I am currently reading Robert Manne’s essay for the Quarterly Magazine, ‘Bad News’, which is about The Australian. It is a clear criticism of the political agenda of this newspaper under the ownership of Rupert Murdoch and the editorship of Chris Mitchell. Whether or not I agree with Robert Manne’s arguments, I cannot help but be inspired by the quality of his scholarship. It is critical literacy at its best.
In 2003 I attended the International Federation for the Teaching of English (IFTE) Conference in Melbourne and listened to one of the more powerful keynote speakers, Allan Luke. He argued, as many others have, that it is not just essential that students can read, but that they can read for bias, rhetoric, or any other tools which composers use to control the frame. “Critical literacy is the use of texts to analyse and transform relations of cultural, social and political power.” (Luke and Dooley 2009) The purpose of critical literacy is to give students high order analytical skills so that they are aware when texts (in any medium) are positioning them in a particular way.
In terms of critical literacy, Manne is able use the essay form to evaluate the influence of The Australian newspaper on our country’s political sphere, thus on us, the voters and readers. But this essay does more; it shows us how to look for bias in texts and when it is discovered, how to tell the story of the represented perspective. Manne’s language is both precise and concise, and never does he use twenty words when five will do. It is the kind of text I would recommend to an Extension 2 student who is considering the Critical Response form for her/his Major Work for its clarity of language and argument. Ultimately, this essay is making me think about what role the media play or should play in shaping the agenda of Australian politics.
And that’s the point. Texts which are well-written and evaluative should make us think. If we can teach students both the critical literacy needed to analyse texts, and the writing skills to represent what they have discovered, then we are doing our job.