Democratic Literacy

Spoiler Alert-if you need a break from political discussion you may want to keep surfing the web! This post may contain images that are offensive to some-they are not intended an endorsement of any position, but used to demonstrate the the variety of messages/images readers may face.

This past weekend I joined millions of women, men, and children in marches that exemplified one of the rights and privileges of our democracy.  As I was packed into the National Mall in Washington D.C. I was surrounded by signs that held significant meaning to their creators.  As a teacher, I couldn’t help but think about the literacy skills that I used to interpret the messages as intended. To be an informed citizen in our democracy I think it is imperative that we recognize those skills our students will need to interpret the information coming at them. Sometimes we assume that the simpler the text, the easier to comprehend, however it can actually make it more difficult. We cannot take for granted that our students possess a proficiency with these skills.

There are so many inferences that need to be made, background knowledge that needs to be referenced, context that needs to be understood, bias that needs to be recognized, and connections that need to be made to read and comprehend the intended message from a “simple sign”.

Consider these…

What visual literacy skills would help them to understand these signs?

What vocabulary would students need to have to understand the intended message?

What cultural references might readers need to understand these signs?

What language references might readers need to comprehend these signs?

What literary references would help readers appreciate the message of these signs?

What analogies or play on words would support readers interpreting these signs?

What historical context would help to make these signs relevant?

We cannot assume that students can identify bias or recognize the context when comprehending the text. Many of these signs do not make sense or take on unintended meaning if read literally. They require the reader to bring experiences and knowledge to the reading task.  It is our job to help our students do this.

Our democracy depends on a literate society.

What’s On My Book Radar?


Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan

Author Ashley Bryan used real documents from an estate appraisal dated July 5, 1828 in which 11 human beings were being sold as slaves after their owner had died. Bryan tells the stories they couldn’t tell with gorgeous paintings that portray the people she envisioned behind the property lists, and imagines the lives they may have lived with poems that give voice to their experience.

This important book just won a Newbery Honor award at this week’s ALA Youth Media Awards-so glad it was recognized as an outstanding contribution to children’s literature. It is also an incredible contribution to the historical understanding of a terrible time in our nation’s past.

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