Critical Consciousness and the Enhancement of Public Literacy- Part II: Political Literacy

Critical Consciousness and the Enhancement of Public Literacy- Part II: Political Literacy

post by Amira Abdel-Aal, Member of The Educator Collaborative

Critical Consciousness and the Enhancement of Public Literacy*-

Part II: Political Literacy

*Some of this content was produced in conversation with Dr. Ahmed Younis, an Assistant Professor of Integrated Studies at Chapman University, an expert in Critical Pedagogy and Leadership Studies. 


We live in a time of massive disinformation campaigns organized by foreign governments attempting to get Americans to lose faith in our democratic processes and system. Most young people today have little knowledge of the interests behind the media they are consuming. The American public is not protected from discourse from disinformation campaigns, and citizens must draw on their literacy skills in order to defend the front line of defending American democracy. Young people must learn how to read the news and understand who is pushing the ideas that are being amplified. 

In a nation that now accepts mass shootings as a normal part of the cycle of life– whether at festivals or in schools, synagogues, or black churches–young people cannot afford to live a life of consumerism and apathy. There was a time in America when young people could keep their heads down and allow the “real world” to continue while they “prepare” for entry. That time is past. Everything is political–including their social media profiles. The pressure to look a certain way, to like certain things, and to seek approval from certain people is the same pressure that ignites racism, discrimination against women, and other signs of societal decay. 


Critical Pedagogy – the process of unpacking

As teachers, we must try to equip students with the tools to unpack what is being presented to them and reinterpret it in a way that makes sense within the context of their lives, their dreams, their hopes, and their families. The wheel of critical pedagogy must involve the constant development of political literacy. Part of what’s required for the future of American democracy is for young people to develop critical political literacy, as they are targets of disinformation campaigns. They must develop a better understanding of the complexity of who the players are and what issues are at play.

Some important questions to consider include: How do we produce news? What are the standards that exist within journalism? What is the significance of the press in the historical narrative? How can one determine a “proper” news source from another? How do we determine whether a news source is part of a propaganda machine? How do we tell if we are reading a “real” article or an ideological product? How do advertisements work? Who funds them? What does a real link look like? In addition, it is important for individuals to understand how apps that ask us for our information in order to convert our picture into how we might look when we are older, or tell us which of the seven dwarfs we are, is feeding into a larger machine that seeks to gather our personal information.  

Something else for students to consider is how they get their news. From a podcast? An online article? Their friends? Their favorite singers? With all of these potential “news” inputs, it is as important now more than any other time that we educators enhance our own literacy around the messages being sent to students (us) and how they (we) are being manipulated. 

When we engage our students with different materials, we are trying to bring greater complexity to what is often presented as a simple binary (e.g., “racist” vs. “not racist” ). We need to equip students with the capacity to think through these concepts. What does it mean to be racist? Who has the capacity to be racist? Is it racist when you use derogatory terms? Is it racist when you don’t allow a school to get the same resources as another? When an average young American hears the President refer to cities as “rat-infested” and places where “no human would want to live,” will they understand that certain people are being described as sub-human and that they accept sub-human ways of living? With the resurgence of overt racism and disinformation campaigns that are trying to manipulate the American public’s actions and opinions, being able to enhance one’s political literacy in a time of great complexity is critical. 

Conversations that usually wait to happen at the college level need to happen now. This is a time where such unpacking can no longer wait for college. Critical literacy needs to begin at the earlier stages of life. The world is more complex. Everything is political, and developing a relationship with that which is political in school spaces should not be seen as a bad thing–instead, it should be about developing our critical & political literacy.

Political literacy is now necessary for survival. Teachers must help their students navigate and break through the binary barriers of impossibility and opposition and show them the way to opportunity and hope.