Higher Learning Research Communications

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What does it mean for a student to be critically literate in the Twenty First Century? How do we teach critical literacy within university humanities programs in the United States? And what are the implications of critical literacy for the conception and praxis of the global good? Using Richard Hoggart and Raymond Williams’ conceptions of critical literacy, I outline a pedagogical approach to literature and cultural studies that offers a conceptual space for students to imagine and engage with ideas of the global good. From the perspective of student learning, this approach to community engagement offers students opportunities to “read” their own social context critically and engage with, as well as, contribute to various local, national and global communities in meaningful, material ways. But what is important is that in doing so, such contributions come from the starting point of disciplinary knowledge, rather than from a problematic volunteerism or service framework that are often associated with the term community engagement. A critically literate approach to community engagement enables students to understand how literary studies can enrich an understanding of their global context in ways that other disciplines cannot and, therefore, the type of knowledge that the field produces. Drawing upon concrete examples of student learning from a range of university classes in which I have employed this pedagogical approach, I conclude that the student learning experience that results from such a process is qualitatively different—both with respect to the sorts of knowledge that students’ produce, as well as the dispositional affects it engenders in students’ lives. Such a learning experience holds the promise of achieving Raymond Williams’ vision of adult education as a process of “building social consciousness” and “real understanding of the world”—a substantive critical literacy for a globalized world.