Critical literacy has its origins in progressive traditions and the Frankfurt School. It argues that, to become truly literate, students must move beyond simply decoding text and absorbing facts and information to thinking critically about what they learn and apply it to their lives. Critical literacy recognizes that learning involves power relationships, ones that are often defined by how language is used to shape discourse.

Critical literacy is most commonly associated with the work of the Brazilian educator Paul Freire (1921–1997). In works such as Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970) and Cultural Action for Freedom (1972), Freire argues that knowledge that is imposed through a “banking model” (one that deposits facts and ideas into the learner) is of little value and often is used as ...

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