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“Rocking the boat”: Using critical literacy to challenge heterosexism in a public school

Sara Lewis-Bernstein Young, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This critical ethnographic practitioner research study explored the ways critical multicultural pedagogies supported students with situated privilege to use critical literacy to understand and challenge heterosexism in a public school. Situated privilege denotes relative privilege in terms of one social identity or group and not necessarily another, so although some of the students in this study did not have privilege in terms of race or ability, they were all identified as heterosexual and thus had privilege in terms of sexual orientation. These students were enrolled in a Contemporary Issues class which I taught where they developed critical literacy strategies and initiated an action project, which disrupted the heterosexism in the school. Through this critical literacy project they held a Day of Solidarity where they made visible the support for people of all sexual orientations and formed a Gay Straight Alliance with other students in the school. I reviewed literature centered on heterosexism in public schools, scholarship on critical literacy theory and applications, and theories of multicultural education and critical pedagogies. Drawing on critical multicultural analysis and critical discourse analysis, I analyzed student writing, transcripts of class discussions, interviews with students and school personnel, students' surveys, and other artifacts along with my fieldnotes to explore the students' development of critical literacy and social justice activism. I found that using critical multicultural pedagogies emphasizing critical literacy can help prepare and motivate students with situated privilege to interrupt their own behavior and reinvent themselves as allies and agents of change. Some of the ways the students developed critical literacy were specific to their situated privilege. These included recognizing their own privilege and role in maintaining oppression, understanding the dynamics of oppression, problematizing their own participation in dominant Discourses, identifying as allies, and developing an awareness and willingness to use their power to take social action.

Subject Area

Bilingual education|Curriculum development|Gender studies

Recommended Citation

Young, Sara Lewis-Bernstein, "“Rocking the boat”: Using critical literacy to challenge heterosexism in a public school" (2008). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3325144.