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Critical Literacy as a Tool for Social Justice

As many reflect back on their kindergarten through twelfth grade learning experiences, they can remember books playing an important role in their education. While many of us remember reading books, many of these books were not representative nor did they motivate us to create real world changes.

Looking ahead to today’s classrooms, books are beginning to play a new and very important role in the education system. Today, critical literacy as a means for social justice is growing in popularity.

Critical literacy is more than just how we look at books, it is also how we approach everyday life. In order to employ critical literacy in K-12 classrooms, educators need to engage in critical thinking that allows learners to view the world from multiple perspectives. By engaging in critical thinking themselves, educators are setting the foundation for their young learners to do the same.

For lessons involving critical literacy to be effective as a tool to advance social justice, teachers must activate background knowledge. Some books are better than others to use a critical literacy approach with, as some topics will connect more with readers. This is why it is so important for educators to set the context as to how the content of the book relates to the real world and students’ lives.

As critical literacy becomes more popular, it has expanded to more than just reading and analyzing text. Now, critical literacy is viewed as a social justice practice that can be combined with other standards in order to meet academic benchmarks. 

In order for critical literacy to be an effective means of advancing social justice practices, teachers need to ensure that their curriculum takes into account the diverse group of learners in their classrooms. While it is important to factor in how students learn, teachers must also take the upbringings of their students as well as the stories that define their students into consideration when crafting curriculums and resources. 

As we look at the application of critical literacy as a social justice practice, if students feel heard and seen in their classroom community, they are more likely to want to share this feeling with the communities around them. For this reason, the books used in critical literacy lessons and stored in classroom libraries should be representative of the students in the classroom. Students must see themselves in the books that they read so that they recognize that they are valued members of the classroom community. 

When implemented properly, critical literacy allows for students to find deeper meaning in the texts that they are reading. Oftentimes, critical literacy emphasizes the relationships and power dynamics prevalent in society. By thinking critically about these relationships, students can apply the lessons that they are learning from what they are reading to examine and question occurrences in the real world.

As teachers encourage students to apply critical literacy skills to the books they read, they begin to think more critically in all aspects of their life. With students thinking more critically about the world around them they begin to question societal norms. If teachers encourage students to enact change while also utilizing critical literacy practices, students will have the power to make their communities more inclusive and welcoming places to be.

Gabrielle (she/her/hers) is a sophomore at American University majoring in elementary education and minoring in Spanish. She has been a writer since Fall 2020 and is the publishing director for our print magazine for Fall 2021. In her free time, she enjoys working with children and supporting diverse learners.
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