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Neighborhood Bridges

Critical Literacy

Critical Literacy
by Jack Zipes

Our program is an explicit critique of functional literacy and how schools and politicians hinder learning by instituting programs that allegedly teach kids the basics and test their rote skills. It is important to note that most people up until the end of the nineteenth century did not know how to read and write, and yet, they were able to solve problems and build great things. The oral form of transmitting and sharing knowledge was sufficient and in many cases still is sufficient for sparking an imagination and inspiring people to think critically about their circumstances. On the other hand, it is important to acknowledge that reading and writing have become more important skills in our advanced technological society, and that they can enable a child to gain more meaningful pleasure out of life and to structure his/her existence in manifold ways. Therefore, we do not simply talk about learning how to read and write so that a child can function better within the society and can survive. We work toward helping children learn how to read and write so that the child can better grasp who she/he is, why she/he is in a particular situation, and how she/he can discover his/her talents to develop and assume different roles in life. Without the requisite oral, literary, and dramatic skills, it is difficult to project oneself into the world and to narrate one's own life. Implicit in all our work is a remark made by the renowned psychologist Jerome Bruner, and this remark is one of our guiding principles: "I conceive of schools and preschools as serving a renewed function within our changing societies. This entails building school cultures that operate as mutual communities of learners, involved jointly in solving problems with all contributing to the Childrens Theatre, 2009. All rights reserved. page 1

Neighborhood Bridges

Critical Literacy

process of educating one another. Such groups provide not only a locus for instruction, but a focus for identity and mutual work. Let these schools be a place for the praxis (rather than the proclamation) of cultural mutuality - which means an increase in the awareness that children have of what they are doing, how they are doing it, and why. The balance between individuality and group effectiveness gets worked out within the culture of the group; so too the balancing of ethnic or racial identities and the sense of the larger community of which they are part." Bruner calls for mutual learning that depends on collaboration, cooperation, and participation because it also enables the individual to develop his or her talents more deeply and more fully. The stories and plays that the children create from mutual learning in the Neighborhood Bridges Program make the ordinary seem strange, and their strange and fantastic images and words reveal their hope for a better future. They demand close reading just as each child calls for close reading. The children in Neighborhood Bridges do not only become stimulating and demanding storytellers, they are risk-takers, and they are willing to build and cross bridges to discover other worlds.

Childrens Theatre, 2009. All rights reserved.

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