This post is written by member Cody Miller.
A recent #NCTEchat on Twitter focused on the power of popular culture to support learning within the classroom. For my classroom, popular culture has always been a site to develop our critical literacies. Ira Shor defined critical literacy as “language use that questions the social construction of self.” In a critical literacy framework, there is no neutrality, and the social and historical realities of people are central to meaning making. Developing students’ critical literacy has been a perennial goal of mine since I started teaching, as it has been for many teachers concerned with social justice and equity.
While watching the 2016 election and its aftermath play out in the media, I could not help but notice all of the ripe opportunities for developing an eye for critical literacy. For instance, why was the working class always positioned as majority white despite the fact that people of color make up a significant portion of the working class? Why were women treated monolithically, thus ignoring the intersectional identities that women of color live? Why are LGBTQ rights thought of in terms of marriage and adoption and not connected to broader issues like immigration? Questioning why the media positions certain identities (whether intentional or not) allows students to explore power relationships and the often unacknowledged way socio-historical realities shape the way we produce and consume media.
Twitter not only played an important role in communications during the 2016 election, it also plays an important role in the daily lives of students and the American people at large. With its limit of 140 characters, Twitter leaves plenty of room for its readers to interrogate assumptions made when reporting the news. Fortunately, the trend of “fixing” other people’s tweets seems to be on the rise. When someone “fixed that for you” or “fixed it” in a tweet, they retweeted the original post and annotated it to unveil its ideological bent. For instance, many writers reframed the media’s coverage of the Dakota Access Pipeline protests by rewriting protesters as water defenders. These “fixed it” tweets highlight the colonialist nature of the Dakota Access Pipeline while also honoring the historical realities of Indigenous people. In these “fixed it” tweets, the company is positioned as the force of harm while the protesters are positioned as defenders of the land. The “fixed it” tweets talk back to the hegemonic narrative.
The “fixing” process has implications for classroom instruction. As teachers, we should teach students to find and analyze news stories that perpetuate dominant narratives. Students should be encouraged to analyze how power dynamics are reproduced in tweets. I have had students analyze and compare how the media positions protests by white citizens with the positioning of African American protests to explore media biases and institutionalized racism. After analysis, students should be encouraged to talk back to the dominant narratives. In short, students should “fix” news stories.
Model “fixed that for you” tweets abound. For example, Good Morning America tweeted, “Bill Clinton and wife Hillary Clinton arrive at the U.S. Capitol on #InaugurationDay.” The positioning of Hillary Clinton as a “wife” erases her accomplishments and the role she played in the 2016 election. Several citizens “fixed that for you” by retweeting the story with headlines like, “Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State and 2016 Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton . . . and “First woman to win the popular vote and Bill Clinton … .” Partisanship is not necessary for challenging dominant narratives within the media, and students should be supported in critically examining all texts. One possibility: students can explore neglected characters’ perspectives in novels by creating Twitter accounts for the characters and then “fixing” the quotes about them.
Critical literacy should not stay within the walls of a classroom. Rather, critical literacy should be a liberating force for students to read the word and the world, as Paulo Freire argued. By supporting students in “fixing that for you,” teachers acknowledge the role that Twitter plays in our reporting apparatuses while also allowing students to challenge and disrupt hegemonic narratives and biases within our national discourse. When students use “fixed that for you” narratives, they are able to place themselves and their lived experiences into the discourse and resist marginalizing forces within the broader media.
Shor, I. (1999). What is critical literacy? Journal for Pedagogy, Pluralism & Practice, 4(1), 1–26.
Cody Miller teaches ninth-grade English Language Arts at P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School, the University of Florida’s affiliated K12 laboratory school. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @CodyMillerPKY.