Part 1: “Whereas traditional literacy curriculum was taught to a singular standard (grammar, the literary canon, standard national forms of the language), the everyday experience of meaning making was increasingly one of negotiating discourse differences. A pedagogy of multiliteracies would need to address this as a fundamental aspect of contemporary teaching and learning” (Cope & Kalantzis, p. 166).
This quote expresses the key idea of multiliteracies; namely, that modern curriculum ought to reflect the whole range of literacy types. This means incorporating the many different modes of expression within a language, often at the same time. Video can be combined with text, and with sound, and so on. Within a single language, we must be mindful of the many different forms that language takes – acknowledging non-standard forms, incorporating slang, and so on. It also means disrupting curricular norms (like the literary canon) across disciplines, with a concerted effort to include the voices of marginalized groups.
Part 2: On the question of “why multiliteracies?” there are competing viewpoints across the political spectrum. Cole & Kalantzis offer the idea that there are two main sets of values around multiliteracy. On the ‘left,’ this is an emphasis on using multiliteracies to create social justice. This means addressing systemic inequalities through multiple ways of knowing, and using different modalities in that process. On the ‘right,’ multiliteracy has been interpreted as a pathway to equity, as opposed to equality. This conception of multiliteracy sees education less as an equalizer, and more of a ‘revealer.’ If people are willing to work hard, and are also endowed with talents and intelligences, public education will help them succeed. If not, that’s their problem. There are, of course, many differences of opinion within each ‘big tent’; regardless, these viewpoints offer a rough summary of the different ‘whys’ of multiliteracies.
So what, exactly, is multiliteracy? In the old social order, literacy was viewed as a more or less static process – a valuing of knowledge transmission and reproduction over creation and critique. Multiliteracies allow for more stakeholders to get their ‘skin in the game,’ so to speak. Instead of restricting knowledge to textual (and occasionally visual) forms, it can now take many different forms. From wikis and blogs, to indie filmmaking, to music released outside of major labels, there is more content, by more creators, than ever before. These new (or perhaps more accurately, newly valued) media forms allow for many different kinds of people to have their stories heard. Perhaps, in even small ways, this leads us to a more emancipatory future (Cole & Kalantzis, p. 175).
‘Multiliteracy’ gives a name and theoretical backdrop to a phenomenon that, at least for my generation, is as natural as breathing. From open-world video games that allow you to create your own story (within technical limits), to crowdsourced films and indie music, the Internet has facilitated a tectonic shift in the media landscape. There’s no way of knowing where these trends will take us, and danger of co-option is ever-present. Despite their potential, multiliteracies have not offered a serious challenge to global capitalism – quite the contrary, as the neo-liberal age has been marked by a ‘downloading’ of expectations (healthcare, education, transit) onto private citizens, obliterating the idea of a commons. Our different ways of knowing, however, offer us pathways toward freedom.