Vivian Maria Vasquez
Changing student demographics, globalization, and flows of people resulting in classrooms where students have variable linguistic repertoire, in combination with new technologies, has resulted in new definitions of what it means to be literate and how to teach literacy. Today, more than ever, we need frameworks for literacy teaching and learning that can withstand such shifting conditions across time, space, place, and circumstance, and thrive in challenging conditions. Critical literacy is a theoretical and practical framework that can readily take on such challenges creating spaces for literacy work that can contribute to creating a more critically informed and just world. It begins with the roots of critical literacy and the Frankfurt School from the 1920s along with the work of Paulo Freire in the late 1940s (McLaren, 1999; Morrell, 2008) and ends with new directions in the field of critical literacy including finding new ways to engage with multimodalities and new technologies, engaging with spatiality- and place-based pedagogies, and working across the curriculum in the content areas in multilingual settings. Theoretical orientations and critical literacy practices are used around the globe along with models that have been adopted in various state jurisdictions such as Ontario, in Canada, and Queensland, in Australia.
There is an integral and reciprocal relationship between democracy and education. Democracy is more than a political system or process, it is also a way of life that requires certain habits and dispositions of citizens, including the need to balance individual rights with commitments and responsibilities toward others. Currently, democracy is under threat, in part because of the shallow and reductive ways it has been taken up in practice. Understanding the historical relationship between democracy and education, particularly how democracy was positioned as part of the development of public schools, as well as current approaches to democratic schooling, can help to revitalize the democratic mission of education. Specifically, schools have an important civic role in cultivating in students the habits and dispositions of citizenship, including how to access information, determine the veracity of claims, think critically, research problems, ask questions, collaborate with others, communicate ideas, and act to improve the world. Curriculum, pedagogy, and organizational structures are unique in democratic schools. Developing an active, inquiry-based curriculum; using a problem-posing pedagogy; and organizing schools such that students develop habits of responsibility and social engagement provide our best hope for revitalizing democracy and ensuring that it is not simply an empty slogan but a rich, participatory, justice-oriented way of life.
The relationship between education and peace is an area of educational research that merits sustained attention from scholars. A recent review of literature on this relationship pointed out the lack of rigorous research studies and robust evidence showing this link. This is surprising, given its significant implications for policy makers and practitioners who wish to educate youths to build and sustain a peaceful and just society. In fact, those who are engaged in education and peace research often grapple with the gap between their intuitive belief in the power of education to transform individuals and society on one hand, and the difficulty in establishing the causal relationship between the two concepts on the other. Still, today’s incessant tide of violence around the world has been propelling researchers to investigate the intersection of education and peace in order to better understand this connection.
The change in the nature of conflict has also given a new impetus to the research on education and peace. Today’s conflicts are generally fought between cultural groups within a nation, rather than between nation-states. Less developed nations, many of them being multicultural, are particularly prone to the risk of violent conflict. A study suggesting that the percentage of extreme poverty in fragile and conflict-affected societies will increase from the current 17% to 46% by 2030 confirms the close relationships between conflict, poverty and development. Because violence caused by internal conflict is a major obstacle to achieving universal access to education and other development goals, research on education and peace has become an important agenda item in the development aid community. This has added international aid organizations to the major players in education and peace research.
To date, most research studies have attempted to determine how education contributes to, or negatively affects, peace, rather than the other way around. The notion of peace, in the meantime, is no longer merely defined as the absence of war, but has been expanded to include the absence of structural violence, a form of violence that limits the rights of certain groups of citizens. This definition of peace has enlarged the analytical scope for social science researchers engaged in peace-related studies. The research field of education and peace has expanded beyond curriculum, textbooks, and pedagogy to also include education policy, governance, administration, and school management. Research may explore, for example, the impact of equitable and inclusive education policy and governance on the development of citizenship and social cohesion in the context of multicultural societies.
Importantly, scholars engaged in education and peace research need to consider how peace-building education policy and practices can actually be realized in societies where political leaders and education professionals are unwilling to implement reforms that challenge the existing power structure. Normative arguments around education for peace will be challenged in such a context. This means that education and peace research need to draw on multiple academic disciplines, including political science, sociology, and psychology, in order to not only answer the normative questions concerning peace-building policies and practices, but also address their feasibility.
Finally, the development of education and peace research can be enhanced by rigorously designed evaluation studies. How do we measure the outcomes of peace-building policies and practices? The choice of criteria for measurement may depend on the local context, but the discussion and establishment of fair and adaptable evaluation methodology can further enhance education policy and practices favoring peace and thus enrich the research in this field.
The work of the Brazilian pedagogue Paulo Freire (1921–1997) has been extraordinarily influential. Freire’s ideas have been taken up not just by educationists, but also by scholars and practitioners in a wide range of other fields, including theology, philosophy, sociology, politics, women’s studies, nursing, counseling, social work, disability studies, and peace studies. In educational circles, Freire is regarded as one of the founding figures of critical pedagogy. He is best known for his adult literacy programs in impoverished communities and for his classic early text: Pedagogy of the Oppressed. As a writer, he was most prolific in the last ten years of his life. His work advances an ideal of humanization through transformative reflection and action, and stresses the importance of developing key epistemological, ethical, and educational virtues, such as openness, humility, tolerance, attentiveness, rigor, and political commitment. The themes of love and hope figure prominently throughout his work. Freire was opposed to authoritarian, technicist, and neoliberal pedagogical practices. He argued that education is a necessarily nonneutral process and favored a critical, problem-posing, dialogical approach to teaching and learning. While acclaimed by many, Freire also attracted his share of criticism. He responded to some of the key questions raised by others, while also leaving open a number of areas of inquiry for further investigation.