Taking a Critical Stance in the Classroom
by Chase Young

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A critical stance is not easily obtained. This may be the fault if its finicky existence in the educational pathology. It is hard to take a stance that was subconsciously (or consciously) ignored due to its potential to threaten an existing message or belief. Engaging in critical literacy is a transactional battle between reader and author. Being informed, yet open minded, asking questions, seeking answers, and establishing validity of claims are common practices when taking a critical stance. 

Reading to learn is taking on a completely new meaning. One can open an educational bank in preparation for an expository reading, but it will not result in critical literacy. Thoughts such as, “the author knows much more, and who am I to judge or evaluate these ‘facts’ they intend to plant in my defenseless schemata?” Contrary to previous belief, reading to learn is a complex transactional process where objectivity produces subjectivity in that claims are read for what they are, and analyzed for what they have the potential to be. It seems cynical at first uncovering, but knowledge of the process, as it has slowly been uncovered for others, is essential in reading to learn. There is no learning without evaluation. A reader must question the context and content of a text. There are significant implications of taking a critical stance. 

Critical literacy is often, in many contexts, only alluded to in reading instruction. Teachers encourage asking questions while reading, yet do not aim the questions as critical, only as means to understand how good readers move through a text to comprehend the intended message of the author. In fact, most questions observed are direct inversions of predictions such as questioning a character’s actions to infer character traits or predict likely future events. 

In the last year, data or text has been posed that require students to formulate their own theories based on the statements of writers, whether they are scientists or science fiction authors. The “what if” questions, or evaluative questions were often neglected or conjured to fill a certain blank in comprehension instruction. 

Critical literacy can manifest itself in debates where judgments are based on the reader’s interpretations.  Though debates are common in classrooms, the preparation is not emphasized, therefore ignoring the most important aspect of the debate—the critical stance. It stands to reason that most “sides” are chosen for aesthetic value. This would be, of course, encouraged if students are debating author’s style, but not the content or deeper meaning presented in the text. Essentially, a framework for critical literacy exists in many classrooms, but depth of the questioning hardly meets the criteria for being truly critical. 

Critical literacy’s manifestation in policy environments may be a reason for hasty decisions and policy moves. Allington, in the transcription of Critical Connections: Research on Early Reading Instruction (1997), stated that educators must ask, “What is the research telling us?” If educators are willing to accept published research as dogmatic, it could be assumed that politicians might as well. If persons in power skip the methodological analysis, evaluation of evidence, and merely focus on the compelling nature of the research (compelling might be synonymous for “easy to implement and sell”), policy might be enacted based on faulty paradigms. It is scary to think groups in power might not be asking the right questions before making important decisions. Once might assert that political groups might critically analyze the context in which policy will be made, but only to find the research that fits nicely to perpetuate desired agendas.   
It all comes back to research. How is it read and what should be done with it? Luckily, with critical literacy, educators and policy makers can do less or more depending on our critical evaluations.  

Allinton, R. L. (1997, May 16). Critical Connections: Research on Early Instruction For Lifelong Reading. [Conference]. [Transcript]. Houston, TX: Critical Connections: Research on Early Reading Instruction. 

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