So there’s a picture making the rounds. And although this particular picture and its provocative caption spawned this entry, what follows is applicable to any picture, meme, article, video and so on. In short, any document.

Being literate is one thing, but engaging in critical literacy means reading against the grain. Critical literacy starts with questions rather than reactions. It demands research instead of assumptions.

To be critically literate means to ask who published a given document and what do they hope to accomplish by doing so? Who benefits and who doesn’t?

Critical literacy asks for context. Not simply the text, but what comes with it. It requires active engagement over passive acceptance.

The picture in question is connected to education. Math, to be specific. And despite the caption and the header, there is no mention of grade level, no standard listed, no explanation. It’s devoid of meaningful context.

Some people are pretty upset about “it,” but aren’t really sure what “it” is. They know it looks strange/ difficult/ hard to understand and they are outraged that anyone would ever need to learn whatever “it” is.

I’m all for people having reservations and voicing concerns, but I advocate starting with questions first. For example:

In a free society, citizens should critique curriculum materials, legislation and all other documents that govern the ways we live. But it’s important to start with your own clear understanding, rather than someone else’s interpretation, summation and conviction.

It’s perfectly okay to not have a clue what you’re looking at. That’s the best time to start with questions.

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