Indoctrination by Omission

While attacks on Critical Race Theory (CRT) by Republicans and conservatives have many different claims, one consistent element of these attacks is misinformation.

One of those false associations can be found at the persistently misleading Discovery Institute (infamous for stoking the evolution debate): Critical Race Theory – The Marxist Trojan Horse writes Walter Myers III for the “institute.”

Recently I gave a presentation for a learning in retirement session at my university—The 1619 Project:  Should we “reframe” our country’s history to include the consequences of slavery?”

In the opening of the presentation I explain what CRT is, focusing on the Big Lie of the attacks by assuring everyone that CRT is not taught in K-12 schools.

But I also focused on the claim that CRT is Marxist indoctrination:

While some overlap does exist among CRT scholars and Marxist scholars, there often is considerable tension between the focus on centering race and centering social class.

While this slide sparked some important dialogue among the audience, I had begun the presentation (not planned) by noting that the session began with a short video that included a dramatic reading that included the phrase “black-on-black crime.”

I noted that while crime in the U.S. is overwhelmingly within race—the white-on-white crime rate is about the exact same as the black-on-black rate—media, public, and political discourse only utters “black-on-black crime.”

This is indoctrination by omission, and this phenomenon in education raises an important question:

Similar to what I have raised before—Who’s indoctrinating whom?—”Are we worried about ideology or just one ideology?” is an important question to confront, and we are left with only one real answer.

Conservatives are seeking ways to indoctrinate students within the parameters of their ideology; therefore, the attacks on CRT and the 1619 Project are not calls for academic freedom, the marketplace of ideas, or even “both sides.”

Republicans and conservatives are seeking indoctrination by omission.

As I responded to the Tweet above, I noted that since I teach many students with private religious K-12 schooling, I regularly am asked to “go over” evolution because these very bright and high-achieving students were never taught evolution in biology while attending private religious schools.

Whether its our schooling or our political, media, or public discourse, what is not spoken is just as powerful as what is spoken.

Poet Adrienne Rich writes in her “Arts of the Possible,” the eponymous essay of her 2001 collection of essays:

The matrix of a poet’s work consists not only of what is there to be absorbed and worked on, but also of what is missing, desaparecido, rendered unspeakable, thus unthinkable. It is through these invisible holes in reality that poetry makes it way—certainly for women and other marginalized subjects and for disempowered and colonized peoples generally, but ultimately for all who practice art at any deep levels. The impulse to create begins—often terribly and fearfully—in a tunnel of silence.

On Lies, Secrets, and Silence: Selected Prose 1966-1978

In the Bizarro world of conservative thought, simply exposing students to ideas that do not conform to a narrow conservative ideology is a type of indoctrination.

Republicans are trying to control K-12 and higher education in ways that honor mythologizing/idealizing the past and speaking of U.S. history and day-to-day realities of the U.S. through aspirational language—from “Founding Fathers” to “the U.S. is not a racist country.”

Ultimately, what offends Republicans/conservatives about academic freedom and critical approaches to history, literature, etc., is that being critical is inherently a challenge to power and a rejecting of indoctrination.

There is no such thing as objective history, no such thing as de-politicized “facts.”

Contemporary historians are well aware that history tends to be written by the winners, by those with power and authority, and that these versions of history are in the interests of those with that power and authority.

Current attacks on CRT have included direct attacks on the work of Howard Zinn, who popularized seeing history from the perspectives of the losers and marginalized.

Returning to the Tweet above, conservatives are not angry that Zinn’s history is ideological, but that Zinn’s history challenges their singular ideology of mythologizing, idealizing, and aspiring to the detriment of marginalized populations in the U.S.

If we in the U.S. genuinely value individual freedom, each child and young adult deserves education grounded in academic freedom, and academic freedom requires that we attend to not only what is taught but also what is omitted.

K-12 and higher education are not indoctrinating children and teens, certainly not into Marxist ideology, but Republicans/conservatives are endorsing indoctrination by omission—something that if we want to be aspirational is not very American.


Recommended

Conceptualizing color-evasiveness: using dis/ability critical race theory to expand a color-blind racial ideology in education and society

Moving from “All Students Must” to “Each Student Deserves”

Since publishing my book, How to End the Reading War and Serve the Literacy Needs of All Students, that examines the current “science of reading” (SoR) version of the Reading War, I have given several interviews and presentations on that work.

I have also continued to blog about the movement, and in all of these experiences, I am forced to rethink and think more complexly through what I know and understand about the SoR movement as well as how to teach reading and literacy.

The most recent interview, by literacy expert Sam Bommarito, proved to be an enlightening experience on several levels.

First, Sam’s experience and expertise in the field of literacy were a welcomed change from being interviewed by generalists and journalists because his questions dove directly into the core of the issues surrounding SoR and those questions challenged me to think more deeply and carefully.

Our exchange between people with similar levels of expertise on the subject allowed (or even required) us to focus on how best to offer any viewers nuanced but clear explanations of a deeply complex topic; as I noted (and emphasize often now), the evidence on teaching reading is not simple, and not settled.

But the larger take-away for me after the interview was that Sam’s third question—Does it make any sense to effectively ban selected practices found in balanced approaches to reading, e.g., reading recovery, workshop teaching or guided reading?—prompted me to explain in greater detail a core concept that grounds a fundamental reason I reject the SoR movement.

Whether I am addressing literacy specifically or teaching pedagogy broadly, I have relied for many years on the best practice concepts expressed by Zemelman, Daniels, and Hyde.

Each chapter in their book (now in its fourth edition) ends with a chart that suggests instructional practices that teachers should increase or decrease; for example, on writing instruction (download sample here):

Key to note is that best practice is grounded in broad and diverse bodies of research on teaching and learning, and that best practice philosophy neither requires nor bans any specific instructional approach; whether a teacher uses any pedagogy is directly linked to student need (not a prescription form some authority such as standards or an adopted program).

When SoR advocates call for “all students must” (for example, systematic intensive phonics for all students and universal screening for dyslexia), they are misrepresenting what we know about teaching and learning: There is no universal silver bullet for “all students.”

Best practice structures promote research and evidence as a spectrum, a range of practices for every teacher’s toolbox; best practice also recommends that instruction begin with individual students, their demonstrated known, unknown, and misconceptions.

If we think carefully about decoding and direct instruction in phonics and phonemic awareness, teachers will face a wide diversity of students in any class in terms of where they are in their reading development; in short, there simply is no situation where “all students must” serves students well.

Literacy is not simple, and literacy development is not linear, sequential, or systematic.

For example, most people do not accumulate vocabulary in order to be able to read, but develop their vocabulary by reading.

Context (in terms of so-called literacy skills) and engagement are extremely important when students are developing their literacy; regretfully, many misguided movements during the history of the Reading War have eroded an essential aspect of literacy that must be honored—literacy as holistic.

Here, we must address a fundamental paradox in the SoR movement.

Several different kinds of advocacy are fueling the SoR movement—from parents advocating for greater awareness of dyslexia to Black and poor parents advocating for under-/un-served populations of students to advocates for the needs of emerging bilingual students.

The common denominator here is a genuine concern for the under-/un-served student, a pervasive belief that for a number of reasons, too many students are being failed by the system itself (although some elements of the SoR movement are also directly blaming teachers and teacher educators for those failures).

The paradox is that the aggressive advocacy behind the SoR movement is driving an all-or-nothing silver-bullet approach to teaching reading, which will mis-serve students as much or more than the current conditions of teaching and learning in U.S. public schools.

So this leads me to Sam’s effort to bridge the divisions in the Reading War (something I am far more skeptical about, as I address in Sam’s question 5: Cambourne and Crouch recently said we should stop using the Reading Wars metaphor and replace it with the metaphor of the Reading Quilt- with different “sides” adding different pieces to the quilt. Do you see any hope for that point of view? Do you see hope for an end to the divisive discourse?  Do you see hope for ending the reading wars? [13:20]).

I am no fan of compromise (as I explain in the interview) but I think we do have common ground in terms of two beliefs: (1) Far too many students are being under-/un-served in our current K-12 public school system (notably in their literacy), and (2) the under-/un-served are disproportionately marginalized and vulnerable populations of students (Black students, poor students, emerging bilinguals, students with special needs).

Not a compromise, but my modest proposal is that all of us concerned with reading and literacy among K-12 students need to set aside the “all students must” mandate and commit instead to “each student deserves.”

“All students must” be screened for dyslexia is a guaranteed disaster for students (consider the over-diagnosing of ADHD as one example), but “each student deserves” access to ample books and other texts in their homes and schools fulfills what we know about literacy development without being overly simplistic or harmful.

Each student deserves whatever teaching and learning experiences they need and want in order to grow and develop at the rate unique to them (not some manufactured and artificial “grade level” proficiency).

This commitment shifts our instruction and assessment gaze away from compliance to a reading program or to a set of prescribed standards and toward the demonstrated needs and wants of each student who enters any classroom.

The ultimate irony here is that the whole language (WL), reading/writing workshop, and balanced literacy (BL) movements (all falsely demonized since the 1990s) offer that exact commitment along with very high standards for teacher expertise (each of us in charge of any student must have a very complex toolbox for teaching and also must be prepared to individualized instruction).

Again, as I stated in the interview, WL, workshops, and BL did not fail our students, but we have certainly failed the core commitment of those movements—serving the learning needs of each student.

What we know about teaching reading is not simple or settled, but I think we can and must all agree that instead of falling prey to the overly simplistic and harmful “all students must,” a better way forward is a resolute commitment to “each student deserves.”


Individual Behavior and Community Safety: Cycling Edition

More than 30 years ago, I ventured into road cycling as a hobby. I rode alone for a couple years before discovering a vibrant cycling community in my home town.

In the mid-/late 1980s, most of the organized group rides started at the local bike shop (just down the street from where I lived) or the downtown YMCA.

When I started joining these rides, most of the cyclists were veteran and highly skilled cyclists—and friends. In those days, nearly no one talked to new riders, and worst of all, I started most of these rides desperately struggling to stay with the group.

None the less, within a few miles, I was dropped, left to ride alone the rest of the route. When I returned to the start, everyone had already left.

I am not sure why I (or any other new rider) kept at it, but I did.

Over the next twenty years, I gradually developed into a solid rider, and then, one of the stronger riders leading group rides and pushing the pace on the more intense rides and cycling races or events.

During that time, group riding also changed. More rides were offered for different abilities, and the rides in general were more likely to encourage and foster new cyclists into the cycling community.

My lessons in group cycling came from a few elite riders who took the drill sergeant approach to whip me into shape. But “shape” in cycling is more than fitness since how any individual cyclist behaves impacts the dynamics and safety of the entire group.

Cycling is very regimented (expected behaviors) for both the efficiency and the safety of the group.

As with many other activities, Covid has significantly impacted group cycling in my home town, and I have been away from group riding for well over a year, until recently.

Joining my group rides again included a significant number of new riders—often struggling with their fitness and how to ride in an organized group ride.

This reintroduction has made me think about the larger Covid situation: Individual behavior in group cycling is a necessary element in the safety of the group in the same way that masking and vaccinations are about both individual and community health.

We have restrictions, as well, on individual driving of cars (speed limits, bans on impaired driving) for both individual and community safety, for example, which is also the same dynamic as masking and vaccinations for Covid—or having the fitness and the skill to ride in an organized recreational cycling group ride.

Learning to ride in a cycling group, then, is a lesson in the importance of individual behavior for community safety.

For anyone new to group cycling (specifically recreational cycling), here are some of those behaviors:

  • Avoid abrupt changes in speed or direction. Direction and pace are incredibly important for cycling groups, and thus, consistent speed and direction help a group move efficiently but they also make the group safer. Most cycling groups (due to state laws) ride two abreast, and any sudden changes in speed or direction have rippling effects throughout the group. Changes in speed or direction should have a reason (change in terrain, turn on the course, or potholes, for example), and should be accompanied by verbal and hand signaling (more on that later). Hold your line and maintain as compact spacing as you can (developing better spacing skills as you gain fitness and experience).
  • Don’t be that guy. Here is one of the best guidelines for group cycling: If you are doing something different than everyone else, you are probably doing something wrong—and dangerous. Don’t dart in front of an oncoming car, don’t ride three abreast, don’t leave large gaps, don’t cross the yellow line—the examples are endless, but for a new or inexperienced rider, a great strategy is to watch the veteran riders, and do as they do.
  • Positioning matters. New cyclists often gravitate to the back of the group, which is a bad decision. The larger the group, the more inconsistent the group is the farther back you are. The back of a large group is often very hard for a new rider who still lacks enough fitness because the back has more slowing and accelerating than the first half or two-thirds of the group—where new riders should position themselves.
  • Balance matters. Another mistake new riders make is positioning on the bicycle; your weight should be mostly on your sit bones and pedals—not on the handle bars. Before joining a group ride, new riders should have a good bike fit and should be able to ride comfortably with their hands resting lightly (de-weighted) on the handle bars. Leaning heavily on the handle bars makes a bicycle unstable; while it is counter-intuitive, rotating wheels are very stable and track straight ahead, unless you hit something on the road or disturb that momentum.
  • Head up, eyes forward. When new cyclists become taxed, stressed, because of still-developing fitness, they often drop their head and eyes; this is extremely dangerous. Another problem is that many recreational rides are also social so people chat. When cycling, resist making eye contact when talking to the person next to you. It is really simple: Head up, eyes forward.
  • Know your place. If you are new to a group, and unfamiliar with the course, you should stay off the front until you know the course. Also, you must know the expectations of the ride (most rides identify a level such as A, B, or C based on overall speed, etc.) and how the group plans to handle group dynamics (no-drop ride, for example, or what the group does if someone has a flat or mechanical). Watch, listen, and ask questions, and as noted above, don’t be that guy.
  • Understand group and paceline dynamics. Many recreational cycling groups will use a pretty relaxed paceline with two riders taking longer pulls at the front before rolling off and two other riders taking turns. Because cyclists use open roads, some groups choose for both riders to pull off to the left and drop back single-file (what we tend to do in my community) while others use the one rider dropping off on both sides approach. Simply put, know the expectations. The same applies for more aggressive pacelines that have a continual rotation (typically with the right line pulling through and the left dropping back; although technically the through and back line can [should] be determined by wind direction). In all cases, riders pulling and/or pulling through must maintain a consistent effort (don’t accelerate the group, don’t dart through on a pull, and don’t half-wheel the rider beside you in the two-by-two method). The key here for new riders is know the expectations and then watch the experienced riders so that you can mimic their behavior.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. Cycling is a highly verbal sport. Always alert the group to turns, dangers in the road conditions, problems with other riders, and the proximity of cars. New riders should listen and learn how the local riders alert each other (including whether or not hand signals are the norm, etc.). An important rule is if you hear messaging from the front, pass it back, and if you hear messaging from the back, pass it forward.

Even if you aren’t a cyclist, this post is about the problem with seeing the rights of the individual and the needs of the community as an either/or proposition. The reality is that individual behavior is always a factor in community dynamics.

Asking a new cyclist to conform to the dynamics of a cycling group is not a denial of the individual rights of that cyclist but acknowledging that individual development is linked to the dynamics of the group—just as the safety of any individual cyclist is linked to the safety of the group.

If a rider doesn’t want to conform to group expectations, then that rider is always free to ride alone.

Group cycling is an incredibly powerful thing that allows very strong and experienced riders to participate with weaker inexperienced riders; and both benefit from the experience.

For many years, I participated in a 220-240-mile ride from the upstate of South Carolina to destinations along the coast of SC and Georgia. The key to this ride was a coherent group that worked in ways that benefitted the weaker and less experienced riders. Almost every year, everyone completed the ride—a truly remarkable feat for groups of 10-20 riders experiencing an 11-14-hour day of riding.

These rides were individual and group accomplishments that demonstrate a truism that fits more than cycling: Individual behavior is inseparable from community safety.

Republicans Embrace “Three Kinds of Lies: Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics”

Misattributed quotes can still be valid, and such is the case with the often repeated, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics,” typically associated with Mark Twain (possibly the first person to attribute the saying to the wrong person).

Statistics are a powerful kind of lie because data allow people to state factually true statistics that still mislead or distort the topic being addressed.

Republicans and conservatives have used the statistical lie often as a dog whistle for their racist base. Two of those issues are fatal police shootings and black-on-black crime.

Let’s look at how these statistical lies work.

Republicans and conservatives are apt to note the raw numbers on fatal police shootings broken down by race:

Yes, police shoot and kill more white people per year than Black people, but a statistical fact of this data is that there are about 5 times as many white people in the U.S. as there are Black people; therefore, for this data set to be equitable, about 5 times more white people would be killed than Black people (note that the difference is only about twice as many).

Thus, a better statistic is the rate of fatal police killings by race:

Therefore, fatal police shootings are racially imbalanced (Black people shot and killed at about 2.5 times higher rate than white people), if not racist.

In the case of fatal police shootings, then, the raw data are both accurate and misleading when trying to understand racial inequity.

A much more insidious use of statistics is the overuse of black-on-black crime in media, public, and political discourse.

Black-on-black crime rates are extremely high, often at a 90%+ rate.

But there is almost no media, public, or political rhetoric around the white-on-white crime rate, which is about statistically the same (high 80% rate). [1]

Crime rates are almost entirely within races in the U.S. (see p. 13 from the U.S. Department of Justice [2]) because the country is still strongly racially and economically stratified.

While highlighting the very high black-on-black crime rate is factually correct, omitting that most crime is intraracial makes that emphasis misleading, and another dog whistle for racists.

But Republicans aren’t stopping there; consider the Lt. Governor of Texas who has now blamed Black Texans for being unvaccinated and causing the newest Covid spike:

However, as you may suspect, there are problems with this claim:

Once again, Republicans are using the statistical lie as a dog whistle for racist constituents.

Many racial groups are under-vaccinated, and there certainly is a significant issue with vaccine hesitancy and resistance among Black Americans, but the sheer numbers in Texas make Patrick’s careless and racist claim more than preposterous.

Further, raw data on low vaccination rates among races also ignore causes for those rates. Black Americans are disproportionately poor and live in areas were vaccine access has been weak or even suppressed.

There is ample evidence that political leaders have always cherry-picked statistics and data to promote agendas, but there is also ample evidence that Republicans target statistics as part of their larger strategy to court their racist base.

Patrick’s most recent egregious use of the statistical lie is further proof that Trump did not create the Republican Party as a party of lies, but he certainly helped the strategy gain momentum.


[1] See data here:

crime_myths

[2] See:

LitCon 2022: The State of the Reading War: Not Simple, Not Settled [UPDATE]

Announcement

LitCon: National K-8 Literacy & Reading Recovery Conference (January 29 – February 5, 2022, Columbus, OH)

Session Type: Spotlight Continued Engagement Session

Schedule:  Thurday, February 3, 2022, 4:00 pm – 4:45 pm est

Session Strand:  Reading Recovery

Session Title:  TBD

Description:  

Topics: 

Presenters:  Sam Bommarito and Paul Thomas


Featured Speaker

The State of the Reading War: Not Simple, Not Settled

Download PP HERE

P.L. Thomas

Session Type: Featured Session

Schedule:  Thursday, February 3, 2022, 5:00 pm – 6:00 pm est

Session Strand:  Leadership in Literacy

Session Title:  FS21 – The State of the Reading War: Not Simple, Not Settled

Description:  A new round of the Reading War embraces the “simple” view of reading, arguing that the “science of reading” is settled. This session interrogates the “science of reading” movement by placing it in historical context and refuting its central claims based on a more complex view of reading and science.

Topics: Equity in Education, Literacy Leadership, Reading

Presenters:  Paul Thomas

Recommended Reading

Science Supports Balance, Not Intensive Phonics, for Teaching Reading

Fact Checking the “Science of Reading”: A Quick Guide for Teachers [Updated]

How to Navigate Social Media Debates about the “Science of Reading”

Reading as Comprehension and Engagement: On the Limitations of Decoding

Podcast: Educational Movements and Trends

Talking Points: A Conversation with Paul Thomas

The “Science of Reading”: A Reader for Educators

How Do We Know?: Not Simple, Not Settled

Dismantling the “Science of Reading” and the Harmful Reading Policies in its Wake [UPDATED]

Understanding the “Science of Reading” Movement and Its Consequences: A Reader

Policy Statement on the “Science of Reading” (NEPC)

How to End the Reading War and Serve the Literacy Needs of All Students

Reading as Comprehension and Engagement: On the Limitations of Decoding

About a year ago, a friend and I introduced my grandchildren to gaming; soon after I bought them a Nintendo Switch.

My granddaughter, Skylar, was immediately drawn to Animal Crossing because she loved that the game allows players to visit each other’s world. But the game also requires a great deal of reading so her initial experiences meant she had to play with someone who could read with comprehension to help and guide her.

Today, Skylar is starting second grade.

Happy for day 1 of grade 2.

Recently, when Skylar was visiting, she immediately wanted to play Animal Crossing with my friend. As they played, Skylar was reading aloud incredibly well, only occasionally stumbling over words that would typically be classified as “above her grade level” (a concept I reject).

Despite Skylar’s ability to decode with speed and accuracy, we noticed something really important.

After reading through the text, Skylar would pause and ask my friend what she was supposed to do. Of course, the text in the game is designed to guide what the player does so my friend patiently explained that Skylar needed to re-read but pay attention to meaning (comprehension).

With that guidance and attention to the need to decode with comprehension and purpose, Skylar began to play the game with more agency (a few days later, she Facetimed my friend to continue having someone to mentor and guide her; in other words, she didn’t magically become an independent reader).

Skylar is 7 years old, my grandson, Brees, is 4 (about to turn 5 in a few weeks).

Watching them navigate gaming as well as learning to read is fascinating for several reasons.

First, Skylar clearly prefers communal gaming. Even as she is developing the ability to read with comprehension and engagement independently, she desperately wants to play the game with someone else.

Brees, who has chosen Minecraft [1] as his go-to gaming, is a solitary gamer. While they were over for a pool day, Brees took a break and happily lay on a lounge chair playing Minecraft on his iPad.

Minecraft mania extends to Lego as well.

Second, Skylar’s gaming and reading journey dramatically reveals the limitations of decoding—notably the danger of assuming that proficiency at reading aloud (words pronounced quickly and clearly) results in comprehension and engagement.

Here I want to stress that without Animal Crossing and an expert mentor (both at the game and reading), Skylar could well have remained at the level of “going through the motions” of reading aloud.

She didn’t hesitate to re-read and work toward comprehension so that she could fully engage in the game.

In other words, literacy is ultimately about autonomy, but it is also a profoundly important aspect of community.

During the Facetime session, Skylar was seeking a mentor to confirm the decisions she was making. Even though she was decoding with comprehension, she kept asking for confirmation that she was navigating the game the right way (or more accurately, a right way).

Before I go further, I want to stress that Skylar clearly has acquired some very powerful decoding strategies based in what most people call “phonics,” but when she is in the real world of gaming, she often comes to situations when those blunt decoding skills are not only inadequate but distracting from the flow of the complicated act of reading and acting on the comprehension.

I also want to stress that watching a 7-year-old play a reading-intensive video game complicates the simplistic and misleading faith placed in “grade level” texts. Like almost all real-world texts, Animal Crossing simply uses words (no concern for “grade level” and no “context clues”), often very common words mixed in with exact vocabulary that is uncommon.

Overly simplistic views of reading and vocabulary tend to conflate the “easy/hard” binary for vocabulary with “common/uncommon.”

Uncommon words that Skylar could not decode, and often has never encountered before, were not “hard” since with a mentor to pronounce and explain the word, Skylar very quickly adapted and with repetition in the game, those words became common to her (and thus, “easy”).

Finally, this experience with my grandchildren, at different stages of development and reading, helps personify some of the significant problems with the “science of reading” (SoR) movement that advocates for the “simple view” of reading and for systematic intensive phonics for all students.

Decoding is a necessary but small aspect of the reading, which ultimately must be an act of comprehension with engagement.

But the SoR movement also will fail our students because it centers systematic programs, silver-bullet thinking, and a misguided emphasis on decoding (and blunt decoding strategies).

However, what all students need and deserve are real-world experiences with and reasons to read.

Those experiences include activities too many people still stigmatize as “bad” for children—comic books, gaming, and even Lego.

Skylar as an emerging independent reader has had some wonderful traditional school experiences, and loving teachers. But her journey to reading is much larger than that, including her current fascination with Animal Crossing.

My beautiful and eager grandchildren are powerful examples that when it comes to teaching reading, nothing is settled and nothing is simple.

Reading is comprehensions and engagement, and as Skylar demonstrates, reading is about community, a shared purpose that is filled with pleasure and the joy of creating without a finish line.


[1] Writing as a Minecrafter: Exploring How Children Blur Worlds of Play in the Elementary English Language Arts Classroom

by Cassie J. Brownell – 2021

Background/Context: Educators have considered how Minecraft supports language and literacy practices in the game and in the spaces and circumstances immediately surrounding gameplay. However, it is still necessary to develop additional conceptualizations of how children and youth’s online and offline worlds and experiences are blurred by and through the games. In this study, I take up this call and examine how the boundaries of the digital were blurred by one child as he wrote in response to a standardized writing prompt within his urban fourth-grade classroom.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: Through snapshots of Jairo’s writing, I illuminate how he muddled the lines between his physical play experiences and those he had in the virtual world of Minecraft. In doing so, I argue that he carried over his personal interest as a fan of Minecraft into the writing curriculum through creative language play. As Jairo “borrowed” his physical play experiences in the virtual world of Minecraft to complete an assigned writing task, he exemplified how children blur playworlds of physical and digital play in the elementary ELA classroom.

Research Design: Drawing on data generated in an 18-week case study, I examine how one child, Jairo, playfully incorporated his lived experiences in the virtual world of Minecraft into mandated writing tasks.

Conclusions/Recommendations: My examination of his writing is meant to challenge writing scholars, scholars of play, and those engaged in rethinking media’s relation to literacy. I encourage a rethinking of what it means for adults to maintain clear lines of what is digital play and what is not. I suggest adults might have too heavy a hand in bringing play into classrooms. Children already have experiences with play—both physical and digital. We must cultivate a space for children to build on what was previously familiar to them by offering scaffolds to bridge these experiences between what we, as adults, understand as binaries. Children do not necessarily see distinctions between “reality” and play worlds, or between digital and physical play. For children, play worlds and digital worlds are perhaps simply worlds; it is we as adults who harbor a desire for clear boundaries.

Teachers College Record Volume 123 Number 3, 2021, p. –
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23622, Date Accessed: 9/18/2021 7:46:35 AM

See Also

Misreading the Main Idea about Reading

Stranger Things: The Eternal Whiteness of the Pop Culture Mind

South Park has Token, and Stranger Things has Lucas Sinclair.

Having come (very) late to Stranger Things, this was one of my first thoughts when Lucas sets off on his own to find the gate (S1E6).

stranger things 2016 - Cheap Online Shopping -

Since Stranger Things is a pop culture referential series, my experience includes immediately thinking of WandaVision (also referential and driven by pastiche) and how Stranger Things includes more than a passing debt to superhero narratives, along with gaming culture as well as the broader 1980s TV and movie references.

I am a child of the 1960s and 1970s, but the love affair Stranger Things has for the 1980s speaks to vivid elements of my young adulthood spent navigating marriage, fostering a career, and fathering my only child in 1989.

The power of this series and the enduring elements of pop culture in the U.S. have been confirmed for me as I continue to make asynchronous connections (Stranger Things as the child of The X-Files and Mayor of Easttown).

Even though I haven’t watched the show until mid-2021 (I just began Season 2), I do have a good deal of fringe knowledge about the series and essential spoiler knowledge that likely dulls some of the tension created in the show when watched in real time.

I know, for example, certain characters persist even when they are put in serious danger in the first season. In S1E6 mentioned above, whether the show’s creators intended this or not, having a lone Black character placed in danger triggers one of the worst aspects of pop culture, linked to Star Trek (redshirt characters) and the use of “throw-away” characters that are too often Black and other racial minorities.

Lucas isn’t sacrificed, however (Barbara isn’t so lucky).

And like Mare of Easttown, Stranger Things represents a much larger problem in the U.S.—the eternal whiteness of the pop culture mind.

Also like Mare of Easttown, Stranger Things has a white people gaze that is strongly linked to white people dysfunction and the ever-creeping danger surrounding children (mostly white).

Eleven is remarkably frail (the camera work shifting from her intense face to her full-bodied spindly self is excellent), and fantastically powerful (at great expense to herself).

Stranger Things but true: the US Department of Energy does human  experiments, searches for The Upside Down

But the white problem in Stranger Things (Indiana) also sits beside the superhero genre obsession with white Middle America (see also the whiteness of South Park in Colorado and Mare in Pennsylvania).

Superhero narratives in the world of comic books are grounded in (and recursively obsessed with) origin stories, and the origin story of the superhero narrative serves an important purpose as I navigate Stranger Things.

Michael Chabon beautifully fictionalizes who and how superhero comics came to be in his The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.

I was a comic book collector throughout my teen years, the 1970s, and although the rise of the MCU is relatively recent, I have always felt comic book narratives have been incredibly important contributors to and reflective of pop culture in the U.S.

Those original creators, as Chabon dramatizes, were often Jewish and/or immigrants (Joseph Shuster and Jerry Siegel [Superman], Jack Kirby and Stan Lee [Marvel], Joe Simon [with Kirby, Captain America], and Bob Kane [Batman], for example).

These origins are steeped in a singular American Dream by men of aspirational backgrounds, and they seem to have chosen white Middle America as their only template; just think of Superman, an alien expelled from his home planet and landing in the Great Farm Land (Smallville) to be raised by an earnest working class white couple.

Kurt Vonnegut—a pop culture icon referenced in Stranger Things—writes on the first page of Mother Night:

This is the only story of mine whose moral I know. I don’t think it’s a marvelous moral; I simply happen to know what it is: We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be. (p. v)

Mother Night, Kurt Vonnegut

I think Vonnegut has a point not only for anyone (especially children and teens) existing in the so-called “real world,” but especially for those imagined worlds, the ones that seem struck in time and place—and race.

The many powerful themes of Stranger Things driven by the stellar acting must not be reduced to the simplistic “universal” praise—although childhood and the dangers of being a child or teen are shared among viewers regardless of race, etc.

Nancy Wheeler, for example, is yet another spindly white girl/young woman (like Eleven) who directly personifies Vonnegut’s warning; Jonathan Byers confronts her about pretending to be someone she isn’t in Season 1.

Her experiences are valid, and even compelling—although they pale beside Eleven’s.

Ultimately, I am left uncomfortable that Stranger Things has fallen into the well-worn rut (from Superman to Mare of Easttown) because too many people continue to believe the viewing public has empathy primarily for the frailty of whiteness.

Podcast: Educational Movements and Trends

Educational Movements and Trends

How can historical perspective help direct teaching and learning?

​When trying to solve problems, humans are prone to looking for a “silver bullet” which often bypasses the learning process. Educational trends prove this theory. The hot teaching movement today may not have solid research behind it. History shows us that we are not good at being patient students throughout life’s journey.​

Our guests Dr. Michele Dufresne, President and founder of Pioneer Valley Books and Dr. Paul Thomas at Furman University share that while K-12 education may be a basic right, not everyone has equal access to it. If every child is capable of learning and no one progresses at the same rate, then how can teachers better support student growth? Having an educated society impacts all facets of our communities.

Episode 1

Educational Trends part 2

60 (Last Time)

This coming Thanksgiving of 2021 will be the ten-year anniversary of me being ghosted.

The person was an important part of my life, but our connection made both our lives complicated. And we were never able (willing?) to address the problems in ways that would protect the relationship.

The ghosting was a dark cloud over my life for many years—although I never discussed it in any real way with anyone else. And if I am entirely honest with myself, the ghosting may have been about the only option for the other person.

Over the last few years, that dark cloud has vanished, and in its place, the ghosting simply remains as an example of one of my deepest existential fears—realizing I have experienced the last time after the fact.

I think many of us believe that if we have forewarning, we could better prepare for and work through a last-time situation—such as the loss of a loved one or the end of a serious relationship, whether lover or friend.

Not knowing, I admit, triggers my anxiety, but I lost both of my parents about 4 years ago, my father in late June 2017 and my mother that December.

My father had been in poor and declining health for years, to the point that I think many of us had become far too complacent with that reality. He literally died right after telling me he needed to “poop,” likely as three nurses moved him into the bathroom or certainly by the time they had him on the toilet.

Nothing about being aware of his poor health and imminent death or being right there as he passed really made that last time any less overwhelming or less shocking. Once the last time has passed, there are many what-ifs to worry your mind.

My mother’s death was much different. By comparison she seemed healthier than my father (she wasn’t), and then, her death was precipitated by a stroke.

Nearly every day after her stroke in early June until her death in early December, I visited her, unable to speak and often suffering an assortment of ailments that left her miserable. The end for my mother was a many-months nightmare.

Just weeks before she died, the doctors discovered she had stage 4 lung cancer; he last days were spent in hospice where I sat beside her a few hours a day.

She died late at night when I wasn’t there, and I slept through the call from hospice since my cell phone was on silent. The what-ifs about the last time with my mother have weighed on me and my nephews.


On July 9, the day after my granddaughter turned 7, I was just starting a 16-hour drive to Kansas before then driving to Colorado for two weeks before a week in Arkansas to visit friends at the University of Arkansas. While driving, I noticed an email from my dean about a position I had applied for, director of my university’s writing program.

I have been at my university almost twenty years and have invested a great deal of time into our first-year writing program, effectively lobbying for and helping develop the job that I applied for.

Since I was driving, my partner read the email, which explained that I would not be interviewed at all for the position. My dean acknowledged that he knew I would be disappointed.

I am 60, and this was my dream position for my career.

Yes, I was deeply disappointed, driving much of that day very depressed and slightly numb from the realization.

But the larger issue was coming to recognize that this was very likely the last time I would apply for any position other than the one I now have. I certainly will never be the director of writing at my university.

I am white, a man, well paid, and very privileged. I am also 60. People now routinely ask me when I plan to retire.

This is the end of my career, although I genuinely do not think about retiring since writing and teaching are careers I can continue to do for many more years.

And yet, my experience is quite insignificant and pales against the racial and gender awareness among Black people and women (for example) who navigate the workplace with the moment-by-moment awareness that they are being ignored, passed over, paid less, and marginalized simply for being who they are, regardless of their qualifications or potential.

This is not intended as a pity party, but a way to acknowledge and navigate something almost all humans must endure, the fear of and experiencing the last time.


I taught Thornton Wilder’s Our Town many years as a high school English teacher. I have always been drawn to the character Emily who dies young but is allowed to relive a day of her life.

By the final act, Emily views her life in replay from beyond and exclaims: “I can’t look at everything hard enough.”

She then turns to the Stage Manager and asks, distraught: “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it—every, every minute?” And the Stage Manager replies, “No—Saints and poets maybe—they do some.”

Living is a series of last times, and we are damned as humans to rush through our lives simply not looking hard enough because we are so pre-occupied with our lives.

I am 60.

When I get down on the floor to play with my grandchildren, I inevitably have to stand up. It is a challenge these days, standing up, and I think maybe, just maybe, part of the struggle is carry around all the last times I have accumulated.

Last times I will continue to accumulate.

Until the last time.