Negotiating Post-Truth Epistemologies: Integrating Traditional and Critical Literacies in the General Paper Classroom

One of the first assignments I received as a student-teacher invited us to consider the need for contemporary educators to manage traditional literacy – that is, the basic ability to communicate with language – and new or emerging forms of literacies (e.g. digital literacy, critical information literacy, etc.) within the reality of time-poor classrooms comprising students with diverse learning profiles and needs. Here is the reflection question posed to us:

💡 Reflection Question:

How do we reconcile the need to address both traditional literacy and other forms of literacies in one curricular framework — especially given the limitations of time, class size, and examination demands?

The remainder of this post provides a sketch of my response to that question.

Teaching Critical Information Literacy

At the risk of stating the obvious, there would need to be space intentionally carved out for lessons and discussions about critical information literacy in the classroom. This should not be seen as a trade-off or a hassle. Having a firm grasp of critical information literacy and consequently being able to demonstrate epistemic virtues like sincerity and accuracy is a necessary condition for students to craft cogent and compelling arguments.

Fortunately for General Paper (GP) teachers, this deliberate pedagogical decision is complementary to several central guiding tenets outlined in the GP Teaching and Learning Syllabus 2022, namely:

  • the teaching of "critical and inventive thinking skills through sound reasoning and the formulation of informed and insightful personal responses" (p. 7), and
  • the development of our students' disposition to have "a questioning mind towards information, ideas, and issues" (ibid.).

Put bluntly, time spent on the explicit instruction of critical information literacy in the GP classroom is not time wasted. Rather, it is a crucial – though oftentimes underemphasised – part of the curriculum.

In practice, explicit and applied lessons in critical literacy could include:

Incidentally, elements of traditional literacy (including, but not limited to: accuracy in basic grammar and spelling, appropriate tone, academic integrity, appreciation and acknowledgment of audience and context, the knowledge of logical and argumentative fallacies¹, etc.) could also be easily weaved into the activities enumerated above.

For instance, students could learn – through either deductive or inductive teaching approaches – the importance of academic integrity and how to use the appropriate tone when engaging with dissenting views when they prepare for and participate in classroom debates. Standards of permissible evidence as well as rules of engagement in debates can (and should) be established before students embark on such learning experiences.

What I am suggesting, therefore, is an integration of traditional literacies with critical information literacy rather than a mere reconciliation (if, by 'reconciliation', we mean making compromises). Such integration is especially pressing in a post-truth environment where orthodox epistemologies are being subverted and called into question. Students need to be exposed to ways to negotiate complexity and uncertainty and be comfortable with not-knowing.

A further corollary (if we take the teaching of critical information literacy seriously) is that teachers need to keep abreast of contemporary research and developments in post-truth epistemology to be aptly primed to conduct these discussions about critical information literacy. To be sure, we don't need to become experts; an understanding of the context and purposes of these theories and frameworks would suffice – at least for now.

Other forms of literacies

Our students are right: it is an unfortunate reality that schools don't seem to teach them the really important things in life, like how to file taxes, how to manage relationships, or how to be content. Whether or not this reality is justified, however, depends on which social function of education we think assumes (or deserves) primacy: social stratification, facilitating self-actualisation, promoting innovation, or something else altogether.

That debate aside, it remains that many other kinds of literacies are often overlooked, if not ignored, in schools. I do not have an answer as to how to resolve this problem. The best I can come up with is to point students to resources about social and financial literacy in the hopes that they discover just how important they are.

Some may insist that niche categories like financial literacy fall outside the purview of the education system. Those who sympathise with this view are likely to already have clear and well-defined ideas of what the function of the education system is. While this may be a perfectly reasonable and consistent perspective to hold, things may change, and quickly at that.

The disruption of traditional epistemologies seems to have been driven primarily by developments in Web2, where we have been empowered to become content producers as well as consumers.

With the barriers to entry of content production virtually removed, new problems in social epistemology emerged: Who do we count as domain experts and how reliable do they need to be? What notion(s) of "reliability" should we invoke? How do we evaluate the credibility of information? What is the difference between misinformation and disinformation? Should information be regulated on social media, and who should provide such regulations? Do retweets and likes count as implicit/explicit endorsements?

These discussions have invariably found their way into classroom debates about critical information literacy. Therefore, it is clear that paradigm shifts in how we organise our communication and coordination infrastructures will have a clear and direct impact on what and how we teach our students when it comes to literacy.

What happens, then, when we become consumers, producers, and owners of content? While Web3 may only be in its nascent stages, it bears considering the impact of content ownership on critical information literacy and education in general.

In particular, when financial value becomes inextricably tied to our communication infrastructures, what novel epistemological challenges are likely to emerge? How would we then evaluate the importance of financial literacy in our curriculum? What are the various problems associated with knowledge, proof, and truth in the disparate and ever-growing consensus mechanisms that are developing in the blockchain industry? Can digital identities and soul-bound tokens be apt replacements for accreditation?

Web3 seems to be an inevitability rather than a distant counterfactual. Further exploration into these avenues may prove to be fruitful and instructive for educators – and that is precisely what I'm setting out to do in this space. I hope you join me on this journey.


¹ The success of the last integration seems to be largely contingent on the teacher’s confidence and familiarity with those argumentative fallacies in the first place. Furthermore, there are teachers who believe that students' knowledge of these fallacies does not necessarily translate into better student writing. I have no strong intuitions when it comes to this, though I suspect that making resources related to argumentation available to all students may be helpful.

Featured image by Josh Massey on Unsplash.

Subscribe to ed infinitum
Receive the latest updates directly to your inbox.
Mint this entry as an NFT to add it to your collection.
This entry has been permanently stored onchain and signed by its creator.