ML2 – Second Language Literacies

A blog for the Second Language Literacies course from the MA in Learning and Teaching Processes in Second Languages (ML2) at UPB-Medellín

Beyond Critical Literacy by Deninson Vásquez

Beyond Critical Literacy by Deninson Vásquez
One of the most important, and at the same time, interesting learning processes are reading and writing because through them we can perceive, identify and, of course, know aspects of our human history, which becomes more faithful when we have the opportunity of reading certain issues that happened or have happened and, in which a text can reveal us events that were told by someone, or in which a witness decided to share with us something that had caused a strong impact in our society, and after that, he decided to give us testimony and write about it.
It is also relevant to say that despite the complexity of reading and writing they have become the axis of the society because they have permitted us to structure educational systems where children are sent to school because of the real need of learning how to read or write correctly. Moreover, it is believed that if children have the opportunity of going to school, they will not have to “suffer” the problems that illiteracy could convey.
It is said that the first evidence of writing we know was in El Castillo-Spain 40.000 B.C; which is important to mention here because it can guide us and could make us reflect towards its relevance, first of all because it reflects the need that the human beings have had of expressing and telling the others what happened at a specific time and, secondly because we can discover a lot of new issues or simple because it could be the starting point of a serious and deep research.
We must also introduce the concept of Critical literacy here because some people can confuse it and could think that it is only reading and writing. Nevertheless, it is more powerful because as Allan Luke mentions in his Foundational Notes : “ Critical literacy is an overtly political orientation to teaching and learning and to the cultural, ideological and sociolinguistic content of the curriculum” (2012:p5). Furthermore, we must take into account that Critical literacy plays an important role in the society because it is a transformation of different aspects such as cultures, economies, institutions and, of course, political systems as Allan Luke also describes it in his article of “Critical Literacy: Foundational Notes.”
We must also bear in mind that the educational policies can also change the vision we have on Critical Literacy because each country has a purpose. One of them could apparently be help all the inhabitants of a nation in their educational matters, and in the way of teaching them how to read and write. For example, in the seventies some South American countries such as Argentina, Chile and Uruguay said that they had already “defeated the illiteracy” and they only needed to be helped in their economies in order to have a privileged position in the world. However, it is also important to identify the political contexts of that specific moment in countries such Argentina where Mr. Videla had taken the control as well as it happened in Chile with Mr. Pinochet. These countries were expecting international recognition because it was a very good way to distract the attention of what was really happening in terms of disappearance, massacres and political outrage.
Those are just two examples of how educational policies through literacy can be affected by some governments that are looking for something different and that are not looking for their inhabitants` well-being, which in this case has to do with literacy.
We also have to take into consideration that unfortunately, there is a political reality that usually affects the educational systems. Nevertheless, we have to continue working and giving serious proposal and here, is where Critical Literacy plays an important role because it gives the opportunity of going beyond. For example, individuals are every time wondering and are making reflections of how they are reading and writing. Nevertheless, this reflection as Bourdieu mentioned must be based on “scientific work, always with a social foundation.”
In our country, Colombia we have to take into account the public and the private school because we can find very big differences between them. One of them is the way we can teach and have some literacy practices, and another that is very relevant is the use of textbooks, which also show an important difference between the public and private sector.
For example, in the public sector students are not obliged to buy textbooks due to their families` economic conditions, and in many cases the teachers are the ones who provide the material, which in many cases are photocopies or dialogues created by them as well. On the other hand, private schools ask students to buy books that belong to a specific publishing house and in which the selection process of the text has been the result of special presents given to coordinators and, in which the real social context of the student is sacrificed. Furthermore, there is always a phrase that has been gaining importance among English teachers and it is that “If we are teaching a foreign language as English, we are teaching culture”, which is not completely true and which is not completely wrong either as Chimamanda Adichie mentions in her conference called: “ The Danger of a Single Story”, in which she talks about stereotypes and which she says that: “the problem with the them is not that they are untrue, but incomplete.”
Silvia Valencia Giraldo says in a research article that: “The relative importance of the text book seems also to be connected with the existence of a national curriculum.” Nevertheless, the reality I have lived in twenty years as an English teacher is that syllabus is usually organized according to the book content and worse than that, we must follow the units one by one in order to determine if a student learnt to read or write at the end of the school year. As we can see there is not a national cohesion in terms of teaching and being more specific in terms of teaching a language. On the one hand, we have to take into consideration the school resources in order to develop a program. On the other hand, we have to bear in mind some political considerations from the Ministry of Education as well as the General law of Education and the “Curricular Guidelines.” Valencia Giraldo mentions in her research article that : “ In public schools struggle to accomplish lessons and comply with policy reforms”(2006;p 13).

It is also very important to mention in this essay that another excuse that arises is that we live in a “globalized world” where everything is possible and where the world has become a small village, which is not necessarily true, taking into account that the concept of globalization is “partial”. For example, a group of teachers of a local university were told that all their students had to send all the activities via e-mail because we were in the twentieth-first century. Nevertheless, to their astonishment what happened was that some of those students could not have access to internet due to the lack of electricity in their villages. Furthermore, in some of the villages there were only two computers for all the inhabitants and some of them have to read with candles because the electricity system only worked for two hours during the day.
Bearing the previous paragraph in mind, we must say that Information communications Technology (ICTs) are a tool of exclusion or inclusion in our society because they are used nowadays for some governments to help literacy processes, because they can apparently reach remote places of the country where a teacher, a tutor or an instructor cannot go. Thus, it is believed that the virtual tutor can solve problems of illiteracy, which seems to be a paradox because in a remote place the only people who can have accessibility are the ones who have kept in touch with a new technological device, which causes again a problem of social exclusion. For some governments, it is a perfect excuse to affect the national budget of a country`s education because it will be very easy to argue that the policies of education of a country are working well because due to the ICTs the country has covered even the farthest place of its territory.
Another aspect we have to take into consideration is that literacy has a very important objective which is equity, the question that arises here is how are we going to do it? “A familiar response to egalitarian pressures from below has been the `political correctness` campaign and other conservative education projects which have attempted to turn back through various school policies: career education back-to-basics, the literacy crisis, steep tuition increases, public sector budget cuts more standardized testing at all levels, restrictions on open access to higher education”(Journal for pedagogy, and practice, Ira Shor,1999: p 7).

This is probably one of the most difficult questions to answer because it implies and touches a lot of sectors and fields of our society that should have a serious commitment with an educational system. Nevertheless, as we have seen many aspects are affected by different issues such as a policy, as the accessibility of ICTs or simply by the decision of a coordinator either in a private school for selecting a textbook.
Going back to the use of textbooks in the classroom, we must consider another aspect that has to do with the fashion, which unfortunately determines the fate of many students in a country. For example, in my experience as an English teacher, I have worked with a lot of books such as “Interchange”, which had very few pictures, some grammatical explanations and some exercises to apply. Furthermore, it brought a workbook to put into practice what was seen in the classroom as well as video that did not have to do with our reality. Another textbook that was used in many places where I taught, including university was “American Headway” and something that was said about was related to the richness of its listening exercises because it brought accents from all over the world and the other book we were obliged to use was “Traveller”, and one of the strongest arguments for using it was its classification according to the Common European Framework.
It must make us reflect in many different aspects that have to do with literacy and the importance of a “globalized world” in which there are many aspects that also affect Critical literacy because it is linked to some unfortunate and corrupted practices not only in our country, but in the world. For this reason, it is very important to consider Paulo Freire when he talked about the Pedagogy of the Oppressed.
To sum up, we have to say that Critical literacy has two important schools which are the Institute of Social Research at the Frankfurt School and the work of adult literacy of Paulo Freire who helped us make a social analysis of what is happening in the world as Freire said “ Read the word and the world”( Freire and Macedo,1987)
We must also bear in mind that “The word literacy did not  have the equivalent in different languages due to the pedagogical and conceptual implications that it conveys” ( Revista Q, Mora Vélez; p11). However, something we must say is the importance of Critical Literacy in a world where reading and writing every time becomes much more important and in which without them we can lose the opportunity to tell other generations what occurred with us. Furthermore, the importance of seeing the world from a different perspective, which is one of the main issues of Critical Literacy.

Number of words 1970


Valencia Giraldo S. (2006) “Literacy practices, texts, and talk around texts: english language teaching developments”. Research article,p:13.

Luke Allan. (2012) “Critical Literacy: Foundational Notes” p:5

Chimamanda Adichie”The Danger of a Single Story” for TED in 2009. On 15 March 2012.

Mora Vélez R. (2011) ” Tres Retos para la Investigación y Formación de Docentes en Inglés: Reflexividad sobre las Creencias y Prácticas en Literacidad”. Revista Q, p:11

Mora Vélez R.(2009) ” It`s Not How Literate We are, But How We are Literate”, pp:2,3,4.

Mora Vélez R.(2012) “Literacidad y el Aprendizaje de Lenguas: Nuevas  Formas  Para entender los Mundos y Las Palabras de Nuestros Estudiantes”. Revista Internacional Magisterio Educación y Pedagogía”Número 58, septiembre, octubre,pp: 52,53,54,55.

Shor Ira.(Fall 1999) ” What is Critical Literacy” Volume I, Issue 4,p:7

Freire Paulo. (1970) ” Pedagogy of the Oppressed” 30th Anniversary Edition.

Jack C. Richards, ‎Jonathan Hull, ‎Susan Proctor – 1997 – ‎Foreign Language Study

English for International Communication Jack C. Richards, Jonathan Hull, Susan Proctor.

Joan Soars (Author), Liz Soars (Author) of American Headway.

Traveller by H.Q Mitchell.




4 comments on “Beyond Critical Literacy by Deninson Vásquez

  1. Chris
    September 9, 2013

    Hi Deninson, this is a very nice paper ! like you mentioned above you talked about that ICT can be a tool of exclusion and inclusion. Reflecting about equal opportunities have made also think about, English learning and the use of ICTs in our educational systems. Many public institutions in our contexts do not count with the economic infrastructure and the proper equipment to be implemented in the teaching of a foreign language. I can say this based in some experiences I have had working with a project of Alcaldía de Antioquia called “jornadas completarias” some schools of Medellin do not even count with a computer system laboratory and internet connection. So I can say that there are also some inequalities in our public educational system. Only a few percentage of the population in our cities have good access to good education and private universities, these are the ones who can have progress in their lives and can be included in our society systems. So I think that our political systems and our laws must be changed so as to permit equality in our lives, and to create new opportunities for the marginalized people. What would you change or do in order to generate equality in our educational systems?

  2. Deninson Vásquez
    September 18, 2013

    Hi Chris! Thank you for your comments!
    I think you asked me for one of the most difficult issues on education. First of all, we have to say that a change does not depend on us, it depends on some political systems that see the education as a business and that do not take into consideration the quality and the equality it deserves.

  3. Julian E. Zapata
    September 25, 2013

    Hi Deninson
    I do agree with you that reading and writing are very complex processes that require a lot of skills and that they have become the core or as you say “the axis” of the society. Besides, I agree with the idea that reading and writing have an important social component when we need to communicate our ideas, thoughts or even facts with others after observing or experiencing a situation or historical event. However, I think that it is necessary a deeper reflection and analysis of the books: Interchange, American Headway and travelers—books which I have also used as a teacher and as a student—to determine if they cope or not with the ideas, contexts and concepts we might work in our classrooms, settings and backgrounds as Colombian teachers and students. Bearing in mind the people we work every day with.

  4. ML2
    October 9, 2013

    Hi, Denninson!

    There is a big gap between public and private education in Colombia. Specially dealing with foreign language learning. But I have noticed that improving the teaching of foreign language in school is a big concern for government. They have launched different programs to train teachers and motivate people to learn the language. It is a national objective to promote the learning of English. To some extent, English teachers have a privilege place in Education.

    I think most of the books do not fit the requirements in terms of appropriateness for our context. It is our task to convey meaning and connect every proposed topic to our context, give our students a voice and develop a sense of social responsibility in the classroom. Books help students read the words but teachers are in charged of guiding them in reading their worlds and encourage them to rewrite the texts as a way to raise awareness of the necessity of having equilaty in our society. We have from a banking process (Freire & Macedo) to a more critical reception of the information.

    Angela Patricia Ocampo C.

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This entry was posted on September 9, 2013 by in Uncategorized.
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