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Our Cypher on Literacy: Casting Stones

Updated: Nov 3, 2022

by Rudy Bankston and Vera Naputi


Paolo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed urges educators to understand that teaching is never neutral and that the act of reading the word must be inextricably tied to reading the world. We believe this in our bones. As educators who walk our way through life reading, writing, speaking, and listening through a lens of historical legacies of oppression that exist in policies, practices and structures, we know literacy is way deeper than critical reading. And if educators ascribe to the motto that literacy is liberation, then we believe …

That literacy is more than the application of models and processes.That it is more than frameworks and structures. That it is deeper than phases and strategies. That “literacy” at its root in education, is mired in what is considered civilized, cultured, and classical. And that as long as we keep doing the same ‘ol technical and mundane approach to literacy, we will keep missing, dismissing, and diminishing who is seated in front of us. So in the spirit of the cypher, we offer this Haiku to process and disrupt neutrality in teaching literacy …

casting stones

who are you to judge

i am not my worst mistake

re-humanize me

who are you to judge. It is hard to come to terms and admit that literacy has embedded codes for preserving whiteness. Common Core State Standards and rubrics use the term “master.” Applying the rules of the English language is key to being proficient. The complex truths and the intensity of the human condition is centered in the privileged, white, male perspective. So much of literacy positions us to imitate whiteness. To assert power over who gets the first, second, and last word (grades). To judge in a gauntlet where youth have to earn their literacy. Who are we to judge through these lenses of the status quo?

i am not my worst mistake. We can write a full-on rap to illustrate the chatter that actually falls from the lips of educators: “They’re disengaged …” “They refuse to read ..” “Omg how did they get to this point and cannot read?” “They write like they talk …” Inherent in the judgment is actually more explicitly damaging than we want to own or cannot see. Writing and reading are hard -- especially when sanctioned by summative assessments, high stakes college essays and personal statements, paired with supreme authority. The belief by educators that there are certain immovable pillars is the surest way to stay neutral, objective, and linear. Our young people deserve educators who can subvert inaccurate and incomplete thoughts about them by reflecting and airing out their biases, teaching habits, and generalizations. i am not my worst mistake is instructive, forcing us to see and listen, and to believe improvement and development are multi-dimensional.

re-humanize me. This line reminds us of all the ways we’ve been dehumanized across literacy spaces. The reality is that by the time we hit a certain point in school we were already heavily involved in the real and imagined details of whiteness in various literacy formats. We watched shows like Leave it to Beaver, Eight is Enough, Mork and Mindy, Chips, Charlie’s Angels, Dukes of Hazzard. We were bussed to school outside our neighborhoods, separated from our peers identified as talented and gifted even though we were labeled that too. Our imaginations were in white: Santa Claus, God, Jesus, angels, the Easter bunny. This is how systematic institutional and cultural racism was infused in our everydayness at school.

With luck and willingness by others in our lives, these acts of racism would be un-done multiple times over for each of us. Different contexts and times, and different mediums and mentors for us, but every so often, we were seen. By people who loved on us. They introduced reading and writing as a political act casting stones at the policies and practices that kept freedom at bay. They created concentrated spaces to dialogue, to substantiate our stories, to listen to our lived experiences, to give us critical literature by Black ‘n brown authors. They taught us to design our own aesthetics for literacy. No judgment. No acceptance that mistakes we made would forever define us. No branding.

This is not to say either of us were re-humanized in literacy.

In fact, the purpose of us writing in a cypher together is one way for us to actively, incrementally heal. We are well aware of how literacy spaces have dehumanized us, and we witness it by others, and towards others. So this line re-humanize me begs the ultimate question for educators and those who care deeply about literacy: How will you disrupt the act of being neutral? What can you learn and do for literacy that goes beyond “critical reading”? How will you unpack judgment and biases? Will you replace at least one of your white-centered, patriarchal literacy teaching techniques? Our challenge is to stop casting stones of judgment, and to interrogate our biases related to literacy, so we open ourselves up to learn new and humanizing ways to teach literacy.

Works Cited

Bankston, Roderick. Snippets of Soul, 2017,

Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed (30th anniversary ed.). Continuum.

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