Once again the reading wars have reared their ugly head. It’s this constant barrage of back and forth. In my state of Wisconsin, it has become extremely politically charged. A grassroots parent organization successfully engineered a study committee on dyslexia, which is not bad in and of itself. There certainly are students with dyslexia that are not being serviced effectively in our public schools. What was unfortunate though, was the fact that the committee was stacked with those representing only one side of the issue. Instead of approaching it as an equity issue, the drive is to create legislation that will, a. Create a position at DPI for a person to be a liaison for schools who holds credentials through the International Dyslexia Association, and b. Create a guidebook focused on dyslexia and related conditions. Again, heightened awareness about dyslexia and related reading conditions isn’t necessarily a bad idea. What IS a bad idea, in my humble opinion, is promoting legislation that creates a mindset that there is a one size fits all program (aka Orton Gillingham) that will be the panacea for all reading disorders/complications. Make no mistake, those supporting this legislation are also promoting their product. If there were a reading program that undeniably met the needs of every child learning to read, believe me, educators would be all over it. Everyone wants children to learn to read successfully, but learning to read is complex, and must be addressed as such. What educators do NOT need, is yet another program being shoved down their throats. What educators do NEED is professional development in pedagogy about reading and writing. It is high time the reading wars look for peace. Yes, learn the history of the reading wars and education in general. Yes, learn varying viewpoints and be open to understanding that each may have the potential to positively impact some students in some ways. Yes, advocate for equity in education, equity for all. That is something we should all be able to agree upon. Find peace in the knowledge and understanding that what every child learning to read needs is a teacher who is well versed in the pedagogy surrounding reading and writing. It should not matter the district, school, the classroom, the neighborhood, the diversity…educators should be receiving an equitable education themselves so that when they are immersed in the work of teaching our children, they are prepared to meed the varied needs and abilities in front of them. We know without a doubt, that the education our teachers receive is not equitable. Instead of having this pendulum swinging “Reading wars” fight, lets make a collaborative effort to address the inequities occurring all over our nation in regards to teacher education. If we did that, undoubtedly, ALL students would benefit.
I find myself returning to blogging as a means to encapsulate the learning, thinking, and reflection that is swirling in my head after attending WSRA these past 3 days. I always seem to find it difficult to verbally articulate all that was heard, witnessed, and shared over the course of those three days.
WSRA holds tight to a red thread that connects our deep beliefs that research grounds us, expertise matters and literacy is complex. The theme of WSRA this year was Equity, Engagement & Empowerment for all. In the end, it was about so much more than just literacy learning. The opening keynote by Pedro Noguera was phenomenal in the way in which he urged educators to action. He said it isn’t enough for us to just learn about the inequities happening in our schools, we must be guardians for equity and disruptors of inequity. He challenged us to consider that schools create their own problems, creating disabled students by the ways we are/aren’t teaching. So if a child isn’t labeled as a learning disabled student until high school, he suggests that child isn’t disabled, as much as they have suffered from ABT (Ain’t Been Taught). That’s not the child’s fault, it’s a school problem. There tends to be too much complacency in schools when it comes to the under education of our children. Too much pity in the name of “empathy” when they are not one in the same. One can have empathy, “Yes, I get your challenges, but you are still responsible to do x,y,z.” That’s the opposite of pity, where you feel badly for someone based on their challenges and therefore don’t hold them accountable. Pedro acknowledged that, in education the problem is our inability to create the conditions where kids can learn and thrive. We need to stop blaming the kids and get the conditions right for learning and teaching to go well. The path to achievement in education is through engagement. It’s that simple. So why is it so hard?
In reflecting on Pedro’s keynote, I believe that before we can even begin to think about systemic change in our schools, we first have to identify and own our biases. This is not easy work. There must be shared trust and vulnerability. We Got This by Cornelius Minor and Being the Change by Sara Ahmed are two books that have really pushed my thinking on equity and the work that needs to be done. I find myself asking, “What can I do to be a guardian for equity? Perhaps I can plant seeds…suggest book studies, engage in hard conversations, advocate for my students and colleagues…anything but sitting idly behind my desk waiting for help.