Literacy and power by Hilary Janks

By Hilary Janks

Turning to literacy -- Orientations to literacy -- Language and tool -- interpreting texts significantly -- range, distinction and disparity -- entry, gate-keeping and wish -- severe textual content creation: writing and layout -- remodel, social motion and chances for transformation -- the way forward for severe literacy

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The 1976 Soweto uprising in South Africa, sparked by primary school students protesting about the medium of instruction in African education, helped me to take seriously questions about language and education. At the same time as I began to work politically for the desegregation of schooling, I began to prepare myself for teaching English as a second language. As a teacher educator and activist, I was no longer willing to focus exclusively on English mother tongue education. I re-qualified as an applied linguist and began to see myself more and more as an English language educator with an ability to work across English as a first language and English as an additional language in multilingual classrooms.

Students can also produce images of literacy by taking photographs of literacy in context (billboards, shop signs, graffiti, T-shirts) and literacy events (hiring a video, getting a receipt, making cards or posters) in their own homes and neighbourhoods, for discussion in class. 10 • Turning to Literacy Becoming a Teacher of Literacy I never used to think of myself as a literacy teacher. I began my professional life in the early 1970s as a high school English teacher, trained to teach literature.

Perhaps the most important thing that I have learnt is that I am dyslexic. When I say that this is important it is because I have learnt that it is a characteristic of a Wayne and not the defining aspect of a Wayne. As I have learnt that this is just a part of a multifaceted person who is not one stable body but is made up of different parts in different discourses. (Schell, Interview, 16 November 1998) This example shows how the issue of access is linked to the diverse subjectivities that students bring with them to the learning situation; how powerful discourses are simultaneously both a threat and the object of desire; how secondary discourses provide us with other ways of knowing the world, that is, with the productive diversity necessary for reconstruction and redesign.

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