The Ministry of Post-Truth: Using George Orwell’s 1984 to Develop English as a Foreign Language Students’ Critical Thinking Skills

Detta är en Uppsats för yrkesexamina på avancerad nivå från Stockholms universitet/Engelska institutionen

Sammanfattning: In 2016, “post-truth” was chosen as the word of the year by the Oxford Dictionaries. This is a concept that has come to be associated with a type of political discourse in which objective facts are less important than factual inaccuracies which appeal to emotion to influence people’s attitudes. Due to this recent increase in post-truth politics, critical thinking becomes an important skill to master. Yet, studies have suggested that students often lack the necessary skills for critical thinking. One way of approaching this problem is through the reading of literature. This essay specifically argues that George Orwell’s 1984 provides teachers with an excellent opportunity to develop critical thinking skills among upper secondary English as a foreign language (EFL) students, with the novel as an excellent platform to also promote student reflection on current post-truth politics. In order to work with 1984 to foster critical thinking, this essay utilizes a literature-based, pedagogical model developed by Bobkina and Stefanova that draws inspiration from elements of reader-response theory and critical literacy pedagogy (CLP). To show how 1984 can be used to discuss current post-truth politics, a thematic analysis was performed where central themes and concepts from the novel, such as doublethink, Newspeak and telescreens, were compared to current trends in post-truth politics. The analysis itself was structured around the following themes: the distortion of truth for political gains, the use of language as an instrument of political power and the use of technology to spread misinformation. Following the analysis, a lesson project based on Bobkina and Stefanova’s four-stage model was constructed, focusing on different pre-, while- and post-reading activities aimed at making the students develop their critical thinking skills as well as their awareness of the three themes mentioned above. While this approach is deemed suitable for working with 1984 to discuss post-truth politics, a suggestion for further research would be to use Bobkina and Stefanova’s model together with more contemporary dystopian novels in order to discuss other topics that are more relatable to young adults, e.g. identity issues and social stratification.

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