The chapters in this book were initially presented at a number of international research seminars, part of a series entitled Children’s Literacy and Popular Culture,1 which was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council in the UK.2 The aim of the series was to develop understanding about the role and nature of popular culture in children’s schooled and out-of-school literacy lives. Over the last few decades, there has been a steadily increasing number of scholars working across disciplines in the field of children’s literacy, popular culture and education. These include researchers interested in pedagogy (Nixon and Comber, 2005; Dyson, 1997, 2002; Millard, 2003; Marsh and Millard 2000; Robinson, 1997; Vasquez, 2005), linguistics (Merchant, 2001), media, technology and cultural studies (Buckingham, 1998; Carrington, 2005; Davies, 2003; Luke and Luke, 2001; Sefton-Green, 1998) and those concerned with the influence of home and out-of-school interests on school interactions (Pahl, 2005). While there is a growing body of published work which seeks to define the new turn in children’s understanding of alternative forms of meaning-making (Dyson, 2002; Kress and Van Leeuwen, 1996, 2001), there is a need to focus more directly on the ways in which popular culture relates to children’s out-of-school literacy practices. However, as well as understanding how popular culture is used and transformed within home and peer groups, there is a corresponding need to understand the nature of popular culture and its influence on children’s school work. It has been claimed that children are finding the literacy practices of school increasingly arid and meaningless (Hilton, 1996) or divorced from the practices of their communities and cultures (Corrigan, 1979; Marsh and Millard, 2000; Nagle, 1999). Further, there are suggestions that the current incorporation of new literacies into schooled practices may only work to render them both ineffective and irrelevant as forms of communication (see for example Lankshear’s (1997) comments on the use of email as a school exercise). Research has been undertaken in classrooms that has focused on the potential that popular culture has to motivate children and orientate them
towards schooled literacy practices (Alvermann et al., 1999; Dyson, 1997, 2002; Marsh, 1999, 2005; Marsh and Millard, 2000). This work has sought to address the anxieties which are frequently expressed by commentators about the damaging influence of popular culture: its addictive qualities (Storkey, 1999); its potential to displace book-based reading practices (Neuman, 1995); its inhibition of socialization (Tobin, 1998); its negative role modelling through the perpetuation of oppressive cultural stereotyping (Gilbert, 1991); and its collusion with commercial interests to turn children into undiscriminating consumers (Adorno, 1975; Postman, 1983; Kline, 1993). The chapters in this book contribute to the ongoing debate as they explore the interface between in-and out-of-school worlds and, in doing so, raise a number of questions for future research, practice and policy in this field. The book is organized into three distinct parts. In the first section,
authors address younger children’s early experiences in homes and schools and explore the way in which experiences in the home in the first years of life are imbued with a range of popular cultural forms that are often marginalized in educational settings. In the first chapter, Michele Knobel outlines the experience of two young boys who make productive use of the wide range of technologies available to them and embed them into their semiotic and social practices in meaningful ways. Knobel provides a wealth of evidence which suggests that very young children are competent users of a range of technologies, and she presents a serious challenge to those who seek to impose what she terms as ‘school-centric literacy learning and technology uses’ on young children without due recognition of this prior experience and expertise. In the second chapter, Kate Pahl offers further insight into young children’s cultural worlds in the home by drawing from her longitudinal ethnographic study of three boys. She demonstrates how they weave together a range of experiences in their daily play and textual production, drawing from popular culture, media and family narratives to create complex and playful texts. She suggests that by welcoming in and encouraging the texts made at home, teachers would gain an understanding of children’s ‘ruling passions’ (Barton and Hamilton, 1998). The authors of the third chapter are co-researchers on the ESRC-funded Home-School Knowledge Exchange Project based at the University of Bristol, UK, and they also focus on the out-of-school experiences of children as they move across modes and media. The team consider the varied communities of practice in which children engage, as the site of learning shifts from home to school, and propose that educators need to look closely at the way in which children reappropriate texts from one context to another. If this process is ignored or marginalized within the classroom, then, they suggest, children’s ‘nascent understandings about how (some) literacy ‘‘goes’’’, the literacy embedded within popular culture, are not recognized or built upon.