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

ENGLISH LANGUAGE II: LITERACIES IN SECOND LANGUAGES – Textbooks under a Critical Literacy lens


Andrés Felipe Ochoa Gaviria

We also expect our students and alumni to participate in moments of glocalized advocacy about the goals, uses (and misuses) of English today so that we can approach language practices within and beyond the classroom in more critical and equitable frameworks

                                 (Mora, 2016).


This paper exposes under a critical literacy lens some examples of textbooks in the English learning process. From an outgoing and perpetual perception as once I was a student and currently as a teacher, the textbooks have been a synonym of domain, imperialism and power, some textbooks illustrates more of the arguments presented on this paper. These power relationships according to Mills (2015) are embodied through the language and all language involves practices and struggles for control and power. That is to say, the message transmitted in the textbooks is the result of a predominant and authoritarian American culture, where it is observed and listened to the white voices on textbook 1, specifically on all pages in which all the listening audios and exercises emphasizes on white American people’s lives and different topics that aim at accentuating on their culture as well as their economy.  It marginalizes minorities and that is considered as a “deep and persistent disadvantage” (McLachlan et al, 2013). Additionally, English textbooks based on the arguments stated by González (2009) and Vélez-Rendón (2003); maximize a crux and a breach between poorest and richest in terms of acquiring and learning English. Bearing in mind, most of people have been relegated to have access in a distant way to this language because of an inequality in the redistribution of socio-economical resources. In fact, Ryan (2010) stated that inequality is permanently linked to injustice and politics of separation.

Moreover, inequality is not only a matter of what textbooks project but also a neoliberal ideology that dominates and diffuses powerful forces based on an American white idealized lifestyle.  This lifestyle is critically questionable due to the fact that this model of life is centered on an American culture that is constructed and permeated under the light of discriminatory persuasive games that position indigenous, Afro-descendants, Afro-American and the other countries as the lowest specie in the human rate. An evidence of this is presented on textbook 3, exactly on pages 28, 29 and 30; where a group of people visit many places as restaurants, comic conventions, and communication fair. All people there are the typical white American with money and luxurious jewels and a few sellers are Afro-American who occupy low positions as waiter and seller in comparison with the other people. This issue is considered as “discursive practices that actively produce and sustain patterns of dominance and subordination in the wider society” (Locke and Cleary, 2011, p.121). That is why this lifestyle expressed in textbooks endorses discursive practices which devalue and dehumanize the other cultures by treating and subjecting them to subordination relationships. Therefore, it is necessary to clarify that this decontextualized lifestyle that has sold the textbooks propels in a “language to exercise power to enhance everyday life” (Comber, 2001, p.173).

Furthermore, textbooks should highlight and aim at raising more than a predominance of a language and an affluent society a social awareness that advocates for what critical literacy intends to disclose as agents of changes. Precisely, Berliner (2013) points out that inequality and idiosyncrasy of powers in society can be confronted and solved by striking and tackling indeed the social problems that affect life conditions. In other words, an emergency call from a panoptic angle is required specifically to speak up and materialize our voices to be heard through all multimodal texts to deflect the attention to generate spaces for action. Connected to this idea and how it is expressed on textbook number 2, there is a tendency to show rich people from several professional charges and the places they have visited in their yachts as well as the money they earn. Another example of this is shown on page 65 through a group of people who decided to travel by ship and they described all the amenities and social meetings they have. This hegemony of American lifestyle presented on textbooks is harmful for our ecosystem filled of a bureaucratic system that exceeds the policy-making and administrative decisions causing economic margins that is the outcome of a cultural heritage and legacy, transcending and mutating from one generation to another. Also this prototype of the ideal American life that pretends to demonstrate the language mitigates our Colombian context.

Besides, the reality in textbooks should empower individuals to perceive, think and read the world, creating and refining their identity in terms how social issues it affects people’s lives and how it touches theirs soul, sharing and forming a culture of solidarity. A critical literacy as Janks (2014) explains is that texts should be interrelated in depth to students’ experiences and lives. Freire’s suggestions (1970) look for a praxis addressed to put our voices as a powerful tool to redistributive justice and equity. The textbooks come up with ideas that project a severe posttraumatic illusion of a country balanced at a global scale in wealth distribution. Even though, textbooks juxtapose to our reality and do not take into account that is so-called “wicked” problems (Comber, 2015) in our context that surrounds slums which suffer under the conditions of hunger and they are stratified according to their socio-economic status and constrained to the exploration of a language in comparison with other people who belong to an elitist class; it allows them to ascend. As it is evidenced textbook 1, 2 and 3 pretends to offer a life immersed on different situations that portrait a world without problems and at the same time, a life where people have perfect lives and socio-economic conditions to afford their taxes, houses, bank accounts, restaurants and other expenses. But the voices of poor people who experience hunger and poverty every day are never heard.

On the other hand, Comber (2015) underpins that critical literacy is the mean to become in active participants of our social conditions and transforming thinking leaded by fields of practice. It implies textbooks should be focused on problematized situations to have and recover the voices of those who are underestimated, discriminated and widely separated due to an imbalanced and unequal society. Thus, critical literacies nurture the philosophy of assuming ourselves as contributors and individuals who deserve and demand our rights through the reading and writing practices. What is more, Luke (2017) articulates the conception of a white-ruled society alienated by social factors and policies which never favor the “interests of the least advantaged” (Connell, 1993, p. 43). Likewise, our Colombian political, economic and educational structures diverge from the typical American system in the sense that this State possesses a wide variety of economic resources, and their textbooks present their culture as a model to follow. Otherwise, Colombia has needs that require to be met according to its own cultural features. As it has been underscored in some previous paragraphs and according to textbooks 1, 2 and 3 all pictures gives the insight of a culture that has the intention to enact all the cultures to follow their economic system when it is impossible because of our Colombian culture owns his issues that need to be attended and the conditions are not under the same equal terms.

Consequently, what has been mentioned above about our Colombian needs is an urgently call to design textbooks under the vision of critical literacies. It involves that textbooks should be oriented to producing media artifacts which internalized the process of thinking, speaking up and acting.  Gee (2003) mentions critical literacy acts in a mode that carries out students to acquire new identities, become different kinds of learners and people, instead of being as Goodman (2013) declares as descendants of a “Children of the oligarchy”. Further, textbooks should contain issues that encourage students to stance a critical position towards the dominant ideologies and political system to abolish with slavery and aim at the development of a more equitable, just, sociable and non-marginalized societies, with the incidence of distributing better the welfare economy.  To put it another way, critical literacy potentially elucidates that textbooks need to be reconfigured, changing their status Quo, and starting thinking that other cultures have their own values and principles. Another perspective that textbooks 1, 2 and 3 should share is to visualize the world how it is without fantasizing with a dream lifestyle and give the importance that deserves other ethnical groups. Similarly, it is interesting and important to find out, and read elements in those textbooks about Colombian people and other countries, their realities, their issues, their economy and their lifestyles to feel that our voices are reproduced in someone else’s voice.

In conclusion, a widespread notion about the concept of textbooks in terms of critical literacy has to be renovated and reformulated, including the textbooks 1, 2 and 3 analysed from a critical literacy perspective. The discourse planted in those textbooks should highlight to the construction of new social meanings and social practices to understand and internalize as a new reflection process the way we conceive the language and the way how students and teachers read and think the world. To summarize some passages previously tackled developed the idea of a reconfiguration and reconstruction of the identity, understanding the world and how it operates, standing from an introspective journey that makes students and teacher not only to learn a new language but also to resist and affront the problems in the world, having a voice in the world which starts from you and that is transmitted striking to the core of textbooks. Over and above, textbooks should be accompanied of a well-founded and structured proposal that raise social awareness and the contribution to the world. As social beings we need to take a position towards society and tell them we are presents and we generate changes and it is something that empowers all of us through the written and oral language to confront the injustice and inequity, letting know we are here and we exist.

1.674 words




  1. Berliner , D. ( 2013 ). Effects of inequality and poverty vs. teachers and schooling on America ’ s youth . Teachers College Record, 115 ( 12 ).
  2. Connell , R. W. ( 1993 ). Schools and social justice. Toronto, Canada: Our Schools/Our Selves Education Foundation .
  3. Comber, B. 2001. Critical literacy: Power and pleasure with language in the early years. Australian Journal of Language and Literacy, 24(3), pp.168–181.
  4. Comber, B. Inn press, (2015). ‘School literate repertoires: That was then, this is now’, in J. Rosewell and J. Sefton-Green (eds). Revising Learning Lives-longitudinal perspectives on researching learning and literacy. Routledge, London and New York, pp. 16-31.
  5. Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed (M. Ramos, Trans.). New York, NY: Continuum.
  6. Gee, J. P. (2003). What video games have to teach us about learning and literacy. London, England: Palgrave Macmillan.
  7. González, A. (2009). English and English teaching in Colombia: tensions and possibilities in the expanding circle. En A. Kirkpatrick, & A. Kirkpatrick (Ed.), The Routledge Handbook of World Englishes (págs. 332-352). New York: Routledge.
  8. Goodman, S., & Cocca, C. (2013). Youth voices for change: Building political efficacy and civic engagement through digital media literacy. Journal of Digital and Media Literacy, 1(1). Retrieved fro
  9. Locke, T., & Cleary, A. (2011). Critical literacy as an approach to literary study in themulticultural, high-school classroom. English Teaching: Practice andCritique, 10(1), 119-139. Retrieved from
  10. Luke, A. (2017). On the race of teachers and students: A reflection on experience, scientific evidence, and silence. American Educational Research Journal, 54, 102s–110s.
  11. McLachlan , R. , Gilfillan , G. , & Gordon , J. ( 2013 ). Deep and Persistent Disadvantage in Australia . Productivity Commission Staff Working Paper, Canberra.
  12. Mills, K.A. and Comber, B. (2015) Socio-spatial approaches to Literacy Studies: Rethinking the social constitution and politics of space. In K. Pahl and J. Rowsell (eds) Handbook of Literacy Studies. London: Routledge.
  13. Vélez-Rendón, G. (2003). “English in Colombia: A sociolinguistic profile”. World Englishes, 2003.



One comment on “ENGLISH LANGUAGE II: LITERACIES IN SECOND LANGUAGES – Textbooks under a Critical Literacy lens

  1. ML2
    November 14, 2017

    Dear Andrés,

    Thank you for sharing your essay.

    After reading, there are some issues I would like to raise for further conversation:

    1. You seem to emphasize the American culture as the only one influencing language practices in Colombia. As authors such as González (2011) and Rajagopalan (2010) have explained, we cannot disregard the influence of the British in shaping language teaching and policy in our regions. The influence of the British in Colombia hearkens back to the 1990s and the COFE Project and remains at large in the current iterations of the National Bilingual Program. US and UK-centric visions of teaching and language are very much at play today and we need to keep both in mind, as overlooking one’s influence over the other has consequences.
    2. As you mentioned the issues surrounding indigenous and Afro-Colombian populations, it would’ve been very useful to survey some of the literature in Colombia that has discussed this. In particular, I’d recommend an article by Guerrero (2009, in HOW Journal) that talks about this in great detail.
    3. You suggested “an emergency call from a panoptic angle.” I’d strongly suggest you to revise this, because from a socio-cultural perspective, the idea of “panoptic” is one see with very negative connotations (see Foucault’s discussion of the “panoptical prison” vis-à-vis schools)
    4. The discussion of critical literacy and textbook was a good start, but you still could’ve dug deeper in the literature. There is so much more between the lines of your essay that’s open to a critical discussion!

    Dr. Berry

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This entry was posted on September 17, 2017 by in Uncategorized.
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