Critical Pedagogies and Urban Policies

By Alison Villanueva and Sarah Schlessinger.

Published by The Humanities Collection

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Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

“[I]nstitutional and structural racism” create an expectation and reality of “dismal school performance” (Ladson-Billings & Tate, 1995, p.55) for an overwhelming percentage of children from marginalized populations. Gee (1996) postulates that individuals develop identities through “Discourses” or “a sort of social identity kit, which comes complete with the appropriate costume and instructions on how to act, talk, and often write, so as to take on a particular role that others will recognize” (p.127). His theory implies that school learning may be difficult for students from marginalized populations because there is a tension between the “Discourse” of their home life and the “Discourse” of the school (Knoester, 2009). Specifically applying this theory to literacy acquisition, Morrell (2002) writes:
New literacy theorists argue that social context and cultural diversity significantly affect the literacy process. Often the failure or urban students to develop “academic” literacy skills stems not from a lack of intelligence but from the inaccessibility of the school curriculum to students who are not in the ‘dominant’ or ‘mainstream’ culture (p.72).
It then follows that literacy instruction for struggling adolescent readers from marginalized populations in urban settings requires its own field of research in order to inform policy making and curriculum design that recognize and value the competing Discourses of individual lives. Adolescents require reading instruction but not all adolescents require the same reading instruction. “Instructional practices that address issues of culture and language hold the greatest promise for helping students…to become successful readers” (Shealey & Callins, 2007, p.105).
We approached this literature review from a critical perspective with the belief that curriculum design and educational research should serve to educate children to challenge the “hidden curriculum” as well as other beliefs and practices that dominate society and education. Critical theorists recognize that issues of race, class, gender, sexuality, and ability are all important domains of oppression and critical anti-hegemonic action (Kincheloe, 2008). “Deficit notions about the cognitive potential of individuals from nondominant communities have persisted in social science inquiry, particularly where literacy is concerned” (Gutiérez, Morales, & Martinez, 2009, p.212). In focusing specifically on research conducted around literacy issues for marginalized populations, we take the stance that these deficit notions must be replaced with research and curriculum that value culture and context. We do not claim that all urban schools or only urban schools are struggling in literacy achievement or that only minority students attend urban schools but we focus on these areas because they are large areas of concern.

Keywords: Adolescent Literacy: The Purpose of the Field, Critical Pedagogies and Urban Policies

International Journal of the Humanities, Volume 9, Issue 2, pp.253-264. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 794.900KB).

Alison Villanueva

Doctoral Candidate, English Education, Department of Arts and Humanities, Columbia University, New York, New York, USA

Alison Villanueva is completing her Ph.D. in the Department of Arts and Humanities at Teachers College, Columbia University in New York City. She is co-founder of Studies in Educational Innovations (SEI) a Research and Design group focused on Creativity and 21st Century teaching and learning. She is an instructor for the Elementary Inclusive Program in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching.

Sarah Schlessinger

Primary Researcher, Department of Curriculum and Teaching, Columbia University, New York, New York, USA

Sarah L. Schlessinger is a doctoral student at Teachers College, Columbia University and The Associate Director of Research for the Teachers College Inclusive Classrooms Project. Her research interests are in social justice as it is reflected through inclusive classroom practices, specifically referring to marginalized populations and the over-representation of students of color in segregated special education classroom settings.


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