Sunday, September 24, 2006

"Critical" literacy

Whenever someone calls himself or herself a "critical thinker" I get worried. Invariably they are not, but think they are. That's why you'll rarely see me use the term (I am aware the title tag for the blog has "critical thinking" in it, but that's for google). So perhaps that's the basis for my aversion to "critical" literacy?

This is a very good piece, by Kenneth Wiltshire, in The Australian, pretty much bagging critical literacy. However, I'm going to use a few bits as (tongue in cheek) examples of fallacies:

Whether deconstruction is an art or a science, a malady or a catch-22, it would seem to belong at honours level in university degrees. School is for basics and knowledge, certainly accompanied by critical thinking, but not in a milieu where all is relative and there are no absolutes for young people who do not have the intellectual maturity to cope with the somewhat morbid rigour of constant criticism and questioning of motives. If you go on deconstructing for long enough you will become a marshmallow or a jelly.

"If you go on deconstructing for long enough you will become a marshmallow or a jelly?" Besides that being physically improbable (to say the least), he has pulled out the old Slippery Slope argument! What evidence does he have that deconstruction leads one to turn into a soft gelatine candy?

Rightly, Wiltshire points out what I take issue with, with critical literacy - its inherent endorsement of relativism (both moral and epistemological). However, that's no excuse for the following Strawman / False Dilemma combo.

…If Shakespeare is too difficult for most students in an English subject, would we perhaps create an alternative subject so students could study the comedies in the easier subject and the tragedies in another. Should The Diary of Anne Frank be replaced with The Emails of Tom Cruise or The Text Messages of Shane Warne?

Well, though I bet no-one has actually proposed this swap (hence Strawman), either Anne Frank or Warnie (False dilemma), the idea might actually be worth considering... They are all really self-obsessed individuals after all.

In an upcoming post, I'll bag critical literacy, then use my newfound critical literacy skills to bag (deconstruct) my own text. (I know I have a post on causation due too.)