chapter  5
Thinking Critically in the Land of Princesses and Giants: The Affordances and Challenges of Critical Approaches in the Early
Pages 12

Introduction During the last four decades, educators have created a range of approaches for developing critical literacies for different contexts, including compulsory schooling (Luke & Woods, 2009) and second-language education (Luke & Dooley, 2011). Despite inspirational examples of critical work with young students (e.g., O’Brien, 1994; Vasquez, 1994), Comber (2012) laments the persistent myth that approaches for developing critical literacies are not viable in the early years. Assumptions about childhood innocence and the priorities of the back-to-basics movement seem to limit the possibilities for literacy teaching and learning in the early years. Yet, teachers of young students need not face an either/or choice between the basic and critical dimensions of literacies. Systematic ways of treating literacy in all its complexity exist. We argue that the integrative imperative is especially important in schools that are under pressure to improve technical literacy outcomes. In this chapter, we document how approaches to critical literacies were addressed in a fairytales unit taught to 4.5-5.5-year-olds in a high-diversity, high-poverty Australian school. We analyze the affordances and challenges of these different approaches to critical literacies, concluding they are complementary rather than competing sources of possibility. Furthermore, we make the case for turning familiar classroom activities to critical ends.