were found to be greatly developed in YAC programs. In contrast to a school-based academic curriculum, most of which strongly privilege standardized knowledge and verbal forms of expression, YAC programs serve to develop critical multimodal literacies through fluency in arts production through a variety of mediums. Perhaps most important, there is a strong critical literacy component to the YAC programming, and to literacy development in particular, through which students are exposed to issues of structural and


institutional power and asked to engage critically with them. The strong social justice bent, discussed further in the next section, also stems from this commitment to engaging students critically with the inequities in the world around them. We coded more than 67 instances under the axial code of critical multiliteracies, which included a strong subcomponent of other multimodal and information communication technology literacies. Noel, a VV participant, explained the literacies she developed through learning video production in the following way: “You have to conceptualize what you want to talk about and you have to think about…how are you [are] going to show this to people? How are you going to make people understand what you’re thinking?” Further, Noel stated that …“[the program] has taught me to be critical in a way, like, if I’m walking down the street and trying to figure out what I want to do for a movie, [I say] ‘Hey, that shot. If I just stood right here at the right moment, it would look really good.’” Noel is expressing both her consideration of perspective—how she will best be able to capture a subject in the way that she wants—and how what she sees will best be conveyed to her audience. These skills are quite similar to the cognitive process one must go through in the more traditional literacy of composing something in writing, and reflect the process of design and redesign described by Cope and Kalantzis. Later in the interview, Noel goes on to describe how her critical thinking has been developed by engaging in multimodal arts production: “…if I’m watching a movie and the plot of the movie is horrible it doesn’t make any sense, [I say], ‘This is a crap movie.’ I think more as a director or like a cameraperson…when watching movies.” Alexis further describes her ability to transfer both the skills she has developed and her passion for her work from the context of her YAC work to that of her regular academic work: Well…going to Girl’s Eye View, I mean, we don’t do just strictly photography…we’ll talk about different issues and…different artistic principles that aren’t necessarily related to photography. We do a little bit of writing. All that stuff…gives you better frame of reference for your classes and things. And…it kind of it presents it in a way that’s not so like, structured. So you don’t have to like, habitually hate it. This student identifies the less structured atmosphere as increasing her enjoyment of and engagement with the program, and she is able to contrast this to her day-to-day experience in a mainstream academic setting. Elaborating on this, she explains that the YAC environment works for her “because it’s not structured, and it prompts you to do things, and kind of educates you kind of sneakily, without you really knowing it, it kind of helped me develop my own style, I guess.” The literacies that emerge in this less formal academic atmosphere will be directly relevant to her work in the mainstream classroom. Noel described the ways in which critical multiliteracies were developed through the careful consideration of structure, style, and audience in the AfC curriculum: “…a lot of people are like ‘When are we going to make movies?’ [But] it’s not just about that. You have to conceptualize what you want to talk about, and you have to think about [it] like, how are you going to show this to people? How are you going to make people understand what you’re thinking?” Alexis also echoed this same emphasis on form and style in the work she had engaged in: “I just think…the best example of art that I made…was ah, that stayed true to its purpose and was able


to serve its purpose, that it was done in an aesthetically pleasing way so that people would actually pay attention to it.” Alexis is considering her audience and how she can best craft her “text” to most effectively reach them, a literacy practice needed in effective communication across all genres (Hyland, 2004). It also, again, speaks directly to the sense of available design, design and redesign highlighted by Cope and Kalantzis. These students are calling on the components of their given art form and the skills they have mastered within each, carefully choosing how to assemble them in light of their message and their audience, and expressing a sense of personal transformation in the process. In addition to the skills specific to each multimodal art form, another student, Kevin, describes the development of his organizational and interpersonal skills, both of which are essential in any academic environment or workplace: I think that even with GUGD, y’know some of the underlying stuff, like organization, or sequencing—like how to turn off a welder accurately, properly, safely… even organization within the shop, like separating things that would go together or wouldn’t go together, whether it’s pieces of machinery, or chemical treatments, or people’s work. Any physical or mental organization in the shop...as well as an organization of peers…you need to be aware of your surroundings to stay safe, and to be as productive and efficient as possible. This kind of creative skill development in students throughout the AfC programs is further evidenced by the video, metal sculptures, and photography exhibits they produce and murals they paint. Each of the students’ multimodal arts productions demonstrates both a strong command of the literacy practices needed within the medium, as well as an ability to use these literacies to explore issues of personal and social concern for them. Critical Community Engagement and Social Justice Engaging with the community is fundamental to the work of all YAC programs, evidenced both in their ongoing activities and in their final products, almost all of which are exhibited publicly. Many of the YAC programs partner with local community organizations and institutions. For example, Get Up Get Down held many of its sessions in the Art Barn at Hampshire College, where students learned about metalworking and graffiti art. Essential to all of GUGD’s projects is a commitment to issues of social justice. The group has been responsible for creating and installing three large public murals in the community all of which invite viewers to think critically about issues of inequality. Further, an ongoing project involves ideas for creating a sign for the ABC House, a residential program for inner-city teenage boys. The connection between community engagement and critical analysis of issues of social justice really go hand-in-hand, given that it is through democratic, civic participation that students are able to see how their exploration of ideas can lead to actual change. Zaid, a member of VV, made perhaps one of the most articulate points about how the AfC programs helped to increase his awareness of issues of social justice and his feeling that he has the ability to effect change: …those things that we do in VV [are important]…such as watching different movies. Like…Bamboozled, and [we learned that] from Spike Lee's perspective,


the black man in the entertainment industry was pretty much a puppet, I mean he was a tap dancing, you know, like Sambo character really, and…that definitely made me view black people in the media and in the entertainment industry differently. It’s things like that that we do in VV [that] really changed my perspective and enable me to view social issues with a little more critical eye. This kind of analysis of the media, and the messages of media-makers, rarely has room to make its way into the traditional classroom, particularly around culturally sensitive topics such as race, gender, and sexuality. Further, YAC youth are encouraged to take their work into public dialogues about the issues they are exploring. “In VV we've [gone] to many different conferences, including the…United States Social Forum. And even though I didn't go the first year when I had the opportunity to, I didn't realize how important it was [to share our work there] and now I do… going to conferences or lectures and participating in discussions or lectures…allowed us to open up and view things with a critical eye.” Zaid’s development of a critical perspective in turn informs his own productions, which are then put into the world to teach others, along the lines of Cope and Kalantzis’ concept of “redesign.” Not only are issues of structural power often made invisible to most citizens, and to children in particular, but the opportunity to explore them through shared civic dialogue is rare. The multimodal media productions AfC youth are putting out into the world serve as sites for counterhegemonic narratives that advocate for greater social justice. One of the AfC youth in GEV shared a similar sentiment regarding how she began to critically interpret media and produce media that could address issues that were coming up for her in her community, and how powerful it was for her to be able to take this into a public sphere. In talking about the basis for picking the topic for the ‘zine page Alice created in GEV, she said: “then I talked about in history how women weren’t treated equally...and, the main topic was... women’s rights in history and in other cultures.” These experiences researching social issues that were important to students, and then presenting their research in public, elevated the students’ confidence in their public speaking abilities and their desires to reach more people with the information they were learning about. Alice again stated, I’m not really good at speaking in front of people. The show was kind of long, but I enjoyed having people being able to look at my photos and look at the ‘zine pages, and really get my message across. I think I probably should have talked more or stood there by my photos to say what I did and how I thought of taking them. Another student, Kate—who participated in the GUGD program—described the incredible feeling of seeing the mural her group had done on permanent display in the center of town. When asked how she felt, she said, “I was basically like, ‘we are…awesome!’ [laughing]…‘Cause it was the first mural I’ve ever done…it kind of made me feel like…I don’t know if ‘hopeful’ is the right angle…but I hoped that it affects people.” Another student explained that the public exhibition of the work made her “realize that there are actually people who pay attention and so, it kind of encourages [me] to actually make an effort ...and I get to practice with the public speaking and the organizing is good practice for actually doing that kind of stuff on my own, once I’m too old for this program.”


We coded more than 67 instances under the axial code of social community engagement and social justice where YAC students expressed how meaningful it has been to be included in conversations about the potential causes of and solutions to glaring inequities in society. These instances ranged from explanations of how many had become more engaged with global, national, and community issues concerning social justice, to an acknowledgement that having an authentic audience for their multimodal media productions made their work more meaningful. On the year-end survey under the sections about “Students’ Sense of Empowerment in Addressing Community Issues,” the majority of AfC youth expressed important growth in these areas. Over 80% defined themselves as being knowledgeable of people different from themselves, and regularly engaging with people of different races, social classes, religions, and sexual orientations than themselves; further, they reported being eager to learn about people different from themselves, and being aware that there were issues that needed addressing in the community and wanting to be a part of the addressing some of these issues. One statistic that stood out to the contrary, however, was that only a little over 60% of AfC youth in both VV and GEV reported that that they knew a lot about people who are different from them. Again these results speak to the importance of YAC’s continued push for more cultural awareness, diversity training, and anti-racism work, both within its own programs and in the wider communities within which it operates. There were, however, several points of disconfirming evidence from survey results regarding students’ interactions with adults and AfC youth’s feelings about whether they could contribute to improving their community. Only 30% of GEV participants agreed that it was Very True or True that adults around them are interested in hearing their opinions. Similarly, only 50% of the GEV participants agreed it was Very True or True that they could contribute to improving their community or that being involved in trying to improve local social issues and problem in their community was important. This particular statistic stood out because youth in the other two programs overwhelmingly (between 90%-100%) reported that these statements were either Very True or True. While we are not certain, we conjecture that this might have to do with either, or both, of two factors that distinguish GEV from the other two programs—first, that it is comprised of all female students (who, as females, may feel less seen, heard, and honored by their community), and second, that the nature of photography itself as an art form that is somewhat more abstract—and perhaps less easily distributed—than the art being produced in the other AfC programs. Conclusion AfC programming, and multimodal arts production in particular, has been shown to develop in youth multimodal literacies a strong sense of identity and future goals, as well as strong critical engagement with community and issues of social justice. The data collected in this study reveals some of the ways in which multimodal arts production specifically engages students, particularly those who struggle with or seek alternatives to the mainstream educational paradigm. Our findings suggest that AfC programming strengthens traditional skills necessary for success in the academic mainstream and at the same time that it allows for the development of multiliteracies and identities poised to critique current power structures and to engage in civics and democracy in the larger society.


More specifically, AfC programming makes use of alternative pedagogical tools, particularly in its ability to tap into students' existing literacies and interests in technology, media, and popular culture. It has already been established that multimodal arts production is an effective tool for the development of multiple literacies. The uses of new media as a tool in allowing students to explore and develop their “future selves� is just now being tapped, and programs such as those offered through YAC point to its being an educationally meaningful process with great potential in this area. While the power of a sense of hope and possibility for the future is widely recognized, it is incumbent upon educators who work in traditional school settings to develop multimodal pedagogy and curriculum that allow students to explore their potential futures while gaining the multiliteracies necessary to actualize those futures; AfC programming does just that. The affordances of new media are particularly suited to this kind of exploration, given the ease with which students can now research multimodally, mining video, audio, text, and graphics in their pursuit of new knowledge. Likewise, the ability to use all of these modalities in production allows students to access and develop literacies other than traditional academic reading and writing, with which many of them have struggled. In addition to these literacies, students gained through AfC programming inter- and intrapersonal skills and qualities that will help them to bring their chosen futures into fruition, namely the abilities to meaningfully collaborate, to make it through college, to increase self-confidence, and to persevere in the face of difficulty.


References Buckingham, D. (2003). Media Education: Literacy, Learning and Contemporary Culture. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press. Carey, J. C., & Martin, I. (2007). What are the implications of possible selves research for school counseling practice? (No. 5.2). Amherst: Center for School Counseling Outcome Research University of Massachusetts. Cope, B., & Kalantzis, M. (2006). ‘Multiliteracies’: New Literacies, New Learning. Pedagogies: An International Journal, 4(3), 164-195. Creswell, J. W. (2003). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and mixed method approaches (Second ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, Inc. Ewald, W., & Lightfoot, A. (2001). I wanna take me a picture: Teaching photography and writing to children Boston: Beacon Press. Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Seabury Press. Gee, J. P. (1991). What is literacy? In C. Mitchell & K. Weiler (Eds.), Rewriting literacy: Culture and the discourse of the other. New York: Bergin & Garvey. Giroux, H. (1987). Introduction Literacy: Reading the word and the world (pp. 1-27). Massachusetts: Bergin & Garvey Publishers, INC. Goodman, S. (2003). Teaching Youth Media: A Critical Guide to Literacy, Video Production, and Social Change. New York: Teachers College Press. Hull, G., & Nelson, M. (2005). Locating the semiotic power of multimodality. Written Communication, 22(2). Hyland, K. (2004). Genre and second language writing. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. Lanehart, S. (2008). Identity, goals, motivation and emotions in the classroom. Paper presented at the Center for the Study of African American Language: Summer Dialect Teacher Project (SDTP). Mahiri, J. (2004). Street scripts: African American youth writing about crime and violence. In J. Mahiri (Ed.), What they don't learn in school. New York: Peter Lang Publishing Inc. Markus, H., & Nurius, P. (1984). Possible selves. Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 37, A116. Markus, H., & Nurius, P. (1986). Possible selves. American Psychologist, 41, 954–969.


McLaren, P. (1988). Culture or canon? Critical pedagogy and the politics of literacy. Harvard Educational Review, 58(2), pp. 213-234. Sholle, D., & Denski, S. (1993). Reading and writing the media: Critical media literacy and postmodernism. In C. Lankshear & P. McLaren (Eds.), Critical literacy: Politics, praxis, and the postmodern (pp. 297-321). New York: State University of New York Press. Stiglitz, J. (2002). Globalism's discontents. In F. J. Lechner & J. Boli (Eds.), The globalization reader (pp. 200-207). Malden, MA: Blackwell Publisher. Strauss, A., & Corbin, J. (1990). Basics of Qualitative Research: Grounded Theory Procedures and Techniques. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications. Willis, P. (1990). Common culture: Symbolic work at play in the everyday culture of the young. Boulder, CO: Westview. Youth Action Coalition (n.d.). About Retrieved September 18, 2012, from http://youthactioncoalition.org/about/


Volume 9

Number 1 Spring 2013

Editor Lindy L. Johnson

http://jolle.coe.uga.edu

The Arts to Encourage Multiple Perspectives and Promote Social Justice Limor Pinhasi-Vittorio, LIMOR.PINHASI-VITTORIO@lehman.cuny.edu Lehman College, The City University of New York (CUNY) Sarah Vernola, SVernola@ByramHills.org Byram Hills High School, Armonk, NY

Abstract This paper presents the use of the arts and aesthetic education in a graduate literacy course for inservice and pre-service teachers followed by a description of how one graduate student implemented her learned theory in the high school classroom in which she taught. The core theory of the paper follows the assumption that aesthetic education elicits the imagination, and thus encourages multiple ways of interpreting and learning text. As such, the article invites the readers to view imagination and aesthetic education as active steps in creating awareness toward empathy and promoting socially just classrooms and practices. In addition, this article describes the implementation of one graduate in-service teacher’s learned knowledge of aesthetic education into her own high school English classroom in an attempt to raise awareness for social justice.

Please cite this article as: Pinhasi-Vittorio, L. (2013). The arts to encourage multiple perspectives and promote social justice. Journal of Language and Literacy Education [Online], 9(1), ____. Available at _____.


The graduate literacy class was quiet, except for the usual excited whispers of new students. This was their first class of the semester, and most of the students had seen me only once or twice during advisement hours. The students sat around three large round tables, waiting for me to start the usual formal introduction of the course and of myself. I told them that I was going to sing the blues. My statement came as a shock, as the students’ eyes widened; they appeared to be perplexed, and a few students asked quietly, “Is this a literacy class?” Assuring the apparently confused students, I asked them to be patient with the process. I sang, with my untrained voice, 61 Highway by Mississippi Fred McDowell (1964), revisited by Guy Davis. As I was singing, I noticed smiling faces. Some students even moved their bodies to the sound of the words. Soon after, I played the actual song, this time with the words of the song distributed. “61 Highway” Well, that 61 Highway is the loneliest road that I know Yeah well that 61 Highway is the loneliest road that I know She run from New York City, run right by my baby’s door. (McDowell, 1964) [Three more stanzas were shared] I guided the students to describe the images that came to their minds; “What do you see?” I asked and then added, “What did you imagined as you heard the song?” I was curious to see how different or similar the images based on the song would be. Although all the graduate students heard the same lyrics and melody, many of them held different images in their mind. One student said that she pictured a woman stranded on a secluded highway; another shared that she saw an old black man sitting and playing the guitar; a different student envisioned a man waiting in a bus line on his way to visit his wife and children, while another student created an almost complete story about a heartbroken woman, who was traveling to find her love. Each listener had different associations with the melody depending on their own life experiences and knowledge, and thus each one imagined or created a different story in their minds. Some reacted in disbelief when they heard completely contradicting images than what they envisaged. Those reactions, in a sense, opened the conversation about the importance of accepting multiple perspectives, and we started to talk about the role of imagination and empathy in opening the awareness toward social justice. Experiencing the blues was a good beginning to demonstrate that each person brought different vantage points to one story and, as result in one class, one story might become multiple stories. Using music as segue to the literary text was deliberate; I postulated that there would be more acceptances of the multiple interpretations and views with music, rather than with the standard text, particularly in a literacy classroom. The idea behind this activity was to gain awareness of different ways of understanding a text, while at the same time, to create new meaning as the graduate students listened to and read the lyrics. Throughout years of experience and systematic data collection, I have discovered that the optimal way to achieve a meaningful interaction with a text is through the use of art, the physical experience, and the making of art/poetry/music. After the students’ discussion of the blues, they appeared to be more relaxed; they were smiling and leaned back in their seats. I noticed they were ready for part two of the assignment: creating art. They were asked to write about themselves, in any form they felt comfortable (poem, prose, or paragraphs). After five minutes of writing, I asked the students to share their work with the


students sitting at their tables. The groups’ task then became to write a blues piece using what they had just written and read. This piece served as a tool to introduce all members of the group to the rest of the class. I was aware that this assignment could be challenging, as the students needed to rewrite their personal introductions and turn them into a collective introduction that would include, to some extent, parts of the stories of all members of the group. As they worked, some of the students were smiling and leaned their bodies forward while conversing and sharing their writings. Others sat back in their chairs and were looking at their writings, and others were looking at the ceiling. After fifteen minutes of group work, all the students were interacting with one another. Taking additional risk, I added the last piece of instruction: they were to turn their collaborative writing into a blues composition (which they were then asked to perform). Sounds of disbeliefs once again echoed in the room: “I don’t know how to sing?” and “I’m not artistic.” Regardless of their protest, within five minutes, all of the groups were engrossed in the creative process of re-writing their own pieces and intertwining them with those of their colleagues. While they were working on this added assignment, I observed them closely, and I noticed the change in their facial expressions; the students were smiling, giggling, and laughing at times. Their performances in and of themselves were fantastic, and as I looked at them, I reflected back on Maxine Greene’s vision (2001): “Imagine…teachers…immersing themselves in music, theater, visual art, and dance” (p. 3), and I could not help but to smile. This was the first assignment of the graduate course Literacy Based Literature, and my students were already able to “immerse themselves in music” as they were able to imagine and recreate jointly the introductory pieces about themselves. This was our first interaction with the idea of moving beyond the personal experience, beginning to see the perspectives of other individuals, and developing awareness of the importance of imagination as a key element in developing empathy in an equitable and just classroom. Introduction Many teachers strive for an equitable and just education system. There is an urgency to make sure that our students are motivated and, as a result, are able to acquire meaningful literacy skills that will continue to help them later in life. As a literacy professor, I make sure that in the graduate literacy classes that I teach, we read and discuss the importance of going the extra mile in an attempt to ensure that students are acquiring literacy skills. These literacy skills will enable students to read proficiently, to write proficiently, and to question the text (Massa & PinhasiVittorio, 2009; Pinhasi-Vittorio, 2009; 2011). In class, we examine the significance of promoting critical questions, as students are taught to use their imaginations, and to see and understand perspectives other than their own. Finding ways of implementing our beliefs in educational environments, which often do not value the importance of the arts, can be a difficult thing to do; thus, in the graduate classroom, we invite the students to imagine, create, and think differently from how they usually would have thought. Allowing multiple perspectives to enter the classroom is one step in creating a more just classroom, because we try to imagine what someone who is different from us may think or how that person understands the world. In order to create this critical process, my students and I used the arts and aesthetic education as integral parts of our class. As described by Maxine Greene (2001), aesthetic education is the


encounter with the arts that “engage[s] the learner’s imagination to look at things as if they could be otherwise” (p. 112). Unfortunately, the arts have come to be viewed in schools as what Greene terms a “fringe undertaking” or “additive” (p. 7), rather than viewed as a core experiences for students. It has been tradition for reading and writing instruction in schools to be confined to print, excluding other forms of literacy, which excludes those students who may learn better through them. This matter becomes even more pivotal as literacy class instruction today centers on measured performance, and the teachings are geared primarily toward studying for the test. As a result, the teaching is highly controlled, void of creativity, and without valuable learning spaces that are dedicated to innovative thinking (Egan, 2005; Light, Calkins & Cox, 2009). It has been proven that children who were engaged seriously with varied arts experiences over periods of time were found to be “…more confident and willing to explore and take risks, exert ownership over and pride in their work, and show compassion and empathy toward peers, families and communities” (Burton, Horowitz, & Abeles, 2000, p. 248). Furthermore, it was found that learners in art-rich schools tended to enjoy sharing their learning with others and had a higher academic self-image than children whose art experiences had been sporadic (Burton et al., 2000; Winner & Hetland, 2008). To approach literacy education in a way that incorporates the arts, visual literacy, and creative writing (such as poetry) can open new ways of thinking and challenge current beliefs and norms. Using aesthetic education in the classroom may promote diverse ways of thinking, and as such, has the potential to be used as a tool for social justice. Social justice, as it is viewed in this paper, is the development of awareness and the understanding of empathy toward different people and situations far removed from our own that eventually may lead toward action in helping others (Freire, 1970; 1971; Pinhasi-Vittorio, 2011). The study in the graduate classroom followed a qualitative ethnographic model (Brice-Heath & Street, 2008; Glesne, 2005). The reconstruction of the graduate and the high school courses was through ethnographic methods, such as systematic ethnographic observation, transcribed focused conversations, and collections of artifacts (such as student work, including different samples of writing and art making that was done during class). The inquiry emerged from the teachereducator classroom: 

What was the interplay of the arts and aesthetic education in developing my students’ imagination in relation to literacy and the text?

The above question provoked the following two questions:  

How did imagination and the integration of the arts impact the students’ awareness of empathy, social justice, and critical thinking as they read the texts? Did this course impact the way my students taught? And if yes, how did they use it in their classrooms?

The creative class work opened the conversation of the interplay between aesthetic education, imagination, literacy, and using this ongoing conversation in the classroom and beyond.


First, I provide a theoretical framework, informed by a literature review, where I connect the significant roles of the arts and the imagination in the promotion of critical thinking and the awareness toward socially just classrooms. Afterwards, I share a description of some of the focal activities that took place during the graduate literacy class, as well as the students’ writing, following by a viewed performance in Lincoln Center. Finally, I include the experiences of my in-service graduate student from her high school placement. This section was written from her perspective, as she transferred and applied her learned knowledge of aesthetic education into her high school English classroom. Theoretical Framework As a teacher educator, I witnessed the ongoing efforts of my colleagues and students to provide a quality education to all children. This goal would be difficult to achieve in most schools, due to the increasing demands for high test scores, and due to decreasing resources and teacher freedom that have resulted in classrooms ruled by rigorous instruction (Garan, 2004; Greene, 1995; 2001). As class instruction has centered upon measurable performance, valuable learning spaces that develop imagination and creative thinking have been taken away, and the use of the arts as tools for teaching have declining continuously. Nonetheless, the interplay of the arts in the reading classroom is imperative for providing students opportunities to explore their own imaginations, to discover the multiple ways of understanding a literary text and ultimately, to develop awareness of social justice issues. When discussing social justice, it is imperative to understand how it is used in this paper. The awareness of social justice is the ability to see beyond what appears to be. It is the process where we are imagining what others might think and feel; it is looking at people in their uniqueness and individuality. Toward that end, we “must resist viewing other human beings as mere objects or chess pieces and view them in their integrity and particularity instead” (Greene, 1995, p.10). Multiple Ways of Understanding; Awaking the Imagination and Opening the Conversation I venture into this paper with the assumption that all of us have the capacity to imagine. The only thing we need to do is to awaken our imagination or to allow it to develop further (Egan, 2005). There is a call in our schooling and classrooms to learn to facilitate this innate ability through reading, creating, and playing. Yet, prior to undertaking this challenge, there is a need to understand the significant role of personal imagination in the act of reading the text and the world. In our classes, the imagination fosters the reader’s ability to envision that a text may possibly hold more than one perspective or one way of understanding. The imagination gives the learner the tool, not only to visualize the text, but also to imagine what a different person may think, believe, and feel. Our imaginations encourage us to develop empathy: It is what enables us to cross the empathy spaces between ourselves and...others…[I]magination is the one that permits us to give credence to alternative realities. It allows us to break with the taken for granted, to set aside familiar distinctions and definitions. (Greene 1995, p.3)


The imagination is a tool that encourages the reader to see that there is more than her own vantage point from which to enter a text and “to awaken, to disclose the ordinarily unseen, unheard, and unexpected” (p. 28). The imagination provides access to a text’s unseen possibilities. Greene (1995) explains that “the learner must approach [the literary text] from the vantage point of her or his lived situation, that is, in accord with a distinctive point of view and interest” (p. 31). As readers tap into their imaginations to the extent to which they grasp another’s world and cultivate multiple ways of seeing, this can be viewed as a segue toward equalizing education and promoting social justice. Social justice in the essence of developing awareness and empathy toward others; where the “others” may be people or situations that are far removed from the students’ lives. Through the awakening of the imagination via various texts, the reader can develop the ability to read beyond the written words, and read the “word and the world” (Freire, 1970; 1971). Creating spaces for promoting social justice in this sense goes beyond the serious issues of inequality and poverty. Many children in elementary schools today never have the chance to experience or experiment with different aspects of the arts. They are obliged to follow a script curriculum that only addresses partial aspects of the learning process. Thus, it is pivotal for the teacher to understand how to use the imagination in education to lead to greater flexibility in teacher thinking and to the ability to create a change in the curriculum. One of the steps in facilitating this change is creating spaces that invite imaginative conversations, projects, and activities. A meaningful learning that calls for immersion within the text and opens the door to unseen places, emotions and experiences is learning that can provide the reader with the feeling of empathy toward others. It is not simply decoding the text, but rather reading to achieve “an understanding of the object that the author talks about; the reader knows the meaning of the text and becomes co-author of that meaning. The reader then will not speak of the meaning of the text merely as someone who has heard about it. The reader has worked and reworked the meaning of the text; thus, it was not there, immobilized, waiting” (Freire, 1998, p. 31). Our classes follow Freire’s (1970, 1971, 1998; Freire & Macedo, 1987) and others’ (McDaniel, 2004; Pinhasi-Vittorio, 2009, 2011; Shor, 1999) ideas on the development of reading and critical literacy, in which the learners read the word and the world. As such, the reading of the literary text is a way to read the universe, and through the examination of imagination at large, the reader gains the ability to see unseen possibilities. It is the gift to create meaning from the environment and envision: “What if?” This gift can guide the learner to understand the complexity of our world. This type of reading has the potential to invite the imagination and the development of critical conversations amongst learners. It is the imagination which may allow us to think extraordinary thoughts and become creative. We may even challenge the statuesque in our society, seeing as we can imagine an alternate state. Subsequently, it is the imagination which may give us the tools to develop critical thinking and have a better grasp of social justice issues. Through a particular way of using the text, the imagination, and the arts, one can create pathways to the development of social justice awareness and understanding of the other. To this end it can create what Greene (1995) calls, “utopian


thinking”; thinking “that refuses mere compliance, that looks down roads not yet taken to the shapes of more fulfilling social order, to more vibrant ways of being in the world” (p.5). The Viewing of Art and Art Making in the Classroom In the graduate class, we were continuously involved in experiencing the arts—music, dance, and visual arts—as creators, as well as observers. Through these experiences, and by using their imagination and creativity, the students generated new possibilities. The process of creating and viewing art is explained by Dewey (1934) as the “beholder’s” process to perceive an artistic work. Dewey described that “[t]o perceive a work, the beholder must create his own experience” (p. 54). The beholder [viewer] essentially must undergo thought processes similar to the artist. Just as the artist chooses his or her palette, medium, and images to create the work of art, the beholder recreates the art “according to his point of view and interest” (Dewey, 1934, p. 54); after all, “without an act of recreation the object is not perceived as a work of art” (Dewey, 1934, p. 54). Therefore, the act of viewing art is not a passive experience, but one mired in active and conscious meaning making. While Dewey’s comment discusses the role of perceiving a work of art, Greene (1995) takes this further by discussing the role of participating in the creation of art as multiple events that constitute the aesthetic experience. She explains “that participatory encounters with paintings, dances, stories, and all other art forms enable us to recapture a lost spontaneity…[We are] made aware of ourselves as questioners, as meaning makers, as persons engaged in constructing and reconstructing realities” (1995, p. 130-131). The great importance of viewing and creating art is what Greene (2001) describes as “ways of developing a more active sensibility and awareness in our students” (p. 8). If teachers can succeed in doing this through implementing the arts in the classroom, perhaps these students can then “come awake to the colored, sounding, problematic world” (Greene, 2001, p. 7). Unlike the traditional instruction where students are expected to give an evaluative response based on some formal knowledge such as “I liked it/I didn’t like it,” the “deep noticing” approach replaced the evaluative response by describing what it is. This is accomplished through the process of “Noticing Deeply” (Holzer, 2007), which in its simplest terms is a process of guiding students to look (or listen) carefully, to see beyond the surface. Thus, the art, like the work of literature, allows for multiple understandings of the literary text, avoiding judgment and promoting acceptance. Holzer (2007) describes aesthetic education as “a continuous experience with a work of art over time, mediated by a particular form of individual and group inquiry” (p. 4). This belief is grounded in Greene’s (1986, 2001) philosophy of aesthetic education, which values a sustained involvement with works of art through the use of the senses and the imagination. Sustained engagement is seen as essential to fostering deep understanding of works of art and what they have to teach. This achievement through aesthetic education has implications for literacy instruction: teachers can empower and enable students to draw on their own imaginations and to create their own meanings of a text. By validating students’ own thinking and imagination, the students may learn that although their understandings and perceptions are different from their peers, the difference does not discredit their own interpretations. Aesthetic education at large, which is in particular


the viewing and the creation of art or the literary text, can encourage teachers and students to imagine beyond a single way of knowing or reading a text and instead welcome the possibility that multiple meanings exist. Utilizing Aesthetics in the Classroom The Literacy Graduate Classroom: A Teacher Educator Perspective As a teacher educator who teaches graduate literacy courses for in-service and pre-service teachers, my focal point is to awaken the imagination of my graduate students through aesthetic education, and to develop critical thinking skills and empathy, as the students read literature geared toward children and young adults. Infusing aesthetic education in our literacy class is done on three levels: 1. Reading selected texts that discuss and theorize aesthetic education, as well reading children’s and young adults’ literature that includes different social, cultural, and political issues; 2. Experiencing the making of art through the following art activities: collage, drawing, painting, poetry writing, music, and dance in the classroom; and, 3. Viewing and responding to the work of art, whether it is music, theater, dance, or visual art. None of these aspects is taught in isolation, and all are strongly connected to and interrelated to one another. The class meets seven Saturdays per semester for six hours’ duration. Each six hour class consists of two parts: part one is devoted to discussion of the required textbooks, articles, and specific novels. The second half of each class is designed to incorporate the viewing and creation of art as entry into children’s and young adult literature. The graduate students are typically asked to work collaboratively to convey an idea about a text or to manipulate a perspective of the text using almost any type of art—a poem, picture book, sculpture, painting, and, at times, incorporating music and/or dances with their interpretations and analyses. The integration of “the arts” into the classroom is done in two ways; one is through art-making, and the second is through viewing a live performance of dance, music, theater, or visit to a museum. The latter part is carried out through the participation of several professors with the Lincoln Center Institute (LCI) Teacher Education Collaborative in aesthetic education for the Arts. For over thirty years, LCI has been known for its work in the arts with public school teachers and students, as well as with college professors and teacher candidates. LCI focuses on aesthetic education (understanding and appreciating a work of art) rather than arts education (art historical references within the context of art production). Infusing aesthetic education in the literacy classroom allows the students to transform their thinking and their responses to literature. The following is an example of a way my that students were immersed within the aesthetic experience as they were watching a live musical ensemble at Lincoln Center.


Visiting the work of art: Writing a narrative to Oriente Lopez. One of my beliefs of developing a meaningful aesthetic experience is to watch a work of art up close, in person. During one semester, I chose to take the class to see Oriente Lopez’s “Viajes en un Mundo Nuevo” [Travel to a New World]. The music ensemble was an original composition of Oriente Lopez, a Cuban émigré. Prior to the performance, I met with a teaching artist from Lincoln Center ,and together we constructed a planning session for the graduate students, focused on the importance of being open to multiple ways of understanding a text, and in particular, imagining a narrative behind music. With the help of the teaching artist who came to my class a few days prior to the performance, the students were introduced to various musical instruments and discovered how a single instrument can create different effects, depending on the way it is being used or played. Students were divided into four groups to create a musical piece and to perform it afterwards. A week after the workshop, the students met at Lincoln Center to view Oriente Lopez’s work of art. For some, it was their first visit to Lincoln Center, and for others it was their first time seeing this type of live performance. Prior to entering the music hall, I asked the class to try to write down whatever they visualized as they listened to the music ensemble. As we left Lincoln Center, the students shared with me their unique experiences. All of the students wanted to share their images; some students wrote simple descriptions, and other students created a very developed story line. Some students were very specific in their descriptions; for example, one student wrote: The vertical waterfalls (rattle and rainstick: piano) reflecting light contrast with the dark, lushness of the Cuban tropics (strings piano), punctuated by the calls of colorful birds and insects (percussion instrument). Abundance. A sense of harmonic peace. Yet—the thunder hints at political turmoil (cymbals). The boy is now man, reflecting on the home he is about to leave (piano, strings)… This student was specific in her selection of musical instruments to depict what she envisioned in her mind. Her writing provided the reader a clear image of what she saw: the waterfall, its shape and color. She situated her story in a specific setting that she was able to create by using her imagination as she listened to the music. Other students focused more on the narrative: A young man is dancing and having fun with his family, all of a sudden something has changed. He’s running away from danger. He discovers a new place, it is a fun and interesting place but very different from where he has come from….He wants to go back home but he can’t, it’s not safe… Another student created a story line with a very specific scenario. The description of the man in her account is intimate; she reveals his feeling as he runs away from danger. Different students wrote of different events; while the student in the previous example visualized the journey of an immigrant. The following example shared a different, personal narrative:


The entrance of the music brought me to a sad place where a loved one is lost. Love lost, like a woman who is looking for her way. The woman cannot be with the one she loves but is forced to travel through and find moments in her life that are “upbeat.” …Sometimes through this musical adventure the woman seems to want to find her way, but she can’t. One student wrote a poem, naming it “Crash,” focusing more on feelings that emerged from this music ensemble: “Crash” She sings to me. I can hear her voice over the crashing of the waves. In the distance, the moon lights up the surface of the water and it looks like glass. I gaze out my window and watch and wait. And, I wait,… wait, …. wait… I’ve been waiting all my life for this moment. Sometimes, I think I hear her sweet gentle voice above the noise of the city crashing down on me. My heart starts to race and Thump…Thump… thump…in my chest It’s so loud, it resonates in my ears until it’s all I hear. The city the people all fade into the water… The images that arose from the work of art varied for different students, yet in almost all of the stories, there was a clear narrative and story that emerged, and only the type of event was different. In most of the pieces, particularly in the four examples, students noted a calm opening tone, which was interrupted by an emotional crescendo that eventually returned to a less intense tone. Each student brought a personal experience to the music, and thus different images emerged (Rosenblatt, 1994, 1995). For example, in the first instance one student mentioned that the sense of harmonic peace is interrupted by thunder, hinting at “political turmoil,” and later I conferred with this student, and she shared with me that she has personal knowledge of Cuban history and that she took into consideration Oriente Lopez’s heritage. This student’s historically influenced interpretation is starkly contrasted with the piece “Crash,” a poem whose narrator self-reflects and reveals her inner thoughts. These contrasting examples demonstrate how each participant had a unique transaction with the work of art, and as a result created different events. Further, it is safe to conjecture that the same work of art could provoke the creation of different narratives for the same person at different times of his or her life (Rosenblatt, 1994). Sharing the various stories is important since it creates the awareness of different perspectives, which can bring into light the connection between imagination and empathy. Creating these opportunities for teachers to visit and experience the arts encourages them to bring their experiences and understandings of the role of imagination back into the classroom, and particularly into literacy instruction. A rich literacy experience can be developed through integrating aesthetic education into the curriculum. Yet, in order to provide students the optimum aesthetic experience, teachers need to be provided with the opportunity to experience the text and the arts in an aesthetic manner, prior to teaching it to their students. Watching a performance that


is followed up by activities and the ongoing classroom readings helped the students in my class to “transform their learning into innovative classroom teaching that recognizes perception, cognition, affect, and the imagination as ways of knowing” (Greene, 1995, p. 3) and as such, facilitated the awareness of empathy. The development of empathy through the arts and literacy is a primary goal of the course. An additional method to attain this goal is through hands-on experience, where art-making and literacy intersect. Making Art in the Classroom Art making is an integral part of our sessions; it is a different way of processing and expressing the transaction with children and young adult literatures. Each art assignment is designed to focus on various elements such as themes, pattern, tone, setting, point of view, and characters. At times, we build on and add music and dances to the collages and paintings. The addition of music and dance adds excitement and illuminates the concepts and multiple ways of understanding the text. Yet, each assignment is unique. One particular class assignment asked students to recreate the story from the point of view of an object within the story. To prepare them for this assignment, they needed to imagine the unimaginable; the students selected an object from the classroom and wrote from this object’s point of view. Then, the students read each of their pieces and had to guess what object was represented. The exercise allowed them to be flexible in imagining what might seem to be an impossible task. For that week the students read the novel Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson (2003), which tells the story of a high school girl who is unable to deal with having been raped the previous summer. In response to their assignment, one group of students chose to write from the perspective of a Maya Angelou poster that hung in a closet where the main character hides and finds safety. The students wrote a poem imagining what Maya Angelou’s image might have said to the protagonist: “The Caged Bird Sings” Ahh, girl! Scream! Open your mouth! Hit, punch, kick! You’ve come too far. Like your trees You’ve grown Don’t let him At you Again. Take care of yourself Like you care For this room. Be a caged bird no more. That’s it! Here they come.


Finally… See what Happens When you SPEAK!

Images 1 and 2: Art work created by the graduate students about the book Speak, from the perspective of Maya Angelou’s poster. In the poem, the students were able to recreate the feeling of the book; they imagined what the poster in the protagonist’s room might have said. They were able to use the information from the book and build on their own interpretations with their own authentic voices. They were deliberate in their craft, as they singled out one word and used capital letters, adding an exclamation point to accentuate the urgency of “speak.” Another group chose to explore the perspective of a tree. The students wrote a poem: Don’t speak the truth Broken branches of an empty tree Alone in the sadness That engulfs me Hollow spaces Where love should be Don’t speak the truth And watch another die Rotting branches of all


I deny… Quiet Desperation. This group of students used the standpoint of the tree to illuminate the distraught state that the protagonist was in. In order to capture the intense feeling of emptiness, they chose to use images of the tree such as “broken branches of an empty tree,” “hollow spaces,” and ”rotting branches.” They were able to provide the images and feelings as viewed from an outsider’s (the tree’s) point of view, as they added a harsh critique of the protagonist’s silencing: “don’t speak the truth / and watch another die.” Although the group took the outsider stance and criticized the protagonist’s inability to speak, they also showed empathy toward her as they conclude their poem with “Quiet Desperation.” These presentations highlight the students’ process of exploring the protagonist’s internal conflict, while imagining another’s point of view. Looking at both the art projects and poems, it is evident that each group chose to write from a different perspective. Each point Image 3: Art work done by graduate is relevant and significant and yet different. While in students about the book Speak, from the first two art presentations the students created three the perspective of the tree. dimensional replicas of the protagonist’s room, accentuating Maya Angelo’s poster, the latter art presentation depicts the tree. The students embedded the poem in the tree, in the shape of lips, indicating the avoidance from speaking. The important part of the process is acknowledging their different perspectives while going back to the text and re-examining the readings. While one group wrote and centered on what the protagonist should do, that is, “SPEAK,” the latter group chose to focus on her inability to speak, her “Quiet Desperation.” Once again, this choice is rooted in the object they chose to represent. These critical thought processes occur when students are required to take agency and create meaning through aesthetic experiences. Greene (2001) reminds teachers that “children…must make their own use of what has been taught…this is the way authentic learning takes place: children go beyond what they have been taught and begin teaching themselves” (p. 137). This type of active thinking and participation support the goal of engaging children in critical thinking; in raising questions; in seeing things other than what they initially thought, as they are imagining. The impact of the class pushed beyond its assignments and class dates; it compelled several students to further explore the arts, imagination, and aesthetic education in their classrooms. One student in particular furthered her interest and incorporated the subject into her thesis, investigating how visual arts could be used to stimulate high school readers’ interest in canonical literature. She wanted to understand further how art could help students connect with and understand literature, while promoting awareness toward empathy and social justice; how aesthetic experiences could enhance literacy development. This part was written exclusively


from the student perspective, so that it would be an authentic representation of her experience. It was essential that her voice is heard, particularly when she shared how she transferred her learned knowledge from the graduate classroom into her own classroom. This part is relevant for teacher educators and in-service teachers as they build lessons that integrate the arts and social justice into their curriculum. The following is her shared story about her work in her high school classroom. Utilizing Aesthetics in a High School English Classroom—A Teacher Perspective Following my experience in Professor Pinhasi-Vittorio’s course, I was motivated to pursue my thesis in the area of aesthetic education in the literacy classroom. I was eager to perform the qualitative research with my tenth grader students to examine how aesthetic experiences might help them connect with canonical texts. My unit study of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) by Mark Twain seemed the ideal curriculum, as it is a novel that students have difficulty relating to, both emotionally and socially. Usually this text breeds reluctance and frustration toward the reading experience, despite its social application. Another issue that was considered was the ethnicity of my students, who were mostly of European descent, and who might struggle to understand the circumstances that the character Jim finds himself in as a slave. I was hoping that by exposing students to art that demonstrated the reality of the racist, cruel setting of the novel, students would be able to empathize with Huck’s own plight and struggle to understand right from wrong, the nature of friendships, and his own loneliness. My lesson plan involved a slide-show at the very beginning of the unit depicting 19th century photographs of slaves, contemporary renditions of slavery in America (Feelings ,1995) , and 19th century artistic, stereotypical depictions of African Americans (Handler & Tuite, 2006). Students were instructed to write a single-word reaction that came to mind for each image viewed. After viewing the slide show, students shared their responses to the slides and discussed their findings in small groups. Students were asked if they noticed any patterns emerging in their responses as a group, and then shared those with the class. The slideshow images elicited emotions and engagement in students as evidenced by both nonverbal and verbal cues. The room was completely silent as they watched the slide show. The students seemed engrossed by the imagery. Some students were unable to fulfill the writing component of the task; it appeared as though they were paralyzed by the graphic images, with no attention paid to the paper in front of them. Two specific images that captured students’ attention were Feelings’s (1995) paintings that depicted the anguished, naked slave wrapped in chains, and a child corpse held lifelessly by a mother in the hull of a slave ship. Strong engagement with the visual art was further indicated through sounds students made in reactions to certain images, including groaning and sudden intakes of breath. The sounds and verbal responses to the most graphic picture—a photograph of a slave’s back scarred from whipping—indicated that even in a quiet, safe viewing environment, students were moved to a physical response. It appeared as though students were actively participating in the subjects’ pain as they began interpreting and understanding the implications and experiences associated with the images they were watching. The whole class discussion revealed that the students experienced both compassion for and connections with those they saw in the images. The compassion that they felt seemed to dissipate


the gap that existed between this violent moment in American history and the students’ own present. Responses to the slides, which were audio taped and transcribed, often included descriptions of what the subjects of the images felt, suggested in comments like, “you could see his pain” and “loneliness.” These words indicated that students empathized with the depicted African Americans rather than objectifying them. One particular student indicated that he felt “shame” as he viewed the photograph of torn skin on a slave’s back. The images, in some way, evoked a sense of personal responsibility, and the student became a part of the experience he viewed. The impact of the students’ empathy gained from the work of art became even more evident in his post-unit journal entry: “[The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn] opened my eyes about slavery and how things used to be for black people. Some of the pictures we saw I felt sorry for the slaves.” His emotional experience, similar to my own in the graduate class, was driven by the work of art. The art was used to elicit the imagination of the participant, since one can have a sense of empathy through imagination. In both situations, my students and I had to imagine the possibility of an experience outside of our own, and by doing so, we understood the perspectives and feelings others. In addition to having students view the slide show of images, I asked students to choose one of the visuals and to write in their journal as one of the people within the picture. My rational was to push students to imagine and to connect with the subjects in the photography even further. Students quickly chose among the images, and with no hesitation, they began writing. The responses overwhelmingly utilized empathetic verbs and descriptions that imagined how the subject of the image suffered. The following are two excerpts from two different students who attempted to truly speak from the standpoint of a slave: It’s hard to sleep when your body is attached to a chain. I feel like an animal. What do they think of us? Do they think we are dogs and we need collars? The chains around my ankles and ropes tying my wrists aren’t the only things holding me down. It’s fear of the white man’s whip. These two journal entry responses revealed unconventional thinking and understanding that went beyond the scope of the provided image. The first journal response demonstrates an effort to capture the demeaning attitude caused by the physical and emotional hardships. The student is very straightforward and compares the condition of the slave to a chained animal, a dog. In the second excerpt, the student depicts not only the physical chains that bind the slave, but imagines the feelings of anger, helplessness, and fear that are generated from the physical violence. Students’ responses reproduced and imagined various aspects of a slave’s life through their interpretations of their aesthetic experiences with the images. Students could now approach the novel equipped with a new, empathetic perspective, which would, possibly, deepen their understandings of the text. The development of empathy achieved through the arts and the text allowed me to open a conversation concerning social equality. Conclusion


Using the arts as an integral part of graduate classes was a critical tool in the development of the imagination in the literacy course. Developing imagination is an elementary component in literacy growth and particularly in the development of critical thinking. By creating opportunities in which students are not "boxed in" in their classrooms as mandates by state law, and by prepackaged curricular and testing practices, they are allowed to imagine different possibilities and to accept different interpretations, understandings, and views of others. Unfortunately, when students are thinking out of the box, they often are not recognized for the value of their thinking. Thus, taking an active part in this process toward developing awareness for empathy and social justice, teachers and schools are encouraging the learners to think of “what if” and inviting different ways of viewing into the classrooms. The work in the graduate classroom impacted the in-service and pre-service teachers’ pedagogies and their applications of aesthetics in the classroom. Transacting with a text, making art, and watching a live-performance of a work of art all encouraged the participants to be engaged authentically in the learning processes entailed in aesthetic education in the classroom. The aesthetic experience draws upon layers of understanding and critical thinking; the act of creating artwork captures various meanings and ideas in literature, forcing students to place themselves in alternative perspectives, to create new, imagined worlds. The key element in the construction of multiple ways of understanding a text or an art lies within the ability to imagine. Thus, there is a need to consider imagination and its function “to awaken, to disclose the ordinarily unseen, unheard, and unexpected” (Greene, 1995 p. 28). The imagination allows students to develop a sense of empathy as they imagine the world through an alternate lens, which can open the doors of their minds to new possibilities. When students come to embrace that multiple meanings and perceptions exist in texts, they may take their understandings of the text and/or the art a step further and apply it/them to their own lives, which can create meaningful and personal transactions. In both classes, the graduate and the high school literacy classrooms, the students were part of the aesthetic experience and were able to create, to think, and to imagine beyond the literary text. When looking at the graduate student’s effort to incorporate the arts into her classroom, it is evident that she used her imagination and critical thinking as she re-invented her curriculum in an effort to arouse the interest of her students, and she was able to increase interest and to evoke empathy for a topic that was far removed from the students’ own experiences. The visual representation allowed them to take a different vantage point and to imagine. As a teacher educator who is dedicated to the promotion of social justice through the arts, I have discovered that exchanges of thoughts and ideas in meaningful collaboration with our students, their students, and their peers promotes imagination development, supports envisioning possibilities (Gulla, Pinhasi-Vittorio & Zakin, 2009), and encourages questioning the world and the word. For, “…the classroom situation most provocative of thoughtfulness and critical consciousness is the one in which teachers and learners find themselves conducting a kind of collaborative search…” (Greene, 1995, p.23).


References Burton, J.M., Horowitz, R., & Abeles, H. (2000). Learning in and through the arts: The question of transfer. Studies in Art Education, 41(3), 228-257. Dewey, J. (1934). Art as Experience. New York, NY: Minton, Bach, & Co. Egan, K. (2005). An imaginative approach to teaching. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers. Elliot, J. (1987, June). Educational theory, practical philosophy and action research. British Journal of Educational Studies, 35(2), 149-169. Elliot, J. (2001). Making Evidence-based Practice Educational. British Educational Research Journal. 27(5), 555-574. Feelings, T. (1995). The Middle Passage: White Ships/Black Cargo. New York, NY: Dial. Freire, P. & Macedo, D. (1987). Literacy: Reading the word and the world. Westport, CT : South Hadley: Bergin & Garvey. Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York, NY: Seabury. Freire, P. (1971). Education for Critical Consciousness. New York, NY: Seabury. Freire, P. (1998). Teachers as Cultural Workers - Letters to Those Who Dare Teach (D. Macedo, D. Koike & A. Oliveira, Trans.). Boulder, CO: Westview Press. Garan, E, M. (2004). When politics, profit and education collide. Portsmouth, ME: Heinemann. Glesne, C. (2005). Becoming qualitative researchers: An introduction. Boston, MA: Pearson. Greene, M. (1986). The spaces of aesthetic education. Journal of Aesthetic Education. 20(4), 5662. Greene, M. (1995). Releasing the Imagination: Essays on Education, the Arts, and Social Change. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers. Greene, M. (2001). Variations on a Blue Guitar: The Lincoln Center Institute Lectures on Aesthetic Education. New York, NY: Teachers College, Columbia University. Gulla, A., Pinhasi-Vittorio, L., & Zakin, A. (2009, April 29). Exploring relationship between aesthetic education and writing across the curriculum using poetry. Across the Disciplines: Interdisciplinary Perspectives on Language, Learning, and Academic


Writing, 6. Retrieved April 29, from Http://wac.colostate.edu/atd/articles/gullaetal2009.cfm. Handler, J.S., & Tuite, M.L., Jr (2006). Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. Atlantic Slave Trade and Slave Life in America: A Visual Record. Retrieved March 27, 2007, from http://hitchcock.itc.virginia.edu/Slavery/index.php. Heath S. B., Street, B., & Mills, M. (2008). Ethnography; approaches to language and literacy research. New York, NY: Teachers College Press. Holzer, M. (2007). Teaching and learning at Lincoln Center Institute. Retrieved October 31, 2008 from http://www.lcinstitute.org/wps/PA_1_0_P1/Docs/494-TALCI.pdf. Lincoln Center Institute (2005, Summer). National educator workshop: Teacher education collaborative professional development. New York, NY: New York. Massa, J. & Pinhasi-Vittorio, L. (April 2009) Critical Literacy Development in Action. Theory in Action, 2(2), 45-61. McDowel, M.F. (1959). Highway 61, revisited by Guy Davis. McDaniel, C. (2004). Critical literacy: A questioning stance and possibility for change. International Reading Teacher, 57(5), 472-481 Pinhasi-Vittorio, L. (2009, April) Inviting Social Justice through literacy: creating a change using the critical questionings and using the language of power. Theory In Action, 2(2), 19-33. Pinhasi-Vittorio, L. (2011). Changing our perception: Using critical literacy to empower the marginalized. Theory in Action, 3(4), 122-135. Rosenblatt, L.M. (1994). The Reader, the Text, the Poem: The Transactional Theory of the Literary Work. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press. Shor, I. (1999). What is critical literacy? Journal for pedagogy, pluralism & practice, 1(4). http;//www.lesley.edu.journals/jppp/4/shor.htmla Smith, F. (2002). Understanding Reading: A Psycholinguistic Analysis of Reading and Learning to Read. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers. Twain, M. (1884, 1985). The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. New York, NY: Tom Doherty Associates, Inc. Wallace, M. (1998). Action Research for language teachers. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.


Winner, E & Hetland, L. (May/June 2008). Arts for Our Sake School Arts Classes Matter More than Ever- But not for the reason you think. Arts Education Policy Review, 109(5), 29-32.


Volume 9

Number 1 Spring 2013

Editor Lindy L. Johnson

http://jolle.coe.uga.edu

Empowering Adolescents for Activist Literacies Sally L Humphrey, Sally.humphrey@acu.edu.au Australian Catholic University, Strathfield, AU

Abstract An essential requirement for supporting the activist literacies of adolescents is a critical understanding of the purposes, practices and roles of engaged citizens and of the linguistic and broader semiotic resources they deploy in response to their multi-layered contexts. Drawing on theories from social semiotic and rhetorical traditions as well as socio-culturally informed genrebased pedagogies, I discuss how teachers and adolescent learners have developed their knowledge of rhetoric and grammar from a close study of the texts of adolescent activists to inform their own activist literacies. Keywords: activist literacies, adolescent literacies, appraisal, audience, rhetoric, systemic functional linguistics Please cite this article as: Humphrey, S. L. (2013). Empowering adolescents for activist literacies. Journal of Language and Literacy Education [Online], 9(1), ____. Available at _____.


Introduction The term activist literacies, originally coined by Campano & Simon (2010), allows for a range of perspectives, experiences, and responses by educators concerned to make a difference in the lives of young people. On the one hand we are invited, as practitioners and theorists, to attend to the literacy practices and counter-practices of those seeking to bring about social change, including social activists within our own schools and communities. This attention may involve developing further understandings of the socio-cultural and political contexts of participatory citizenship, resistance, and transformation of the rhetorical and semiotic resources deployed by activists. Recent research that has greatly expanded our notion of “what counts” as activist literacies in this sense includes: investigations of the shifting clusters of affinity spaces that mediate adolescent participatory citizenship; the affordances of technology in building affiliations; and the blurred boundaries among the private, social, academic and civic worlds of adolescents (Alvermann, 2006, 2008; Campano & Ghiso, 2011; Gee, 2003, 2005; Guzzetti & Gamboa, 2004; Hull & Stornaiuolo, 2010; Humphrey, 2006, 2010; Knobel & Lankshear, 2007; Kress, 2003; Thomas, 2008). A further perspective offered by the term activist literacies relates to the contribution of educators themselves in developing literacy pedagogies that inspire, engage, create and transform communities (JOLLE@UGA, 2013). In recent years a range of pedagogies for developing activist literacies have been documented, influenced by critical, new, and multiliteracy theories (Cope & Kalanztis, 2000; Freire & Macedo, 1987; Gee, 2000) and in some cases also by linguistic and multi-modal discourse analysis (Kress, 2003; Martin, 2000, 2004; Unsworth, 2001, 2008). Although methodologically diverse, these pedagogies share an understanding of literacy that extends beyond school-sanctioned print media, a concern to create spaces for marginalized groups and a desire to expand the repertoire of students’ resources for participating within and beyond schooling. While critical literacy pedagogies are widely acknowledged for engaging adolescents, who are defined by their age as “other than dominant (adult) culture” (Cohen et al., 1998, p. 307), several literacy researchers have called for more visible pedagogic practices to centralize the “powerful versions of literacy” (Collins & Halverson, 2009) that adolescents need to participate “most agentively in their social and economic futures” (Hull & Stornaiulo, 2010, p. 85). In this paper I report on a participatory research project that responds to both of the above perspectives on activist literacies. This project, part of a wider project to embed literacies within the curricula of middle years’ classes, was conducted in Australia by a small group of English teachers and their three Grade 8 classes. With the support of academic research partners, these teachers have made use of their developing knowledge of rhetoric and social semiotics to support their adolescent learners to engage actively and critically in what they have termed the civic domain (Humphrey, 2010). This report aims to demonstrate how these understandings and a meta-language developed to talk about language enabled teachers to make visible and accessible to their students the resources used by adolescent activists to achieve their social and political goals. Through substantive conversations around these textual practices and guided construction of their own texts, these students have been able to creatively appropriate rhetorical and grammatical resources to expand their own activist repertoires.


A Context for Activist Literacies The activist literacies reported on in this paper have been developed across three Grade 8 classes at a metropolitan secondary school in Australia. The vast majority of students at this school, referred to here as Metro Secondary School, are Muslims from low socio-economic and diverse language backgrounds. As such they are growing up in a social and political climate of fear and hostility following the events of September 11, 2001 (Corlett, 2002). In Australia hostility has been further inflamed by negative media portrayals of undocumented asylum seekers who have arrived from Afghanistan and other countries with similar demographic profiles. The three activist teachers of these students are participants in an action research project called Embedded Literacies in Key Learning Areas (ELK). Guided by social theories of Bernstein (1975), participant researchers adhere to the principle that to ensure equitable outcomes for all students, the expectations and resources required of the literacies of schooling (and other institutions) need to be made explicit via a shared meta-language, that is, a language for talking about language. The explicit literacy pedagogy that has been adopted at Metro, known as genrebased pedagogy (Rothery 1995), unfolds through first building shared knowledge of the context of the target text, including, importantly, knowledge of the field, purpose, and audience. On this basis examples of texts that have achieved their purposes are modeled and deconstructed, and students are then led in jointly composing further examples of texts in fields that have been built in class or through guided research. By supporting students through these stages, teachers aim to approximate the “guidance through interaction in the context of shared experience” that has primacy in child spoken language development (Martin, 1999, p. 126). While appreciating the need for students to develop their own independent voice, the teachers involved in the project are confident that, given their own mastery of activist literacies, they are well qualified to apprentice their students into the crafting of texts that could be heard by diverse and potentially hostile audiences. With this stance, teachers share the view of New Literacies educators that: Adolescents who create derivative texts are far from being “mindless consumers” and reproducers of existing media, as they actively engage with, rework and appropriate the ideological messages and materials of the original text. (Black, 2008, p. xiii) Over the first year of the ELK project, English teachers at Metro developed significant knowledge of the core text types needed to inform, persuade, and respond to literature within the English curriculum. However, over that time they also became increasingly concerned with supporting their students to develop the literacies they needed to participate actively and critically in wider socio-political debates. One reason for this need was that, when provided with opportunities to debate issues in forums other than class discussion, students tended to draw only on knowledge developed in the everyday domains of their lives and to express their views in conversational language that is not valued in the academic domain (Cummins, 2007; Gibbons, 2009). Arguments such as that shown in Text 1 are typical of the Year 8 responses to the issuesbased writing task set as a pre-test for the ELK project and are also typical of their responses to national persuasive writing tasks. The argument in this text addresses the question, “Should people do more exercise?”


Text 1 I strongly believe that people should do more exercise because while people are young they eat too much and when they are young they are not allowed to go to the gym. The limited repertoire available for students to express their opinions and debate issues of consequence was also apparent in contexts beyond schooling. In 2012, many local Muslim young people, including students from the school, participated in riots to protest against the making of an anti-Islam film. This riot was widely condemned by Muslim leaders in the community, who called upon fellow Muslims “to engage in a process of educating our fellow citizens on the reasons for our discomfort and hurt when our religious feelings and sacred spaces are intentionally invaded’ and to ‘use the route of rationality, education and negotiation” (Yasmeen, 2012, n.p.). In response, teachers of subject English at Metro decided to pursue an activist literacies agenda for their next unit of work, using the genre-based pedagogy of the ELK project. Focusing on their Grade 8 class, they worked with academic partners to develop a unit of work called “Persuade Me!” with the goal of supporting students to deliver a speech to their classmates and other relevant individuals and groups on an issue that concerned them. Teachers at Metro were particularly keen to explore with students a range of texts generated by adolescent activists, and to model resources that their students could appropriate to express their concerns and win over even potentially hostile audiences in their civic and social lives. Among the exemplar texts chosen were a number of speeches, essays, and blogs produced by a group of young local Muslim refugee activists, who had participated for a number of years in a multiple intersecting grassroots affiliations oriented to achieving justice for asylum seekers, particularly in regard to the policy of mandatory detention of children and their families in Immigration Detention Centres. The activist literacies of these young people have had a significant impact on swaying public attitudes toward asylum seekers in Australia. Text 2 is an extended excerpt from a refugee’s speech presented at a World Refugee Day rally in 2004. Key rhetorical and semiotic resources of the text that were modelled within the unit will be discussed further in Sections 3 and 4 of this paper. Text 2: A Young Refugee’s Plea I am an 18-year-old female refugee from Bamiyan, Afghanistan. I am in year 12 at Holroyd High School and I am studying for my HSC [High School Certificate]. I came to Australia in September 2000. We left Afghanistan because of civil war, persecution, ethnic cleansing of my people, the Hazara, the dangerous environment and the unfair treatment of girls and women. We children had no educational opportunities at all. We knew our escape route would involve a lot of danger. We knew we might die of starvation and thirst, or be killed by pirates or storms at sea. We knew our mother might die, because she was pregnant. However we decided to go because we were desperate... There were six of us: me, then aged 14, my little sisters, 13 and 3, my little brother, 9, my father and mother. A smuggler hid us in the back of a truck for our escape from Afghanistan to Pakistan. Then we were smuggled to Indonesia where we had to stay in hiding. My mother had


to go to hospital to give birth. The rest of us were locked in a terrible flat 24 hours a day, until it was our turn to get on the boat.... I was one of 30 children and babies on board. Finally, in September 2000, our boat was guided by the Royal Australian Navy and landed on Australian land safely. I was happy because my miserable life was over, and a new horizon with no more death and killing was welcoming us. But my dream wasn't over, since I found myself in a prison. We arrived the day before the Olympic Games started. We were sent to a detention centre in the desert with fences around it. It was scary and we never felt safe because we were in a compound with single men who had been there a long time and had gone crazy. .. …. We were in that detention centre for two months, and then we got refugee status and were freed... We have been waiting nearly four years for Australia to say yes to us. On Thursday, it happened. We proved that we are still refugees who would be persecuted if we were sent back to Afghanistan. We are now permanent residents, and we can't wait to get our Australian citizenship….. Like the testimonio of Latin American activists, autobiographical texts such as Text 2 function to make “an outside world join the cause for that the group is fighting and writing” (Jeherson, 1995). As testimony, they are told from both the insider perspective of victim of injustice and from the perspective of advocate. In addition to insider testimonies such as these, teachers also chose digital and print texts produced by adolescents for a global audience. Text 3 shown below, an extended extract from a blog post, was produced within a loosely bound international online community of young people called TakingITGlobal (TIG), that hosts a number of forums to connect “youth around the world to find inspiration, information and get involved in improving their local and global communities” (www.TakingITGlobal). The composer of this text, known as BoNo_FaN (hereafter Bonofan), was an active and valued participant of the TIG community from the age of twelve to seventeen, contributing over 200 blog entries, as well as numerous discussion board posts and five online magazine submissions. Text 3 is typical of those produced by Bonofan to mobilize his fellow TIG affiliates to take action to address global poverty. Text 3: Blog: Just Stand In Australia, there continues to be a rising number of young people that are willing to take up the challenge set forth for our generation. In Nelson Mandela's words, "Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great. You can be that great generation." Today, 24th October 2005, hundreds of young people chose to take a stand against poverty. Today, the Oaktree Foundation's "STAND" advocacy campaign took place. In Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, Canberra and Brisbane, young people all took a stand against poverty, took a stand to have their voice heard, and took a stand to see the MDGs put into action…... The night concluded with a challenge to us all: to accept that poverty is the problem that our generation has to address. In the 60's there was the civil rights movement. In the 70's there were the peace demonstrations all around the world opposing the Vietnam war. This decade, we mustn't ignore the opportunity to be known as the generation that eradicated extreme poverty. It is within our grasp. We only need to reach out and grab it.


Both Text 2 and Text 3 are taken from a corpus of adolescent activist texts and have been extensively analyzed to establish discourse patterns of persuasion (Humphrey, 2008). While they are illustrative rather than representative of the activist literacies of adolescents, they do allow for analysis of the ways in which young people exploit the potential of semiotic systems to participate in, and indeed construct, affiliations oriented to social change. For educators, descriptions of the resources used by adolescents within affiliations such as these present great potential and challenges for supporting diverse learners to develop powerful literacies at school and in their wider communities. In the discussion that follows, I describe how the teachers at Metro and their students analysed the persuasive resources of these texts and I discuss the activist responses of their students. However, before doing so, I will provide an overview of the rhetorical and social semiotic theories that informed the teachers and students, illustrating with examples from the texts of the adolescent activists introduced above. Informing Theories In analyzing the exemplar texts deployed by the young activists, participatory researchers involved in the ELK project looked to models that could explain both the how and why of language use. Systemic functional linguistics (Halliday & Matthiessen, 2005; Macken-Horarik, 1996; Martin & Rose, 2007, 2008; Martin & White 2005; McCormack, 2003) provided a valuable framework for this work, augmented with understandings from rhetorical, social semiotic, and broader socio-cultural perspectives on language and context (Gee 2000, 2003 2005; Habermas, 1979; Kennedy, 2007). Systemic functional linguistics (SFL) provides analytical resources for exploring meanings at three different levels: the level of social activity, the level of discourse semantics, and the level of lexico-grammar (Martin & Rose 2007:3). The relation among these levels is represented in Figure 1.

context discourse lexicogrammar

Figure 1: Points of view on discourse (adapted from Martin & Rose 2007, p. 5).

According to Martin and Rose (2007),


discourse analysis employs the tools of grammarians to identify the roles of wordings in passages of text, and employs the tools of social theorists to explain why they make the meanings they do. (p. 3) While the focus of the ELK project has been to date the workings of verbal language, SFL has shown itself to be a flexible model, informing understandings of meanings across a range of modalities (Kress & Van Leeuwen, 2006; Unsworth, 2008). From an SFL perspective, contextual influences on texts occur at two levels: the context of culture and context of situation. Context of culture is glossed by Halliday (1985) as “the broader background against that the text has to be interpreted” (p. 46) and in educational contexts, has been interpreted discursively in terms of genre (staged, goal-oriented social purposes) to model the predictable patterns of language for learning (Martin & Rose, 2008). The model that informed ELK practitioners (see Figure 2) brings together discursive and social perspectives on culture to account for the multi-layered literacies of adolescents within and beyond schooling.

Academic (Specialised)

Workplace (Technical) 

negotiating procedural information concerned with ‘how to do things’Social Personal/

developing and displaying knowledge in specialised fields

Civic (Critical & Transformative)

(Humanist)

debating and negotiating public views and actions outside formal political processes

negotiating social identities and relationships

building communities of sympathy around common values.

Figure 2: Cultural domains of adolescent literacies (Humphrey, 2010, following MackenHorarik, 1996; McCormack, 2003).

Of particular relevance to adolescent activist literacies is the civic domain, which, in common with Habermas’s public sphere, refers to the spaces “where citizens assemble, debate their selfinterests, and then pressure their societies’ political institutions for redress or legislativeexecutive action” (Gronbeck, 2000, p. 141). Adolescents, such as the composers of Texts 2 and 3, with limited access to formal political activity such as voting, tend to form loosely bounded civic affiliations with multiple rhetorical aims. From this perspective, the lobby group within that the young refugee activist was working, called Chilout, can also be seen as one such civic affiliation. The diverse participants of this group are united around the common goal of persuading the federal government to change its policy in relation to the mandatory detention of children and their families within IDCs. An important


strategy in achieving the goal has been to deploy the conventions of personal narrative to show the human faces of refugees and to break down the negative media perceptions of asylum seekers as disruptive and ungrateful queue-jumpers (Ozdowski, 2004). As Chilout Ambassadors, the young refugee activists have produced texts across a range of forums, and have addressed divergent audiences to achieve their political goals. The online textual practices of the young activist, Bonofan, can be seen as situated within two overlapping civic affiliations. As a committed, long-term, and celebrated member of the TIG affinity space (Gee, 2003), Bonofan addresses an audience of fellow affiliates, primarily to mobilize social action on the issue of poverty. The shifting networks and diverse discourse forms that shape the TIG affinity space provide opportunities for Bonofan to interact with new roles, relationships and meanings (Maddison & Scalmer, 2006), and through this affiliation, to expand the repertoire of meanings available to him. Also influential is Bonofan’s affiliation and allegiance to the goals of the MakePovertyHistory campaign, which has been largely enacted through a range of celebratory events with prominent international citizens and celebrities acting as spokespeople. Texts such as Text 3, which can be described as promotional genres, are very rarely found in the academic domain and are learned in the context of civic work. The more immediate layer of context within SFL, context of situation, includes variables such as the nature of the topic or social activity (the field), the relationship between the text creator and the audience (tenor), and the channel of communication (mode). When considering the immediate context of texts in the civic domain, it is the dimension of tenor, and in particular, solidarity, that is seen as most influential in determining language choices. In this domain texts are typically composed to persuade audiences to do something or change existing views. With little institutional power, activist speakers and writers need to align audiences around shared values and feelings. Persuading Through Rhetorical Appeals In rhetorical theories, the persuasive work of writers and speakers is described in terms of the three appeals of ethos, logos, and pathos (Kennedy, 2007). Although these appeals are described as being relevant in any speech situation, the demands of audiences in different domains privilege particular appeals and ways of enacting those appeals. Predicting the possible positions and responses of audiences and deploying the appropriate persuasive appeal is essential to successful persuasion in the civic domain. New Rhetoric theorists have found that, in contrast with academic discourse, activists frequently deploy pathos to create a unity of feeling that builds allegiances (Schwarze, 2006: 251) and ethos, essential to mobilize audiences to action through building trust and a sense of collective or rapport (Clark, Drew & Pinch 2003; Halmari & Virtanen, 2005). The young activist composer of Text 2 has drawn on all three persuasive appeals to carefully stage her persuasive speech. A strong and complex appeal to ethos opens her text (I am an 18year-old female refugee from Bamiyan, Afghanistan. I am in year 12 at Holroyd High School and I am studying for my HSC) and not only establishes her authority to speak as an insider victim but also establishes rapport with the broader Australian audience, which values educated young citizens who fit in with society by attending school. An appeal to logos is achieved


through re-contextualizing the families’ experiences in Afghanistan as causes and conditions (e.g., We left Afghanistan because of civil war, persecution, ethnic cleansing of my people, the Hazara). However, pathos, achieved through skillfully appropriating the conventions of narrative, is the dominant appeal of this text and others composed by the young refugees. Through the unfolding problems and solutions, which are recounted before revealing the resolution of their permanent visa status, and the revelation of the feelings and concerns of the participants throughout, the audience is taken on a roller coaster of emotions toward empathy and ideally social action. Understandings of contextual features such as domains, genres, and audiences, as well as rhetorical concepts of persuasive appeals, have been very helpful in building students’ understandings of the activist’s role and the need to vary one’s language and image. However, what is also needed to support emerging activists is a repertoire of resources for enacting these appeals in appropriate ways across texts. In the following section I will provide an overview of key systems of resources from SFL that have allowed teachers to be explicit about the work of language in achieving persuasion. Discourse Semantic Resources: Appraisal Within SFL, emerging descriptions of discourse semantic systems of Appraisal have allowed analysts and educators to understand how the values and positions of audiences are acknowledged and responded to, even in monologic texts (Martin & White, 2005). Appraisal theorists assume that “any speaker is himself a respondent to a greater or lesser degree. He is not, after all, the first speaker, the one who disturbs the eternal silence of the universe” (Bakhtin,1953/1986, p. 69). Appraisal theory provides tools for systematically mapping dialogic resources to their contexts for making visible the way adolescents negotiate the complex relationships of power and solidarity with their audiences across stretches of text (Martin & Rose, 2007; Martin & White, 2005). Figure 3 provides an overview of Appraisal values relevant to the analysis of civic domain discourse.

Figure 3: Appraisal, adapted from Martin and White (2005).


While choices from all of these systems interact in various ways to create different rhetorical appeals and discourse styles, of particular interest here are systems of ENGAGEMENT, which one enters as soon as the text allows any recognition of voices—i.e. beyond the bare assertion. At the most general level, ENGAGEMENT offers options of resources that expand space for dialogue and of those that contract space. Both choices are heteroglossic in that they show awareness of the possible positions audiences may hold. However, expansion “actively makes allowances for dialogically alternative positions and voices’ while contraction functions to ‘challenge, fend off or restrict’ the scope of” dialogue (Martin & White, 2005, p. 102). Appraisal researchers have found that expanding resources are highly valued in academic discourse (Coffin, 2006). However, in order to build consensus in political discourse, speakers and writers need ultimately to contract or close down alternative voices (Miller, 2004). Expansion and contraction can be effectively achieved through the resources of concession. Concession involves summarizing or referring to an argument that is counter to the position of the writer and then rebutting that argument. The following example (Text 4), also an extract from Bonofan’s blog, is an example of the use of concession. In this excerpt, Bonofan initially expands space for those who may challenge his authority to speak by making a lengthy concession to his lack of status. However, in the final sentence he contracts that space to voice his concerns (But then). This strategic device appears to open space for other positions and suggests open-mindedness or objectivity. However, it is in fact ultimately contracting because the audience is left with the writer’s own argument, rebutted on his own terms. Text 4: Contracting Dialogic Space in BonoFan’s TIGblog: The Politics of a New Generation As a 17 year old, I never know if I should be commenting on social issues that I see around me. Sure, I know that many encourage the participation of youth in various levels of decision-making, policy formulation and such, but sometimes I still feel as if I need to know more, or experience more, before I can comment on society and politics. But then again, who makes anyone else more 'qualified,' to use a better term, than another person? The lexico-grammatical resources for achieving concession include grammatical resources of conjunction (e.g., although, while, however, but) as well as adverbial adjuncts (e.g., still, only, Sure). However, the choice of resource will vary according to factors such as the degree of familiarity (tenor) and the mode (e.g., spoken-conversation, monologue, or written). The excerpt from the more formal speech from Text 2 below shows a complex interplay of concession (However, only) with parallelism (We knew… We knew…We knew..), to more emphatically contract any potential argument that may be raised by those in the audience who question the refugees’ motivations for leaving Afghanistan Text 2a: Interplay of Concession with Parallelism to Contract Dialogic Space We knew our escape route would involve a lot of danger. We knew we might die of starvation and thirst, or be killed by pirates or storms at sea. We knew our mother might die,


because she was pregnant. However we decided to go because we were desperate. Escaping was the only thing we could do to ensure our futures. We were hopeful that we would find safety. In this example, the listing of dangers involved in the journey functions as a resource of GRADUATION, amplifying the concession, while at the same time the repetition and foregrounding of the projecting clause, “We knew,” adds great emphasis to the contraction. Resources of GRADUATION are used frequently to add emphasis in Bonofan’s celebratory blog post (Text 3). Unlike the texts of the refugees, the audience of promotional texts such as this do not need to be as carefully positioned through expanding and contracting. In this text however the resources of parallelism and other forms of GRADUATION are used to great effect to amplify the excitement and commitment to his cause and thus to rally the troops. These evaluative resources of Appraisal, along with references to high status icons such as Nelson Mandela, have been found to be typical of the enactment of activist literacies in contemporary social movements such as MakePovertyHistory (Maddison & Scalmer, 2006). While many teachers draw on knowledge of rhetorical appeals and isolated realizations such as parallelism and amplification to encourage students to strengthen their arguments, the function of these devices in expanding or contracting dialogic space and the effect of dynamic interactions between resources across texts is not well understood in educational contexts. Consequently, teachers are often not resourced with a meta-language to make explicit to their students how the resources function to meet or confound the expectations of the audience. In Section 4 I will demonstrate the way in which teachers and students developed a powerful meta-language to describe and indeed perform the interactions of the discourse semantic resources described above. Lexico-Grammatical Resources: Expanding the Noun Group While successful persuasion in the civic domain depends upon a wide range of lexicogrammatical resources, one structure that is essential for building rhetorical appeals is the noun group. Teachers in Australia are typically well versed in the work of noun groups in packaging information within clauses. Genre-based publications have also informed teachers and students as to the patterns of modification within noun groups that are required to achieve the purposes of different text types. For example, in scientific reports, noun groups typically include classifiers (e. g., a chromosomal disorder), while in narratives, factual and evaluative adjectives, often themselves modified with adverbial graders, build descriptions (e. g., a heavily decorated carriage). To prepare students for the rhetorical work needed to persuade diverse (and potentially hostile) audiences, knowledge of the function of noun groups needs to be extended to include, for example, their work in building ethos. In the following excerpt from Text 2, the speaker develops an extended noun group to build her authority as an insider source. This noun group, built around the main noun, refugee, is highlighted in the following excerpt, with pre-modifying classifiers italicized and the post-modifying phrase underlined. Text 2b Elements of Noun Groups to Build Ethos I am an 18-year-old female refugee from Bamiyan, Afghanistan.


In the next section I will describe a lesson sequence developed by teachers to model this and other resources of persuasion. This pedagogy involved setting the texts in their cultural and immediate context and then working to build understandings of the rhetorical and linguistic patterns. Throughout this Deconstruction stage, students were supported in appropriating those resources to use in their own activist literacy practices. Engaging Students in Exploring and Generating Activist Literacies As discussed in Section 2, the genre-based pedagogy that informed the ELK project prepares students for generating texts through scaffolded deconstruction and reconstruction of exemplar texts. Teachers at Metro understand and are committed to apprenticing their students into activist literacies. The knowledge of key rhetorical and lexico-grammatical resources has provided teachers with a meta-language for both modeling transformative practice and deconstructing literacies that oppress (Martin, 2000). Armed with this metalinguistic toolkit, teachers worked through the stages of the Teaching Learning Cycle to expand the students’ repertoires for participating in activist literacies. Several exemplar texts were used in the class, focusing on issues of community, national, and global significance, and produced by both adolescent and adult activists. In the following description, however, I focus only on the use of the texts produced by the young refugee activists, and particularly on the speech provided as Text 2 above. Working on the principal of modeling from a top down perspective, teachers began with setting the context of the unit of work in terms of the importance of including the opinions and concerns of young people in public debate. A short overview of the development of classical rhetoric and its contribution to democracy in Athens, Greece was provided, and students discussed the different ways they persuade people to do things or think things in different domains of their lives. Performing persuasive scenarios (e.g., persuading the teacher not to give homework; persuading a family member to switch off a light; persuading a potential customer to buy a product) was an effective strategy for raising students’ awareness of the different language resources needed for different persuasive purposes. The four domains of persuasion were explicitly modeled and distinguished in terms of purposes and audiences. Teachers distinguished the academic domain as involving primarily purposes of persuading the fairly static audience (a teacher/marker) that an opinion was valid, using evidence built through curriculum learning. The literacies of the academic domain were compared with those of the civic domain, which involves persuading audiences to take part in social action (Martin, 1985). These concepts provided a powerful meta-language to share throughout the unit and have also helped students and teachers discuss disciplinary differences that affect the choices of persuasive text types in other disciplines. Having established the broad context within the civic domain, students were invited to discuss issues of concern to them and to choose an issue that they would develop as a speech for an appropriate civic audience. Teachers were initially surprised that the issues chosen by students were limited to those involving their school experiences (e.g., canteen food, school uniforms), rather than to issues of broader concern in their communities, such as racism and tolerance. On reflection, however, participant researchers agreed that the selection of issues of local relevance


would enable the students to focus on building their repertoire of challenging rhetorical and linguistic resources in the context of a familiar field of knowledge. Furthermore, teachers felt confident that they could provide the appropriate civic audience for the students’ speeches within the school community and thus allow the concerns to be heard by, for example, members of the school executive who had power to make changes or at least lobby on their behalf. Interestingly, however, two students raised issues that the teachers found initially confronting. One issue was the lack of commitment of teachers to school sporting events and the second was a more general concern with the commitment of teachers at the school (see Text 5 below). It speaks volumes for the leadership at Metro that, when she heard of these concerns, the principal came to the class and not only applauded the students for their active engagement in their school community, but assured them that if they were able to communicate their concerns convincingly in their speeches, they would be added to the agenda of future staff meetings and inform an action plan oriented to transforming practice. Building a shared knowledge of the field of exemplar texts is an essential activity within the Teaching and Learning Cycle. The issue of mandatory detention of asylum seekers was explored first because of the relative accessibility of the language of the testimony text type and potential of the local context (the young refugees lived and went to school in neighboring suburbs) to engage students’ interest. Teachers guided students in reading and comprehending a range of print and multimodal texts representing views of the young Muslim activists, as well as those of the conservative politicians and commentators who supported measures such as mandatory detention, offshore processing, and turning back refugees’ boats. From a literacy perspective, the multiple viewpoints provided an opportunity for teachers to reiterate the notion of audience and to discuss the difficulties that might be encountered in speaking to audiences with such diverse views. At this point the rhetorical appeals of pathos, logos, and ethos were introduced explicitly as three ways of persuading depending on the audience; in very simple terms: appealing from the heart, appealing from the head, and appealing from the projected image. Establishing this initial rhetorical meta-language provided the context for deconstructing the semiotic functions and structures of the texts. Beginning with the concept of ethos (e.g., “Who is going to bother to listen to you if you don’t look and sound like you know what you are talking about and can relate to the experiences of the audience?”), the class looked first at visual representations of the young activists’ identities on YouTube clips and webpages, including the prominent Muslim scarf or hijab worn by the female speakers. The notion of an insider activist identity was established to describe those who are speaking from their own experience as a victim or witness to the injustice they seek to redress. In relation to ethos, this positioning enabled discussion of the credibility established through insider experiences, compared to the credibility of generalized external sources to support academic arguments. Students then explored the introduction to the speech presented as Text 2, discussing not only the different images presented to build authority and rapport, but also the lexico-grammatical resources for expressing them. Moving from modeling the context and rhetorical effect of the texts to the analysis of the language structures of the text required a great commitment on the part of teachers. However, with the help of educational linguistic research partners, they worked to build their knowledge of


relevant resources so that they could lead students in the analysis of how the rhetorical appeals were realized in the lexico-grammar. For example, teachers modeled for students the young refugee’s use of the extended noun group discussed in Section 3 above to package information about the identity of the speaker and introduced students to functional terms, such as classifying adjectives (e.g., 18 year old, female) and qualifiers (from Bamiyan, Afghanistan). With the guidance of their teacher, the students then discussed whether introducing themselves in terms of their identity as an insider (e.g., as victim or witness) would be effective for the issue and imagined audience of their own speeches. They practiced creating extended noun groups to build ethos and discussed the contribution of non-verbal representations, such as stance, eye contact, and clothing choices. Working from this knowledge base, teachers then proceeded to model the ways in which other rhetorical appeals were used in the refugee’s speech and the lexico-grammatical resources deployed to realize these appeals. In modeling the linguistic resources used to achieve the appeal to pathos, teachers introduced the appraisal resources of ATTITUDE, particularly the explicit and implicit resources used to express feelings. Students were supported to identify explicit evaluative wordings related particularly to positive and negative meanings of security (e.g., safety, scary) and also to the implicit but powerful ways in that these values can be expressed (e.g., we were in a compound with single men who had been there a long time and had gone crazy). Teachers were particularly concerned to model the achievement of pathos through the selection of seemingly bland facts with cultural relevance for the audience. For example, in the excerpt from Text 2 shown below, a powerful relationship of contrasting emotions is achieved for an Australian sports loving audience through juxtaposing the reference to the Olympic games in 2000, when people from Sydney welcomed visitors from all countries with great joy, with the negative image of being “sent to a detention center in the desert with fences around it.” Text 2c: Implicit Contraction through Shared Cultural Values We arrived the day before the Olympic games started. We were sent to a detention centre in the desert with fences around it. The use of such cultural references within apparently neutral statements of fact shows a highly developed sensitivity to audience. It is a rhetorically powerful way of binding the audience emotionally to the experiences and ultimately persuading them of the cause. While pathos and ethos are certainly foregrounded in the text, teachers also made explicit the use of appeals to logos in the text, introducing students to the rhetorical effect of abstract nouns (e.g., civil war, persecution, ethnic cleansing), many of which are formed through the process of nominalization (expressing actions as nouns) to remove the agents of the actions and the personal effect on the victims. Teachers and students discussed the effect of this abstraction in encouraging the audience to focus not on the treatment of the refugees in Afghanistan but on their experiences on their journey to and experiences within Australia. While the scope of this paper does not allow for a full discussion of all aspects of the literacy instruction that occurred in developing the activist literacies of the students in year 8, one further


set of interpersonal resources that proved an effective addition to the repertoire being built in the classroom included those for expanding and contracting space for dialogue. As discussed in Section 3 above, these resources of ENGAGEMENT, expressed in the grammar through concessive and contrastive clauses, are rhetorically powerful in positioning unconvinced audiences. Expansion and Contraction were modeled performatively, using the physical classroom door as a prop and meta-language of opening and closing doors. The students were guided in imagining a scenario whereby people in the classroom were the audience and a group of people outside the classroom represented the external voices in the text: the sources of facts, opinions, and experiences that would be introduced to support the speaker/writer’s position and/or be challenged. One student was chosen to be the controlling voice and therefore doorkeeper, and instructed to keep his hand firmly on the door at all times. Such an instruction represents the need for rhetoricians to be in control and not allow external voices to take over the text. The scene that was enacted in this performance involved the doorkeeper inviting selected people (voices) in from outside (opening space for other voices), allowing them to speak, thereby creating the potential for dialogue with multiple voices. However, the external voice was carefully controlled by the doorkeeper who could, by opening the door more or less, allow a number of voices to speak, limit the space made according to how they supported the position, or close off the voice altogether (closing or even banging the door). Students also experimented with other ways of controlling the audience reaction to these external voices; for example, turning up or down the volume of the voices (GRADUATION), or by introducing them in a way that added positive evaluation (ATTITUDE) or increased their status (e.g., “the great Nelson Mandela said . . . .”). Students were invited to reflect on the performance from the perspective of how the audience was positioned and to consider persuasive texts (both academic and civic) as a process of opening and closing the door to dialogue and controlling who comes in, what they are allowed to say, and, importantly, how their contribution will be evaluated by the writer and audience once the door is closed! The meta-language of opening and closing the door to voices was immediately taken up by students in their analysis of the model texts, and they were keen to learn some of the ways these dialogic resources could be realized grammatically (e.g., through reporting and concessive clauses modeled in Section 3). Following the preparation provided by the engaging modeling and deconstruction activities explored above, students of Year 8 worked cooperatively and independently to prepare speeches giving voice to their concerns. As most concerns related to issues within their school community, the teachers, with the encouragement of their students, arranged for the principal and other members of the school executive to be included in the audience for the presentations. The following excerpt from one student’s response provided as Text 5 below illustrates the extent to which a number of students were able to use extended noun groups to build ethos and ENGAGEMENT resources to expand and contract dialogic space in persuading their audience. Annotations and marginal notes are provided to show these resources.


Text 5: Example of speech from Year 8 student Staging and Rhetorical resources Orientation ethos

preview to logos

Arguments pathos

From pathos to logos (generalized reasoning)

Discourse Semantic and grammatical resources Good morning teachers and students ... Today I am raising an important issue as a community and as a student at Metro school. This issue is teachers that don’t try at school are the cause of students failing in class. I will provide compelling arguments to persuade you today. These arguments concern parents, teachers and students alike.

extended noun group nominalization of logical resources (the cause) GRADUATION

But before I begin to discuss these arguments, let me begin to tell you a story that illustrates this issue. A class named 8z, a unique intelligent class that did really well in school, that was evident in their NAPLAN results. During the year the teacher of 8z left the school and she was replaced by a teacher, who wasn’t very enthusiastic about teaching and only cared if she got her cheque at the end of the day. As a result, 8z failed their exams and lost all interest in learning...

‘Paragraph’ openers to signal rhetorical structure

8z is just one story. .. There are many other stories like this one where teachers don't try at school and it is the cause of students failing in class.

extended noun group with nominalization of logical relationship (the cause)

Some of you might be still be saying that it’s the students’ faults that they are failing in class. But I’m here to tell you that students all over New South Wales aren't accessing the proper education they need and it’s the teachers who are to blame. As a student I have seen the teachers playing the blame game when their student fail in class. THIS NEEDS

Concession (expanding and contracting dialogic space)

TO STOP! …

extended noun group

GRADUATION


Text 5, like the other texts produced by the Year 8 students, gives evidence of many of the resources modeled within the adolescent and adult activist texts. The rhetorical patterns in both verbal and non-verbal representations also impressed teachers, the school principal, and others who were invited to be the audience with their rhetorical power. Conclusion The analysis of texts and contexts construed by adolescents within these three civic domain affiliations gives evidence that they have developed a repertoire of powerful semiotic resources which, though not always valued by subject teachers, are effective in aligning their particular audiences into communities of sympathy to achieve their social goals. These resources can be viewed from the perspective of rhetoric as interactions of rhetorical appeals of ethos, pathos, and logos that allow for the goals of particular activist affiliations to be addressed. Importantly, enacting these appeals depends on knowledge of discourse semantic and lexico-grammatical in terms of both their function and structure. While it is likely that the literacies of social affiliations in the 21st Century will be expanded and enabled by the affordances of emerging technologies, developing an activist identity is not dependent on such access. The analysis of resources deployed by these adolescents has significant implications for teachers and mentors who are concerned to support young people to develop activist literacies. As I have demonstrated above, modeling the resources deployed from a range of speaking positions to engage critically and actively with discourses of power can open spaces to students for ways of meaning making beyond the often narrowly defined curriculum areas of secondary schooling. The positive and celebratory perspective offered here is designed to complement the critical deconstruction of texts which oppress (Martin, 2004). This pedagogic strategy deliberately allows teachers and their students to challenge dominant images of adolescents as problematic and disengaged, and their literacies as superficial. However, modeling of these adolescent discursive politics needs to be firmly grounded in a model of context such as that offered by systemic functional linguistic theory. This model accounts for the relation between contextually constrained semiotic choices in the civic domain and those in agnate domains of adolescents’ lives. For adolescents to be fully resourced for the 21st Century, attention must be given to making visible the semiotic resources and contextual constraints of all domains of their literacy lives.


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Volume 9

Number 1 Spring 2013

Editor Lindy L. Johnson

http://jolle.coe.uga.edu

Embodied Discourse: Using Tableau to Explore Preservice Teachers’ Reflections and Activist Stances Margaret Branscombe, mbranscombe@mail.usf.edu University of South Florida Jenifer Jasinski Schneider, jschneid@usf.edu University of South Florida

Abstract In the context of an arts-integration course in an elementary education program, preservice teachers used tableaux (i.e. frozen scenes) to portray field experience moments in two ways: (1) as remembered events, and (2) as projected possibilities. Using video and photographs of the tableaux, we traced the students’ enactment of activist stances and analyzed their positions within dramatic frames. Specifically we focused on the affordances of drama to the practice of reflecting and we also explored the use of tableau as a conduit for researchers’ provocation of additional meaning through examinations from various multimodal approaches.

Please cite this article as: Branscombe, M. & Schneider, J. J. (2013). Embodied discourse: Using tableau to explore preservice teachers’ reflections and activist stances. Journal of Language and Literacy Education [Online], 9(1), ____. Available at ____.


In teacher education programs across the United States, reflecting on practice is considered integral to the process of becoming an effective teacher (Howard & Aleman, 2008). Preservice teachers’ reflections are often captured through private journals (Bain, Ballantyne, Packer, & Mills, 1999), dialogue journals (Garmon, 2001), or blogs (Yang, 2009). These formats offer particular affordances based on embedded literacy practices (Perry 2012; Purcell-Gates, Perry, & Briseno, 2011). For example, when submitting a journal entry, preservice teachers must possess knowledge of genre, as well as knowledge of encoded print in order to express themselves through expanded thought. Preservice teachers can also use dialogue journals to communicate with their field supervisors and engage in cyclical written interactions for dialogic purposes (e.g., Bayat, 2010; Freese, 2006). Blogs are written reflections distributed across digital spaces creating opportunities for immediate reading, response, and viral distribution (e.g., Ruan & Beach, 2005). Regardless of the medium, these text-based literacy practices mediate reflection in particular, text-based ways. Our concern, as literacy teacher educators, is that print-based modes of practitioner reflection provide print-based insight into teacher decision-making; however, teacher decision-making requires embodied acts. Embodiment is the experience of being in the world and being of the world; and it is through the body that we understand the world. According to Merleau-Ponty (Merleau-Ponty & Baldwin, 2004), “the body, by withdrawing from the objective world, will carry with it the intentional threads linking it to its surrounding and finally reveal to us the perceiving subject as the perceived world” (p. 84). If knowing requires active engagement, then it follows that teacher reflection, as a form of knowing, should be elicited through various pathways. As Falk-Ross (2012) proposed: If teachers are asking their students to use reflection to gain perspectives as they learn, then teacher educators need to model and provide opportunities for preservice teachers to experience the same choices in learning style and the same variety in mode of reflection (p. 27). Multimodality refers to meaning-making through linguistic, visual, audio, and spatial modes of communication. As such, wider possibilities for multimodal reflection include various forms of representation in digital or physical spaces that are inclusive of “complex signifying systems” (Barthes, 1967, p. 39). Specifically, in the drama structure of tableau, participants use gesture, body position, touch, and expression (i.e., “complex signifying systems”) to create frozen scenes. The frozen scenes are embodied, three-dimensional images that can be navigated and interpreted by others. We position the multimodal practice of reflecting through tableau as an arts-based research method known as ethnodrama. Ethnodrama has been described as “dramatizing the data” (Saldana, 2005, p. 2), and in our study the data being dramatized were the preservice teachers’ recollections of novice teaching. As a leading practitioner of ethnodrama, Saldana (2011) described four approaches to performing data: *Dramatizing interview scripts (verbatim or adapted) *Adaptations of documents and published accounts *Performed autoethnographic work


*Devised work led by a theatre company Using ethnodrama methods, we asked preservice teachers to gather written reflections they previously completed for their field experience courses. These reflective texts became the ‘adapted documents’ presented through the drama convention known as tableau. Then our purpose was to explore the use of tableau as a medium for preservice teachers to chronicle significant moments from their field experiences. The main question that guided our exploration was: What does tableau afford the practice of reflecting? Theoretical Frames Reflection-In-Action/Activist Reflection Using tableau as a conduit for preservice teachers’ portrayal of reflection is supported by theories related to reflection, action, and tableau as an embodiment of both. Schon (1983) and Freire (1970/2011) highlighted the importance of “reflection-in-action,” which we conceptualize as activist-based because professionals must think critically in the moment. Schon argued that ‘technical rationality’ alone will not solve problems because professional dilemmas are ‘divergent’ and do not follow prescribed patterns. Schon highlighted the importance of a reflective attitude that actively occurs in response to unexpected issues, and we connected this portrayal to the unexpected situations preservice teachers often encounter in field experiences. Schon’s vision of an effective teacher seems to be one of an individual who can adopt an interpretive stance while in the act of teaching. And so the practice of reflecting well (or reflection-in-action), which we define in this study as a looking back in order to look forward, is viewed as a desirable disposition to be fostered within our preservice teachers (Merryfield, 1993). One consideration in using tableau was its potential as a vessel to portray transformation. As such, Boal’s (1995) approach, which has become known as Image Theatre, was directly relevant to our work. Although we did not explicitly frame preservice teachers’ experiences as instances of oppression, we acknowledged that Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed could be effectively used in teacher education situations. For example, in research describing the experiences of bilingual teachers, Rymes, Cahnmann-Taylor and Souto-Manning (2008) used Boal’s Forum Theatre convention to present and disrupt instances of oppression as experienced by bilingual novice teachers. Another consideration in using tableau was the position of our work within a social constructivist perspective of teacher education, in which the novices (e.g., our students) participate in cultural activities with the guidance of more skilled partners (e.g., the faculty), which allows the novices to internalize tools for thinking and taking multiple approaches to interacting with “texts” (Vygotsky, 1978). Borrowing from Northredge (2003), we followed a structure for scaffolding this apprenticeship process that encompassed three instructor responsibilities: 1) Lend students the capacity to frame meaning within a new discourse; 2) Plan students' excursions from familiar to specialist contexts; and 3) Coach students to use the discourse as active, critical participants (pp. 172-178). Next, we describe this new discourse and the process of scaffolding reflection-inaction.


Tableau as New Discourse Tableau is defined as a dramatic structure in which a group of participants create a frozen scene by using bodily gestures, positions, and facial expressions (Schneider, Crumpler, & Rogers, 2006). In social performances, such as tableau, people form teams and carry out specific roles to complete the task-at-hand. In performance theory, Goffman (1959) described “teams” and how they evolve through experience and ritual. According to Schechner (2006), these rituals are “among the most powerful experiences life has to offer,” in that while people are in a “liminal state,” they are taken out of the demands of everyday life and “uplifted, swept away, taken over” (p. 70). Furthermore, while immersed in ritually-inspired experiences, people “feel at one with their comrades” and “personal and social differences are set aside” (p. 70). Turner (2004) used the term “communitas” to describe this experience of “ritual camaraderie” (Schechner, 2006). To build images using a dramatic stance, requires participants to extract very particular memories, corroborated through multiple data sources, and to place the remembered events in a receptacle used to store and view memories. In other words, drama participants capture moments and place them in a communal vessel (e.g., tableau) that allows the interpreters to continually look at the experiences from outside themselves and through the perspectives of others, including their “mirrored selves” (Lacan, 1949). However, participants in tableau also seek a phenomenological determination of images (Bachelard, 1958/1994) that may result in multiple subjectivities. Tableau is a context in which participants in the tableau, and interpreters of the tableau, can externalize mental images of imagined experience (O’Neill, 1995). Tableau also provides a context for demonstrations of the participants’ actual “lived through” (Rosenblatt, 1978) experiences, allowing them to use language, movement and visualization to express their learning (Rogers, 2010). In this way, tableau gives participants the opportunity to frame meaning within new, multimodal discourses. Reflection: From the Known to the New Discourses of reflection are widely accepted in the field of teacher education (Dana & YendolHoppey, 2009). Therefore, “reflection” is often a desired outcome of many teacher education programs. Subsequently, teacher educators use reflective methodologies and require artifacts of reflection to document teacher development. For example, Genor (2005) wrote about the need to provide a clearer framework and context for preservice teachers to reflect. She suggested teacher educators provide opportunities for ‘problematizing teaching’ because “unless preservice teachers engage in a process where they methodically consider their teaching, it is unlikely they will challenge ineffective practices” (p. 47). Genor further described how she set up a framework for problematizing teaching through a series of discussion groups that met regularly to apply a methodical, analytical lens to field experiences. She described an improved level of analysis that occurred as a result of this “collaborative inquiry” (2005, p. 50).


Atkinson (2004) described a reflexive practitioner (different from reflective practitioner) as one who also thinks about classroom events while placing them within the institutional structure and his or her constructed beliefs about self. The critical practitioner “involves interrogating political, ideological and social processes…to explore…power relations in which teachers function” (p. 381). In reflexive activity, the person not only interprets an object or action, but the person can lay bare his or her pre-judgments and experiences. For Atkinson, “the one who reflects” is produced and shaped by these very discourses. Additionally, Boud (2001) made the point that “reflection involves the unprocessed, raw material of experience and engaging with it as a way to make sense of what has occurred. It involves exploring often messy and confused events and focusing on the thoughts and emotions that accompany them” (p. 10). To examine reflection-in-action, we engaged preservice teachers in tableau to chronicle their experiences with the familiar (what they know) and to develop reflection-in-action in teaching contexts (into the new). And rather than engaging students only through discussions of their actions, we addressed this inherent paradox by using an embodied structure for preservice teachers to show what they experienced and to enact their interpretation through multimodal forms. Method Performance ethnographers tell stories using various forms—text, choreography, music, spoken word, imagery, theater, art. In creating these stories, ethnographers design aesthetic moments to embody and recreate enactments of cultural others. In this sense, we were performance ethnographers who positioned tableau as an enacted stance to explore how preservice teachers used a particular drama convention as a medium for preservice teachers to chronicle significant moments from their field experiences. We focused on the multimodal affordances of tableau to the practice of reflecting. Participants and Setting Participants in this study were enrolled members of a required arts-integration class for elementary preservice teachers. The purpose of the class was to introduce preservice teachers to arts integration theory and to apply practice from the teacher-preparation classroom to the fieldexperience classroom. The course was based on the tenets of constructivist learning (Crotty, 1998) and most of the coursework involved working in small groups to engage in creative experiences, such as presenting a group response to a textbook reading through movement. As a frequent instructor for this course, and a former K-12 drama teacher, Margaret used video lesson segments, took photographs, and asked preservice teachers to respond to course assignments through dramatic structures as part of the course curriculum. Based on her experience in previous semesters, she decided to systematically examine the process of using tableau to support reflection-in-action. Therefore, she engaged in her regular routine of teaching and collaborated with Jenifer for data collection and analysis. As such, Jenifer observed course instruction, took field notes, and videotaped tableaux. A consent form was included as part of the research protocol, and only preservice teachers who signed these were considered research


participants. Out of 27 preservice teachers invited, 24 signed the consent form, all of them female and between the ages of 20 and 40. The course occurred in a traditional university classroom that was large enough to comfortably accommodate all 27 preservice teachers. The title of the class was Creative Experiences, but the setting was devoid of any creative appeal. The walls of the classroom were painted white and had a few hand-inscribed posters from another class stuck to them. Tables and chairs were often pushed aside and rearranged to accommodate artistic and active practices. Instructional Procedures and Data Creation In this study, preservice teachers chronicled reflections on field experiences through the use of tableau. And these opportunities occurred within the context of Margaret’s instruction. Therefore, data were created as a result of Margaret’s instructional procedures. Yet, the instructional decisions were not enacted for the purposes of data collection. To reiterate, Margaret always teaches through a process of dramatization, and, in this particular course section, we captured and retained her students’ products, which functioned as “adaptations of documents and published accounts” (Saldana, 2011). For purposes of deeper analysis, we gathered the documents as described below. Collecting pre-texts. First, Margaret asked the preservice teachers to bring to class a written reflection that detailed an important moment from a recent or current field experience. These written assignments were a requirement of another course (Level 1 Internship) and were completed for university supervising teachers (neither Margaret nor Jenifer served as the university supervising teachers). Margaret asked the preservice teachers to draw a picture of their significant moment from the field experience and to capture that moment with a fitting title. Sharing pre-texts. Margaret asked the preservice teachers to form self-selected groups and to take turns sharing their important events. Most preservice teachers shared their image/title as they discussed their selected moments. Others read their reflections aloud to each other. Designing and creating adapted documents (Tableau A). Next, due to time limitations, Margaret asked the preservice teachers to select one representative event from within the small group and to design and create a tableau to portray the selected experience. Each group discussed the options and chose one person’s recollection. The groups negotiated different ways to enact their selected scenes and they briefly rehearsed the tableaux. When the preservice teachers presented their tableaux, Jenifer took a picture of each group while Margaret invited the rest of the classmates to walk in and through the tableau to gain a “close reading” of the visual “text.” Margaret guided the students by asking them, “What do you see?” or “What do you think you see?” Then the person who had the experience explained what was actually being portrayed. Re-presenting adapted documents (Tableau B). After all tableaux were shared, Margaret asked the small groups to reconvene. Utilizing Boal’s activity ‘The Image of Transition’ (1995, p. 115), she directed the preservice teachers to re-form their small-group tableau to create “the ‘ideal’ image—how the group would like the reality to be” (Boal, 1995, p. 115). Again, Jenifer


took a picture of each frozen scene while Margaret invited the rest of the classmates to walk in and through the revised tableau to interrogate the scene. Rereading adapted documents. These re-created tableaux were then used as the impetus for discourse around their transformative possibilities. Margaret operationalized Boal’s (1979) ‘Theatre of the Oppressed’ theory in the question, “So what needs to happen to get from tableau A to tableau B?” Activist reflections (Character step-outs). Margaret then generated questions that called for participants to consider the tableaux from the perspective of people portrayed within them. The final step involved an opportunity for ‘characters’ to momentarily step out of the held image and utter a thought ‘in role.’ This required participants to view the tableaux from the perspectives of their mirrored selves (Lacon, 1949) and consider the possible motivations for their character’s behaviors in that moment. Data Sources The preservice teachers’ written texts and the pictures that they drew served as a pretext (O’Neill, 1995) and formed the basis for the drama texts that were created through tableau. Given that we were interested in the multimodal affordances of tableau and reflection-in-action, we used the written texts and illustrations as pretexts, but we did not include them in this analysis. Instead, we examined the ways in which the preservice teachers demonstrated reflection-in-action. As such, our primary data sources included (1) a photograph of the initial tableau (Tableau A), (2) a photograph of the final tableau (Tableau B), and (3) video footage of the preservice teachers sculpting, presenting, and interrogating the tableaux. Data Analysis Honzl (1940/1998) says the dramatic art form is to be found within the action of a performance. However, for us, we had to slow down the action of the performance to determine how meaning was created through the possible affordances of tableau to the practice of reflecting. For each group, we gathered and ordered the data sources to examine the spatial, semiotic, and ideological changes between each group’s Tableau A and Tableau B. Then we examined video footage of tableaux sculpting, presentation, and interrogation with a particular focus on character step-outs to explore reflection-in-action. Our process is outlined and represented in Figure 1 on the following page. Staging. To borrow from Honzl (1940/2003), the scene (“stage,” p. 269) in essence stands for something else – so first we had to ask who or what is being depicted in the scene? Everything in the tableau was taking place in a tightly confined classroom space; yet there was artistic freedom within the space. The actors themselves in each performance functioned as stages as well. In other words, the space in front of a whiteboard became a stage and the classroom chairs assumed a stage-like quality. In Honzl’s (1976) words, a “stage could arise anywhere—any place could lend itself to theatrical fantasy” (p. 271). In these instances, we identified the parameters of space as a stage.


Then we recorded our interpretation of the characters, their roles, and the frozen action for each group’s tableau. According to Ribeiro and Fonseca (2011), the arrangement of body-context in improvisational dance takes place by means of compositional procedures. Borrowing from their work, we identified the following compositional procedures as relevant to interpreting tableau staging: repetition, contrast, symmetry, asymmetry, balance, simultaneity, disruptions, tension, and relaxing. We examined each scene to determine the overall composition of the tableau and the denotative role of each element on the stage.

Figure 1: Data analysis process.

Social distance. According to Rodriguez and Dimitriova, (2011), “six values can be assigned to social distance based on how the human subjects’ bodies are represented in the frame: intimate, close personal, far personal, close social, far social, public” (p. 8). We viewed each tableau and developed operational definitions for Rodriguez and Dimitriova’s terminology for the social distance between characters. We were not concerned about measuring distance; rather, we


focused on changes in distance, and we used the terminology to track differences in social positioning between the tableaux. Gesture. According to Chui (2012), gesture “reveals roles and role relations in a scene as distinct from those in speech…” (p. 601). We therefore watched each tableau and identified prominent gestures, defining prominent gestures as those that caught our attention. According to Langacker (2008), “anything selected is rendered prominent relative to what is unselected” (p. 66). Our process of selection was similar to choreographer Martha Graham’s concept of contraction, in which “the contraction draws the gaze to the visceral area of the body and connects with the sheer physicality of the sensation as experienced by the dancer” (Bannerman, 2010, p. 24). In the tableau, figure-positioning demonstrated the intention of “movement” through isolated body parts. The visceral areas were the parts of the body that produced movement or the representation of movement—hands mostly, so there were frozen shots of hands writing on whiteboards and other hands gripping in restraint. We each selected prominent gestures, shared our choices with each other, and came to agreement on our selected gestures and their meanings in each scene. Analysis of character step-outs. The photographs of the tableaux eliminated all sound and movement and allowed us to focus on staging, social distance, and gesture, or the embodiment of the scenes. To recapture the live experience of transformation, we then analyzed each tableau by viewing video of any instances in which Margaret invited individual ‘characters’ to momentarily step out of the tableau to verbalize in the moment thoughts. In other words, given that tableaux are silent, frozen scenes in which the participants embody roles, the individual actors of the scene were given permission to speak their thoughts in those roles. We transcribed verbatim the thoughts of each character, along with any accompanying commentary from other participants or from Margaret. We determined the role of each character (student, preservice teacher, classroom teacher) and the content of their statements. Then we searched for activist stances and agendas, as revealed through character action. In other words, using Merleau-Ponty’s (2004) view of embodiment, we looked at the trajectory of the action to determine activism. Specifically we traced the characters’ movements by overlaying the two images of the tableaux and asking, “What actions did they take between scenes?” Ideological representations. The tableau has layered functions: it is a narration of one person’s experience, but it also functions as commentary on larger contextual, educational, and societal issues. It has to showcase the process in a textually and visually appealing way so that the audience can connect; but it has to be personally meaningful. According to Rodriguez and Dimitriova (2011), ideological frame analysis “draws together the symbols and stylistic features of an image into a coherent interpretation which provides the ‘why’ behind the representations being analyzed” (p. 10). Given our isolation of the elements of tableau, we then followed Saldana’s (2009, p. 42) advice: “Despite some preexisting coding frameworks for visual representation, I feel the best approach to analyzing visual data is a holistic, interpretive lens guided by strategic questions.” Taking a ‘holistic’ approach, we read across the tableaux for the ways in which preservice teachers connected to activist stances and reflected-in-action.


Interpretations of Tableaux We identified ‘presence’ as the best descriptor for what happened throughout tableau development and sharing. We noticed the preservice teachers were quick to collaborate and create the images; and they were mentally engaged as other groups shared their scenes. (No one checked her phone. No one left the room.) Their engagement spoke of the ways in which tableau yielded new perspectives and information in a crystallized form. Visual Retelling and Multimodalities The visual representation of reflection was an affordance that was strongly evidenced in the video analysis. The careful positioning of people within the tableaux and what they communicated through bodily and facial semiotics was clearly documented. The preservice teachers discussed the visual representations thoughtfully and contributed to each other’s ideas.

Figure 2: Preservice teacher at the whiteboard.

The photograph shown in Figure 2 chronicles a preservice teacher depicting an event in her internship when her university supervisor conducted a formal observation and the students had difficulty understanding the concept she was teaching. She had taught “main idea” the previous week and thought the students understood it. But, despite her various efforts to help them, the students collectively showed a level of confusion that both frustrated and embarrassed her. When the preservice teacher’s body language was examined closely, the raised shoulders show tension, the outstretched fingers on her right hand suggest frustration, the wide eyes and the closed lips present an image of a novice teacher who is just about to reach a desperation point and, in our opinion, it is a very telling and well-depicted image. In her character step-out, this actor expressed her fear in the moment, “Oh God, I’m bombing this observation. These kids are killing me. Please, someone give me an answer.” The other preservice teachers identified with the teacher role as we observed nods of knowing throughout the room.


Figure 3: Preservice teachers acting as students who don’t understand, in tableau.

The rest of this small group, shown in Figure 3, portrayed the students as confused, and there is a marked contrast between the preservice teacher’s desperation (Figure 2) and the “children’s” lack of interest or connection with what is being taught. The angling of the heads suggests confusion, the crossed legs convey a resistance to what is being taught, and their body language in general suggests that they would rather be somewhere else. Their character step-outs revealed another side to the story: “What is she talking about? What’s the main idea—about what? We haven’t read anything yet!?!” When the preservice teachers heard the students’ perspective, a communal wondering occurred: What if the elementary students could not define the main idea because they viewed finding the main idea as a process that occurred in the act of reading? The preservice teachers discussed the need to view classroom situations from the perspectives of the students; they contemplated the power of their words, and they lamented the pressures of teaching for a grade. As the instructor, Margaret mentally identified many pivot points as possibilities for further discussion—the perception that the preservice teacher equated “good” teaching to correct answers, the idea that “main idea” could be taught and understood in one lesson, the notion that student confusion can become a powerful teaching/learning experience, etc. Yet, Margaret refrained, and the preservice teachers made their own connections. They went on to discuss the physical space within the tableau, examining the positioning of the teacher against the students. A preservice teacher made the analogy to a tennis match in which the audience had to look backand-forth between the teacher and the students to interpret the scene. If teachers are physically positioned in opposition to the students, how can they be “with” students? The preservice teachers also commented on the actors’ gestures and expressions, and these created multiple canvases of interpretive spaces. In this particular scene, tableau enabled a visual retelling affordance of an internship situation and was entered into with commitment by the participants because they were engaged in the work. The drama method required specific attention to the order of the details in the situation being reflected upon: “I had to recall details in order to portray what happened that I might not have otherwise.” Embodied Engagement


In addition to the visual affordances of tableau, changes in role necessitated changes in the body; changes in the body created changes in perspective and insight; and, ultimately, changes in insight created changes in role and stance. Empathy is deeply rooted in the body experience, and this enabled us to recognize “others” as people like us (Gallese, 2001).

Figure 4: Preservice teachers enacting a student’s tantrum.

For example, one group shared an experience in which a preservice teacher witnessed a student throwing a temper tantrum because the classroom teacher wanted him to wait in line to have his work checked. In Tableau A (Figure 4), the preservice teacher is not depicted in the tableau. Instead, we are viewing the scene through her eyes, and we see the classroom teacher ignoring the temper tantrum and attending to the students in line. The teacher is turned away from the child on the floor, focused on the text of another, and the other students are trained to do the same, although two of them steal subtle glances at their disruptive classmate. The ensuing discussion revealed that the preservice teachers strongly identified with the classroom teacher. Their comments focused on behavior management strategies, Attention Deficit Disorders, and a general amazement at the teacher’s ability to ignore the distracting behavior of “that” kid (every classroom has one). In general, the preservice teachers viewed this scene as a lesson.

Figure 5: Character step-out to discuss the tableau.

In Figure 5, the “problem child” was given a voice through the character step-out. The child revealed his social isolation, personal disconnection, and confusion with the content. Instantly,


the preservice teachers expressed sighs of sympathy and immediate problem-solving toward a classroom of inclusion. No longer did the preservice teachers identify with the classroom teacher; instead, a wave of support focused on the student. The image was then re-sculpted to show a tableau in which the teacher took a proactive approach toward this child. Despite the resolution of the revised tableau, lingering questions remained. The child/actor revealed that her extended time on the floor, with arm outreached toward the teacher, helped her understand what the child might be feeling. She physically felt the rejection of the teacher and the dismissive/curious stares of the classmates. She experienced the isolation that the child might have felt, and her embodiment of the child’s situation created a deep understanding of his needs. In her mind, she created the student’s story as she waited for her classmates to walk through the tableau. And through personifying the student, she raised this question: “How can preservice teachers advocate for children during field experiences?” In response, one student stated, “Often times when we reflect, we think about what happened and what we can do to fix it, and not why it is happening in the first place. Thinking for the characters in the reflection aids in determining the trigger for the situation.” Through tableau, the preservice teachers developed empathetic insight that represented a unique essence of tableau as an art form. Action is Activism As a three-dimensional literacy, viewers of tableau can quite literally walk in, around, and through the tableau texts of other groups and experience the literal, albeit frozen, action of characters. Through these exploratory positions they experienced a non-traditional and reformational approach to creating and interpreting text. Additionally, characters in the tableaux felt actions as they viewed experiences from the roles of the people in the scenes. In these ways, the use of tableau allowed for ‘reflection-in-action’ (Schon, 1983) and, because of the opportunities to ‘live through’ moments of significance in a public space, a mode of reflective action occurred. For example, one group recounted a scene in which a preservice teacher watched in horror as the classroom teacher screamed at a child. In Tableau A (Figure 6), the preservice teacher represents the powerlessness preservice teachers often feel as visitors in classroom contexts. They are not yet teachers, they do not have pedagogical expertise, and they are passive witnesses to

Figure 6: Preservice teachers enacting a screaming teacher.


malpractice. The preservice teacher’s disequilibrium is demonstrated in the asymmetry of this scene. The classroom teacher holds the power, and everyone must yield.

Figure 7: Preservice teachers enacting classroom co-teachers.

In revisioning this scene, the preservice teachers created an alternate reality of projected possibility, then they sculpted the figures to reflect their new vision. In Tableau B (Figure 7), power is equally distributed between the teacher and preservice teacher, as revealed in the symmetry and simultaneity of the scene. The teacher and preservice teacher seem to be coteachers. The preservice teachers’ reflections-in-action resulted in a scene in which the preservice teacher mirrored her mentor teacher’s behavior, and that behavior was helpful and supportive of the students. In essence, the symmetry of desired behavior was at play between the teachers as well as the students. Everyone was peaceful; everyone was involved. In many ways, the tableau became an extension of embodied movements of preservice teachers as they began to have an evolving activist stance toward classroom practice. As Smith (2008) claimed, “A culture nurtures and makes the body behave in a certain way through movements of everyday living.” (p. 81). Through the movements of everyday living, these preservice teachers performed the actions of reflection in classrooms spaces that functioned as projects of possibility. Discussion In educational contexts, it is often stated that empathy can be taught uniquely through drama (Heathcote, 1984). In this study, participants created tableaux of moments of significance and as acts of “collaborative witnessing” (Ellis, 2013). They presented scenes as inquiries that could be interrogated by co-researchers (other preservice teachers) in the public domain of the college classroom. As witnesses to these visual reflections, participants discussed their wonderings and interpretations by “reading” the tableaux. Iser (1978) described the creation of images during the act of reading as “a constant accumulation of references” (p. 148). In Margaret’s class, the images were created with bodies, expressions, positioning, and space, then these images arrived in the interpreter’s mind through different multimodal sources. The varied images were not static; they built on each other like modeling clay. Each additional image reshaped the previous one.


In addition to the visual layers of interpretation for the viewer, tableau enabled embodiment. Through tableau as a form of “communal vessel,” preservice teachers and teacher educators walked back through remembered experiences from the perspective of each participant, including their alternate selves. In so doing, the participants manipulated roles, performed in role, imagined spaces as the enacted real, embraced reflective distance, and viewed the act from the interstices of disequilibrium. Yet, all is not perfect, and reflection-in-action is not easily transferred to activism in the world. In our movement toward reflection-in-action, the university classroom can scarcely replicate the ‘confusing and messy events’ of the K-12 classroom. Therefore, based on the theories of Schon (1983; 1987) and Freire (1970/2011), we framed the reflection process as an action that involved both looking backwards and looking forward. This was significant because traditionally reflection has been viewed as thinking about the past. According to Schon and Freire, true reflection is borne out of considering past action but then looking at ways to transform the situation being reflected upon through action. Through this study we argue that when tableau was used to present both situations as they were and how they could be, tableau became a conduit for looking backwards and forwards. Using a process of tracing, we examined the inbetween spaces in which “bodily movement [was] a source of historical information and communication that can be identified through a cultural context” (Smith, 2008, p. 79). Freire (1970/2011) spoke of transformed praxis as coming out of active reflection, and we claim drama to be an essentially activist literacy because it confronts reality while simultaneously seeking to transform reality. Boal (1979), in his foreword to Theatre of the Oppressed, described theatre as “necessarily political” (p. ix), and for that reason advocated for its use “as a weapon. A very efficient weapon” (ix). In powerful words attributed to Brecht, the idea of theatre as a practical force was similarly expressed: “Art is not a mirror to hold up to society, but a hammer with which to shape it” (Brecht, as cited in McLaren and Leonard, p. 80).


References Atkinson, D. (2004). Theorizing how student teachers form their identities in initial teacher education. British Educational Research Journal, 30, 379-394. Bain, J.D., Ballantyne, R., Packer, J., & Mills, C. (1999). Using journal writing to enhance teachers’ reflexivity during field experiences. Teachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice, 5(1), 51 - 73 Bannerman (2010): Movement and meaning: an enquiry into the signifying properties of Martha Graham’s Diversion of Angels (1948) and Merce Cunningham’s Points in Space (1986), Research in Dance Education, 11(1), 19-33 Barthes, R. (1967). Elements of semiology. Trans. A. Lavers and C. Smith. London: Cape. Bayat, M. (2010). Use of dialogue journals and video-recording in early childhood teacher education. Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 31(2), 159-172. Belliveau, G. (2006) Engaging in drama: Using arts-based research to understand a social justice drama process in teacher education. International Journal of Education & the Arts, 7(5). Retrieved from http://ijea.asu.edu/v7n5/ Boal, A. (1979). Theatre of the oppressed. London: Pluto Press. Boud, D. (2001). Using journal writing to enhance reflective practice. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, 90, 9 - 17. Chui, K. (2012). Gestural Manifestation of Knowledge in Conceptual Frames.Discourse Processes: A Multidisciplinary Journal, 49(8), 599-621. Crotty, M. (1998). The foundations of social research. St. Leonards, Australia. Allen & Unwin. Dana, N. F. & Yendol-Hoppey, D. (2009). The reflective educator’s guide to classroom research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press. Eco, U. (1977/2003) Semiotics of theatrical performance. In G. Brandt (ed.). Modern theories of drama. (pp. 279-287). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. Ellis, C. (2013). Collaborative Witnessing of Survival during the Holocaust: An Exemplar of Relational Autoethnography. Qualitative Inquiry, 19(4)(with J. Rawicki). Falk-Ross. (2008). Media options: A comparison of preservice teachers’ use of video, audio, and print journaling for reflective reading response. Reflective Practice, 13(1), 27 – 37. doi.org/10.1080/14623943.2011.616883


Freese, A. R. (2006). Reframing one's teaching: Discovering our teacher selves through reflection and inquiry. Teaching & Teacher Education: An International Journal Of Research And Studies, 22(1), 100-119. Freire, P. (1970/2011). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum. Gallese, V. (2001). The ‘shared manifold’ hypothesis: from mirror neurons to empathy. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 8(5-7), 33-50. Garmon, M. A. (2001). The benefits of dialogue journals: What prospective teachers say. Teacher Education Quarterly. Retrieved from http://www.teqjournal.org/backvols/2001/28_4/v28n4_04.pdf Genor, M. (2005). A social reconstructionist framework for reflection: The “problematizing” of teaching. Issues in Teacher Education, 14(2), 45 - 62 Goffman, E. (1959). Presentation of self in everyday life. Garden City, NY: Doubleday. Heathcote, D. (1984). In L. Johnstone, & C. O’Neill (Eds.). Collected writings on education and drama. London: Hutchinson Honzl, J. (1940/2003). Dynamics of the sign in the theatre. In G.W. Brandt (Ed.). Modern theories of drama: A selection of writing on drama and theatre, 1840-1990. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press. Howard, T. C. & Aleman, G. R. (2008). What do teachers need to know? In M. Cochran-Smith, K.E. Demer, S. Feimer-Nemser, & D.J. McIntyre (Eds.), Handbook of research on teacher education (pp. 157 - 174). New York, NY: Routledge. Iser, W. (1978). The act of reading. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Lacan, J. (1949). The mirror stage as formative in the function of the I as revealed in psychoanalytic experience. (Trans. A. Sheridan). Ecrits, A Selection. (pp. 1-7). Langacker, R.W. (2008). Cognitive grammar: A basic introduction. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. McLaren, P. and Leonard, P. (1993). Paulo Freire: A critical encounter. New York, NY: Routledge. Merleau-Ponty, M. & Baldwin, T. (2004). Maurice Merleau-Ponty: Basic Writings. (Trans. Thomas Baldwin). London, England: Routledge. Merryfield, M. (1993). Reflective practice in global education: strategies for teacher educators. Theory into Practice, 32(1), 27–32.


Northredge, A. (2003). Enabling participation in academic discourse. Teaching in Higher Education, 8(2), 169-180. O’Neill, C. (1995). Drama worlds. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. Perry, K. (2012). What is literacy?—A critical overview of sociocultural perspectives. Journal of Language and Literacy Education [Online], 8(1), 50-71. Available at http://jolle.coe.uga.edu/wp-content/uploads/2012/06/What-is-Literacy_KPerry.pdf Purcell-Gates, V., Perry, K.H., & Briseno, A. (2011). Analyzing literacy practice: Grounded theory to model. Research in the Teaching of English, 45(4), 439-458. Ribeiro, M.M. & Fonseca, A. (2011). The empathy and the structuring sharing modes of movement sequences in the improvisation of contemporary dance. Research in Dance Education, 12(2), 71-85. Rodriguez, L. & Dimitrova, D.V. (2011). The levels of visual framing. Journal of Visual Literacy, 30(1), 48-65. Rogers, T. (2010). Theorizing media productions as complex literacy performances among youth in and out of schools. In D.L. Pullen and D.R. Cole (2010). Multiliteracies and technology enhanced education: Social practice and the global classroom. Sydney Australia: IGI. Rosenblatt, L. (1978). The reader, the text, the poem. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press. Ruan, J., & Beach, S. (2005). Using online peer dialogue journaling to promote reflection in elementary preservice teachers. Action In Teacher Education, 27(3), 64-75. Saldana, J. (2005). Ethnodrama: An anthology of reality theatre. Walnut creek, CA: AltaMira Press Saldana, J. (2009). The coding manual for qualitative researchers. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Inc. Schechner, R. (2006). Performance studies: An introduction (2nd ed.). London: Routledge. Schneider, J.J., Crumpler, T., Rogers, T. (2006). Process drama and multiple literacies. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. Schön, D. (1987). Educating the reflective practitioner: toward a new design for teaching and learning in the professions. New York: Basic Books. Schön, D. (1983). The reflective practitioner. New York: Basic Books.


Smith, L. (2008). "In-Between Spaces": An Investigation into the Embodiment of Culture in Contemporary Dance. Research In Dance Education, 9(1), 79-86. Turner, V. (2004). Liminality and communitas. In H. Bial (Ed.) The performance studies reader (pp. 79-87). New York: Routledge. Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. (Original work published 1935). Yang, S.H. (2009). Using blogs to enhance critical reflection and community of practice. Educational Technology & Society, 12(2), 11 - 21.


Volume 9 Number 1

Spring 2013

Editor Lindy L. Johnson

http://JoLLE.coe.uga.edu

Children’s Literature as Tools of and for Activism: Reflections of JoLLE’s inaugural Activist Literacies conference Jennifer M. Graff, jgraff@uga.edu The University of Georgia

Abstract

Inspired by her attendance at the inaugural JoLLE Activist Literacies conference, the author ruminates on the ways in which children’s literature and activitist literacies are inextricably wed and manifested in myriad ways. References to a sampling of children’s literature spanning genres and grade levels, websites, and affiliated articles provide opportunities for readers to further recognize how children’s literature can be both tools of and for activist thought and action. Please cite this article as: Graff, J. M. (2013). Children’s literature as tools of and for activism: Reflections of JoLLE’s inaugural Activist Literacies conference. Journal of Language and Literacy Education [Online], 9(1), ____. Available at _____.


The Georgia Center for Continuing Education brimmed with energy on the evening of Friday, February 22. Collective enthusiasm and anticipation permeated the air as diverse peoples from throughout the North American continent shared and discussed multimodal representations of activism with one another. Over the course of two days, life stories, testimonios, art, literature, dramatic, and civic-minded performances, digital storytelling, gaming, and dialogic inquiry infused the consciousness of attendees of JoLLE’s inaugural conference, Activist Literacies: Inspire, Engage, Create, and Transform. Such diverse forms of expressions focused on the continual marginalization of peoples, cultures, and ideas and how both the singular and collective can enact change for social justice. The community of conference speakers and activists, including renowned professors Glynda Hull, Christian Faltis, and K.C. Nat Turner, as well as the articles in this special issue, epitomize how life is often shared in narrative form (Bruner, 2004) and how Story, regardless of genre and form, is activist in nature. Stories serve as cultural guides and often inspire, engage, create and transform both the political and personal landscapes of humanity. As I journeyed to and between presentations and workshops, I was struck by the concept of the aesthetics in social justice and was reminded of how children’s literature, as artistic, literary, and social texts, is both a tool of and for activism. While those whose scholarship involves children’s literature often understand this, I remain convinced that part of our job is to be activists for the phenomenal presence of children’s literature in our lives and the many different ways in which children’s literature in the hands of many can be a means for social justice. By reflecting on the dynamic intersections of children’s literature and activism at play during the conference, within the current JoLLE articles, and beyond, I hope to inspire others to take note of how children’s literature can remain a critical means of being an activist in a more digitally and visually oriented world.

Dr. Glynda Hull: UC Berkeley

Dr. Christian Faltis: UC Davis

Dr. K-C Nat Turner: UM Amherst

Before engaging in such a reflection, I would like to note that scholarship within the field of children’s literature often includes literature designated as “children’s” and “young adult.” Thus, when I use the term, children’s literature, I am using it as an inclusive term embodying literature designed for youth populations from birth to adolescence Children’s literature, as physical artifacts of Story, illustrates and embodies activism from a variety of perspectives. For many, children’s literature serves as connective tissue between humans and within communities. Children’s literature is also often positioned as integral to activists’ lives, as evidenced by Paulo Freire and Donaldo P. Macedo’s (1987) assertion that we need to “read both the word and the world.” When reflecting on the conference, I recognized how children’s texts helped presenters and attendees


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critically unpack, discuss, and reconstruct societal representations of gender in children’s literature; better understand the UN Rights of the Child; inspire parents and teachers to advocate, and encourage youth to participate in initiatives such as PeaceJam; engage in visual literacy, the transmediation between written word and art, and critical performative pedagogy such as Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed; and contemplate how the construct of “activism” is enacted and by whom, from international perspectives

Clearly, creators of children’s literature have the potential to facilitate activism by changing the Story and also the Storyline. Some consider contemporary picturebooks as ideal exemplar of how the linear, left-to-right Western model of reading texts is just one of many ways in which we read both the word and the world. This is especially true from a cultural perspective (e.g. reading in countries such as China, Japan, and Saudi Arabia) and given our current era of New and Digital Literacies. We increasingly live among, read, and construct visually rich and intoxicating texts and by doing so, we engage in recursive relationships with words, images, words as images, and the intersections of all of those variations (see Lawrence Sipe ‘s 1998 Children’s Literature in Education article or revisit the JOLLE Spring 2012 article for further discussion about transmediation and the synergistic relationship between word and image). Award-winning, multivoiced, non-linear narrative exemplars that provide counternarratives for both the concept of Story and the act of reading include postmodern picturebooks such as David Macaulay’s Black and White (1990), Anthony Browne’s Voices in the Park (1998), Melanie Watt’s Chester series, and Margaret Wild’s Woolvs in the Sittee (2007), not to mention fractured fairytales such as David Wiesner’s The Three Pigs (2000), Shaun Tan’s graphic narratives such as The Arrival (2007) and The Lost Thing (2000), as well as Manga series from Japan. Other picturebooks that disrupt dominant social narratives include Armin Greder’s The Island (2008), The City (2010), and his collaboration with Libby Gleason on I Am Thomas (2011). Interestingly, most of these narratives are written and published outside of the US. Suzette Youngs and Frank Serafini’s article on youth reading historical fiction picturebooks as well as Carmen Lilian Medina and Maria del Rocío Costa’s research involving children’s scripting of telenovas provide additional evidence about how the seeds of activism are planted through transmediation. The literature exemplars, the conference-based digital storytelling sessions, art-based response workshops, and relational aesthetic explorations, as well as this issue’s articles all testify to the interwoven layers of Story, the complexities of authorship, audience, intentionality, and receptivity. Adopting an activist stance with children’s literature involves considering not only who tells the story but also how the story is told and who the idealized reader is. JoLLE’s Activist Literacies Conference provided ample evidence that, at times, children’s literature can be both “windows and mirrors” (Bishop, 1990). As evidenced by the plethora of recommended “children’s literature and activism” book lists found online with a quick search (e.g. GoodReads, Compassionate Kids, Jessica Singer Early’s (2006) Stirring Up Justice, Jane Addams Children’s Book Award, Stonewall Book Award), activism is a topic children’s book authors, educators, and other community members embrace rather than avoid. The topic of


activism can provide youth with mirrors of self and society as well as windows of opportunity, courage, and hope. Narratives that include the voices and actions of youth activists, past and present, reflect a shared collective who dare to defy others or defend themselves as part of the social norm. Furthermore, the historical and contemporary portraits are evocative reminders of how powerful and integral creativity, determination and networking are to individual success and societal change. Exemplar books and notable authors include

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Iqbal (D’Adamo, 2003), the fictionalized biography of Iqbal Masuh, a Pakistani child slave who brought child slave labor to the global stage; I am Najood, aged 10 and divorced (Ali & Minoui, 2010), a memoir which addresses the cultural norms of families marrying off their young girls to older men as a way of lessening their financial burdens; a variety of books written by Deborah Ellis, a selfidentified global activist who has detailed the lives of youth stricken by crime, war, and illness; historical nonfiction books such as Kids on Strike (Bartoletti, 1999), Denied, Detained, and Deported (Bausum, 2009), Muckrakers (Bausum, 2007); literary documentaries such as Who Will Tell My Brother (Carvell, 2002), a novel in verse which details Marlene Carvell’s son’s fight to remove the school’s disrespectful use of an Indian mascot for their sports teams; and The CitizenKid series at Kids Can Press, Phillip Hoose’s It’s Our World, Too! (2003), and Barbara Lewis’ (1992), Kids with Courage, all of which offers narratives of international youth activism grounded in the environment and economic sustainability.


Indeed, activist stories emphasize and promote humanity. Within those stories are also invitations to discuss all that accompanies the concept of humanity and the pursuit for justice. As evidenced during the conference, children’s literature and other multimodal compositions can evoke dialogic inquiries about the extensive sacrifices one makes for “the cause” as well as the ideological constructs of activism and activists. What are the master narratives of “activist”? Who are portrayed as activists and what do they do? What distinguishes an “activist” youth from “disillusioned,” “naïve,” or “rebellious” youth? Who has the power to decide such labels (and some might say identities), and how are stories of activist success and or failure constructed and conveyed? Furthering the discussion are multiple “co-authored” books that document people successfully overcoming insurmountable odds. When authors such as Linda Sue Park and Karen Lynn Williams either write another’s story (e.g. A Long Walk to Water (2010) by Linda Sue Park) or share the authorship of an experience (e.g. Four Feet, Two Sandals (2007) by Karen Williams & Khandra Mohammed), they ignite inquiries about authorship, cultural capital, and activism. Why might those who have overcome seemingly insurmountable odds, require the partnership of notable authors in order to share their stories with others? Additionally, how might the “known” authors, with such immense cultural capital, become known as “activists” largely due to their cultural capital? How do cultural capital and class structures become part of activist storylines? How might storytelling via TEDTalk offer counternarratives to the economics and politics of publishing? Children’s literature can spark inquiry and critique in a multitude of ways. The concept of personal and community space as part of an activist’s process and path and as a conduit for transformative literacy (composing for the cultivation of humanity) is also seminal to our understanding of Story as a mode of activism. Conference keynote speakers Nat Turner, Glynda Hull, and Christian Faltis, local artists, and the authors of one of the latest JOLLE articles, showcase how activism is at the core of urban literacies as well as how one’s sense of space and place fuels one’s activist pathways. While children’s literature and activism tends to be localized in the classroom, other forms of activism occur at after-school youth programs and involve the arts. Programs through the Youth Action Coalition (e.g. Get Up Get Down, Girls Eye View), hip-hop music, digital stories, murals, and the creation of community gardens, help connect youth from around the world (e.g. Space to Cre8). Literature which speaks to issues of space and place when building community and honoring heritage includes photoessayist George Ancona’s work involving murals and other art forms in various Latin@ communities, G. Neri’s urban-based graphic narratives such as Yummy (2010) and Ghetto Cowboy (2011), Paul Fleishman’s picturebook Seedfolks (1997), and Sharon Dennis Wyeth’s picturebook, Something Beautiful (1998). The concept of shifting spaces and places is furthered in Watch This Space (Dyer & Nqui, 2010), an informational text for older readers that discusses the relationship between public space and privacy as well as how to successfully share, design, and use public space for personal and social good. Similarly, Jeannie Baker provides readers with the life cycle of a neighborhood and the influences of both the community and government in her wordless picturebook, Home (2004). All of these multimodal compositions reinforce how the personal is inextricably connected to the political. The JoLLE conference as well as a plethora of books continues to stress the idea of composing what you know and where you know. There are countless other ways in which the JoLLE inaugural Activist Literacies Conference reinforced the need for and benefits of activism and inspired others to act. Additionally, there is


ample evidence of the inextricable relationship between children’s literature, reading, and activism. I hope this brief reflection about the conference and the ways in which children’s literature was explicitly and implicitly involved will accentuate our need to ensure children’s literature is a part of youth’s lives and to encourage copious amount of conversations as we move forward in improving the lives of our communities and the world. References Bishop, R. S. (1990, Summer). Mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. Perspectives: Choosing and using books for the classroom, 6(3), ix-xi. Retrieved from http://www.rif.org/us/literacy-resources/multicultural/mirrors-windows-and-sliding-glassdoors.htm Bruner, J. (2004). Life as narrative. Social Research, 71(3), 691-710. Early, J. S. (2006). Stirring up justice: Writing and reading to change the world. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. Freire, P., & Macedo, D. P. (1987). Literacy: Reading the word and the world. New York, NY: Routledge. Sipe, L. (1998). How picturebooks work: A semiotically framed theory of text-pictures relationship. Children’s Literature in Education, 29(2), 97-108. Children’s Literature Cited Ali, N., & Minoui, D. (2010). I am Nujood: aged 10 and divorced (Trans. Linda Coverdale). New York, NY: Random House. Baker, J. (2004). Home. New York, NY: Greenwillow Books. Browne, A. (1998). Voices in the park. New York, NY: DK Publishing. Bartoletti, S. (1999). Kids on strike! Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin. Bausum, A. (2007). Muckrakers. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society. Bausum, A. (2009). Denied, detained, and deported. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society Carvell, M. (2002). Who will tell my brother? New York, NY: Hyperion Books for Children D’Adamo, F., & Leonori, A. (2003). Iqbal. (Trans. Ann Leonori) New York: Atheneum Books. Dyer, H., & Nqui, M. (2010). Watch this space. Toronto: Kids Can Press.


Fleishman, P. (1998). Seedfolks. New York, NY: HarperCollins Gleason, L. & Greder, A. (2011). I am Thomas. London: Frances Lincoln. Greder, A. (2008). The island. London: Frances Lincoln Greder, A. (2010). The city. London: Frances Lincoln Hoose, P. (2003). It’s our world, too! New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux Lewis, B. (1992). Kids with courage. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing Macaulay, D. (1990). Black and white. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin. Neri, G. (2011). Ghetto cowboy. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press. Neri, G. (2009). Yummy. New York, NY: Lee and Low Books. Park, L. S. (2010). A long walk to water. Boston, MA: Clarion Tan, S. (2000). The lost thing. Vancouver, BC: Simply Read Books. Tan, S. (2007). The arrival. New York, NY: Arthur A. Levine Books. Watt, M. (2007) Chester. Toronto, Canada: Kids Can Press. Wiesner, D. (2000). The three pigs. New York, NY: Clarion. Wilds, M. (2007). Woolvs in the sittee. Asheville, NC: Front Street Books. Williams, K., & Mohammed, K. (2007). Four feet, two sandals. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdsmans Books for Young Readers. Wyeth, S. D. (1998). Something beautiful. New York, NY: Doubleday Books for Young Readers.


Volume 9

Number 1 Spring 2013

Editor Lindy L. Johnson

http://jolle.coe.uga.edu

Launching Youth Activism with Award-Winning International Literature Danielle E. Forest, dforest@odu.edu Old Dominion University Sue C. Kimmel, skimmel@odu.edu Old Dominion University Kasey L. Garrison, kgarrison@csu.edu.au Charles Sturt University, Australia Abstract Using qualitative content analysis, the authors explored depictions of activism in 35 international, translated titles receiving Mildred L. Batchelder Award and Honor commendations. Findings included identification of three social justice issues appearing in the texts: characters were challenged by poor living conditions or homelessness, labor exploitation, and lack of freedom. Further, the authors found a continuum of activism depictions ranging from selfless, collaborative activism to emerging activism. These findings suggest Batchelder books are useful sources for teachers and teacher educators interested in raising awareness of global social justice issues and engaging students in activism. Further, the study calls attention to a set of books little known to educators and includes recommendations for their use as launching points for activism. Keywords: Mildred L. Batchelder Award, translated literature, activism

Please cite this article as: Forest, D. E., Kimmel, S. C., & Garrison, K. L. (2013). Launching youth activism with award-winning international literature. Journal of Language and Literacy Education [Online], 9(1), ____. Available at _____.


A plucky chicken leads a revolt against poor living and working conditions in the hen house. A bear cub joins the British army in the care of young men resisting the invaders of their home country. A wealthy boy offers homeless children shelter in an abandoned movie theater in Venice. A young immigrant rails against long hours, low wages, and child labor. A dragon and an elf lead a band of impoverished and exploited people to freedom and a new land of promise and hope. These are just some of the memorable characters, settings, and social issues depicted in recent recipients of the Mildred L. Batchelder Award and Honor, a commendation given to outstanding translated books for children. These international stories have captivated us as readers, motivated us as educators and activists, and engaged us as researchers. Short (2012) has noted the powerful nature of stories, describing them as “a way of knowing the world” (p. 11). They can spark conversations about social justice and inspire us with depictions of agency and praxis (George, 2002; Kieff, 2003; Simon & Norton, 2011). Stories also help us imagine a different, more equitable world (Kohl, 2007). In this paper, we contend that stories with international origins can prompt youth to explore social justice issues at both global and local levels and inspire them toward activist work. While carrying out an exploratory study of cultural representations in award-winning translated books for youth (Kimmel, Garrison, & Forest, 2012), we observed that characters were often challenged by social injustices like homelessness and discrimination. We realized the potential these titles hold for showing children how agency can be exercised in the face of injustice. This realization prompted the present work, an analysis of activism in recent titles named Batchelder Award and Honor books. In sharing this work, we hope to spark readers’ interest in these titles and in activism. Though today’s educators face many demands on their classroom time, we believe they are in a strong position to work towards fostering activism through the use of literature for young people. In this article, we discuss a set of 35 award-winning translated books for young readers and their potential for: 1) provoking dialogue about social justice issues with youth; and 2) inspiring children and young adults to take on activist efforts. However, Paris (2012) suggests that it is not enough to simply include books about social struggles in the curriculum: educators must “connect the struggles in literature and other classroom content to continuing struggles” (p. 9). Similarly, Picower (2012) emphasizes that educators must move beyond raising awareness of social injustices and to engaging children in activist efforts. In light of these contentions, we connect activism depicted in the stories to activist efforts that educators can undertake with students at local and global levels. We begin by providing some background about children and activism as well as the set of books discussed in this study, Mildred L. Batchelder Award and Honor books published since 2000. Following this, we identify theoretical perspectives that have informed this work and we discuss the methods used to analyze portrayals of activism in the Batchelder books. We conclude by presenting and discussing our findings and considering how educators can move toward launching students into activism.


Background To contextualize this study, we briefly discuss perspectives of children as activists. An historical overview of children and their engagement in activism follows this discussion. Then we supply background information about the Mildred L. Batchelder Award, an accolade conferred by the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association. Children and Activism Simon and Norton (2011) define an activist as “a person who works to bring about intentional change to transform inequitable political, environmental, social and/or economic states” (p. 294). Children’s activism efforts have sometimes been dismissed because of their age, and the work they do is not always recognized as activism (Bosco, 2010). Simon (2010) contends children are not recognized as activists because they are seen as naïve and likely to change their views as they become adolescents; further, their activism and resistance efforts are interpreted by adults as misbehavior. Not only does child activism often go unacknowledged, but at times, schools do not adequately teach children how to exercise agency. Though proponents of multicultural education (e.g., Gay, 2007) believe issues of justice and equity, the catalysts for activism, should be addressed in school, Bassey (2010) critiques multicultural education for its failure to give students strategies and models for enacting social change. In other words, activism is left out of the school day, even in classrooms where teachers are committed to social justice. Given the pressure today’s educators face in “teaching to the test” and producing student achievement, this is unsurprising. Though young people are not always recognized as activists, they have a long and notable history of activism. For instance, children worked for racial equality in the American Civil Rights era of the 1950s and 1960s. Sheyann Webb and Rachel West were eight and nine years old, respectively, when they marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma, Alabama in 1965 (Webb & Nelson, 1997), while hundreds of young people participated in earlier demonstrations in Birmingham (Mayer, 2008). Claudette Colvin was a teenager when she refused to give up her seat on a segregated bus months before Rosa Parks sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott (Hoose, 2009). Well-known educator and writer Hebert Kohl (2007) recalls his high school peers standing up for teachers facing accusations of Communism during the McCarthy era. More recently, Paris (2012) describes the participation of high school students in protests against Arizona’s controversial SB1070, the law permitting police to request documentation from suspected illegal immigrants. These examples illustrate the serious roles children have assumed as activists, and recent scholarship includes several discussions of activist work initiated in a classroom setting. We refer interested readers to Harman and Varga-Dobai (2012) and Mitra and Serriere (2012) for further reading on this topic. The Mildred L. Batchelder Award Children’s librarians have long been engaged in the process of identifying high-quality literature through awards such as the Newbery and Caldecott. In 1966, the Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC) initiated an award for translated literature named after librarian Mildred L.


Batchelder, a tireless crusader for the promotion of international literature. The Batchelder Award and Honor is given to American publishers for publishing English translations of books originally produced in another country and language (ALSC, 2012). In an increasingly connected and global world, translated books represent an important bridge to world literature for readers. The Batchelder, first conferred in 1968, was an early marker of international border crossings in youth literacies. Titles eligible for the Batchelder Award are intended for children 14 years old and younger, though in our reading, we have found some are likely to appeal to older teens (e.g., Ultimate Game, Lehmann, 2000). The books are predominantly in novel format. Only three picture books published since 2000 have been selected as Batchelder titles: Big Wolf and Little Wolf (BrunCosme, 2009); Garmann’s Summer (Hole, 2008); and Henrietta and the Golden Eggs (Johansen, 2002). All of these are Honor books; no picture book has won the Award in recent years. We judge that most Batchelder titles will appeal to children between 10 and 14 years old. The Award is given annually to a book published in the previous year unless the Batchelder committee, which consists of a chairperson and four members appointed by the ALSC president, deems that no title meets the criteria (ALSC, 2007). Since 1994, one or more Honor books have been selected, along with the Award winner. Criteria for the Batchelder include the literary qualities of the book such as “interpretation of the theme or content” and “appropriateness of style” (ALSC, 2007, p. 10), though it is unclear how those criteria are defined by the committee. Related to the original work, the criteria also state the translation should not be “unduly Americanized” and the “readers should be able to sense that the book came from another country” (ALSC, 1987, para. 4). However, as stated in the Award’s terms and criteria, committee members may not be able to read in a book’s original language and must use their judgment to determine whether it is “true to the substance. . . and flavor of the original work” (ALSC, 1987, para. 4). The work of translation is fraught with cultural challenges (Metcalf, 2003; Yamazaki, 2002) and a limitation of this set of books is the ability of the award judges to determine cultural inaccuracies, omissions, or substitutions resulting from the translation process. Yet without these translations, the texts would be entirely inaccessible to readers who lacked proficiency in the original language. Books in translation allow us to cross international and cultural boundaries (however imperfectly) and to engage in a different mode of literacy that extends our language borders. Translated books promote the connectivity or radical change that Dresang (1999) said encourages a "sense of community . . . because of the new perspectives and vistas with which young readers connect" (p. 12). Though ALSC gives the Batchelder Award to outstanding titles (ALSC, 2012), scholars suggest educators are often not familiar with the award or with translated books in general (Joels, 1999; Lo & Leahy, 1997; Louie & Louie, 1999). We hope our discussion of Batchelder titles and their utility for inspiring youth activism will encourage teachers and teacher educators to consider these books in their practice. Young readers should not miss out on the “rich treasure in foreign books” (Louie & Louie, 1999, p. 34).


Theoretical Framework Simon and Norton (2011) developed a working definition of activism applied to their identification of a set of books demonstrating activism and spirituality (p. 299), and this definition is used as the framework for the present study. First and foremost to this description is the idea that an activist is a person who works in collaboration with others to enact change. Without this emphasis, Simon and Norton argue that children may receive the wrong idea about activism: major social changes are rarely made by a single person. Seeing collective action in literature is important: while not all children will grow up to become heroes or leaders, all children have the potential to participate in community activism (Kohl, 1991). Unfortunately, books for children, at least those originating from the United States, tend to focus on the actions of individuals rather than on collective struggles (Kohl, 2007). Simon and Norton (2011) next describe activists as “working for the greater good of the community” rather than their own self-interests (p. 299). Given that popular children’s books often depict characters acting out of self-interest (Shannon, 1986), representations of activist characters with a collective orientation seem especially important. A third criterion identified by Simon and Norton applies to activism as portrayed in books: praxis, or actions to effect social change, must be visible to the reader. Youth should have the opportunity to see the choices and actions characters make in their activist efforts. Simon and Norton (2011) are not the first to identify what activism should look like when selecting titles for young people. Kohl (2007) has outlined similar ideas in his description of “radical stories.” Like Simon and Norton, Kohl believes radical stories should include collective and collaborative (rather than individual) actions. His definition is extended by the following criteria: an equitable community results from collective action, the “bad guy” should be dynamically characterized, and unity and collegiality should mark characters’ collaborative activist efforts. Further, Kohl does not believe a “happy ending” is necessary in radical stories. Although we are informed by Kohl’s work, we found Simon and Norton’s definition provided a clear and workable framework for our analysis. In addition, we borrow an idea from Bassey (2010), who advocates for a “critical social foundations of education approach” that helps students recognize and critique social issues and gives them the tools to initiate and enact change in their communities (p. 251). Like Bassey, we believe education should raise awareness and empower and enable young people to take on activist roles. A central assumption of our work is the power of literature to inspire youth towards activism in their schools and communities. We believe translated literature is especially suited to this goal as it represents social issues and activism on a global scale. Further, our previous research suggested this particular set of translated books as a rich source for inquiry into social justice and equity issues (Kimmel, Garrison & Forest, 2012). Methods and Data Set Our study of Batchelder titles began in an earlier paper investigating portrayals of culture within the set (Kimmel, Garrison, & Forest, 2012). This initial study was a qualitative inductive content analysis (Berg, 2001) of the 12 Award books published between 2000 and 2011 (award years


2001-2012). Each member of the research team read through the titles individually and used the definition of critical incidents from Flanagan (1954) to code significant mentions of seven cultural markers: gender, religion, disability, social class, immigration status, nationality, and race/ethnicity. These codes were developed from a framework described and used by Rawson (2011) in an analysis of culture in award-winning titles for young adults. Following the individual coding, we met to discuss the books and come to consensus about our final codes. Later, this process was repeated with the 20 Batchelder Honor books from 2001-2012 and the three newest Batchelder titles announced in January 2013. (See Appendix A for the full references of all 35 titles.) After realizing that these titles could be used to promote the idea of activism for young readers, we reviewed the books and our data to pull more specific examples to support the use of these books as catalysts for youth activism. We created a spreadsheet using Simon and Norton’s (2011) framework defining activism and began to fill it in with Batchelder titles containing characters and topics related to activism. An example is shown in Table 1 to illustrate this process. In our overall analysis of activism in the 35 Batchelder titles published since 2000, we found 16 books to have rich portrayals of activism and emerging activist themes, as defined by Simon and Norton (2011). These titles are described in Table 2. They represent a wide range of genres, settings, and topics. The discussion following Table 2 reveals the unique instances of activism found in the titles and how they may relate to activist efforts involving both elementary and secondary students. Findings: Activism in Batchelder Titles Our examination of activism in the Batchelder titles uncovered two themes related to our analysis. First, we found three different social issues that characters worked toward changing. These issues included characters’ efforts to: 1) improve the living conditions of other characters; 2) prevent the exploitation of other characters; and 3) promote political, religious, and social freedoms. The second theme to emerge from our analysis involved our identification of a continuum of activist efforts; Batchelder characters varied in their level of engagement with activism per the definition by Simon and Norton (2011). These levels of engagement included: 1) instances of true activism according to Simon and Norton’s definition; 2) emerging, but not fully altruistic, activist efforts made by characters; and 3) unrealized opportunities for characters to be activists. Using passages from the Batchelder books, the following discussion begins with the three social issues that spurred characters’ activism and then gives support for the continuum of activism identified.


Table 1: Example of Activism Analysis using Simon and Norton’s (2011) Framework Title

Activist Character

The Last Dragon

Yorsh and the dragon

Tiger Moon

Woman with hooked nose

Does the character collaborate with others? Yes, they work together and with Robi, an orphan.

Does the character work for collective interests? Yes, they are not motivated out of pure self-interest.

Is activism visible in the story? The activist efforts are described at length.

No, she acts alone.

While she does not act out of selfinterest to save individual children, she also does not work toward countering structural inequities.

Yes, they are shown in her actions.

What are the activist efforts?

Illustrative Passage

Yorsh and the dragon rescue a group of oppressed people and institute a new, free society. The dragon sacrifices his life for this.

When the rain had stopped and the smell of their roasting meat had spread around the area, settling on poor villages and farms where the rabbits were better fed than the humans, all the starving people had joined up with them. The ones who had nothing. The ones who had nobody. They had gathered up all the uprooted and the povertystricken, the ones who had lost their land and had dreamed of finding new land – and there were plenty of them. (p. 321) "Sometimes he came to see us," the woman went on. “When my husband wasn't at home. I used to give him something to eat." "Why?" asked Farhad. The woman shrugged her shoulders and glanced at the two boys who looked even smaller and dirtier than the dead child. "I feed them all." She picked up her sewing things again and went on threading her needle through the fabric, as if her conversation with Farhad came second to her work. "I don’t understand," said Farhad. "You don't look as if you have much money. Why do you feed the children?" (pp. 278-9)

She helps homeless children by providing them with food and water. She nurses protagonists Farhad and Nitish back to health.


Table 2: Batchelder Titles Depicting Activism

Award Year

Title

Language & Country of Origin German; Germany

Genre

Setting

Basic Plot

Historical Fiction

WWII; Germany & England

A young German girl with Jewish roots must leave her family to seek refuge in England where she is welcomed into a new orthodox Jewish family.

Late 1990s; Liberia during the civil war WWII; Poland, Iran, Italy, Egypt, & Russia

A young brother and sister are forced to become child soldiers in Liberia’s civil war.

2013 Winner

My Family for the War

2013 Honor

Son of a Gun

Dutch; Netherlands

Contemporary Realism

2012 Winner

Soldier Bear

Dutch; Netherlands

Historical Fiction

2011 Winner

A Time of Miracles

French; France

Contemporary Realism

1990s to 2000s; Georgia to France

Georgian refugees Blaise Fortune and his mother flee their war-torn homeland in Eastern Europe, struggling to survive as they make their way across the continent towards France, where Blaise believes he is a citizen.

2010 Honor

Big Wolf and Little Wolf

French; France

Fantasy

Woods

Big Wolf gives Little Wolf food and shelter and finds unexpected companionship in this picture book.

2010 Honor

Eidi

Danish; Denmark

Historical Fiction

Approximately 19th century; Denmark

Eidi seeks independence after the birth of her baby brother and finds it along with a child who needs her help.

2009 Winner

Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit

Japanese; Japan

Fantasy

Medieval; Japanlike fantasy setting

Balsa, a female spear-wielding bodyguard, transcends traditional gender roles as she protects the prince of the kingdom from his superstitious father.

2009 Honor

Tiger Moon

German; Germany

Fantasy

19th century; British colonial India

A new bride fears her wedding night and distracts herself and a kind servant with an exciting and romantic story of a hero who sets off to rescue a princess in a similar situation.

Based on true events, a group of Polish soldiers adopt a bear cub that grows up with them during their WWII army migration across Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.


2007 Honor

The Last Dragon

Italian; Italy

Fantasy

Fantasy setting

The last elf and the last dragon work together to save marginalized children and others and fulfill an ancient prophecy.

2006 Winner

The Pull of the Ocean

French; France

Contemporary Realism

Modern; France

2006 Honor

When I Was a Soldier

French; France

Contemporary Realism

1980s; Israel

Under the direction of the youngest and smallest, Yann, a band of seven brothers run away from their poor farm home, fleeing their cruel father and indifferent mother. An 18 year-old girl documents her two years of compulsory service in the Israeli army.

2005 Winner

The Shadow of Ghadames

French; France

Historical Fiction

19th century; Libya

Twelve year-old Malika struggles with growing up and her society’s traditional gender roles, but finds freedom in learning to read and the realization that these societal borders also limit males like her brother.

2004 Honor

The Crow Girl

Danish; Denmark

Historical Fiction

Approximately 19th century; Denmark

After the death of her only family member, Myna seeks and finds love and companionship from others who have felt loss and pain.

2003 Winner

The Thief Lord

German; Germany

Fantasy

Modern; Frankfurt to Venice

After their mother dies in Frankfurt, Germany, two brothers run away to Venice where they join a group of homeless, pick-pocketing orphans living in an abandoned movie theater and become tasked with finding a magical carousel.

2003 Honor

Henrietta and the Golden Eggs

German; Germany

Fantasy- Animal

Modern; Farm

Henrietta’s optimism and spirit results in better living conditions for the entire hen house in this picture book.

2002 Winner

How I Became an American

German; Germany

Historical Fiction

Early 1900s ; Germany to U.S.

Based on letters of American immigrants from the early 20th century, Johann’s family leaves their native home in Germany, seeking out a better life in Youngstown, OH.


Three Social Issues and Activist Efforts Using Simon and Norton’s (2011) framework as a guide, our analysis of activism in the Batchelder titles revealed three social issues triggering activism. Characters were often faced with unfair or unacceptable living conditions, and some were even homeless. Exploitation was evident in the books when characters, usually children, were being taken advantage of by others. The quest for freedom was another social issue that prompted characters to take action.

Cover for the book The Thief Lord. Living conditions and homelessness. Characters carried out activism efforts in order to help others and improve their living conditions. Sometimes the activist characters were in a better social position to make such efforts. For example, in The Thief Lord by Cornelia Funke (2002), one of the main protagonists, Scipio, is from a rich Venetian family, but he poses as a pickpocketing orphan and leads a group of actual homeless orphans. He sets them up in an abandoned movie theater owned by his father and gets them money by pawning valuables he steals from his parents. When Scipio’s deception is revealed, he loses the trust of his friends, but they lose their home. “And if the children don’t have a home, why shouldn’t they live in your movie theater? It’s empty anyway,” said Scipio. “My word, children sometimes say the oddest things. So it’s empty. Do you think that’s reason enough to let all the tramps in the city squat there?” [Scipio’s father speaking] “But what’s going to happen to them now?” Scipio felt himself getting hot. Then cold. Terribly cold. “You saw the girl. Can’t you take pity on her?” (Funke, 2002, loc 31813189)


Cover for the book Big Wolf, Little Wolf. Big Wolf, Little Wolf (Brun-Cosme, 2009), one of the few picture books honored with the Batchelder, gives a similar example of a character helping a homeless individual. In this story, loner Big Wolf shares food and shelter with Little Wolf when they meet in the woods. “When Big Wolf saw that Little Wolf was shivering at the tip of his nose he pushed a teeny tiny corner of his leaf blanket closer to him. ‘That is certainly enough for such a little wolf,’ he thought” (Brun-Cosme, 2009, p. 7). While Big Wolf is usually a loner, he finds kinship and comfort in Little Wolf’s presence and also in the fact that he can help Little Wolf. In Henrietta and the Golden Eggs (Johansen, 2002), Henrietta dreams of a better life for herself outside of the crowded, dirty hen house where she lives with thousands of other chickens. These poor living conditions are described by the author: The air stank of chicken droppings and fortified chicken feed. There was a lot of pushing and shoving on the ground, because each chicken had just enough room for its feet, but no more. Things were not going well for the three thousand three hundred and thirtythree chickens. Many of them had a cough and almost all of them were losing feathers because they pecked at one another whenever they stepped on each other’s feet. (Johansen, 2002, pp. 3-5) In order to improve her situation, Henrietta escapes again and again from the hen house, eventually leading the farmer to build an outdoor pen for the chickens that is a much cleaner and happier place. All of these activists, Henrietta, Big Wolf, and Scipio, sought to improve the living conditions of their fellow characters, whether friends or strangers. Their activist efforts were not completely selfless, as they did earn improvements in their own lives socially or physically. The next theme included more altruistic examples of activism in the Batchelder titles as activist characters stood up for or even saved the lives of other characters being exploited.


Exploitation. The issue of exploitation most often dealt with problems related to labor. How I Became an American (Gündisch, 2001) clearly referenced the historical exploitation of immigrants and the practice of child labor. Johann and his family have immigrated to America for better jobs and soon learn (as one minister reminds them), “‘Many of you are employed in work that no American wants to do,’ said the pastor and I had to think about my brother Peter, who had said the same thing” (Gündisch, 2001, p. 100). Johann’s older brother becomes an activist, suggesting at one point, “‘Actually to get better working conditions, you have to strike’” (Gündisch, 2001, p. 67). The brother is also angered when one of Johann’s classmates drops out of school to go to work in the mines: “‘Almost three hundred thousand children under fourteen are working in factories, in mines, in slaughterhouses in Chicago, or in the cotton fields of the South. They’re working ten hours a day for starvation wages’” (Gündisch, 2001, p. 71). A much more contemporary example of child exploitation is the subject of a recent Batchelder Honor book, Son of a Gun (de Graaf, 2012), set in Liberia in the 1990s where an eight-year-old boy is forced to become a child soldier. Harrowing details include the use of pills that children were told protected them from death and the straightforward way the protagonist’s ten-year-old sister describes becoming the “wife” of one of the rebels. Son of a Gun provides a stark reminder that children continue to be exploited around the world. In A Time of Miracles (Bondoux, 2010), Blaise and other children work in the ruins of a light bulb factory to recover nickel in exchange for a meager wage to purchase food. They fish in a nearby lake. The site is toxic and dangerous. Winter returns to Souma-Soula, and a rumor circulates from shed to shed that a curse has fallen over the dwellers of the lake area. It seems that several women have given birth to monstrous children. “The first one didn’t have a head!” Suki tells me. “The second one had two of them!” Maya says with a grimace. (Bondoux, 2010, loc. 794) Men in armored cars, coveralls, and masks come to investigate and determine the lake has been poisoned by waste from the light bulb factory. In When I Was a Soldier (Zenatti, 2005), Valerie imagines herself as an activist. As she is about to leave her job to become a soldier, she rails against the meager wage she has been paid to work in a local pharmacy, Extrapharm, and she pictures herself as a future activist: When I think about it, I’m convinced that later in life I’ll be a trade unionist. Or perhaps a revolutionary. And the day I am, they’ll be adding two noughts on all the pay slips or, even better, there won’t be any pay slips at all, and money won’t be this weird thing I’m prepared to act the fool for (with some talent apparently) in those aisles which smell of a mixture of soap, washing powder and expensive perfume. The day I am, no one will feel humiliated any longer just for being poor, and no organization will be run like a mini dictatorship. (Zenatti, 2005, p. 22) Her actions are on a much smaller scale, as she elects instead to write on the restroom wall:


“And God said: ‘let there be rampant capitalism,’ and there was Extrapharm. And I cited the reference: Genesis of exploited employees, chapter 1, verse 7” (Zenatti, 2005, p. 43). Another form of child exploitation relates to the abuse of children by parents. In The Pull of the Ocean (Mourlevat, 2006), the mother describes her youngest child, a dwarf: “We kept him anyway. We thought his size might come in handy for certain chores” (p.14). Each chapter of this book is written in a different voice as Yann leads his brothers to run away from their abusive home, convincing them that their father plans to kill his children since he cannot afford to feed them. Running away is a form of agency that is also featured in The Thief Lord (Funke, 2002,) where two brothers flee from an aunt who really only wants to adopt one of them. A detective hired to locate the boys has this encounter with them: “Are you really going to catch us and take us back to Esther? We don’t belong to her, you know.” Embarrassed, Victor stared at his shoes. “Well, children all have to belong to somebody,” he muttered. “Do you belong to someone?” “That’s different.” “Because you’re a grown-up?” (Funke, 2002, loc. 1864) This passage captures the sense that children belong to adults who can then choose to exploit or use them for their own purposes. In many of these cases, the books serve to create an awareness of issues of exploitation but provided few concrete examples of activism as defined by Simon and Norton (2011). Characters run away but they often take siblings or others with them. Officials discover the toxicity of the lake in A Time of Miracles (Bondoux, 2010) and forbid access to it, but take no actions to care for those affected by the poison. Blaise and his mother move on to look for work, food, and shelter elsewhere. Valerie imagines being a revolutionary, but takes the surreptitious action of writing on a restroom wall. Johann’s brother is a labor activist, but it is his words rather than his actions that are visible in the story. The only true example of activism is in The Last Dragon (De Mari, 2006), where children who have been abandoned or orphaned are expected to work picking grapes or participate in other kinds of forced labor in exchange for protection, shelter, and very little food. Order is maintained through fear and abuse. When an elf and a dragon appear, one of the children, Robi, is singled out as a witch and sent to prison. But her fate is tied to that of the dragon and elf through prophecy, and together they lead the children and others oppressed by the Daligar government into a fierce battle for freedom. Finally reaching a land where they are free and food is plentiful, the people create a list of proclamations including, “That which a person works from the land is his own, and no one can take it from him” and “No little child must work” (De Mari, 2006, p. 358-9). Freedom. Another social justice issue emerging from the books was freedom. Several characters sought political liberty for large groups, while others pursued individual freedom from


oppressive, marginalizing conditions. Gloria in A Time of Miracles (Bondoux, 2010) is one example of an activist pursuing political liberty. In her story, set in the 1980s and 1990s in the Caucasus Mountains of Georgia, Gloria, her husband, and a group of their friends attempt a revolution to overthrow what they perceive as a hostile Soviet government. “‘We wanted to start a revolution. We wanted people to live freely, on their own land. We wanted people to speak their ancestral language, to practice their own religion, their own culture,’” as Gloria explains it to the narrator, Blaise (Bondoux, 2010, loc. 2032-33). Gloria and her group pursue their goals through violent means, planting bombs to throw off government plans and eventually, blowing up a train and killing dozens of innocent people on board. Though she believes in freedom for the people of Georgia, Gloria soon rejects the violent actions of the others and runs away. She and Blaise travel throughout Eurasia to seek their own freedom in France. Although Gloria’s violent actions serve more as a non-example of what activist work should be, she does acknowledge the wrong she has done. Readers come away from the title with the understanding that political freedom is an important cause, but peaceful actions are a far more humane and are worthy means of achieving it. Valerie from When I was a Soldier (Zanetti, 2005) and the Polish soldiers from Soldier Bear (Tak, 2011) are two additional examples of activists working toward political freedom. Though Valerie joins the Israeli military for compulsory service, she comes to view her role not as a job she has to do, but one she wants to do for the sake of Israel’s freedom and sustainability. The following passage, where Valerie is thinking about a Holocaust survivor she meets by chance, illustrates her perspective: I heave a very deep sigh. In few minutes, I'll have to get off, I have a mission to accomplish. A new blood is flowing in my veins, as if I were going to fight for this old woman with her gentle eyes, this woman whose hand shook as it held my arm. (Zanetti, 2005, p.225) Though we see Valerie’s activist leanings early in the book when she considers workers’ rights, this passage reflects her newfound maturity. Unlike Valerie, who has to become a soldier, Peter, Stanislav, and their friends in Soldier Bear (Tak, 2011) choose to join the British army in reaction to the German invasion of Poland, their homeland. They could have remained in Poland, but they decide to go to war for the sake of taking back their country’s freedom. Peter and the other soldiers are activists in an additional way: they rescue a sickly, orphaned bear cub they call Voytek and raise him, despite the mischief he causes. Interestingly, Soldier Bear is based on a true story. Other characters in Batchelder titles work for freedom from oppressive conditions or circumstances. Balsa in Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit (Uehashi, 2008) is one example. In this story, Balsa, a female bodyguard, rescues and protects Chagum, a prince set to be murdered by his father to protect the royal family’s honor and authority. Though Balsa is coerced into helping Chagum and is paid for her work, she risks her life to accomplish this and comes to genuinely care for the boy. Readers also learn Balsa has a history of protecting others, as this story from an orphaned child she has helped reveals:


“But then suddenly the feet stopped, I opened my eyes, and there was Balsa. I couldn’t believe it – it was five against one, right? And she just looks like an ordinary woman, while those big thugs were used to fighting. But that spear! Like lightning! And like that, all five of them were on the ground, and not one of them was even groaning. They were knocked out. It was incredible! And you know what was the nicest thing about it? Balsa helped us. Us! And she wouldn’t even accept anything in repayment.” (Uehashi, 2008, p. 53) Though Balsa is a reluctant activist, she often puts herself at risk to protect those in need, using her skill in combat for the good of other people. She preserves their freedom as well as their lives by offering her protection. Myna and Eidi from The Children of Crow Cove series (Bredsdorff, 2004; 2009) undertake activist efforts to free others from oppressive conditions as well. Myna brings food and kindness to an elderly man whose caretakers have neglected him, and later, she offers a safe haven to Foula and her daughter Eidi. Foula has been the victim of an abusive, unstable husband, and Myna’s efforts free her from her fears and her husband’s violence. In the second book in the series, Eidi becomes an activist herself when she saves an overworked young boy, Tink, whose mother has died and whose guardian blames him for his mother’s death. Eidi gives Tink freedom from his tyrannical employer, Bandon. In the latest Batchelder Award title, My Family for the War (Voorhoeve, 2012), Amanda Shepard is an activist in several ways. Amanda, herself a Jewish convert, goes to great lengths to help the Jewish refugees pouring into England after escaping Nazi persecution. First, she becomes a foster mother to Ziska, a German girl whose parents send her away to England in the hope that she might be safer there as World War II escalates. Later on, Amanda works furiously to help Ziska’s friend Walter, a German teen living in England, who is placed in a British internment camp. This passage illustrates Amanda’s activism on Walter’s behalf: In the following weeks, my foster mother discovered a new activity: protest. She wrote to the government and to individual officials, wrote letters to the editors of every newspaper and radio station – and through her efforts learned that she wasn’t the only one fighting against the internment of foreigners. Various groups and individuals had dedicated themselves to the same goal. They even banded together for a demonstration. (Voorhoeve, 2012, pp. 251-252)

Further, Malika and Abdelkarim from The Shadows of Ghadames (Stolz, 2004) work as activists to help each other. In this story set in late 19th century Libya, Malika and her stepmother free Abdelkarim, who is a wanted man, by harboring him in their home and later helping him escape from the village. Meanwhile, Abdelkarim gives Malika freedom in a very different way: he teaches her how to read. In Malika’s world, where women are confined to the home and do not attend school, literacy is a precious and rare sort of freedom. Continuum of Activism: Create and Transform, Engage, Inspire


A main piece of the definition of activism is that activists work for the collective, greater good, not just self-interest (Simon & Norton, 2011). However, instances of activism identified in the Batchelder titles rarely fit this definition completely. In recognizing these instances, we noted a continuum ranging from true activism as described by Simon and Norton (2011) to emerging activism, where positive efforts were not fully selfless or intentional, to a call for action, where the characters and plots present ripe opportunities for educators to engage young activists. Create and transform: True activism. We found it striking that the most developed and visible model of activism was found in fantasy. A young girl is aided by an elf and a dragon in The Last Dragon (De Mari, 2006) to fulfill a prophecy and liberate a people from an oppressive regime. Balsa in the Moribito series (Uehashi, 2008) helps characters in similar conditions. Historical examples of the revolutionary actions of young people in labor unions (e.g., How I Became an American, Gündisch, 2011) and youth taking up arms against Nazis or Soviet dictators were referenced in the historical fiction titles but not explicitly shown (e.g., A Time of Miracles, Bondoux, 2010). While fantasy titles included a stronger depiction of activism than realistic fiction titles set among actual events, imagination is a powerful tool for young readers: first to become aware of injustice and then to empathize with others is an important first step for promoting activism in youth. Literature is recognized by many as an important tool supporting this purpose (Simon & Norton, 2011). Engage: Recognizing emerging activism. While reading these books and considering the definition of true activism by Simon and Norton (2011), a modified definition surfaced which we labeled as emerging activism. Children in many of the books acted out of concern for others, but their motives were not entirely selfless, or they operated from naïve perspectives of social justice. For example, while Big Wolf did give Little Wolf food and shelter, Little Wolf gave Big Wolf friendship and companionship (Brun-Cosme, 2009). In The Crow Girl: The Children of Crow Cove (Bredsdorff, 2004), the main character Myna provides a similar case of working to help others but also getting something in return. After the death of her grandmother and only companion, young Myna, sad and alone, searches the countryside for a new family. She finds others who, like herself, have been displaced physically or emotionally by death or domestic abuse. Myna decides that they can start a new family and takes everyone back to the home where she grew up with her grandmother. In The Thief Lord (Funke, 2002), Scipio was out for the adventure and romance of living on his own, away from the strict rules and regulations of his father and family’s social position. As the leader of the homeless orphans, he had power and the admiration of his friends. While the activist efforts of these characters should not be ignored, they do not quite fit Simon and Norton’s (2011) definition. Another component of emerging activism was comprised of instances in which activists felt they were saving other characters from their own cultural identities (i.e. religion, customs). Eleanor is an English character in Tiger Moon (Michaelis, 2008), a 2009 Batchelder Honor set in India during British colonial times. She helps Indian orphans by giving them clothing, food, and shelter, but her efforts also have strong undertones of forced acculturation as illustrated by this passage: After that, Eleanor walked in the garden with him and told him about her orphans. “I’m making them into brand-new people," she explained, her eyes shining. “You should just


see how keen they are to read and write! And I give them history and geography lessons, too. Once, before I came to India with Papa, I was going to be a history and geography teacher. Here, I don’t even need a college training to teach people. Isn't that wonderful? Only last week we were studying the course of the Thames . . ." (Michaelis, 2008, p. 131132) While Eleanor is no doubt engaging in activism by improving the orphans’ living conditions, her efforts to educate them on British geography seem self-serving and insensitive. In each of these cases, young people act out of good intentions but do not fully grasp the underlying causes of homelessness, exploitation, or other social injustices. Inspire: A call for activism. Each of the Batchelder titles described in this paper includes some aspect of activism. At the very least, these international titles call attention to social injustices throughout history. Literature allows the reader to understand the humanity of others (however different they may seem from us) and the pain caused by injustice. The Batchelder titles present a call for activism and provide an opportunity for educators to lead discussions with students about the causes of social injustices. For example, the issue of homelessness is evident in the books, including war refugees such as Blaise and Gloria in A Time of Miracles (Bondoux, 2010). Reading these titles and discussing these issues helps to create awareness of the exploitation of children that is largely invisible to many of us in the United States. Reading books such as Son of A Gun (de Graaf, 2012) or The Last Dragon (De Mari, 2006) offers the opportunity to talk about child soldiers or child labor. Many of the books, including The Thief Lord (Funke, 2002) and The Pull of the Ocean (Mourlevat, 2006), feature child runaways, an issue that young readers might relate to but may not think about in terms of a call for activism. Discussion The Batchelder books described here can be a launching point for promoting children’s interest in and engagement with activism. As we have noted, many of these titles call attention to issues related to ongoing social injustices, like unfair living conditions or homelessness, exploitation, and oppression. For instance, educators might use The Thief Lord (Funke, 2002) to initiate a discussion about homelessness, an issue of particular salience given the number of home foreclosures that have occurred alongside the current economic recession. The discrimination and oppression faced by characters in books like The Last Dragon (De Mari, 2006) could prompt conversation about inequities like the challenges faced by undocumented immigrant students wanting to attend state universities. In many cases, these titles go beyond calling attention to injustice but depict characters taking stands as activists, such as Amanda Shepherd campaigning against the internment of foreigners in England (My Family for the War, Voorhoeve, 2012) or Henrietta agitating against the illness-inducing conditions of the hen house where she is confined (Henrietta and the Golden Eggs, Johansen, 2002). Batchelder titles provide opportunities for educators to raise awareness about injustices, and they can serve as models of agency for young readers. While teachers face many demands during their instructional time, we offer several ways that activism can be encouraged in classrooms. Though we advise using students’ interests and concerns as a starting point for identifying activism opportunities, students, teachers, and teacher


educators can also turn to organizations such as the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Amnesty International, and Free the Children to work on existing activist projects. As described above, students and teachers can also consider how social issues like those depicted in the Batchelder books connect to similar issues within their own communities. Since many of the titles are imperfect or incomplete in their depictions of activism, they remain at the level of emerging activism or creating awareness of activism, rather than models of full activism. Nonetheless, these are appropriate for engaging and inspiring children. Next, we share some recommendations for ways educators can use these books in classrooms Recommendations for Educators Picower (2012) suggests educators can help raise students’ awareness of injustices by using a technique she calls “camouflaging” (p. 5), which involves substituting the regular curriculum with social justice content. For example, in a reading class, a teacher might replace a text from a basal anthology with a Batchelder title depicting injustice and activism and discuss these issues while working on other literacy skills. Smolen and Martin (2011) describe how text sets with similar themes have potential for raising students’ awareness of social issues, while Stover and Bach (2012) note that pairing fiction with non-fiction can give students a “richer perspective” on issues of interest (p. 217). Educators interested in promoting students’ understandings of discrimination, for instance, might pair My Family for the War (Voorhoeve, 2012) or A Time of Miracles (Bondoux, 2010) with books like Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice (Hoose, 2009) or Toni Morrison’s Remember: The Journey to School Integration (2005). All of these titles portray characters or real individuals who experienced discrimination based on ethnicity or race. The three social issues appearing in Batchelder titles that we identify here (living conditions, exploitation, and freedom) can assist teachers in developing their own text sets appropriate for their students’ interests and reading levels. Batchelder titles and other texts incorporating social justice themes can be integrated with a number of skills taught in school, including literacy skills. Stover and Bach (2012) describe how students’ awareness and knowledge of social justice issues can be disseminated through creating pamphlets, developing blogs and wikis, or writing and performing scripts. As an example, students interested in understanding more about homelessness after reading The Thief Lord (Funke, 2002) might research homelessness statistics in their own community, investigate the causes of homelessness (Picower, 2012), or lobby in a public forum for a higher minimum wage or expansion of housing assistance programs. While not an exhaustive list of teaching strategies, these ideas are included here to help readers connect our discussion with their practices. Conclusions Literature, particularly fiction, is a powerful artistic medium. Reading is a kind of literacy that allows us to both find ourselves and to encounter and explore the lives of others in different places, different times and facing different realities. Such encounters expand our worlds and allow us to empathize with the very personal and human struggles of others from Nazi Germany to the more contemporary Liberian conflict. Tales of fantasy allow us to imagine ourselves on the back of a dragon leading the exploited and imprisoned to freedom, or imagining ourselves providing food and comfort to a lonely wolf. Awareness, imagination, and empathy with others


who face injustice, exploitation, and conflict are necessary steps toward becoming activists who are committed to taking action to create a better world. Translated books provide access to rich literary worlds beyond our national and linguistic boundaries. As Bassey (2010) notes, educators have a key role to play in raising awareness and empowering young people to take activist roles. Translated children’s books may provide the imaginative hook and models of action needed to do just that. Though awareness and empowerment are important, Paris (2012) contends that it is critical to connect social struggles in books or in the school curriculum with ongoing activist efforts, in order to achieve social justice. We agree that youth activism should extend beyond classroom discussions and outside the walls of the schools. Future research should explore how educators have facilitated activist work with their students using international titles like the Batchelders as a launching point. Future work might also investigate how global literature provokes students’ interests in social and political issues. Yet the importance of stories and imagination in inspiring and engaging in activism should not be understated. As Herbert Kohl (2007) once wrote, “If we were not able to imagine the world as other than it is, then taking an active role in change would be unthinkable” (p. 42).


References Association for Library Service to Children. (2012). About the (Mildred L.) Batchelder Award. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/ bookmedia/batchelderaward/batchelderabout Association for Library Service to Children. (2007). Mildred L. Batchelder Award committee manual. Retrieved from www.ala.org/alsc/sites/ala.org.alsc/files/content/batchelder_manual_sept07.pdf Association for Library Service to Children. (1987). (Mildred L.) Batchelder Award terms and criteria. Retrieved from http://www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/ batchelderaward/batchelderterms Bassey, M.O. (2010). Education for civic citizenship and social justice: A critical social foundations approach. Education as Change, 14(2), 247-257. Berg, B.L. (2001). Qualitative research methods for the social sciences. (4th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon. Bosco, F.J. (2010). Play, work, or activism? Broadening the connections between political and children’s geographies. Children’s Geographies, 8(4), 381-390. Dresang, E. (1999). Radical change: Books for youth in a digital age. New York: H. W. Wilson. Flanagan, J.C. (1954). The critical incident technique. Pscyhological Bulletin, 51(4), 327-358. Gay, G. (2007). The importance of multiculturalism education. In A.C. Ornstein, E.F. Pajak, & S.B. Ornstein (Eds.), Contemporary issues in curriculum, 4th ed., (pp. 273-278). Boston: Pearson. George, M.A. (2002). Living on the edge: Confronting social injustices. Voices from the Middle, 9(4), 39-44. Harman, R., & Varga-Dobai, K. (2012). Critical performative pedagogy: Emergent bilingual learners challenge local immigration issues. International Journal of Multicultural Education, 14(2), 1-17. Hoose, P. (2009). Claudette Colvin: Twice toward justice. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Joels, R.W. (1999). Weaving world understanding: The importance of translations in international children's literature. Children’s Literature in Education, 30(1), 65-83. Kieff, J. (2003). From social action to civil disobedience to resistance: Young people can change the world. Journal of Children’s Literature, 29(1), 98-102.


Kimmel, S., Garrison, K., & Forest, D. (2012). “Traveling from language to language:” Culture translated for youth. Paper presented at the International Board on Books for Young People International Congress, Imperial College, London, United Kingdom. Kohl, H. (1991). The politics of children’s literature: The story of Rosa Parks and the Montgomery bus boycott. Journal of Education, 173(1), 35-50. Kohl, H. (2007). Should we burn Babar?: Essays on children’s literature and the power of stories. (Rev. ed.). New York: The New Press. Lo, D.E., & Leahy, A. (1997). Exploring multiculturalism through children’s literature: The Batchelder award winners. The New Advocate, 10(3), 215-228. Louie, B.Y., & Louie, D.H. (1999). Global education through translated books. Journal of Children’s Literature, 25(2), 34-43. Mayer, R.H. (2008). When the children marched: The Birmingham civil rights movement. Berkeley Heights, NJ: Enslow Publishers, Inc. Metcalf, E. M. (2003). Exploring cultural difference through translating children’s literature. Meta, 48(1-2), 322-27. Mitra, D.L., & Serriere, S.C. (2012). Student voice in elementary school reform: Examining youth development in fifth graders. American Educational Research Journal, 49(4), 743774. Morrison, T. (2004). Remember: The journey to school integration. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. Paris, D. (2012). Become history: Learning from identity texts and youth activism in the wake of Arizona SB1070. International Journal of Multicultural Education, 14(2), 1-13. Picower, B. (2012). Using their words: Six elements of social justice curriculum design for the elementary classroom. International Journal of Multicultural Education, 14(1), 1-17. Rawson, C. H. (2011). Are all lists created equal?: Diversity in award-winning and bestselling young adult fiction. Journal of Research on Libraries and Young Adults, 1(3). Retrieved from http://www.yalsa.ala.org/jrlya/2011/06/ are-all-lists-created-equal-diversity-inaward-winning-and-bestselling-young-adult-fiction/#more-61 Shannon, P. (1986). Hidden within the pages: A study of social perspective in young children’s favorite books. The Reading Teacher, 39(7), 656-663. Short, K. (2012). Story as world making. Language Arts, 90(1), 9-17.


Simon, L. (2010). Working to change the world: An examination of one child’s social activism. Urban Review, 42(4), 296-315 Simon, L., & Norton, N.E.L. (2011). A mighty river: Intersections of spiritualities and activism in children’s and young adult literature. Curriculum Inquiry, 41(2), 293-318. Smolen, L.A., & Martin, L. (2011). Integrating global literature into the elementary social studies curriculum. The International Journal of Learning, 17(11), 183-192. Stover, L.T., & Bach, J. (2012). Young adult literature as a call to social activism. In J.A. Hayn & J.S. Kaplan (Eds.), Teaching young adult literature today: Insights, considerations, and perspectives for the classroom teacher (pp. 203-222). Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Webb, S., & Nelson, R. W. (1997). Selma, Lord, Selma: Girlhood memories of the civil-rights days as told to Frank Sikora. Tuscaloosa, AL: The University of Alabama Press. Yamazaki, A. (2002). Why change names? On the translation of children’s books. Children’s Literature in Education, 33(1), 53-62.


Appendix: Translated Children’s Books Analyzed for Activism Abirached, Z. (2012). A game for swallows: To die, to leave, to return (E. Gauvin, Trans.). Minneapolis: Graphic Universe. (Original work published in 2007 as Jeu des Hirondelles, Paris, Editions Cambourakis) Bondoux, A. (2010). A time of miracles (Y. Maudet, Trans.). New York: Delacorte. (Original work published in 2009 as Temps des Miracles, Montrouge, Bayard Jeunesse) Bondoux, A. (2006). The killer's tears (Y. Maudet, Trans.). New York: Delacorte. (Original work published in 2003 as Les Larmes de l’Assasin, Montrouge, Bayard Editions Jeunesse) Bredsdorff , B. (2009). Eidi (K. Mahaffy, Trans.). New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. (Original work published in 1993 as Eidi: Børnene i Kragevig 2, Copenhagen, Høst & Søn) Bredsdorff , B. (2004).The crow-girl: The children of crow cove (F. Ingwersen, Trans.). New York: Farrar Straus Giroux. (Original work published in 1993 as Krageungen: Børnene i Kragevig 1, Copenhagen, Høst & Søn) Brun-Cosme, N. (2009). Big wolf and little wolf (C. Bedrick, Trans.). Brooklyn, NY: Enchanted Lion Books. (Original work published in 2008 as Grand Loup et Petit Loup, Paris, Père Castor Flammarion) Carmi, D. (2000). Samir and Yonatan (Y. Lotan, Trans.). New York: Arthur A. Levine. (Original work published in 1994 as ‫ויונתן סמיר‬, Bnei Brak, Consolidated Publishing Group) Chotjewitz, D. (2004). Daniel half human and the good Nazi (D. Orgel, Trans.). New York: Richard Jackson Books. (Original work published in 2000 as Daniel Halber Mensch, Hamburg, Carlsen Verlag GmbH) de Graaf, A. (2012). Son of a gun (A. de Graaf, Trans.). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers. (Original work published in 2006 as Kind van de oorlog, Heerenveen, Netherlands, Jongbloed Publishers) De Mari, S. (2006). The last dragon (S. Whiteside, Trans.). New York: Hyperion/Miramax. (Original work published in 2005 as L’ultimo orco, Milan, Adriano Salani Editore S.p.A.) Funke, C. (2002). The thief lord (O. Latsch, Trans.). New York: The Chicken House/Scholastic Publishing. (Original work published in 2000 as Herr der Diebe, Hamburg, Cecilie Dressler Verlag) Goscinny, R. (2005). Nicholas (A. Bell, Trans.). New York: Phaidon. (Original work published in 1959 as Le Petit Nicolas, Paris, Gallimard)


Goscinny, R. (2007). Nicholas and the gang (A. Bell, Trans.). New York: Phaidon. (Original work published in 1997 as Le Petit Nicolas et les Copains, Paris, Gallimard) Gündisch, K. (2001). How I became an American (J. Skofield, Trans.). Peterborough, NH: Cricket Books/Carus Publishing. (Original work published in 2000 as Das Paradies Liegt in Amerika, Weinheim, Beltz & Gelberg) Hole, S. (2008). Garmann’s summer (D. Bartlett, Trans.). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. (Original work published in 2006 as Garmanns Sommer, Oslo, J.W. Cappelens Forlag) Holub, J. (2005). An innocent soldier (M. Hofmann, Trans.). New York: Arthur A. Levine. (Original work published in 2002 as Der Rüsslander, Hamburg, Verlag Friedrick Oetinger) Johansen, H. (2002). Henrietta and the golden eggs (J. Barrett, Trans.). Boston: David R. Godine. (Original work published in 1998 as Vom Hühnchen das Goldene Eier Legen Wollte, Zürich, Verlag Nagel & Kimche AG) Lehmann, C. (2000). Ultimate game (W. Rodarmor, Trans.). Boston: David R. Godine. (Original work published in 1996 as No pasaran: Le Jeu, Paris, L’Ecole des Loisirs) Matti, T. (2010). Departure time. Trans. Nancy Forest-Flier, Trans.). South Hampton, NH: Namelos. (Original work published in 2009 as Vertrektijd, Rotterdam, Lemniscaat) Michaelis, A. (2008). Tiger moon (A. Bell, Trans.). New York: Amulet. (Original work published in 1996 as Tiger Mond, Bindlach, Loewe Verlag) Miyabe, M. (2007). Brave story (A.O. Smith, Trans.). San Francisco: VIZ Media. (Original work published in 2003 asブレイブ・ストーリー, Tokyo, Kadokawa Shoten) Morgenstern, S. (2001). A book of coupons (G. Rosner, Trans.). New York: Viking. (Original work published in 1999 as Joker, Paris, L’Ecole des Loisirs) Mourlevat, J. (2006). The pull of the ocean (Y. Maudet, Trans.). New York: Delacorte. (Original work published in 1999 as L’enfant Océan, Paris, Editions Pockey Jeunesse) Orlev, U. (2003). Run, boy, run (H. Halkin, Trans.). New York: Walter Lorraine Books/Houghton Mifflin Company. (Original work published in 2001 as Ruts, Yeled, Ruts, Jerusalem, Keter) Richter, J. (2007). The cat: Or, how I lost eternity (A. Brailovsky, Trans.). Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed. (Original work published in 2006 as Die Katze, Munich, Carl Hanser-Verlag) Schyffert, B.U. (2003). The man who went to the far side of the moon: The story of Apollo 11 astronaut Michael Collins (E. Guner, Trans.). San Francisco: Chronicle Books. (Original


work published in 2000 as Austronaten som inte fick landa om Michael Collins, Apollo 11 och 9 kilo checklistor, Stockholm, Alfabeta) Stoltz, J. (2004). The shadows of Ghadames (C. Temerson, Trans.). New York: Delacorte. (Original work published in 1999 as Les ombres de Ghadamès, Montrouge, Bayard Editions Jeunesse) Tak, B.D. (2011). Soldier bear (L. Watkinson, Trans.). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. (Original work published in 2008 as Soldaat Wojtek, Amsterdam, Querido) Teller, J. (2010). Nothing (M. Aitken, Trans.). New York: Atheneum. (Original work published in 2000 as Intet, Rathsacksvej, Dansklaereforeningens Forlag A/S) Thor, A. (2009). A faraway island (L. Schenck, Trans.). New York: Delacorte. (Original work published in 1996 as En ö I havet, Stockholm, Bonnier Carlsen) Thor, A. (2011). The lily pond (L. Schenck, Trans.). New York: Delacorte. (Original work published in 1997 as Näckrosdammen, Stockholm, Bonnier Carlsen) Uehashi, N. (2008). Moribito: Guardian of the spirit (C. Hirano, Trans.). New York: Arthur A. Levine. (Original work published in 1996 as 精霊の守り人, (Seirei no Moribito), Tokyo, Kaisei-sha) Uehashi, N. (2009). Moribito II: Guardian of the darkness (C. Hirano, Trans.). New York: Arthur A. Levine. (Original work published in 1999 as 闇の守り人 (Yami no Moribito), Tokyo, Kaisei-sha) Voorhoeve, A.C. (2012). My family for the war (T. Reichel, Trans.). New York: Dial Books. (Original work published in 2007 as Liverpool Street, Ravensburg, Germany, Ravensburger Buchverlag) Zenatti, V. (2005). When I was a soldier (A. Hunter, Trans.). New York: Bloomsbury. (Original work published in 2002 as Quand J’etais Soldate, Paris, L’Ecole des Loisirs)


Volume 9

Number 1 Spring 2013

Editor Lindy L. Johnson

http://jolle.coe.uga.edu

Latino Media and Critical Literacy Pedagogies: Children's Scripting of Telenovelas Discourses Carmen Liliana Medina, cmedina@indiana.edu Indiana University María del Rocío Costa, costa.mariadelrocio@gmail.com Universidad de Puerto Rico

Abstract Using elements of the ethnography of globalization and teacher research, two Puerto Rican researchers and educators worked collaboratively with a teacher on a study conducted in a third grade classroom in a public school in an urban community in Puerto Rico. They conceptualized children’s curricular engagement with the Spanish television genre of telenovelas in relation to classroom critical literacy and performative inquiry where children’s histories, their lives in hyper-globalized contexts (through media, multinational commercialization, and technology), and their related discursive practices were made visible.

Please cite this article as: Medina, C. L. and Costa, M. del R. (2013). Latino media and critical literacy pedagogies: Children's scripting of Telenovelas discourses. Journal of Language and Literacy Education [Online], 9(1), ____. Available at _____.


Today I got to a family member’s house, and I saw on the table that they had received the magazine People en español, and it was “The 50 most beautiful people” issue. After browsing to see which Puerto Rican celebrities made it onto the list, I began counting, and 17 of the 50 celebrities are telenovelas actors: Fernando Colunga, Lupita Ferrer, William Levy Chistina Bach, Saúl Lisazo, Jacqueline Bracamontes, Mauricio Ochman…” [Translation, Field Notes, March 12, 2010] The above field note constitutes part of the documentation examining how telenovelas as multinational global media texts, embedded in dominant identity discourses on power, circulate in a local community in Puerto Rico. Telenovelas—melodramatic television shows highly popular among Latin American viewers around the world—are part of the repertoire of global media markets that Latino/a children have access to through their encounters with television. Issues of access and domination from a globalization perspective (Bauman, 2007; Bourdieu, 2003; Santos, 2007) are critical considerations in how these media texts circulate and are consumed by contemporary audiences in relation to the pedagogical role of these texts in classrooms. For this article, we used elements of the ethnography of globalization (Lewellen, 2002; Marcus, 1995; Murphy & Krady, 2003) to present data from an interpretative study conducted in an urban community in Puerto Rico that included a third grade classroom as one of its sites. The researchers, two Puerto Rican university professors, one who resides in Puerto Rico and the other in Indiana, worked collaboratively with the classroom teacher on a project that aimed to foreground Puerto Rican students’ out-of-school cultural resources within the literacy curriculum. Here we present one of these perspectives analyzing the students’ inquiry work on the self-selected popular media genre of telenovelas. We conceptualized children’s engagement with telenovelas in relation to classroom critical literacy (Janks, 2009) and performative inquiry, where children’s histories, their lives in hyper-globalized contexts (through media, multinational commercialization and technology), and their related discursive practices were made visible. We specifically examined a critical performative approach (Pineau, 2005; Medina, 2006; Weltsek & Medina, 2007) to media literacy curriculum design based on the students’ interests in the Spanish television genre of telenovelas and explored the following questions: What becomes visible in a curriculum that foregrounds children's participation and movements across familiar meaningmaking spaces and practices? What are the possibilities for working on literacy pedagogies where new localities emerge in the classroom as a shared space for interpretation and critical analysis of global markets and networks? What complex identity negotiations emerged as the students read their lives and multiple social worlds within their interpretations of telenovelas? We examined these questions in relation to global ethnographic notions of scripting (Appadurai, 1996)—or the role of the imagination as a social practice—where echoes of global power are made visible in local contexts through imaginative engagement with real and pretend spaces. In the next section, we define these terms as a framework for theory and analysis.


Scripting Echoes of Global Power in Performative Pedagogies Defining Scripting Dynamics in Global Time Globalization social scientist Appadurai (1996) conceptualizes the remixing of dynamics at the core of local-global interactions as “scripting.” Scripting is the work of the imagination as a social practice in which, as people experience the social conditions related to globalization, individuals “re-script” their lives in unpredictable ways to accommodate, reject and/or resituate particular global discourses in local contexts. The work of Soep (2004) takes the notion of “scripting” to a concrete analytical level and examines young people's local productions of home videos for the global influences that emerge within their production practices, particularly in relation to the construction of masculine discourses. Grounded in the work on discourse and identity formation, Soep argues that “scripting” is a way to understand face-to-face interactions in the production of local texts and performances that foreground global discourses and hybridity. In the examination of scripting dynamics, it is possible to identify “echoes of global power” (Murphy & Kraidy, 2003; Couldry, 2003; García-Canclini, 1995) to connect the ways that local social identity and ideological performances and discourses interact with complex global landscapes and ideologies. The notion of “echoing” is conceptualized by global media social theorists (García-Canclini, 1995; Couldry, 2003) where “echoes” bring a spatial dimension to how global power is understood at various levels, such as in the repetitive ways people encounter media tools and discourses that cannot be located in one particular essential place; in people’s experiences consuming and making meaning of media across contexts, with a diverse set of tools and forms of engagement; and where authority is negotiated in different ways, creating multiple forms of relationships and interpretations. These dynamics are specifically described by global media social theorists with the following set of conditions: 1. Games of echoes are understood as the multiple ways in which people re-encounter what they see on television in everyday life in ways that one echoes another (GarcíaCanclini, 1995; Couldry, 2003). 2. There is a subtle relationship between meaning-making and media consumption in everyday life. 3. The place of media power is multi-sided, and its authority is negotiated in different ways. 4. Media, “by providing so many shared resources through which we can frame the social world, change[s] the terms in which we can offer individual testimony” (Couldry, 2003, p. 48). Analyzing scripting practices, or the role of the imagination as a social practice, is one way to interpret how the multiplicity of echoes of global power circulate in a local context and the ways that people make sense of, accommodate, reject, and resituate these forms of global discourse and practices in their everyday lives (including classroom work). In our analysis, we used the notion of scripting as a lens through which to consider the emerging contexts, performed identities, and political discourses that are made visible in students’ productions of telenovelas in relation to “echoes of global power” and the everyday histories that intersect and emerge as


ruptures and opportunities for critical analysis. In the following sections, we provide a pedagogical and methodological framework and examine data to make sense of how a critical performative pedagogy allows for a generative space where the boundaries, ambiguities and tensions between everyday cultural practices and knowledge production in the classroom emerge as complex spaces for meaning-making by students, teachers, and researchers, with regard to the media discourses of telenovelas. Scripting in/through Performative Pedagogies In parallel with previous research on play, media, and childhood education (Wohlwend, 2009; Marsh, 2005; Dyson, 2003), a critical performative pedagogy in elementary classrooms creates a context from which to approach the relationship between media literacy, globalization and classroom work as both permeable and hybrid. In these “playful” spaces, or the “playshop” as Wohlwend (2013) defines it, the performances of discourses and identities in everyday interactions and in the fictions of mediated social lives, represented for example in telenovelas, could potentially become the generative force for a pedagogy that makes visible the complex and multilayered relationship between media, power, and identity (Medina & Wohlwend, in press). In a performative pedagogy, identity formation is understood, as Butler (1990) suggests, as constructed and constructing and working within and against the regulatory practices and discourses that aim to create a false or fictional stable self through “culturally intelligible grids” (p. 184) such as gender, race, socio-economic status, etc. The performative, then, is the result of and serves a purpose for public and social discourses that aim to maintain and disrupt identities within fixed “cultural grids.” When identities are understood as such, we are able to see the political constitution and the fabricated notions that frame hierarchies of power in identity constructs and how these are made visible in performative moments. From a critical performative pedagogical perspective, all classroom events are perceived as “spectacles” that are produced at the intersection of culture and identity-in-the-making (Diamond, 1996; Pineau, 2005). The “audience-participants,” which include students and teachers, are recognized as creators within the “classroom social spectacle” that is both explored and produced. The authoritative role of a script (i.e., teacher's talk, students’ talk, literary text, textbooks, media, etc.) and the idea that an actor plays a distant self (i.e., an objective teacher and students) are only recognized as part of a larger repertoire of texts and identity performances mediating learners' explorations of knowledge from a subjective and political position. Performance pedagogies make visible the cultural politics at the intersections of macro structures of power and the micro discourses that are made and remade in the performative act. In the classroom project that we share in this paper, the melodramatic television shows known as telenovelas served as the key inquiry texts selected by the students. In the next section, we situate the role of telenovelas in relation to new forms of global power to provide a socio-political framework for the analysis of micro and macro global/local relations. Making Visible the Social Landscape of Telenovelas Texts: What’s New in Global Times? Telenovelas as a global media landscape circulate and are available to millions of viewers around the world. These melodramatic television shows are described as the most popular television genre among Latino/a viewers across Latin America and the United States (Joyce, 2008;


McAnany & La Pastina, 1994 ) and are becoming increasingly popular around the world (Werner, 2006). For example, according to a recent survey by rating company Nielsen, the no. 1 show Tuesday nights on U.S. television among the key 18 to 49 demographic was Univision’s Spanish-language telenovela Soy Tu Dueña. Nevertheless, telenovelas are not a new genre in Latin America. The history of telenovelas can be traced back to the 1950s, with a strong transnational history dominated by Mexico, Brazil, Venezuela, and Argentina, and accessible to multiple countries such as Puerto Rico. What has become “new” in the context of globalization is that the multinational production of Telenovelas is centralized in Miami and Mexico with an increasing international distribution, including Brazilian telenovelas, translated into multiple languages. Furthermore, contemporary plots place a greater emphasis on capitalist notions of success and material power, particularly with the inclusion of Miami as a glamorous site for characters’ lives to develop. These new telenovela productions merge contemporary societal representations with traces of the Latin American history of a dominant Spanish colonial canon that makes this genre complicated to situate and analyze. Similar to other global trends in media, culture, and economics, the present global conditions are not disconnected from past histories of domination and power, such as in colonization, racism, immigration, and current financial trends related to multinational distribution of media and intensive marketing tools (Santos, 2007). Furthermore, similar to Lemke’s (2009) notion of “transmedia traversals” and Wohlwend’s (2009) analysis of the circulation of Disney texts, what used to be limited to a television show is now a set of products to be consumed across media, including telenovelas merchandise, magazines, music, online fan forums, television and radio tabloids, and Facebook, and the products have become integrated with people’s everyday activities beyond watching the actual shows. Although many of these products are not necessarily targeted young audiences (except for telenovelas such as Muchachitas como tú that are intended for a teen audience), these forms of texts circulate within and around children’s lives at home, in grocery stores, and through media and technology. In Puerto Rico where telenovelas account for a major block of programming time (at least 3 consecutive hours of prime time television and 2 hours in the early afternoon), the history of telenovelas is well-established. In the past, there was a vibrant production of local telenovelas, and in any given moment a local production would run simultaneously to an imported telenovela, from places like Mexico, Venezuela, Argentina, or Brazil. In the present, the Latino multinational television networks Telemundo and Univision dominate Spanish-speaking television in Puerto Rico, and most programming comes from their pre-packaged programming, including an intensive block of telenovelas. Methodology The interpretative design of this study was aligned with the work of ethnographers working through ethnographies of globalization in local communities to understand the production of global modernity and its impacts on local processes (Kraidy, 1999; Kearney, 1995). These elements of ethnographies of globalization were combined with elements of teacher-research (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1992 ; Pappas, & Tucker-Raymond, 2011), in which both researchers worked collaboratively with the classroom teacher in the design and implementation of curricular engagements in the classroom, which will be described later on.


The community in which this study took place was the town of Santa Clara in the northern metropolitan area of San Juan, Puerto Rico. This community was originally established mostly as a suburb of the capital city San Juan by Puerto Ricans wanting to move closer to the capital city area from rural areas in the center of the island. At present, it is an urban community with a large population of Puerto Ricans but also a large immigrant community from the Dominican Republic. In addition, the community has gone through a transformation from an industrial to a commercial area, with multiple multinational businesses that include Costco, Walmart, Sears, Walgreen’s, and Blockbuster Video; multiple fast food chains such as McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, etc., and communication technology services, such as multinational cellular telephone companies like Sprint and Verizon. These multinational businesses simultaneously co-exist with and compete with local businesses, such as restaurants, grocery stores, and other local services. The children who attend the local schools navigate these complex global and local networks on an everyday basis, including in their engagement with television. From a global-local perspective, both global media and markets are part of the children’s repertoires of the cultural activities they have access to and engage with. The first author, Carmen, comes to this study as a Puerto Rican woman born and raised in the local town of Santa Clara and who attended local public schools but now lives in the U.S. Midwest. The second author, María del Rocío, was raised five miles from the school where the research took place, and as a child she attended public schools in the larger metropolitan area that Santa Clara town belongs to. María del Rocío has worked for more than 10 years with the school-based teacher study group that focused on various projects related to the transformation of teaching practices. Glo/cal Ethnography Although we continue working in the school, particularly María del Rocío, this part of the study lasted two years. In the years when the study was conducted, Carmen was able to go back to Puerto Rico five times per year for extended periods of time. Most of these trips constituted intense research time with large periods spent in the classrooms working with the teachers and students. These trips were combined with time spent in the community, with a focus on understanding the shifts in the community and on the merging of global networks with local practices. As she immersed herself in the everyday life of the family, she kept track of, mostly through photography, collections of everyday print materials, and reflective journals, the ways that she perceived local changes through global dynamics in place and space within this community. She also documented and became familiar with what was available through media communication, such as television, radio, and the Internet. When in the classroom, the authors worked collaboratively with the classroom teacher, Maestra Vivian. The collaboration began through María del Rocío, who conducted a study group with local teachers on critical literacy practices. In the academic year of 2006-2007, Carmen went back to live in Puerto Rico and taught at the University of Puerto Rico, where she met the teachers in the study group. Maestra Vivian was interested in shifting her classroom from a curriculum skills-driven pedagogy to a child-driven pedagogy in which she could make use of students’ cultural resources in the classroom. From a critical literacy perspective, she was interested in bringing real issues and multiple ways of reading texts to her literacy curriculum


and in expanding the boundaries of the traditional basal program in her classroom (Medina, Costa, & Soto, 2012; Costa, Medina, & Soto, 2011). Given Carmen’s drama and critical literacy background, she was interested in the students’ access to media in their everyday lives, and in the performative practices that they engaged with as consumers and producers of media. María del Rocío was interested in expanding the notion of literacy that was traditionally explored in elementary classrooms in Puerto Rico to include everyday literacies and popular culture in the classroom. The authors and teacher collectively decided to work on a project in which the students would select a particular topic related to their preferences for media, and the adults would plan an emergent inquiry project with the students. To document the process, the authors audio recorded all of the research team’s planning sessions. While working in the classrooms, the authors took photographs and video and audio recorded all sessions. We conducted 21 sessions total throughout 2008-2009, with the average session running approximately 90 minutes. We spent observational time at the beginning of the year (October-November) and initiated the process of selecting an inquiry topic. During March to May, intensive time was spent exploring the selected inquiry topic of telenovelas. We conducted a final focus group interview that served as a members’ check to confirm some of our preliminary findings. All artifacts used and produced throughout the experience were collected. This included student-produced documents such as brainstorming and analysis sheets, drafts, and final versions of students’ telenovelas. We also collected popular culture artifacts that we brought to the classroom for analysis, such as “shoppers” (store newspaper ads) and videos of television advertisements. Finally, all teacher-research team meetings were recorded. To make decisions and begin curricular design, we used a whole group inquiry approach with the children to decide on the topic. The students shared different aspects of media preferences, ranging from cartoons available through English cable television and Spanish television to commercial movies. However, there was a strong reaction when the students brought up the media genre of telenovelas and major interest in exploring this genre. The classroom almost unanimously decided to work on telenovelas. Typically, we worked with the students and then reflected to make decisions about what was going to happen next. The overall aspects of the experience included an analysis of the content and structure of telenovelas, reading literature resembling or disrupting the structure of telenovelas, producing telenovelas, and a critical analysis of the social discourses brought out in the students’ production. After the work on telenovelas was complete, we designed a unit analyzing beauty discourses in the media, an issue that emerged as a result of the telenovelas experience. Framework for Data Analysis At the data analysis level, Soep (2004) suggests that scripting is a concrete analytical lens that makes visible how “national imaginaries and globalized sensibilities emerge in fleeting face to face encounters” (p. 176) and how understanding how culture is produced and interpreted as children live in complex social worlds. To develop an analytical framework that was congruent with the concept of scripting, the first layer of analysis was similar to an overall open coding of themes, following Strauss & Corbin (1990), to examine the data in relation to the social discourses that emerged in the inquiry work (for teachers, researchers and students). Elements such as the negotiation of semiotic repertoires of symbols or re-contextualization dynamics (in print texts, music, toys, games, visual images, etc.) and the performed social discourses (such as


beauty, femininities, and masculinities) all emerged as important considerations in how the children and teachers/researchers worked in classrooms. These aspects served as the structure around which to organize and examine the data at a more in-depth level. We used Blommaert’s (2005) work on discourse and re-contextualization to code how contextualization practices in discourses are local as well as translocal: A lot of what we perform in the way of meaning attributing practices is the post-hoc recontextualization of earlier bits of text that were produced, of course, in a different contextualization process, at a different time, by different people, and for different purposes. (Blommaert, 2005, p. 46) The dynamics of re-contextualization between local and trans-local practices involved coding the ways students’ and teachers’ interpretations of texts are re-located in new contexts and the new texts that emerge in these new locations. In order to analyze the explorations, interpretations, and constructions of telenovelas, a key element was how multiple aspects merged, moved across, and got reinvented using the multiplicity of semiotic resources of telenovelas that then became newly imagined worlds in the students’ work and the pedagogical practices that we devised. Based on these ideas, within our study, the children’s verbal interactions, writing, and performance production were seen as interrelated with the ways that global media networks function, the signs used in media production, and the discourses available through these shows, but also uniquely situated in the local culture, context, and history in which new meanings are produced. We coded how the students evoked and re-contextualized signs and meanings that were parts of macro global forms but that became parts of their micro local productions in the classroom. These dynamics were visible, for example, when the students analyzed how characters’ embodied actions were constructed in different telenovelas in relation to beauty and gender norms, or how the selection of music for their telenovelas’ productions meant relocating hip-hop and pop music in ways that acquired new meanings. In the construction of self, characters, and episodes, it was important to analyze the merging of complex signs that transcended the limits of the local but that existed in their immediate worlds as part of a repertoire of available semiotic resources. In the process, the students were reconfiguring, recontextualizing, and integrating modes, and those became contextualization practices that were key in interpreting globalization processes. In order to understand “scripting” and its role in the students’ and teachers’ imaginations as an emergent social practice, it also became important to code those moments when our ways of reading and enacting involved the reiteration or disruption of global cultural norms through discursive formations that framed the students’ production work. The relationship between performance studies and cultural politics allowed us to understand how social discourses were simultaneously enacted and produced. Within the dynamics of local/global production, a site was created to unpack the reiteration and emergence of cultural norms, meanings, and critiques. What the students interpreted and produced cannot be perceived as the creation of a fixed or isolated moment, but should be seen as the overlapping exploration of past, present, and future through images and discourses situated at a time inside and at a time outside the immediate moment.


Findings Scripting Beauty and Socio-economic Class as Echoes of Global Power Throughout the inquiry process, we and the teacher, Maestra Vivian, attempted to keep at the forefront an openness to examine global media texts in ways that acknowledged people’s rapport with media and viewers’ desires and pleasures in watching telenovelas. Similar to Buckingham’s (2003) work on media reception, we understood that people, including the students and ourselves, enjoyed watching telenovelas, and our approaches to these explorations had to be framed with this in mind. Additionally, we worked on finding ways to use the children's and our own experiences to critically reflect on the discourses of power embedded in global media. This was not only a complicated task, but it also created conflicting, contradictory, and productive decisions and approaches. The interaction described below occurred after the students had spent some time engaging in open discussions around different aspects of telenovelas. We discussed content, preferences, structures, and themes, and for the most part, none of the teacher-researchers intervened by adding or questioning the students’ responses. Our goal was to listen to children’s understandings and meaning-making processes regarding telenovelas as performed spaces with unique elements and structures. The students’ responses showed that they had a complex understanding of these media texts, including their hyper-sensualized and sexualized content (a risky subject in classrooms) and the dynamics of social power represented in the stories. The following transcript was part of a literature-media discussion in which, as part of the inquiry project, the students and teacher read the Spanish version of the Paper Bag Princess (Munsch, 1991). The curricular engagement was meant to interpret telenovelas through the literary text.

Transcript Carolina: Misi como en Muchachitas como tú…porque Federico solo se fija en las riquitas por cómo se ven [inaudible].

Manuel: Si. Como en Al diablo con los guapos. Que estaba una mujer que se llama “Gol-mili” y a ella no le importaba cómo se veían los pobres y cada vez que iba a visitarlos les limpiaba, daba comida, s banas…

Josué: [inaudible referencia a un personaje rica] Era muy orgullosa pues se convirtió en pobre entonces después cuando fue Mili a darle comida, sábanas y ropa pues le dijo la muchacha que la llevara a la casa. Translation

Carolina: Mrs. like in Muchachitas como tú [Teenage Girls Like You] …because Federico only looks at the rich girls because of their looks [inaudible].

Manuel: Yeah. Like in Al diablo con los guapos [To Hell with the Handsome]. There was a woman named Mili-Gol and she didn’t care what poor people looked like, and every time she went to visit them, she cleaned for them, gave them food and sheets… Josué: [inaudible reference to a rich character] [The rich character] was really prideful and she became poor and so when Mili went to give her food, sheets and clothes, the girl asked Mili to take her home.


Literature discussion 3/9/09

One of the aspects we wanted to explore was how to bring literature and media together in the classroom literacy curriculum. Because the content of telenovelas narratives has been compared to Cinderella-type stories, and the students explorations of telenovelas were highly charged with dominant discourses of beauty, we decided to introduce a different kind of Cinderella story through the reading of the Paper Bag Princess. Although we understood the criticism of this kind of feminist approach to literary texts (Davies, 1993), we still found possibilities in bringing another kind of feminist discourse to the wide range of femininities that were brought up in the discussions. We were aware of the risks embedded, particularly in relation to the teacher selecting and imposing a “gender script” on the students, but we also understood that from a performative pedagogy standpoint, any “script” generated or presented by teachers would be embedded in power discourses and the historical layers of authoritarian performances that are inscribed in teachers’ identities. Introducing a traditional Cinderella story would perhaps have hidden our subjective positions in relation to the students’ beauty discourses on telenovelas, but hidden or obvious, those positions are still implicitly present. What became interesting through the analysis of this transcript were the students’ acts of redefining the media-literary event. Similar to Davies (1993) findings of children’s interpreting feminist texts, the students did not “hear” the same kind of feminist text that we heard in selecting The Paper Bag Princess (1991). Rather, in an agentic move as media and literary readers, the students created a different kind of interpretive space, disrupting a vertical approach or hierarchical view to critical interpretation (telenovelas at the bottom and critical/literary interpretation at the top) into a more horizontal plane of “scripting” and making interpretations across multiple global telenovela texts within a repertoire of stories with situated meanings and complex identity performances. Their ways of interpreting allowed us to understand the process of making visible the “echoes of global power” in their work that hinted at the active negotiation of media authority by the students. In the above transcript, Carolina’s connection to the telenovela Muchachitas como tú [Teenage Girls Like You] occurred almost half-way through the discussion. In the larger discussion, this was the second telenovela reference the students brought into the conversation (Un gancho al corazón/A Hook to the Heart was the first). Carolina first made reference to the teacher as “Misi (Mrs.) Vivian,” which is the traditional way children refer to their teachers in Puerto Rico. Carolina then made a reference to the telenovela Muchachitas como tú, a title that indicates that the characters’ identities in the telenovela resemble those of the viewers [“they” are/look like “you”]. Muchachitas como tú was highly criticized in Mexico for its over-representation of lightskinned characters and lack of representation of characters from indigenous backgrounds, but it was still highly popular among young audiences from all ethnic backgrounds and across countries. This light-skinned phenomenon has been described as a global trend in telenovelas (Hecht, 2007) and one that creates dominant cultural grids of feminine identities (Butler, 1990), but that does not seem to necessarily interfere with its popularity among young audiences from multiple ethnic backgrounds. Its active audience included the children in the classroom involved in the present study, who selected this telenovela as their favorite, mostly because of its identification with global media views or trends of youth culture.


Carolina, who did not fit the beauty and size standards of women in telenovelas and who made this clear at some point in the inquiry process, was the first girl to comment on this interaction: “Misi como en Muchachitas como tú …porque Federico solo se fija en las riquitas por como se ven.” [Mrs. like in Teenage Girls Like You …because Federico only looks at the rich girls because of their looks.] She names and interprets the identity discourses related to the male characters' desires for beautiful females of affluent socio-economic status. What is not clear is whether the telenovela generated a discourse of socio-economic status and beauty that suggested that all rich females had a particular look or if males only liked rich females who looked a particular way. This utterance hints at the complex ways in which forms of beauty construct socio-economic status, and how socio-economic status constructs forms of beauty in telenovelas. Either way, Carolina’s participation as a critical reader of the media text indicated her awareness of how gender identities were interwoven in relation to socio-economic status, beauty, and power within telenovelas. A short time later, Manuel brought up the second global telenovela context, Al diablo con los guapos. The title of this media text indexes a more complex and contradictory identity meaning, in relation to positioning the content and its audience. Al diablo con los guapos suggests a discourse counter to traditional views of telenovelas in which female protagonist characters passively fall in love and glorify “handsome.” Al diablo con los guapos suggests a move to reject the male dominant beauty discourses that are often found in telenovelas, but it also a highly ironic title since the female protagonist, who fits the dominating canon of feminities ends up with the rich man who also fits the dominant representation of beauty and masculinity in telenovelas. A careful examination of the students’ responses created a more complex map of how beauty discourses circulated and were interpreted through this telenovela, beyond a rejection of beauty like in the Paper Bag Princess. Manuel began to unpack the contradictory social landscape of this telenovela by telling his classmates and teachers about “Mili-Gol,” the protagonist’s, story: “Que estaba una mujer que se llama Gol-Mili y a ella no le importaba como se veían los pobres y cada vez que iba a visitarlos les limpiaba, daba comida, s banas… “ [There was a woman named Mili-Gol, and she didn’t care what poor people looked like, and every time she went to visit them, she cleaned for them, gave them food and sheets…]. Mili’s identity was interpreted as an outsider of lower socioeconomic communities and as a woman engaged in giving to those in need. Although she was presented in previous episodes as coming from that same “poor” community, she eventually “overcame” poverty, became rich, and actively helped and protected those who remained in poverty. In Manuel’s analysis of Mili’s social performance, people who are “poor” are presented as disempowered or passive, who needed Mili actively to do things “for them.” Those “things” Mili does went beyond providing food and included “cleaning for them,” which suggests a stereotypical relationship between neatness, disempowerment, and people of lower socioeconomic status. Furthermore, in Manuel’s interpretation, Mili, who at the end of the telenovela marries the rich and handsome protagonist and who herself fits the beauty canon of telenovelas, helped poor people because “she didn’t care what poor people looked like.” Manuel’s position as interpreter of dominant global media discourses was similar to Carolina’s interpretation of Muchachitas como tú, as he made visible the interrelated politics of socio-economics and dominant feminine and masculine identities; in telenovelas, socio-economics is constructed through ways of looking, and ways of looking are constructed in relation to socio-economics. In


Manuel’s statement, Mili moved beyond poor people’s ways of looking to help themselves in their struggles with poverty, and were defined by material goods and neatness. Furthermore, Josué’s follow up to Manuel’s comment introduces another layer of performed power and economic status discourses through the story of the “rich woman” antagonist who “was really prideful and she became poor.” Here, Josué adds to the previous idea of socio-economic status and appearance in relation to power performances that suggest poverty is a punishment for inappropriate individual behavior. The “rich woman” became poor as a result of mistreating Mili, who was previously poor but eventually, because of her “good” individual actions, became rich. What the students’ comments made clear was their active meaning-making processes in relation to telenovelas as fairy tale narratives, in which performed identity discourses suggested that good behavior got rewarded with material wealth and beauty, and bad behavior was punished with material poverty and “ugliness.” These excerpts were part of a much more complex interaction among students and teachers, but they captured how children read, interpreted and were aware of the situated meanings and of how identities across telenovelas texts echoed discourses of power within this particular global media genre. The next excerpt shows another aspect of the performative inquiry in telenovelas. Scripting echoes global power in production: Devising, writing, and performing. As part of the classroom engagements, the students worked in small groups designing and producing telenovelas. The students wrote scripts, wrote songs, and created sequences of still images with photography to perform their telenovelas. The range of texts that the students designed and the repertoire of themes and resources that they used were quite expansive. As shown through the following excerpt, the students' designs became hybrid products in which participation in multiple meaning-making practices, identity performances, and social discourses were shown to be part of the locality that the students created in their telenovela designs. Performing Woman in Struggle The following is a child-produced telenovela script from a group of girls who decided to write the story of a family whose mother engaged in a fight with the father and asked him to leave the house, but he refused to do so [See sequence on photos]: “Sin corazón no hay amor”

“There’s no love without a heart”


[Mother]--Yo estoy feliz y vivo con mi esposo y con mi hijo y mi hija que acababa de nacer.

[Mother]--I’m happy, and I live with my husband, with my son and my daughter who was just born.

[Father]--¡Dáme a mis hijos!

[Father]--Give me my kids!

[Mother]--¡No son tus hijos yo los parí!

[Mother]--They are not your kids; I gave birth to them!

[Narrator]--Mientras los papas peleaban los niños lloraban.

[Narrator]--While the parents fought, the kids cried.

[Father]--¡Son mis hijos no son tus hijos!

[Father]--They are my kids, not yours!

[Mother]--¡Yo me quedaré con ellos!

[Mother]--I’m going to keep them!

[Narrator] Los niños lloraban y lloraban hasta que lo niños querían decidir quedarse con uno de los dos

[Narrator] The kids cried and cried until the kids wanted to decide to stay with one of them

[Mother]--¡Vete de la casa ahora!

[Mother]-- Leave the house now!

[Narrator] y los niños le dijeron a la mamá.

[Narrator] and the kids told their mom.

[Child]--Mami, ¿y donde se quedará?

[Child]--Mom, where is he going to stay?

[Mother]--Papi ya no es tu papá.

[Mother]--Dad is not your father anymore.

[Child]--¿Por qué papi no se va a quedar en ninguna casa?

[Child]--Why is dad not staying in any house?

[Child]--¿Porqué él ya no vive con nosotros?

[Child]--Why isn’t he living with us anymore?

[Narrator] Y la mamá de los hijos se sintió mal porque, porque no vive en ninguna casa el papá

[Narrator] And the kids’ mom felt bad because the dad did not live in a house.

[Mother]--Niños me siento mal porque su papá no vive en ninguna casa

[Mother]--Kids, I feel bad because your father is not living in a house.

[Mother]—Niños, ¿Quieren quedarse con su papá y conmigo?

[Mother]--Kids, would you like to stay with your father or with me?

[Child]-- Si mami si queremos volver con papi

[Child]—Yes, Mom, we want to go back with dad.

[Mother]--Lo voy a llamar. [Hablando con el esposo por teléfono] ¡Tu estas borracho! ¡No lo puedo creer! ¡No volveré contigo!

[Mother] --I’m going to call him. [Talking with husband on the phone] You are drunk! I can’t believe this! I’m not getting back together with you! [The story continues and the mother eventually forgives the father and lets him come back home.] Telenovelas Writing Process 3-10-09


Figure 1: Children play acting outside in costumes. One is dressed as infant with pacifier, and the two children behind her are dressed as the mother and father. Scene is based on female students’ play script.

Figure 2: Children play acting in building. The one acting as the mother figure is pointing at the father figure, indicating an argument. To their left are four more children actors, with one dressed as an infant and one with a padded stomach to indicate pregnancy.


Figure 3: Children play acting outside, at the end of the script. Mother and father characters are face-to-face, while other characters group near a tree.

This performed telenovela was produced as a meaning-making site of complex aspects of social life at the intersection of everyday experiences, identity, and the structures of media culture. The imaginative social worlds, identities, and practices between global and local discourses (scripting) were at the core of how this performance was produced by the students. The characters’ encounter became a hybrid set of local-global echoes between one of the girl’s personal testimonies and the identities, discourses, and structures of telenovelas. The students were dealing with conflicts of gender power, and while this text should not be perceived as a literal representation of the student’s life, attitudes, or dispositions (see Buckingham (2003) for a critique of this kind of claim), it was informative in examining how children understand their everyday worlds within the structures of media productions. What was important in this analysis was the children’s cultural and social productions and the performed identities that were constructed within this fictional world as potential entries or ruptures into a more complex analysis of how global and local meaning intersect (an analysis of ruptures will take place later in the next section). The overall structure of the telenovela uses a global “Cinderella” story as a framework in which the female character encountered a problem or challenge related to a male partner, which got resolved in the end, when they lived “happily ever after.” The text followed what telenovela scholars define as the three global structural elements of this media genre (Werner, 2006): 1) characters live a stable life; 2) an event occurs that disrupts this balance and creates a number of other hardships; and 3) finally, balance is achieved and happiness restored. For the most part, this is the overall traditional structure of telenovelas and one that was mostly used by all of the students in the classroom. Characters’ identity performances, although agentic and unique, were also constrained by the framework of traditional telenovela structures and global power, particularly in the creation of gender roles. These formed a complicated set of subtleties that were revealed within the texts and that were significant to unpack. These subtleties could be understood as part of a media performance that functioned as a resource to produce and make visible the “mediation of social life” (Couldry, 2003) in relation to power relations, agency, and emotional investment.


Take, for example, how motherhood is constructed (see script sections in bold). One of the overall features of this text was the mother’s tone as exclamatory. Throughout the text, the mother’s voice was represented with exclamation marks, highlighting the expression of both emotions and actions in her statements. After she gave birth to her third child, the father, for an “unknown��� reason, told the mother to give him the children. Her reaction to this statement was to claim that the act of childbirth gave her right to keep the children. She decisively refused to give the children to the father, and in an agentic move, she asked him to leave the house. The children, who expressed their relationship with the father through emotions that were visible in their sadness as they witnessed the situation, complicated the mother’s role. The mother firmly acted to get the father out of the house, but emotionally, she felt conflicted because of the children’s concerns about the father not having a place to live and because they would miss him. Agency was mediated in the mother’s story through her actions and emotions, but these also created a complex map of social life within this telenovela representation. After consulting with the children, the mother made the decision to allow the father back in the house, but to her surprise, he was drunk when she called him. Once again she reaffirmed her decision to keep the father away from the house, but eventually there was a final forgiveness and they “lived happily ever after.” Although not necessarily the students’ lives, this telenovela is created within a complicated set of social structures and tensions. This telenovela production was accompanied by the students’ musical selection of the song “Masoquismo” [“Masochism”] by the Latina teen pop artist Lola from the album Érase una vez [Once Upon a Time] that actually served as the theme song for a popular telenovela. The lyrics of the song, about a woman who was left by her lover but felt conflicting emotions, complemented the main theme of the students’ script. This telenovela production and the previous literature-media discussion became performative spaces to both analyze and produce meaning within the structures of global media texts. The students’ generative work created new parameters for classroom discussions of local social realities and experiences, such as in the following class discussion that followed the presentation of the telenovela Sin corazón no hay amor. The students were discussing the possible motivation for the conflict and the father’s departure: Discussion Alicia: Porque la mamá quiere comprarle esto y el papá no está dispuesto a comprarle eso.

Translation Alicia: Because the mother wants to buy something for the kids but the dad isn’t willing to buy it.

Marcos: Ah verdad, o el dinero.

Marcos: True, or money.

Javier: Este los papás, la mamá necesita chavos porque no tiene para los hijos y los papás dicen que no le va a dar.

Javier: Well the parents, the mom needs money because she doesn’t have any for the children and the father said he won’t give it to them.

Rocío Y ¿por qué? y ¿por qué? Yo tengo una pregunta con eso…que me quedé así como que sorprendida ¿la mamá le tiene que pedir chavos a los papás?

Rocío: And why, why? I have a question about that…that left me, like, surprised. The mother has to ask for money from the father?

Marcos: Si no tiene.

Marcos: If she doesn’t have any.

Carlos: Si también le tiene que pedir por la pensión.

Carlos: Yes, also if she has to ask him for child support. Analysis of Students’ Devised Telenovelas


5-18-09

In this instance it was possible to see the hybrid identity discourses that emerged in which, in “freezing� and analyzing a moment in time, the role of the spectator and performer merged, as the children contemplated and enacted the remaking of the struggling mother, in relation to economic hardship. What started as an analysis of a media re-presentation and recontextualization in their work devolved connections with the local social realities of economic struggle and affective relations. By taking time to examine their own creative work and unpacking the possible motivations framing their stories, we moved from the global media space of telenovelas to a hybridized context where local social realities were named and explored. In this instance for example, the students begin to map the complexities between affective relationships and financial struggles, an aspect these children were aware of, either through personal experiences or through access to current larger social discourses on families economic struggles. It is at this intersection of identity, discourse, and politics that we see great potential in critical literacy education through the making and remaking of media and multiple literacies. The students’ work was not about finding some kind of unified or single oppressive discourse in the media that they consume; rather, it was about generating layers of identity and social performance that worked as reflective spaces of complex and overlapping power dynamics in relation to beauty, class, gender, economics, childhood, and social relationships.


Discussion Making Visible Global Subtleties as Performed Echoes of Global Power The consequences of the power of globalization in Puerto Rico are as complex as they are in many other places where the forces of multinational markets and media are disproportionately visible in relation to other local resources. For Puerto Rico, these new forms of domination merge with a history of other forms of colonization that have already created a range of social and cultural conditions that produce conflicting views in relation to global media consumption, production, nation-state values, and individual identity-agency (see Coss, 1996; Pabón, 1995). Living under such conditions generates in people what Bourdieu (as cited in Bauman, 2007) described as “the symbolic struggle for recognition, for access to a socially recognized social being,” or the desires to belong within dominant colonial cultural grids, while at the same time working to claim the uniqueness of an identity situated in local everyday cultural practices. These dynamics of both fitting in and resistance to complicate the linearity of any interpretative framework and pedagogy that attempts to unpack the impact of new forms of media globalization in Puerto Rico. Nevertheless, what is important to this study, that worked on a curriculum that made visible how echoes of global power circulated in relation to media in Puerto Rico, was our (students, teachers, and researchers) collective ability to work with possibilities and contradictions, and to use those as ways to reflect and move the inquiry process forward. Within this complexity, as social media theorists argue (Strelitz, 2003), it is possible to see the subtle mediations interplaying in people’s relationships with media that need to be located in the wide range of socio-political landscapes that people negotiate. With this in mind, we summarize a number of important points related to the implications of this study. One of the important aspects of the students’ inquiry work on telenovelas was how the students demonstrated their capacity to respond to media globalization as active producers of meaning. Their participation in global-local spaces was embedded in active decision-making and interpretive practices, in which the children were able to read across communities and texts in dynamic ways. In Carmen's previous work with Latino/a immigrant children (Medina, 2010), she borrowed from Guerra’s (2008) work on the notions of “Writing Across Communities” to explore how, when provided with rich opportunities for literary response, children with experiences living across cultures were able to make use of and put at the forefront of their literary experiences complex intellectual, imaginative, and political knowledge as transcultural citizens, and that more importantly, they used this knowledge to mediate their identities as active interpreters in classroom literary practices. Without falling into a relativistic use of the phrase “across communities,” we would like to suggest that for children who “stay” in one place but who live in social conditions where multiple cultural practices are produced at the intersection of global and local resources and ideologies (as Appadurai (1996) describes in his concept of scapes), the idea of reading, writing, and producing across communities could also serve as a powerful lens for engaging in the creation of expansive classroom critical literacy pedagogies. For example, the children in Puerto Rico participating in The Paper Bag Princess reading event read across media and literary texts and interpreted the social landscape of telenovelas, showing how gender performances were constructed in relation to beauty, class, and power. The students demonstrated their active work as reading subjects who could provide coherence to the multiple echoes of global power that are constituted and produced in telenovelas. In this sense,


engagement in reading across media sites provided a useful pedagogy for a multiplicity of discourses, performances, and representations to emerge, and for understanding of how media landscapes and the students’ responses work at “doing gender” in ways that both could be looked back upon and reconsidered. It also became clear that by piecing together the range of gender performances available in telenovelas, one might be able to understand the pervasive nature of global media. This insight still proves to be a challenge in our work in relation to critical literacy and the search for new forms of politics that respond to new cultural and political formations. If there is a subtle relationship between meaning-making and media consumption in everyday life, how could the subtle become visible and analyzed without falling into authoritative interpretations of global power? Or does this matter? This becomes even more complicated when adding other forms of hegemonic power that intersect and have consequences for people’s lives (such as global economy, violence, and the absence of local economic and ecological sustainability) and when constructing a place where performance pedagogies could be explored beyond what was done in this classroom. Engagement in media performance production also offered an opportunity to work in a space that encouraged self-reflective relationships between media and social life. The production aspect of this project created a locality from which to see the dynamics of global-local power, in relation to how children perceived and lived integrated realities that were difficult to unpack and understand in any linear or essential way. When these integrated realities were understood in relation to echoes of power, it was possible to identify traces of dominant culture but also to identify the ruptures that emerged in reinventing or re-contextualizing media. These newly produced texts within performative inquiry were potential places to “freeze” a moment in time and reconsider multiple possibilities and positionings in that moment (in relation to past-presentfuture). In the performative inquiry, it was possible to perceive what O’Loughlin described in her book Embodiment and Education as the ways “Bodies perform in culturally visible spaces—they are therefore read by others and themselves in ways that are culturally determined” (O’Loughlin, 2006, p. 3). In a time when media, popular culture, technology and the consumption and production of marketed identities are at the core of children’s lives, this classroom study points to the potential for reframing the relationship between critical literacy and performative pedagogies at the intersection of how people embody, perform, consume, and produce identities in their everyday lives and how identities are enacted in the dramatic/literacy pedagogical space in classrooms. These perspectives are not disconnected from the number of studies on the role of media literacy in children’s lives and work done in classrooms. Among the most relevant to this paper are studies that examine the impact of global and multinational media markets in children’s literacy and interpretive practices in relation to interpretation (Mackey, 2003), audience reception (Buckingham, 2003), the dynamics of children's media production discourses, and identities through different tools (such as play and role-play), and their possibilities in classroom pedagogies (Buckingham, 2003; Evans, 2005; Marsh, 2005; Sefton-Green cited in Buckingham, 2003; Wohlwend, 2009). Through, for example, the analysis of the students’ produced telenovela Sin corazón no hay amor, what became visible in relation to the effectiveness of performative approaches to media and critical literacy was the possibility of participating in the remaking of “doing femininities,” in which the emergent performed scripts became ruptures for further considerations in relation to social life and the power of media discourses.


Conclusions The ability to simply “make visible” representations of media and power discourses in classroom pedagogies has major limitations and makes us wonder what a more complex grassroots media production project based on critical performative pedagogies with young children might look like. It is interesting to think, for example, of those working in performance arts who create rich representations using contradiction and irony as a political stance that opens up questions and new understandings of our relationships with global discourses. As we leave this project, we are still concerned that the reality of multinational market domination has concrete consequences for people’s lives in Puerto Rico and that “playing” with media becomes another form of conservative pedagogy that does not provide solutions to material problems. On this matter, the results of this study only touch the surface of a complex social landscape, but they open up the door to explore new possibilities in which the classrooms are open for participation (although classrooms are never completely “closed”) in examining the everyday politics of globalization. Creating new localities through performance practices begins to make visible people’s relations with global texts and how people actively make sense of and critically reflect on the implications of globalization in everyday life, not as a unified set of practices, but in terms of layers and fractions. These performative spaces help educators move away from an approach to critical literacy as a “state of mind” into critical literacy as a “social practice” (Buckingham, 2003). This may create new ways of reading, interpreting, and producing, as children navigate across localglobal social spaces to participate and make meaning.


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Volume 9

Number 1 Spring 2013

Editor Lindy L. Johnson

http://jolle.coe.uga.edu

Discussing Picturebooks Across Perceptual, Structural and Ideological Perspectives Suzette Youngs, suzette.youngs@unco.edu University of Northern Colorado Frank Serafini, serafini@asu.edu Arizona State University

Abstract Classroom discussions of multimodal texts, in particular historical fiction picturebooks, offer an interpretive space where readers are positioned to construct meanings in transaction with the written language, visual images, and design elements created by authors, illustrators and publishers (Serafini & Ladd, 2008; Sipe, 1999). This study was designed to better understand how readers navigated the multimodal landscape of historical fiction picturebooks and constructed meanings in transaction with the various semiotic resources made available in these multimodal texts.

Please cite this article as: Youngs, S. & Serafini, F. (2013). Discussing picturebooks across perceptual, structural, and ideological perspectives . Journal of Language and Literacy Education [Online], 9(1), ____. Available at ____.


Because the texts readers encounter in and out of school settings incorporate visual images and design elements in addition to written language, the pedagogical framework for reading comprehension instruction must expand to include strategies for understanding visual modes of communication (Serafini, 2011). A lack of attention to visual images and other visual systems of meaning in the elementary literacy curriculum presents serious challenges to teachers at a time when image has begun to dominate the literate lives of their students (Fleckenstein, 2002; Kress, 2003). Pedagogical approaches for comprehending multimodal texts continue to emerge and evolve (Albers, 2008; Anstey & Bull, 2006). Unsworth and Wheeler (2002) asserted that if children are to understand the meaning potentials of visual images, they need knowledge of the meaningmaking systems used in their production and interpretation. The blending of visual images, design elements, and written language into multimodal ensembles presents readers with new challenges, and requires an expansion of the resources and interpretive practices readers draw upon to make sense of these complex texts (Serafini, 2012). Multimodal texts draw on a variety of semiotic resources in addition to written language, and carry with them different potentials for making meaning (Kress, 2010). In order to expand students’ interpretive repertoires, teachers need to deepen their own understandings of the visual images and design elements used in multimodal texts (Youngs & Serafini, 2011). Contemporary picturebooks present numerous opportunities for teachers to support students’ understandings of the visual and design elements in multimodal texts. A shift from a focus on print-based texts dominated by written language to multimodal ensembles requires readers to navigate, design, interpret and interrogate texts in new and more interactive ways (Serafini, 2009). Analyses of multimodal ensembles require readers to synthesize perceptual abilities with ideological perspectives, including theories of visual grammar, semiotic resources, critical theories, and socio-cultural perspectives (Kress & van Leeuwen, 1996; van Leeuwen, 2005). Aiello (2006) stated, “In analyzing images, then, it is necessary to account not only for their cultural norms, but also for their perceptual qualities” (pp.89-90). Analytical frameworks for attending to the various elements in multimodal ensembles have been offered by various theorists working in diverse fields of inquiry (Albers, 2007; Bateman, 2008; Beach et al., 2009; Rose, 2001). For the purposes of this study, the analytical framework created by one of the authors was used to organize the data analysis and allowed the researchers to look at the data across three analytical perspectives, namely the perceptual, structural and ideological (Serafini, 2010). The analytical framework presented here merges various perspectives into one comprehensive framework to address the various approaches offered for interpreting elements of multimodal texts. Reception and interpretation are not separate mental operations, rather they are thoroughly interconnected processes, and any approach to understanding visual images or multimodal texts must acknowledge this interconnection. However, bypassing the forms, visual structures, design elements, and objects rendered in an image or multimodal text to consider the socio-cultural influences and contexts of production and reception may mistakenly overlook the interpretive possibilities other analytical tools and approaches make available. Various researchers and theorists have constructed similar frameworks for analyzing images across a variety of theoretical perspectives. Barthes (1977) suggests that the viewer of an image


receives the denotative (perceptual) message and the connotative (ideological) message simultaneously, and that the denotative message is constituted by what remains when one removes mentally the connotative sign. Scholes (1985) draws a similar distinction, suggesting three dimensions of literary competence, namely, reading, interpretation, and criticism. Panofsky (1955), an art historian and critic, introduced iconological methods in artistic interpretation and distinguished three strata for interpreting Renaissance art. Panofskyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s three levels of meaning in art interpretation became the object of pre-iconographic, iconographic and iconological interpretative processes (Hassenmuller, 1987). In similar fashion, the analytical framework offered here is a tripartite framework, addressing perceptual aspects of visual images and their ideological contexts. The perceptual perspective focuses on the literal or denotative (Barthes, 1977) qualities of an image or multimodal ensemble. The structural perspective focuses on the visual structures or grammar of visual design, and the ideological perspective focuses on the socio-cultural, political and historical aspects of visual and textual elements. These analytical perspectives should be considered necessary, but insufficient in and of themselves to render a comprehensive or viable interpretation of any particular multimodal ensemble. No single analytical perspective can offer a value-free, universal depiction of reality; rather each perspective offers a distinct lens for investigating multimodal texts and studentsâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; responses to these multimodal elements. This study was designed to examine how students in a fifth grade classroom navigated the textual, visual, and design elements of multimodal texts, in particular historical fiction picturebooks, and how they responded to the various semiotic resources available in the picturebooks shared during interactive read alouds in whole class and small group settings across the three analytical perspectives discussed previously. Theoretical Framework The theoretical framework for this study drew upon picturebook theories (Moebuis, 1986; Nodelman, 1984), reader response theories (Beach, 1993; Tompkins, 1980), theories of visual grammar and design (Kress & van Leeuwen, 1996), and theories of visual literacy and multimodality (Elkins, 2008; Kress, 2010). As Kress (2003) asserts, we can no longer treat language as the sole or major means for representation or communication, and proficiency with written language alone cannot provide access to the meaning potential of the multimodally constructed text. This assertion has important implications for literacy education. As literacy educators, we need to expand our knowledge of the semiotic resources and meaning potentials of multimodal texts, how these texts are constituted, and how meaning is articulated and interpreted within and across the various modalities used in their creation. A multimodal text or ensemble is a text that draws on a variety or multiplicity of modes. Modes are socioculturally shaped resources for realizing, representing, interpreting and communicating meanings (Kress, 2010). Modes have material, technological, and social aspects and are used for specific social purposes, in specific social contexts. Each mode is capable of representing meanings in different ways for different purposes. Picturebooks are a type of print-based, multimodal text using a variety of modes, in particular visual images, written language, and design elements, to offer potential meanings to the reader during transactions with these texts


(Lewis, 2001). Picturebook reading is a complex process (Kiefer, 1995; Moebuis, 1986; Nodelman, 1984). Careful inspection of written language, visual images, and design elements yields a greater understanding of the whole than these elements yield independently. Readers of picturebooks are required to attend to visual images, design elements, written language, and the synergistic relationships among these features (Sipe, 1998). Sipe drew upon a semiotic theoretical perspective to describe how readers work back and forth among text, images, and design elements to make sense of picturebooks. Readers interpret the written text in terms of the visual images, and the visual images in terms of the written text, and subsequently both visual images and written text in terms of the overall design. Sipe described this interpretive process as oscillation, the continual recursive nature between text, images and design elements as meanings are constructed in conjunction with the various semiotic resources available. Historical fiction poses many challenges for young readers attempting to understand the complexity of historical events, distinguish facts from fiction, and relate to historical events far removed from their own experiences. To enhance young readers’ understandings of historical events, teachers need to introduce and support a variety of interpretive perspectives to the act of reading historical fiction picturebooks (Youngs, 2010, 2012). Readers must attend to cues provided by the author, illustrator and publisher to help distinguish between historical and fictional elements, as well as go beyond the written text to consider primary and secondary sources of information. In addition, the peritextual elements (Genette, 1997) offer meaning potentials to the reader as they attend to various motifs, symbols and graphic designs embedded throughout these multimodal ensembles. Classroom discussions of multimodal texts, in particular historical fiction picturebooks, offer an interpretive space where readers are positioned to construct meanings in transaction with the written language, visual images, and design elements created by authors, illustrators and publishers (Serafini & Ladd, 2008; Sipe, 1999). Methods This interpretive study (Erickson, 1986) was conducted over the course of four months in a fifth grade classroom at Fredrickson Elementary School (pseudonyms are used throughout), located in a suburban area of a mid-sized city in the Western United States. Reports from the school district indicated the following demographic information for the school: 64% Caucasian, 20% Hispanic, 5% African American, 8% Asian/ Pacific Islander, and 2% American Indian/Alaskan Native. Twenty-two percent of the student population qualified for free and reduced lunch, and eight percent of the population was students with limited English proficiency. There were 26 students in the class at the time of the study. The ethnicity makeup of this class consisted of: Anglo European—20 students; African American—2 students; and Hispanic—4 students. This class had 2 students with an Individualized Education Plan, 1 receiving English Language Learners (ELL) services, 5 students who were reading below grade level, 18 who were at grade level, and 3 who were reading above grade level. Emily, the classroom teacher, was in her third year of teaching at the time of the study and was selected to participate because children’s literature was used as part of her reading curriculum. In addition to the required core program, Emily included historical fiction picturebooks as a resource throughout her social studies curriculum. One of the authors conducted the read alouds


presented here and designed various lessons on visual grammar that are reported throughout this paper while the classroom teacher served as observer. Further analysis of the interactions between researcher and teacher, the lessons developed, and the influence these lessons had on studentsâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; responses are ongoing, but are not included in this analysis. This genre study of historical fiction picturebooks was designed to help readers attend to the multimodal nature of these books to enhance their comprehension of literature and historical information. During this study students listened to ten selected historical fiction picturebooks read alouds with lessons in genre, visual literacy, and history. The books were selected because of their potential for provoking discussion, the extensive amount of peritextual design elements, and the focus on internment suggested by the classroom teacher. Students engaged in whole group and small group discussions. The focus of this study is on the discussions that were recorded during the whole group and small group read alouds. Guiding questions for this study included: 1) What visual, textual and design resources did readers attend to in making meanings in transactions with selected historical fiction picturebooks?; 2) What types of responses did students construct while attending to the multimodal features of historical fiction picturebooks?; and 3) How did studentsâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; responses vary across perceptual, structural and ideological perspectives in their discussions of historical fiction picturebooks? The study was conducted in three phases: 1) an initial observation of the literacy instructional block lasting for several weeks, 2) a series of ten whole class interactive read alouds conducted by one of the researchers (Barrentine, 1996), and 3) a series of small group read alouds with one of the researchers focusing on a particular historical fiction picturebook. Field notes and transcripts of audio recordings made during whole and small group classroom discussions were the primary data sources. In addition, weekly interviews with the teacher and selected students, copies of student reading response notebooks, and classroom charts generated during the instructional experiences and read alouds were gathered and used in subsequent analyses not reported here. Data Analysis The initial analysis of the data consisted of a chronological reading of the entire data corpus (Erickson, 1986); however, the focus of data analysis was the discussion transcripts and researcher field notes. Subsequently, the conversational turn was used as the unit of analysis (Sinclair & Coulthard, 1975) and 5,285 student initiated conversational turns were coded and analyzed. Conversational turns were identified each time a different student offered a response in a particular discussion. Each transcript was read, and an initial line-by-line analysis was completed (Strauss & Corbin, 1998). Two broad categories, namely literal and interpretive responses, were constructed to differentiate between two general types of responses students offered. If the reader named or identified a textual or visual element that was visually depicted or included in the written text, it was identified as a literal response. In other words, responses were coded as literal if a student could point directly to the written text or visual image to which she or


he was referring. Responses were coded as interpretive if the comments referred to phenomena not directly stated in the written text or depicted in the visual images. These responses were considered connotative (Barthes, 1977) responses, an interpretation layered upon a denotative or literal aspect of the picturebook. Literal responses (denotative) comprised 35% of the data corpus, and interpretive (connotative) responses comprised 65%. Each response was further analyzed across the perceptual, structural or ideological perspectives associated with the analytical framework constructed through previous research (Serafini, 2010). The data initially identified as literal responses was included in the category of the perceptual perspective. The data initially identified as interpretive was further categorized into the structural perspective, approximately 57% of the original data set, and the ideological perspective, approximately 8% of the original data set. The responses identified with the structural perspective included naming an element of visual grammar or structure, for example salience, compositional or framing devices (Kress and van Leeuwen, 1996), while the responses associated with the ideological perspective included thematic interpretations of the book as a complete entity, or ideological interpretations referencing visual and textual elements in a particular page opening. During the read aloud sessions, each discussion began with the question, “What do you notice?” The students shared what they noticed in one of two ways. First, noticing was articulated by actually using the words “I notice.” Students would say, “In the illustration, I noticed…,” or “On the jacket cover I noticed….” Second, students’ noticings were not directly articulated but inferred by the researchers from their comments and responses. When a student said, “Henry is looking directly at us,” it was inferred that the reader was attending to the character named Henry looking directly at the viewer.

Cover for the book Henry’s Freedom Box. Responses coded within the structural perspective included comments that referred to the analysis of visual images and design elements. Using terms presented in the lessons associated with the unit of study on historical fiction, students discussed such visual devices as framing, demand and offer, composition, and salience. Students further analyzed the visual images and design elements within any given page spread using elements associated with the structural


perspective. In the following example, when discussing Henryâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Freedom Box (Levine, 2007), students attended to the trees and colors Kadir Nelson used to create the various settings contained in the book. Craig: The color of the tree. I think itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s an attention getting compared to words because if you look at the trees in the background all the rest is faded. Researcher: And our eyes are drawn there. Nick: I was gonna say that the yellow on the trees could mean caution because they have to be careful because they [slaves] could be separated easily. These responses indicated an interpretive process that extended beyond the recall and declaration of literal visual and textual elements. These responses suggested students were moving from what was included in the text and image to what these things might mean within the context of the story itself.

Cover for the book Home of the Brave. Responses coded within the ideological perspective went beyond the perceptual and structural perspectives and helped students to attend to the socio-cultural and historical contexts of the stories presented. Students made broad historical connections to understand an historic era or figure, or related to particular individual characters and the conditions of these characters. For example, when discussing Home of the Brave (Say, 2002), students struggled to get past how the character traveled back in time. Numerous conversational turns were spent speculating whether the character was dreaming or in a time travel sequence. In a subsequent reading of this text, students made historical connections as evident in the following responses: Kali: I think the reason it shows an Indian Reservation is so it could show you how the government is separating people. Kyle: Allen Say might have tried to show that the Native Americans were also taken from their home. It was evident in the data that students used the literal or denotative qualities of the visual images and multimodal elements to move into interpretive and ideological perspectives.


Results The results of the data analysis suggested students focused on the perceptual perspective to initiate their interpretive processes and offered literal responses before transitioning across structural and ideological perspectives. The analysis of students’ responses suggested readers initially focused on literal elements in the written narrative and visual images, many of which led to the use of structural and ideological perspectives. The responses offered by students ranged across the three analytical perspectives, with each perspective providing support for students’ further interpretations. The discussions that occurred during each interactive read aloud session were influenced by: 1) readers’ consideration of design elements as semiotic resources; 2) time to progress from literal perceptions to interpretations; and 3) revisiting students’ initial noticings through discussion. Considering Visual Design Elements as Semiotic Resources In creating historical fiction picturebooks, illustrators, authors and publishers include an assortment of textual and visual design elements that offer meaning potentials for the reader. These elements of historical fiction picturebooks serve as semiotic resources (Kress, 2010) that provide opportunities for creators and readers to represent and construct meanings across visual and textual elements. Creators of historical fiction picturebooks have limited space to deliver a complex historical narrative and often rely on visual images and design elements in both the story proper and the peritext to extend the textual narrative and offer the reader various historical motifs and symbolic meaning potentials (Authors, 2011). Rather than seeing these elements as simply graphic designs, readers considered them meaningful and therefore signs to be interpreted (Fish, 1980).

Cover for the book Angel Girl. In the following vignette, students made connections across the written narrative and visual design elements to interpret a particular image within the picturebook Angel Girl (Freidman, 2007). Students discussed the meaning potentials of a particular visual image presented in the story and how this image comparesd to a similar image on the cover. Their responses began with attention to the visual and textual elements depicted in the picturebook before progressing to structural and ideological considerations. The role of the teacher was to initiate the interpretive


process by suggesting literal elements could be interpreted and offered meaning potentials beyond their literal details. Denise: That’s the same picture from the front. Braden: There’s no tear here though. Ellen: I can see a tear there, but I don’t see a tear on the front. Researcher: So what do you think? Why the difference? Brittany: Maybe she’s like happy and sad because she helped him live but then she’s sad because she could’ve died. Researcher: It’s kind of emotional. Samantha: I think that maybe she’s happy because she fed him and stuff, but at the same time, she’s sad because they’re free, and she might not get to see him ever again, and she’s sad that others died of starvation. In this vignette, students made connections between the cover image and an image found in the book. During these discussions, students constructed interpretations focusing on the possible emotions of the central character. Using the image itself as a basis for further interpretation, students drew upon the structural perspective to infer meaning potentials offered in the literal image. Student responses suggested the image of Angel Girl was meaningful beyond its literal qualities and related to specific events in the written narrative. In particular, the cover image and the changes perceived in the visual image found later in the text served as semiotic resources offering potential meanings about the emotional state of the central character in the story. Time to Progress from Perceptions to Interpretations What became apparent during data analysis was an increase in students’ attention to the structural and ideological perspectives as they revisited the picturebooks on multiple occasions. Initial responses were heavily weighted toward the perceptual perspective as students dealt with literal elements in the visual narrative. It became evident that students needed more time and support with each of these complex picturebooks to move from literal meanings to structural and ideological considerations. In subsequent readings of the same picturebook, students’ attention to ideological perspectives occurred earlier in the discussions due to their familiarity with the story and attention paid previously to various images and textual features. In the following vignette, students focused on the cover of Henry’s Freedom Box (Levine, 2007) and reconsidered the images presented after having read the story for a second time. By paying close attention to the literal details in the visual images students used their perceptions as the foundation for subsequent structural and ideological interpretations. Stevie: The bird, three birds on one side of the ear and three other birds out of another ear… Researcher: Okay. And what do you notice about that? Stevie: Freedom. Researcher: Freedom? Why do you say freedom? Tell me a little more.


Stevie: Because in the story, he’s like a slave, and his master died and he wants to be freed, but he has to go to another master, so he, he got a box and shipped himself to freedom. Researcher: Okay. Why might the birds symbolize freedom? You’ve all said that, quite a few of you. Jaime: Because they’re free Sara: They’re free and can do whatever they want Researcher: Okay. Can anybody else add to the bird idea a little bit? Sara: I think the birds represent freedom, and that since it looks dark because he’s outside, it doesn’t look like any buildings or farmers or anybody else but him is out there, and in the book, he’s like sitting on a box. But behind him, instead of all this wilderness, he’s behind a couple of bricks, a brick wall, it looks kind of dark in there, so I think he’s even more trapped than ever. In this vignette, students’ revisiting of the images from Henry’s Freedom Box allowed them to consider ideological perspectives as the images were no longer seen as literal representations, rather students were concerned with the meaning potentials offered through the cover art and other visual images. The images were no longer considered literal denotations, but were infused with additional meanings or connotations suggested during the discussions across the range of literary discussions. Revisiting Students’ Initial Noticings through Discussion The researcher initiated each interactive read aloud and discussion by focusing students’ attention on what they noticed. This instructional move provided space for all students to share ideas about what they noticed, regardless of their individual reading abilities. Helping students learn to notice what is in an image and consider the meaning potentials inherent in these images grounds students’ interpretations in the perceptual perspective. After students shared what they noticed, the researcher often followed up by asking, “Can you tell me more about that?” or “What might that mean?” These questions offered a space for students to further expand on what was denoted in the visual images to consider possible interpretations of the visual images from structural and ideological perspectives. In the following vignette, students built upon the ideas presented by other students as they discussed the possible symbolic meanings for various aspects of the visual images presented in Henry’s Freedom Box. John: The tree in the background, I think that means anger. Researcher: Anger? Whose anger is that representing, do you think? John: The slaves. Researcher: Keep going with that. John: Because I think they’re angry because they’re being separated from their families. Alisha: They’re getting separated from their families, and they’re all working harder. Emily: Yeah. And in fall, too, the leaves change, and so I think they’re also trying to show that change is going to happen.


Anthony: I think the leaves symbol[ize] the same things as the birds. Because the leaves, they’re blowing in the air, and so are the birds. This shows they’re free, and they’re torn away from their families also. Researcher: Hmmm. That’s interesting to compare the leaves and the birds. What’s similar and what’s different about the leaves and the birds? Anthony: They’re similar because they’re in the air, and in the air something can be free, and you can do what you want. Researcher: Uh huh. And what about, is there a difference between the leaves and the birds? Peyton: The birds, when they’re in the sky, they’re sometimes in a group. They’re like really not separated sometimes and on a tree, they’re in a group, but when fall comes, they all separate. In the preceding vignette, students built upon each other’s ideas and expanded on their own interpretations in response to other students’ ideas. The comments made by the students and the questions asked by the researcher focused on responses offered previously by students. Sometimes referred to as uptake (Alexander, 2006; Myhill & Dunkin, 2005), students and teachers referred to what had previously been offered in order to build on the meaning potentials of the responses offered during literary discussions. As the study progressed, it became apparent that students felt safe to expand on each other’s ideas and to offer differing perspectives. Creating a safe environment for students to offer their ideas and comment respectfully on one another’s ideas is an important consideration that arose in this study and is worthy of further investigation. Discussion The data in this study suggested fifth graders were capable of constructing responses to historical fiction using the denotative elements of the visual images as a foundation to offer viable interpretations from the perceptual, structural, and ideological aspects of historical fiction picturebooks. Readers progressed back and forth among perceptual, structural, and ideological perspectives by calling attention to the design elements as semiotic resources, providing multiple opportunities to revisit picturebooks, and by revisiting and building on students’ initial interpretations. Analyzing the discussions along perceptual, structural, and ideological dimensions offered the researchers an analytical framework for considering the various comments that were generated in response to historical fiction picturebooks. All three analytical perspectives were drawn upon during students’ construction of meaning in transactions with historical fiction picturebooks. Students’ interpretations began with what they noticed, or their literal perceptions, and progressed across structural and ideological perspectives. A shift in attention from the basic design elements, objects, and semiotic resources used in creating visual images and multimodal texts to the socio-cultural contexts of production and reception is necessary, but should not abandon the analytical approaches put forth by perceptual psychology (Arnheim, 1986; Seward Barry, 1997), visual grammar and semiotics (Kress & van Leeuwen, 1996; van Leeuwen & Jewitt, 2001), visual communications (Leeds-Hurwitz, 1993; Smith-Shank, 2004), and visual literacy (Duncum, 2004; Elkins, 2008). To ignore the perceptual and structural aspects of visual images and multimodal texts in favor of a socio-cultural


perspective would limit readers’ interpretive repertoire and forego relevant perspectives for making sense of images and multimodal texts. Doonan (1993), referring to exemplifying symbols and the process of symbolization states, “Meanings do not come attached as they do to symbols that denote. You have to select your meaning from a variety of possibilities and apply those which best suit the image[s] and the context” (p. 15). Students attended to a variety of visual images presented in the selected picturebooks, and through their discussions constructed deeper understandings of the meaning potentials in these elements. Since symbolic connections provide no essential or single objectivist meaning (Sturken & Cartwright, 2001), students were invited throughout the discussions to consider the meaning potentials of various textual and visual elements and to construct viable interpretations in response to these connections. Kress and van Leeuwen (1996) assert that signs are motivated and are selected for particular purposes. As students attended to the symbolic nature of the visual images and historical symbols embedded in the peritext, they considered possible meaning potentials from the literal details and constructed multiple interpretations. Providing time for students to revisit these historical fiction picturebooks across the unit of study allowed students to construct more complex responses during subsequent readings of particular picturebooks. Initial discussions focused on literal details using the perceptual perspective, which laid the foundation for more inferential responses. As students revisited these picturebooks, they were able to move beyond the literal details to consider the connotative or symbolic aspects of visual design elements and images. The teacher and researcher supported students’ interpretations as they asked them to consider what the visual design elements might signify and what connections were made among these elements and the textual narrative. Considering all aspects of these picturebooks deepened students’ responses and interpretations. Understandings are enhanced through participation in literary discussions, and students benefit from this participation (Nystrand, 1997). Not only did students benefit from their participation in these discussions, but the researchers benefited from their participation, as students helped us to see these complex books from new perspectives. Allowing students the freedom to explore the visual and textual elements was important, but it was just as important to remain open to the meaning potentials offered by students, avoiding too much control of the topics discussed to allow a variety of interpretations to be realized.


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Sturken, M., & Cartwright, L. (2001). Practices of looking: An introduction to visual culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Tompkins, J. (Ed.). (1980). Reader-response criticism: From formalism to post-structuralism. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press. Unsworth, L., & Wheeler, J. (2002). Re-valuing the role of images in reviewing picture books. Reading, 36(2), 68-74. van Leeuwen, T. (2005). Introducing social semiotics. London: Routledge. van Leeuwen, T., & Jewitt, C. (2001). Handbook of Visual Analysis. London: Sage. Youngs, S. (2010). Peritextual discussions of historical fiction picturebooks. In R. T. Jiminez, V. J. Risko, D. Wells Rowe & M. K. Hundley (Eds.), National Reading Conference Yearbook (Vol. 59). Oak Creek, WI: National Reading Conference. Youngs, S. (2012). Understanding history through the visual images in historical fiction. Language Arts, 89(6), 379-395. Youngs, S., & Serafini, F. (2011). Comprehension strategies for reading historical fiction picturebooks. The Reading Teacher, 65(2), 115-124.


Volume 9 Number 1

Spring 2013

Editor Lindy L. Johnson

http://jolle.coe.uga.edu

Activist Authors of the 44th Annual Georgia Children’s Book Award and Conference Denise Davila, ddavila@uga.edu Oksana Lushchevska, oksanal@uga.edu The University of Georgia

Abstract Four renowned authors, Deborah Wiles, Angela Johnson, Molly Bang, and Pat Mora, participated in the 44th Annual Georgia Children’s Book Award conference. This article describes how each of these women demonstrates that there are multiple approaches to cultivating literacy through children’s literature.

Please cite this article as: Davila, D., & Lushchevska, O. (2013). Activist authors of the 44th annual Georgia Children’s Book Award and Conference. Journal of Language and Literacy Education [Online], 9(1), ____. Available at _____.


As activists for literacy, members of the Georgia Children’s Book Award organization (GCBA) have been promoting a love of reading and introducing children to books of literary excellence since 1968. Each spring, The University of Georgia is host to the GCBA conference, one of the largest children’s literature events in the Southeast. Its primary purpose is to inspire and support educators, media specialists, researchers, and community members in being literature-to-literacy activists for children. Inviting top children’s book authors and illustrators to talk about their creative work and literacy lives is one of the ways GCBA inspires conference attendees. Internationally renowned, awardwinners Molly Bang, Angela Johnson, Pat Mora, and Deborah Wiles were among the authors and illustrators who spoke at this year’s conference and participated in a variety of events with attendees. This article examines how each of these talented women approaches literacy activism through the books she creates as much as through the ways she engages with others. Deborah Wiles: Pushing the Boundaries of Historical Fiction Opening the conference with sincerity and humor, National Book Award Finalist Deborah Wiles embraces the title of activist. She sees her work as a means to release stories into the world that reflect perspectives neither readily remembered nor included in today’s dominant U.S. culture. Her 1960’s trilogy, which begins with the documentary novel Countdown, positions young readers alongside the adolescent Franny Chapman. Franny feels as though everyone is consumed by fear of the Cuban Missile Crisis and she hardly knows how respond to the world around her, let alone her family and friends. Nonetheless, she has to navigate the uncertainties of the future. In order to illustrate the complexities of the social, cultural, and political climates that Fanny experiences in the 1960’s, Wiles includes a range of primary documents in the novel, including photographs, newspaper headlines, letters, quotes, song lyrics, and the like. The audio version of Countdown features as part of the story original recordings of President John F. Kennedy and Premier Nikita Khrushchev, clips of radio and television newscasts, as well as music and other audio documents of the period. Deborah Wiles

Although it might appear that Wiles set out to disrupt the traditional structure of historical fiction novels, this was not her motive. Seated around a table with conference attendees at one of the GCBA events, Wiles reflected on her rationale for formatting Countdown as a documentary novel. She shared that she wanted to firmly ground Franny’s life experience in the 1960’s – nothing more, nothing less. With the support of her editor David Levithan, Wiles breathed life into Franny’s experience of the 1960’s in a way that was new to the genre of historical fiction novel for young readers. Such a new approach also required Wiles’ publisher Scholastic Press to embrace the role of activist in making a financial commitment to pay copyright royalties for the original materials in the novel.


The resources and audio playlists that Wiles complied for the 1960’s trilogy are accessible via Wiles’ Pinterest page. Here, readers can check out the songs and speech snippets that actually appear in Countdown. They can also explore Wiles’ playlist and photo files for her upcoming second book of the '60s trilogy, which focuses on the Freedom Summer voter registration initiative of 1964 in Greenwood, Mississippi. This new book will be released in 2014. For more information about Deborah Wiles’ books and life as an activist writer, visit her website.

Angela Johnson: Giving Voice to Untold Stories

Angela Johnson

Like Wiles, award-winning writer, Angela Johnson also fosters activist literacy through the books she chooses to write, all of which advocate for social consciousness and reflection. With a strong voice, Johnson integrates the experiences of many who identify as African Americans in her characters, and by doing so, creates space for dialogue about sensitive themes – something that is not easily accomplished. She encompasses issues that may once have been considered taboo in literature for children and young adults and thus "reassures young people that they are not first in the world to have faced the problems" (Kiefer & Tyson, 2010, p. 188).

In talking with GCBA conference attendees, Johnson mused that some of the inspirations for her stories originate from moments of wonder while she is observing life. Her acclaimed novel in verse, The First Part Last, evolved from one such experience. “[T]here was this beautiful kid,” Johnson explained in an interview with TeachingBooks.net (2005). “He looked about 15 or 16, and he was with a baby. It was 11:00 in the morning, and I was thinking, “Why is this kid not in school? Is this his daughter; is this his sister? What’s the deal?” From here, Johnson’s interest was piqued. She took up the role of activist in recounting the unsung story of a young man’s experience of fatherhood. Offering a counter narrative to the common stories of single teen moms, The First Part Last won both the Michael L. Printz and Coretta Scott King book awards in 2004. In the words of one Teenreads.com reviewer Norah Piehl (2003) Johnson’s award-winning prose offers “an all toorare portrayal of a caring, nurturing young man." Written in a non-linear format that alternates between the end and beginning of the story, Johnson suggests that The First Part Last is a “cautionary tale” (TeachingBooks.net, 2005), although it is in no way didactic. After navigating the complexities of girlfriend Nia's pregnancy, the protagonist Bobby is left alone with their baby. Instead of giving his daughter for adoption, he accepts his role as a young father and embarks on a journey of self-discovery that transforms his perspectives on life. Johnson says, “I want to connect” with readers by cultivating untold tales like Bobby’s, and hopes her voice is one readers “can count on for a good story and maybe even take away something that might hold them in good stead” (TheBrownBookshelf.com, 2009). Connecting


with readers is the hallmark of Johnsons’ activism via picturebooks and novels. For more information about Angela Johnson’s award-winning books, visit her Ohioana Author webpage. Molly Bang: Re-Envisioning Readers’ Access to Science Displaying dazzling images of light from her picturebooks My Light (2004), Living Sunlight (2009), and Ocean Sunlight (2012), Molly Bang discussed her deliberate and thoughtful approach to creating visual art and narrative text for children. Considering herself fortunate to “see how certain elements in pictures effect our feelings, as she states in Picture This: How Pictures Work (1991, p. 6), Bang took up the role of activist and called on GCBA conference attendees to examine picturebooks as multimodal texts. Molly Bang

Bang also explained that as an advocate of fostering children’s multiple literacies she has been concerned about U.S. children's limited understanding of basic science principles. Thus, she continues to publish nonfiction picturebooks to support science literacy. One such book, Ocean Sunlight (2012), is her sixth book focused on science literacy and was coauthored with MIT ecologist Penny Chisholm. This book talks about tiny phytoplankton that floats in the sea and produces oxygen gas, while transferring the sun's energy to all marine life. Bang’s advocacy has received national acclaim. Most recently, she has been two-time award winner (2010 and 2013) of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)/Subaru Science Book and Film Prize for Excellence in Science Books for Ocean Sunlight (2012) and Living Sunlight (2009). Bang also seeks to “make books about people who make a difference,” as illustrated in her graphic novel, Nobody Particular: One Women's Fight to Save the Bays (2000). In this book, Bang tells the story of Dianne Wilson, a Gulf of Texas shrimper-turned-environmental activist who stood up to the chemical plants responsible for the horrific ground pollution in Calhoun County, Texas. Using a vivid collage technique, Bang creates two narratives. One narrative describes the bay habitat, its living beings, and the pollution and protection of the shore and waters. The other narrative represents Diane Wilson’s quest to learn about the origins of the environmental pollution in the Gulf of Texas and across the U.S. and her dedication to do something about it. Despite Bang’s current focus on science, her beloved Caldecott Honor picturebook, When Sophie Gets Angry-Really, Really Angry (1999), remains ever popular. With silver ink, Molly Bang generously personalized and signed as many copies of this childhood favorite for GCBA conference attendees as her new award winners. For more information about Molly Bang’s projects and literacy activism, be sure to visit her website.


Pat Mora: Promoting Bookjoy and Literacy across the Globe Finally, renowned poet, author, and literacy advocate Pat Mora encouraged participants of the GCBA conference to be literacy activists as readers and writers who share their joy of books with children. In fact, so impressed by a teacher she met over breakfast, Mora paused her presentation to ask this conference participant tell other attendees about her approach to creating stories with young students. Such is the mind of an activist: always noticing what stories to share, when to share them and ensuring multiple voices are heard. Mora is the founder of the family literacy initiative El Día de Los Libros, the Day of the Books, which she calls Día. Established 17 years ago in Pat Mora 1996, Día is an extension of the Mexican holiday El Día de Los Niños. In the words of Booklist Online, Mora’s bilingual picturebook about Día, Book Fiesta! Celebrate Children's Day/Book Day; Celebremos El día de los niños/El día de los libros (2009), “exhorts everyone to read and have fun in whatever language and locale they choose… The straightforward, bilingual text in Spanish and English is beautifully illustrated in bright, bold, acrylic paintings…” Within this picturebook, Mora offers encouragement and ideas for celebrating books and fostering Bookjoy, the pleasure of reading, within communities among families, schools, libraries, and other community groups. Her suggestions are not only for El Día de Los Libros on April 30, but for any and every day. Internationally, Mora’s message of Bookjoy was recently honored for the 2013 International Children’s Book Day (ICBD), an event that celebrates the love of reading worldwide. In addition to promoting Día, Mora has the tremendous gift of writing in two languages for ALL readers. At least seven of her children’s books are bilingual (English and Spanish) and ten are available in both English and Spanish versions. Mora advocates that our diverse students need brave teachers and suggests that teacher and teacher educators can:   

affirm our Latino and Spanish-speaking students by incorporating bilingual books into our school and library collections and by using the books for read-alouds and activities; teach by example, when we leave our linguistic comfort zone and risk beginning to explore and maybe even learn another language, we teach our students, whether monolingual or bilingual, to do likewise; and/or partner with bilingual parents, older students or colleagues and illustrate the wonder and fun of languages through collaboration.

To learn more about Pat Mora’s advocacy and literature for children and adults, visit her website. Conclusion


Four renowned authors participated in the Georgia Children’s Book Award conference. Each of these women demonstrated that there are multiple approaches to cultivating literacy through children’s literature. Deborah Wiles and Angela Johnson are interested in releasing stories into the world that feature characters and perspectives, which are not commonly regarded in dominant U.S. culture. Both show that stories need not follow a traditional linear format to be accessible to readers. Meanwhile, author-illustrator Molly Bang is as much an activist of science and ecological literacies as she is an activist of visual literacy through her creation of multimodal picturebooks. Finally, Pat Mora, is not only a writer of dual languages and cultures but also a tireless activist for literacy through Bookjoy and Día. Collectively, the creative projects these authors cultivate nourish the readers, writers, and activist in all of us. If you are interested in meeting award-winning authors, learning about new children’s books and media, and engaging in a variety of conversations and break-out sessions with fellow children’s book enthusiast, the GCBA organization invites you to attend the 45th conference in spring 2014. A call for session proposals will be announced in the fall. JoLLE readers are especially encouraged to submit proposals to the research strand of the 2014 conference. For more information about featured authors and events of past, present and future conference, please the GCBA website.

References Angela Johnson. (February 8, 2009). In TheBrownBookshelf.com. Retrieved April 23, 2013 from http://thebrownbookshelf.com/2009/02/08/angela-johnson/ Angela Johnson: In-depth written interview. (October 6, 2005). In TeachingBook.net. Retrieved April 23, 2013 from http://www.teachingbooks.net/interview.cgi?id=28&a=1 Book Fiesta! Celebrate Children's Day/Book Day; Celebremos El día de los niños/El día de los libros. (January 1, 2009). [Review of the book Book Fiesta! Celebrate Children's Day/Book Day; Celebremos El día de los niños/El día de los libros, by P.Mora]. In BooklistOnline.com. Retrieved April 23, 2013 from http://tinyurl.com/cojrqob Kiefer, B., & Tyson, C. (2010). Charlotte Huck's children's literature: A brief guide. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill Education. Nodelman, P. (2012). Picture book guy looks at comics: Structural differences in two kinds of visual narrative. Children’s Literature Association Quarterly 37(2), 436-444. O’Brian, B. (n.d.). Meet Molly Bang. In California Readers.org. Retrieved April 23, 2013 from http://www.californiareaders.org/interviews/bang_molly.php Piehl, N. (June 1, 2003). The first part last by Angela Johnson. [Review of the book The first part last, by A. Johnson]. In Teenreads.com. Retrieved April 23, 2013 from http://www.teenreads.com/reviews/the-first-part-last


Sipe, L. (2008). Storytime. Young children's literary understanding in the classroom. New York, New York: Teachers College Press. Children’s Literature Cited Bang, M. (2004). My light. New York, NY: The Blue Sky Print. Bang, M. (2000). Picture This. How pictures work. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books. Bang, M. (1999). When Sophie gets angry – really, really angry. New York, NY: The Blue Sky Press. Bang, M., & Chisholm, P. (2009). Living sunlight: How pants bring the earth to life. New York, NY: The Blue Sky Press. Bang, M., & Chisholm, P. (2012). Ocean sunlight: How tiny plants feed the seas. New York, NY: The Blue Sky Press. Bang, M., & Wilson, D. (2000). Nobody particular: One woman's fight to save the bays. New York, NY: Henry Holt Company. Johnson, A. (2003). The first part last. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers. Mora, P., & Lopez, R. (2009). Book Fiesta!: Celebrate Children's Day/Book Day; Celebremos El día de los ninos/El día de los libros. New York, NY: Rayo. Wiles, D. (2010). Countdown. New York, NY: Scholastic Press.


Volume 9 Number 1

Spring 2013

Editor Lindy L. Johnson

http://JoLLE.coe.uga.edu

Children’s Literature as Tools of and for Activism: Reflections of JoLLE’s inaugural Activist Literacies conference Jennifer M. Graff, jgraff@uga.edu The University of Georgia

Abstract

Inspired by her attendance at the inaugural JoLLE Activist Literacies conference, the author ruminates on the ways in which children’s literature and activitist literacies are inextricably wed and manifested in myriad ways. References to a sampling of children’s literature spanning genres and grade levels, websites, and affiliated articles provide opportunities for readers to further recognize how children’s literature can be both tools of and for activist thought and action. Please cite this article as: Graff, J. M. (2013). Children’s literature as tools of and for activism: Reflections of JoLLE’s inaugural Activist Literacies conference. Journal of Language and Literacy Education [Online], 9(1), ____. Available at _____.


The Georgia Center for Continuing Education brimmed with energy on the evening of Friday, February 22. Collective enthusiasm and anticipation permeated the air as diverse peoples from throughout the North American continent shared and discussed multimodal representations of activism with one another. Over the course of two days, life stories, testimonios, art, literature, dramatic, and civic-minded performances, digital storytelling, gaming, and dialogic inquiry infused the consciousness of attendees of JoLLE’s inaugural conference, Activist Literacies: Inspire, Engage, Create, and Transform. Such diverse forms of expressions focused on the continual marginalization of peoples, cultures, and ideas and how both the singular and collective can enact change for social justice. The community of conference speakers and activists, including renowned professors Glynda Hull, Christian Faltis, and K.C. Nat Turner, as well as the articles in this special issue, epitomize how life is often shared in narrative form (Bruner, 2004) and how Story, regardless of genre and form, is activist in nature. Stories serve as cultural guides and often inspire, engage, create and transform both the political and personal landscapes of humanity. As I journeyed to and between presentations and workshops, I was struck by the concept of the aesthetics in social justice and was reminded of how children’s literature, as artistic, literary, and social texts, is both a tool of and for activism. While those whose scholarship involves children’s literature often understand this, I remain convinced that part of our job is to be activists for the phenomenal presence of children’s literature in our lives and the many different ways in which children’s literature in the hands of many can be a means for social justice. By reflecting on the dynamic intersections of children’s literature and activism at play during the conference, within the current JoLLE articles, and beyond, I hope to inspire others to take note of how children’s literature can remain a critical means of being an activist in a more digitally and visually oriented world.

Dr. Glynda Hull: UC Berkeley

Dr. Christian Faltis: UC Davis

Dr. K-C Nat Turner: UM Amherst

Before engaging in such a reflection, I would like to note that scholarship within the field of children’s literature often includes literature designated as “children’s” and “young adult.” Thus, when I use the term, children’s literature, I am using it as an inclusive term embodying literature designed for youth populations from birth to adolescence Children’s literature, as physical artifacts of Story, illustrates and embodies activism from a variety of perspectives. For many, children’s literature serves as connective tissue between humans and within communities. Children’s literature is also often positioned as integral to activists’ lives, as evidenced by Paulo Freire and Donaldo P. Macedo’s (1987) assertion that we need to “read both the word and the world.” When reflecting on the conference, I recognized how children’s texts helped presenters and attendees


    

critically unpack, discuss, and reconstruct societal representations of gender in children’s literature; better understand the UN Rights of the Child; inspire parents and teachers to advocate, and encourage youth to participate in initiatives such as PeaceJam; engage in visual literacy, the transmediation between written word and art, and critical performative pedagogy such as Boal’s Theatre of the Oppressed; and contemplate how the construct of “activism” is enacted and by whom, from international perspectives

Clearly, creators of children’s literature have the potential to facilitate activism by changing the Story and also the Storyline. Some consider contemporary picturebooks as ideal exemplar of how the linear, left-to-right Western model of reading texts is just one of many ways in which we read both the word and the world. This is especially true from a cultural perspective (e.g. reading in countries such as China, Japan, and Saudi Arabia) and given our current era of New and Digital Literacies. We increasingly live among, read, and construct visually rich and intoxicating texts and by doing so, we engage in recursive relationships with words, images, words as images, and the intersections of all of those variations (see Lawrence Sipe ‘s 1998 Children’s Literature in Education article or revisit the JOLLE Spring 2012 article for further discussion about transmediation and the synergistic relationship between word and image). Award-winning, multivoiced, non-linear narrative exemplars that provide counternarratives for both the concept of Story and the act of reading include postmodern picturebooks such as David Macaulay’s Black and White (1990), Anthony Browne’s Voices in the Park (1998), Melanie Watt’s Chester series, and Margaret Wild’s Woolvs in the Sittee (2007), not to mention fractured fairytales such as David Wiesner’s The Three Pigs (2000), Shaun Tan’s graphic narratives such as The Arrival (2007) and The Lost Thing (2000), as well as Manga series from Japan. Other picturebooks that disrupt dominant social narratives include Armin Greder’s The Island (2008), The City (2010), and his collaboration with Libby Gleason on I Am Thomas (2011). Interestingly, most of these narratives are written and published outside of the US. Suzette Youngs and Frank Serafini’s article on youth reading historical fiction picturebooks as well as Carmen Lilian Medina and Maria del Rocío Costa’s research involving children’s scripting of telenovas provide additional evidence about how the seeds of activism are planted through transmediation. The literature exemplars, the conference-based digital storytelling sessions, art-based response workshops, and relational aesthetic explorations, as well as this issue’s articles all testify to the interwoven layers of Story, the complexities of authorship, audience, intentionality, and receptivity. Adopting an activist stance with children’s literature involves considering not only who tells the story but also how the story is told and who the idealized reader is. JoLLE’s Activist Literacies Conference provided ample evidence that, at times, children’s literature can be both “windows and mirrors” (Bishop, 1990). As evidenced by the plethora of recommended “children’s literature and activism” book lists found online with a quick search (e.g. GoodReads, Compassionate Kids, Jessica Singer Early’s (2006) Stirring Up Justice, Jane Addams Children’s Book Award, Stonewall Book Award), activism is a topic children’s book authors, educators, and other community members embrace rather than avoid. The topic of


activism can provide youth with mirrors of self and society as well as windows of opportunity, courage, and hope. Narratives that include the voices and actions of youth activists, past and present, reflect a shared collective who dare to defy others or defend themselves as part of the social norm. Furthermore, the historical and contemporary portraits are evocative reminders of how powerful and integral creativity, determination and networking are to individual success and societal change. Exemplar books and notable authors include

 

  

Iqbal (D’Adamo, 2003), the fictionalized biography of Iqbal Masuh, a Pakistani child slave who brought child slave labor to the global stage; I am Najood, aged 10 and divorced (Ali & Minoui, 2010), a memoir which addresses the cultural norms of families marrying off their young girls to older men as a way of lessening their financial burdens; a variety of books written by Deborah Ellis, a selfidentified global activist who has detailed the lives of youth stricken by crime, war, and illness; historical nonfiction books such as Kids on Strike (Bartoletti, 1999), Denied, Detained, and Deported (Bausum, 2009), Muckrakers (Bausum, 2007); literary documentaries such as Who Will Tell My Brother (Carvell, 2002), a novel in verse which details Marlene Carvell’s son’s fight to remove the school’s disrespectful use of an Indian mascot for their sports teams; and The CitizenKid series at Kids Can Press, Phillip Hoose’s It’s Our World, Too! (2003), and Barbara Lewis’ (1992), Kids with Courage, all of which offers narratives of international youth activism grounded in the environment and economic sustainability.


Indeed, activist stories emphasize and promote humanity. Within those stories are also invitations to discuss all that accompanies the concept of humanity and the pursuit for justice. As evidenced during the conference, children’s literature and other multimodal compositions can evoke dialogic inquiries about the extensive sacrifices one makes for “the cause” as well as the ideological constructs of activism and activists. What are the master narratives of “activist”? Who are portrayed as activists and what do they do? What distinguishes an “activist” youth from “disillusioned,” “naïve,” or “rebellious” youth? Who has the power to decide such labels (and some might say identities), and how are stories of activist success and or failure constructed and conveyed? Furthering the discussion are multiple “co-authored” books that document people successfully overcoming insurmountable odds. When authors such as Linda Sue Park and Karen Lynn Williams either write another’s story (e.g. A Long Walk to Water (2010) by Linda Sue Park) or share the authorship of an experience (e.g. Four Feet, Two Sandals (2007) by Karen Williams & Khandra Mohammed), they ignite inquiries about authorship, cultural capital, and activism. Why might those who have overcome seemingly insurmountable odds, require the partnership of notable authors in order to share their stories with others? Additionally, how might the “known” authors, with such immense cultural capital, become known as “activists” largely due to their cultural capital? How do cultural capital and class structures become part of activist storylines? How might storytelling via TEDTalk offer counternarratives to the economics and politics of publishing? Children’s literature can spark inquiry and critique in a multitude of ways. The concept of personal and community space as part of an activist’s process and path and as a conduit for transformative literacy (composing for the cultivation of humanity) is also seminal to our understanding of Story as a mode of activism. Conference keynote speakers Nat Turner, Glynda Hull, and Christian Faltis, local artists, and the authors of one of the latest JOLLE articles, showcase how activism is at the core of urban literacies as well as how one’s sense of space and place fuels one’s activist pathways. While children’s literature and activism tends to be localized in the classroom, other forms of activism occur at after-school youth programs and involve the arts. Programs through the Youth Action Coalition (e.g. Get Up Get Down, Girls Eye View), hip-hop music, digital stories, murals, and the creation of community gardens, help connect youth from around the world (e.g. Space to Cre8). Literature which speaks to issues of space and place when building community and honoring heritage includes photoessayist George Ancona’s work involving murals and other art forms in various Latin@ communities, G. Neri’s urban-based graphic narratives such as Yummy (2010) and Ghetto Cowboy (2011), Paul Fleishman’s picturebook Seedfolks (1997), and Sharon Dennis Wyeth’s picturebook, Something Beautiful (1998). The concept of shifting spaces and places is furthered in Watch This Space (Dyer & Nqui, 2010), an informational text for older readers that discusses the relationship between public space and privacy as well as how to successfully share, design, and use public space for personal and social good. Similarly, Jeannie Baker provides readers with the life cycle of a neighborhood and the influences of both the community and government in her wordless picturebook, Home (2004). All of these multimodal compositions reinforce how the personal is inextricably connected to the political. The JoLLE conference as well as a plethora of books continues to stress the idea of composing what you know and where you know. There are countless other ways in which the JoLLE inaugural Activist Literacies Conference reinforced the need for and benefits of activism and inspired others to act. Additionally, there is ample evidence of the inextricable relationship between children’s literature, reading, and activism. I hope this brief reflection about the conference and the ways in which children’s literature was explicitly and implicitly involved will accentuate our need to ensure children’s literature is a part of youth’s lives and to encourage copious amount of conversations as we move forward in improving the lives of our communities and the world.


References Bishop, R. S. (1990, Summer). Mirrors, windows, and sliding glass doors. Perspectives: Choosing and using books for the classroom, 6(3), ix-xi. Retrieved from http://www.rif.org/us/literacy-resources/multicultural/mirrors-windows-and-sliding-glassdoors.htm Bruner, J. (2004). Life as narrative. Social Research, 71(3), 691-710. Early, J. S. (2006). Stirring up justice: Writing and reading to change the world. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann. Freire, P., & Macedo, D. P. (1987). Literacy: Reading the word and the world. New York, NY: Routledge. Sipe, L. (1998). How picturebooks work: A semiotically framed theory of text-pictures relationship. Children’s Literature in Education, 29(2), 97-108. Children’s Literature Cited Ali, N., & Minoui, D. (2010). I am Nujood: aged 10 and divorced (Trans. Linda Coverdale). New York, NY: Random House. Baker, J. (2004). Home. New York, NY: Greenwillow Books. Browne, A. (1998). Voices in the park. New York, NY: DK Publishing. Bartoletti, S. (1999). Kids on strike! Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin. Bausum, A. (2007). Muckrakers. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society. Bausum, A. (2009). Denied, detained, and deported. Washington, DC: National Geographic Society Carvell, M. (2002). Who will tell my brother? New York, NY: Hyperion Books for Children D’Adamo, F., & Leonori, A. (2003). Iqbal. (Trans. Ann Leonori) New York: Atheneum Books. Dyer, H., & Nqui, M. (2010). Watch this space. Toronto: Kids Can Press. Fleishman, P. (1998). Seedfolks. New York, NY: HarperCollins Gleason, L. & Greder, A. (2011). I am Thomas. London: Frances Lincoln. Greder, A. (2008). The island. London: Frances Lincoln


Greder, A. (2010). The city. London: Frances Lincoln Hoose, P. (2003). Itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s our world, too! New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux Lewis, B. (1992). Kids with courage. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit Publishing Macaulay, D. (1990). Black and white. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin. Neri, G. (2011). Ghetto cowboy. Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press. Neri, G. (2009). Yummy. New York, NY: Lee and Low Books. Park, L. S. (2010). A long walk to water. Boston, MA: Clarion Tan, S. (2000). The lost thing. Vancouver, BC: Simply Read Books. Tan, S. (2007). The arrival. New York, NY: Arthur A. Levine Books. Watt, M. (2007) Chester. Toronto, Canada: Kids Can Press. Wiesner, D. (2000). The three pigs. New York, NY: Clarion. Wilds, M. (2007). Woolvs in the sittee. Asheville, NC: Front Street Books. Williams, K., & Mohammed, K. (2007). Four feet, two sandals. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdsmans Books for Young Readers. Wyeth, S. D. (1998). Something beautiful. New York, NY: Doubleday Books for Young Readers. i

All youth participant names are pseudonyms.


JoLLE Special Issue