Given the current state of play with respect to literacy 'crises' in Western democracies, this article revisits the 'language games' that often inform these concerns, examining their rules and who benefits from them. It argues that to focus narrowly on the technical aspects of language, as the current emphasis does, misses the point of what is at stake for students: those who advocates claim to want to help. Drawing on twenty semi-structured interviews and observations of teachers in primary and secondary schools within Queensland (Australia), the article outlines four perspectives on language use and how these variously position students as literate and illiterate. It concludes that we now need a different game plan to address students' use of language, one that provokes a stance and praxis in keeping with a more inclusive politics and which provides real challenges to broader social constraints.
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