LEARN with Marginal Syllabus (May)—“We Are Not Dirt”: Freirean Counternarratives and Rhetorical Literacies for Student Voice in Schooling

May 06, 2019
By Educator Innovator

Our May, 2019 reading for Literacy, Equity + Remarkable Notes = LEARN looks at activism in a high school English classroom where students challenge a school policy as a “problematic text.” In a piece written for the English Journal, authors Everardo Pedraza and R. Joseph Rodriguez spotlight the youth participatory action research of Pedraza’s students, and the way their writing of Freirean counternarratives became a vehicle for them to speak truth to power and enact policy change.

This is the seventh month of LEARN, a Marginal Syllabus co-developed with the National Writing Project (NWP) and the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). Each month during the 2018-19 academic year, we’ll collaboratively read and discuss an article, published by NCTE, that investigates the intersection of literacy and equity. Refer to the syllabus for information on all the annotatable readings, which will go “live” on the first Monday of each month, along with related events hosted by CLTV and others.

May Topic: Composing counternarratives through youth participatory action research.

“There are many negative connotations associated with the word “sweep” in the media. For example, there are immigration, drug, gang, and homeless sweeps.”

“We Are Not Dirt”: Freirean Counternarratives and Rhetorical Literacies for Student Voice in Schooling

In May, we read about  a literacy project from Everardo Pedraza’s class that began with a list of problems the students identified during their class discussions. Students winnowed their list down to a focal issue: The school’s “tardy sweeps” policy, the name of which offended them and stirred them to action. Students felt that the term “sweep” evoked the criminal justice system’s efforts to round up criminals and contraband in sweeps, and metaphorically, situated them—when they were running late to class—as dirt to be cleaned. Through youth participatory action research (YPAR), the students’ literacy learning resulted in the writing of a book featuring letters and counternarratives, as well as contributions from community members who supported their cause. To author their YPAR book, the class followed a five step process of critical praxis that ultimately resulted in the school policy being renamed. While the steps the class followed could be seen as prescriptive, the authors of this powerful piece describe graceful teaching, dynamic student voice, and an English class’ effort in pursuit of justice that was anything but formulaic.

Join the Annotated Conversation

We invite you to read “‘We Are Not Dirt’: Freirean Counternarratives and Rhetorical Literacies for Student Voice in Schooling” and annotate the text with your own thoughts and reactions. Annotations may be added using the web annotation tool Hypothesis. To add your own annotations, as well as to respond to others, sign up for your free account.

Share your annotations as you read or any time throughout the month. We also encourage you to use these readings and the opportunity to annotate however it best works for you—organize a study group, bring a class you are teaching, engage as an individual, or connect it to a meeting.

Discussion with the Authors