The politics of literacy: Classrooms, curriculums, and assessments

Year: 1992

Author: Freebody, Peter

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This is a paper about literacy research rather than a report of research. Its general purpose is to provide a broad backdrop against which the other papers in this strand may be viewed, and to give some flavour of the activity, diversity, and excitement currently in evidence in literacy research. To address such a broad purpose, the paper presents an argument about literacy research that runs, in very general terms, like this: Many contemporary theories of literacy stress the site-specificity of literacy practices, and seriously question the idea that literacy is a single attribute or a single, specifiable set of criterial skills. Literacy practices that are developed in schooling contexts, therefore, constitute selections of practices. Furthermore, these selections are not accidental, random, or idiosyncratic but rather supportive of the organisational needs of the institution of schooling; thus effort needs to be put into making them appear natural and reflective of essential definitions of literacy. In that sense at least, literacy education and research about it can be viewed as 'political', in that each entails choices among theories and methodologies that afford or reinforce radically differing competencies and ways of engaging in social experience. The paper pursues this argument from the classroom to the curriculum document and to assessment, and finally to the framing of policies and the choices that face educational researchers.