This recent post on ACRLog, Authoritative Sources or Question Authority, gets to the heart of understanding the need for critical information and media literacy. Although critical literacy is never mentioned, this is obviously what is being discussed. We simply cannot tell people to use “authoritative” sources and leave it at that. If we don’t help people to ask questions about information and power, to help them look beyond the words on the page or the perceived authority of the author or publisher, they will always be passive receivers and distributors of information and never be involved in the construction of information.
If we can help people become critical users of information it can also open the doors to a much wider array of information resources than are currently being used in academic research. There is a huge body of valuable information available in alternative newsletters, magazines, and small independent presses that is simply not being used because we place such emphasis on the importance of peer-review and other “authoritative” sources. We do this because we don’t trust the students to recognize trustworthy and unbiased information on their own. The trouble is, if we don’t help them to make these decisions for themselves, we are treating them like children and keeping them in a position of weakness and dependency.
We need to empower students to participate in the world as active citizens capable of thinking critically and taking action based on their own understanding and not to be limited in their thinking and actions by the direction of what others have decided is authoritative.
Anyone with access to SpringerLink should read this new article by Douglas Kellner and Jeff Share, Critical Media Literacy is Not an Option for a very strong argument for the need for critical media literacy (which includes information literacy by their definition) in schools at all levels. I would also argue that it is particularly vital in adult education programs. We can also take a lot from Allan Luke and Peter Freebody’s work on the four resource model of literacy, described very well in, Further Notes on the Four Resources Model. This is a model of literacy that can be applied to multiple literacies and should not be ignored by proponents and developers of information literacy.