Multiliteracies & Empowerment

Congratulations to Kathryn for kicking-off our “presentation” series with such an engaging conversation about the the New London Group’s “A pedagogy of multiliteracies designing social futures” as well as Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed.  Bravo!


The term ‘multiliteracies’ refers to two major aspects of language use today – the first is the variability of meaning-making in different cultural, social or domain-specific contexts. These differences are becoming ever more significant in our communications.  The second aspect of language use today arises in part from the characteristics of new media. Meaning is made now in ways that are truly multimodal.  The new media environment makes it possible for discourse communities to diverge in new ways.  Writers can find and develop voices that are truer to their evolving selves.  For example – identity-speak, academic-speak, profession-speak, peer-speak, diaspora-speak, generation-speak, fad-speak, affinity-speak.  New media (via our multiliteracies) intensifies the logic of “discourse divergence” (our different ways of communicating). In short, the result is that our knowledge and culture(s) become more fluid, contestable and open. Cope & Kalantzis contend that discourses become less mutually intelligible, and we need to put more effort into cross-cultural dialogues in order to get things done, and to understand eachother.  This is an easy-to-see point.  But I think one of the important take aways from this article includes this observation:  One of the great paradoxes of today’s era of globalisation is that we are undoubtedly becoming more closely interconnected in many respects: communications, media, trade, travel, capital flows, knowledge flows and culture flows.  But we are also simultaneously making ourselves more different.  For this reason we need to learn to become discerning, ethical navigators of our new media environment, avoiding the harm to self and others that can also accompany the shift in the balance of agency.

Thanks to Kathryn’s brilliant pairing of the “multiliteracies” work with the work of Paulo Freire, we also had the chance to consider education as a practice of freedom versus education as a practice of domination.  “The oppressed, instead of striving for liberation, tend themselves to become oppressors.” -Paulo Freire

Paulo Freire is one of the most important critical educators of the twentieth century.  He is considered one of the founders of critical pedagogy, and he envisions an approach to education that aims to transform oppressive structures by engaging people who have been marginalized and dehumanized and drawing on what they already know.  “Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”  Kathryn’s adaptation with ‘Cards for Humanity” allowed us to respond to Freire’s work personally,  prompting us to make connections with our own current worlds/realities.  How can we imagine a pathway to freedom when confronted with the profound complicity of an educational system that perpetuates the oppressive elements of society itself?  Freire believes that part of the purpose of education is to help children develop the ability “to ask good questions.” Teachers are at the frontlines of this struggle to open up a critical eye to the world, guiding new generations to think in complex and dynamic ways in response to a world foreclosed.  Yet the question remains, can education guide us in our journey towards liberation and freedom?  Perhaps the answer is no – not the education that we all know too well.  But there is always room for new approaches and practices, and so much “unlearning” necessary as well.  So how do we squeeze new ways of thinking, doing, being, into our learning communities and cultures?

The Danger of the Single Story

In part two of our seminar class we reflected  on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s powerful TED talk entitled The danger of a single story.  Her talk served as a perfect segue , continuing our thinking together about the role words and writing play in shaping the world as we know it. We discussed the talk via the lens of multi-literacy and also empowerment.  Our lives, our cultures, are composed of many overlapping stories. Novelist Chimamanda Adichie tells the story of how she found her authentic cultural voice — and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person, we risk a critical misunderstanding.

Question 1 (Q1):  In what ways are stories and narrative related to empathy & bias? #unboundeq

Question 2 (Q2): Why do MANY stories matter? #unboundeq

Question 3 (Q3): How are stories related to authenticity? And to power? #unboundeq

Your to-do list:

  1. Read Teaching Writing in the Multilingual World by Paul Kei Matsuda
  2. Read Voice in Writing Again: Embracing Contraries by Peter Elbow
  3. Blog #5 due before 3/3 – A reflection on the Edna’s readings above and the theme of Writing in a Multilingual & Culturally Diverse world & Finding our “Voice”

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