Changing gender perceptions : the case of a classroom based critical literacy intervention.
This thesis reports on a critical literacy intervention with a grade 9 class the purpose of which was to raise awareness and change attitudes and perceptions towards gender. Texts are not neutral, and critical literacy is a way of examining a wide variety of texts in order to discern the values and ideologies behind them. In this way social inequalities and injustices are revealed and the reader is empowered to change the status quo (Janks 1993, 2001, 2010; Fairclough 1989 and 1992; Comber 2001 and others). At the same time their language and thinking skills should improve. Critical literacy is not separate from literacy, but rather an approach which raises awareness and facilitates critical engagement (Stevens and Bean 2007; Woodridge 2001). However, the ability to read effectively is important for the development of critical literacy (Sanders 1994; Hall 1998). Attitudes towards gender are socially constructed and deeply acculturated. Despite gender rights being protected under the South African Constitution (1996), and social justice issues such as gender empowerment being articulated in Curriculum 2005 this is not evident in schools where hegemonic masculinity and patriarchal attitudes manifest themselves in sexual harassment, gender violence and discrimination (Bhana 2005 and 2009; Morrell et al 2009). Changing these attitudes is difficult, but critical literacy offers an approach which can empower both boys and girls. This research used a mixed methods approach as this is flexible and allows for changes as the research progresses. Both qualitative and quantitative data collection techniques have been used in order to achieve triangulation and complementarity. Triangulation verifies, while comlementarity is used to enhance, clarify and elaborate on, data collected from different sources. Thus the mixed methods research leads to greater validity and reliability than a single method. The findings of this research are threefold. The first is that a critical literacy approach is difficult to implement if learners have weak reading skills. In order to engage critically with texts learners need decoding skills and fluency (Rasinski et al. 2004; Morris and Gaffney 2011) as well as a range of skills such as the ability to draw inferences, make judgments, evaluate and analyse what they are reading. This research reveals that the learners in grade 9 do not have the requisite reading ability to engage meaningfully with critical literacy. Reading comprehension tasks are inadequately completed and they are reading at a level well below their chronological ages. Furthermore, few of them come from a background where books and reading is valued, therefore few of them read for pleasure. In addition, this deficit in reading affects their ability to decode visual texts in the form of advertisements effectively. Changing attitudes to gender is challenging as these are deeply acculturated in the school and the wider society (Morrell et al 2009). In class when the message being imparted goes against embedded cultural values the boys decline to participate; in less formal situations the boys display hegemonic masculinity indicating that they have greater power and status than girls. Although Curriculum 2005 gives a special place to social justice issues and critical literacy is one of the Language, Literacy and Communication specific outcomes, the learners in grade 9A do not appear to have meaningfully engaged with it, despite being the only group to have followed Curriculum 2005 since they entered school in grade 1. The results of this research suggest that reading is central to creative thinking and problem-solving and thus needs to be addressed across all school grades, learning areas and subjects. In addition, if gender equity is to be attained, the school and the wider community need to be involved and public role models have to be seen to lead the way.