Category Archives: Equity

America Dishonors MLK By Refusing to Act on Call for Direct Action (pt. 2)

[NOTE: See part 1 HERE]

The USA is a country built on cultural mythology—rugged individualism, boot strapping, just to name a couple.

But the American Dream works both as a touch stone for Americans and a veneer covering over the realities that represent us as people and country.

In most ways, the American Dream is a lie in practice, but a beautiful idea that could be.

What better represents America is this from James Baldwin:

Included in that “rigid refusal to look at ourselves” is an insidious pattern of creating mythologies that conform to our foundational myths even when those manufactured myths prove to be distortions, or even lies.

That is the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. who Americans begrudgingly allowed into the pantheon of Great Americans but only as a reductive caricature as a passive radical.

The Right and conservatives in the US have repeatedly shaped MLK into a soundbite endorsing color blindness, a false representation of MLK and the ideal in terms of how race should matter among humans.

MLK was clear that racism was the plague on the US, but he didn’t call for not seeing race; he urged humans to see race and not impose hatred and bigotry onto race, not allow privilege/oppression for some based on race.

But one of the single most important aspects of MLK’s ignored legacy is his call for direct action, which conservatives refuse to see and even cloak by stressing “passive” action (again, an important misrepresentation of “non-violent” since MLK himself stated he never urged people to be passive about anything).

Here is the King many in the US want to ignore: King’s 1967 work, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?:

Up to recently we have proceeded from a premise that poverty is a consequence of multiple evils:

• lack of education restricting job opportunities;

• poor housing which stultified home life and suppressed initiatives;

• fragile relationships which distorted personality development.

The logic of this approach suggested that each of these causes be attacked one by one. Hence a housing program to transform living conditions, improved educational facilities to furnish tools for better job opportunities, and family counseling to create better personal adjustments were designed. In combination these measure were intended to remove the causes of poverty.

Wealth and Want

“In addition to the absence of coordination and sufficiency, the programs of the past all have another common failing — they are indirect. Each seeks to solve poverty by first solving something else,” King noted, adding: “I am now convinced that the simplest approach will prove to be the most effective — the solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a now widely discussed measure: the guaranteed income.”

Not only did King call for a guaranteed income, he asserted the essential need to be direct:

We are likely to find that the problems of housing and education, instead of preceding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be affected if poverty is first abolished. The poor transformed into purchasers will do a great deal on their own to alter housing decay. Negroes, who have a double disability, will have a greater effect on discrimination when they have the additional weapon of cash to use in their struggle.

Wealth and Want

It is here that I have grounded my work in education addressing education policy, practice, and reform.

The reason political leaders focus on education is that it is the perfect mechanism for keeping the public focused on indirect action.

The US is committed to capitalism, not democracy, and capitalism depends on poverty and therefore will never eradicate it.

To perpetually address the consequences of inequity projects the veneer of action without actually committing to action, direct action, that would eradicate what causes the harm to begin with.

The history of education reform in the US since the 1980s has been on in-school only reform. Many key reformers and often cited scholars (such as John Hattie) beat an incessant drum that there is nothing we can do about systemic inequity—poverty, racism, etc.—so we must target school reform and then over time that will somehow eradicate inequity.

There are numerous problems with this, including that it fits into our rugged individualism myth by claiming that we must “fix” students and “fix” teachers.

But the essential problem with indirect action is well dramatized in the parable of the river:

Many Americans and most education reformers have decided that addressing directly root causes is too hard, or impossible, a fatalistic view of the world that Paulo Freire cautions against: “I have always rejected fatalism. I prefer rebelliousness because it affirms my status as a person who has never given in to the manipulations and strategies designed to reduce the human person to nothing.”

Targeted in-school reform only, addressing inequity indirectly—these approaches “reduce the human person to nothing.”

Education reform is constantly scrambling to pull babies form the river but will not dedicate any resources to stop those babies form being thrown in that river.

For two decades now, every time I call for addressing inequity directly, I am characterized as calling for doing nothing about the consequences; those who have embraced fatalism project that onto me and my work.

This is a false dichotomy.

The in-school only reformers have made their decision to focus only on indirect action.

I have argued and detailed carefully that we are morally obligated to do both: Reform social inequity and reform education by focusing on equity not accountability.

It is no accident that the students we pretend to be reforming education to serve are the vulnerable and marginalized children and teens who are the victims of the very inequity we refuse to address, and increasingly refuse to even acknowledge.

Black students, poor students, special needs students, and multi-language learners are all viewed through deficit lenses that emphasize all that they lack while arguing that students who excel are hard working, gifted, and bright.

Disadvantage and privilege are ignored, and again, increasingly discounted.

The rich and complex MLK, his commitment to eradicating inequity by direct action, is both the answer America needs and the solution America refuses to see.

Occasionally we are acknowledging that we have broken people in our society and our schools; yet, we continue to dishonor MLK by refusing to see what forces are breaking these people and children in the first place.


See Also

Does the “Science of Reading” Fulfill Social Justice, Equity Goals in Education? (pt. 1)

[NOTE: See part 2 HERE]

Two things are important to consider.

First, simply stating something (or posting on Twitter) doesn’t make it true.

And, second, good intentions are not enough—especially in education.

Before considering whether or not the “science of reading” movement is fulfilling social justice and equity goals in education, let’s acknowledge how two relatively recent movements in education help inform a credible answer to that question.

For many years now, educators have been embracing both grit and growth mindset uncritically, promoting these concepts and practices as both scientific and especially necessary for marginalized and vulnerable populations of student (Black students, poor students, multi-language learners, and special needs students). [See HERE and HERE for research and examinations of grit and growth mindset.]

However, two important aspects of these movements must be considered: the science and research base is increasingly challenging the initial claims of both grit and growth mindset, and the appeal of both are grounded in deficit ideologies that are essentially racist and classist.

Grit and growth mindset prove to be cautionary tales, in fact, because education is often victim of faddism that spreads before the full science is understood and that is embraced without critical analysis of how well the concepts and practices actually accomplish what advocates claim.

Grit and growth mindset speak to a cultural belief that struggling students (disproportionately minoritized racial groups, speakers of languages other than English, impoverished students, and special needs students) lacks experiences and qualities existing in students who excel (disproportionately students who are white and affluent).

These beliefs are a subset of the rugged individualism mythology of the U.S. that needs success and failure to be centered in who people are and whether or not people work hard, even in the face of substantial challenges not of their making (and even when we are dealing with children).

This is why faddism in education is often driven by sloganism also—“no excuses” charter schools thrived even as they harmed the vulnerable and marginalized populations that they were disproportionately marketed to.

That belief system either carelessly ignores or brazenly rejects the power of systemic forces such as racism and classism.

Again, the science is gradually catching up with these claims and proving them to be false: A Reckoning for the Inexcusable?: “No Excuses” and the Collapse of Misguided Educational Reform.

Over the past few years, the “science of reading” movement has ridden a similar wave of claiming “scientific” paired with advocates associating the movement with social justice and equity goals. As a result, the “science of reading” movement is still in the uncritical phase of fadism.

What complicates this dynamic is that we have a century of evidence that the students who struggle the most as learners and as readers are the very vulnerable and marginalized groups that these fads’ advocates target, and justifiably so.

This brings us to the opening points: Saying the “science of reading” movement is a social justice and equity movement doesn’t make it true, and those very real and justifiable good intentions simply are not enough to ignore that the “science of reading” movement, in fact, is harming the students who need reading reform the most (see, for example, HERE).

Over the course of a 65-year career, educator Lou LaBrant lived and worked through multiple back-to-basic movements, lamenting those cycles in her memoir.

In the U.S., we seem fatally attracted to viewing children and students in the most harsh and deficit perspectives, determined to prove that those who succeed and those who fail somehow deserve those outcomes.

The “no excuses” movement has been one of the worst examples of demanding that children/students and their teachers somehow ignore the realities of their lives when they enter schools and just suck it up and learn.

Like grit and growth mindset, the “science of reading” is a reductive and deficit belief system that diagnoses students struggling to read as lacking structure and basics (the exact same claim that has been made without success for a century, LaBrant lived and documented).

The result is reading policy that promotes scripted curriculum that erases teacher autonomy and student individual needs and then reduces reading in the early grades to pronouncing nonsense words.

The social justice and equity reckoning hasn’t quite taken hold yet with the “science of reading,” as it has with grit and growth mindset, and the “science of reading” movement has successfully deflected that the practices and policies actually are not supported by science (see HERE).

But the evidence is starting to build as critics have warned.

First, the education miracle machine is being unmasked. Florida, for example, represents how political marketing can use early test-based achievement mirages to mask that the entire system still fails to meet the needs of all students (see also Mississippi where celebrating 2019 NAEP grade 4 reading scores masked their persistent achievement gap and struggling students at later grades).

And, reading programs marketed as meeting the “science of reading” mandate are being exposed as failing to meet social justice and equity goals.

Consider for example two reading programs heavily marketed as “science of reading” endorsed: Wonders and HMH Into Reading [1].

An analysis from NYU of three programs, including these two, found the following:

1. All three curricula were Culturally Destructive or Culturally Insufficient.

2. All three curricula used superficial visual representations to signify diversity, especially skin tone and bodily presentation, without including meaningful cultural context, practices or traditions.

3. All three curricula were dominated by one-sided storytelling that provided a single, ahistorical narrative. 

4. All three curricula used language, tone and syntax that demeaned and dehumanized Black, Indigenous and characters of color, while encouraging empathy and connection with White characters.

5. All three curricula provided little to no guidance for teachers on engaging students’ prior knowledge, backgrounds and cultures; or reflecting on their own bias, beliefs and experiences.

We found that these three curricula, which collectively reach millions of students across the country, have deficits that are mostly not being raised in the current public debate about curriculum. Their texts, language, tone and guidance communicate harmful messages to students of all backgrounds, especially Black, Indigenous, students of color, LGBTQIA+ students, and students with disabilities. 

Lessons in (In)Equity: An Evaluation of Cultural Responsiveness in Elementary ELA Curriculum

The “science of reading” movement is often championed for legitimate concerns about learning and students and by people with good intentions. But that movement is also another example of faddism and marketing boondoggles at the expense of the vulnerable and marginalized students who need and deserve a reckoning for reductive mythologies and deficit ideologies.

Ultimately, the “science of reading” movement is not fulfilling social justice and equity goals in education, and like grit and growth mindset, the reckoning is one the horizon, but our students and teachers deserve better and now.


Recommended

Poverty and the ideological imperative: a call to unhook from
deficit and grit ideology and to strive for structural ideology
in teacher education
, Paul C. Gorski

Grit and Growth Mindset: Deficit Thinking? Rick Wormeli

[1] See A Private Equity Firm, The Makers of the MAP Test, and an Ed Tech Publisher Join Forces, Steven Singer

Announcing: Fall 2022 through Winter 2023 Schedule

During my first 18 years as an educator, I was a high school English teacher in rural South Carolina, my hometown in fact. I never imagined doing anything else, but I did attain my doctorate in 1998, still planning to be Dr. Thomas, high school teacher, for my entire career.

It is 2022, and I just completed 20 years in higher education, where I am a full professor in education and (fortunately) also teach first-year and upper-level writing. This fall I am taking my first ever sabbatical.

However, if anything, my scholarly schedule is more packed than at any time in my career. If you are interested in my work, I invite you to join me at the following presentations/keynotes and/or look for my upcoming publications.

Fall 2022 through Winter 2023 Schedule

Publications

How to End the Reading War and Serve the Literacy Needs of All Students (2nd Ed)(2nd Edition) – IAP – [first edition]


Thomas, P.L. (2022). The Science of Reading movement: The never-ending debate and the need for a different approach to reading instruction. Boulder, CO: National Education Policy Center. Retrieved [date] from http://nepc.colorado.edu/publication/science-of-reading


A Critical Examination of Grade Retention as Reading Policy (white paper)

P.L. Thomas, Education, Furman University (Greenville, SC)

Prepared for the Ohio Education Association in response to Ohio’s “Third Grade Reading Guarantee”

September 15, 2022

[Download as PDF and supporting PP]


Presentations/Keynotes, Podcasts, Webinars

UPDATE (Supplement for Presentations below)

Update: Science of Reading Movement (PP) 2 February 2023

2022

Great Lakes Center for Education Research & Practice

September 28, 2022

Webinar

Science of Reading Policy Brief (NEPC)


Pioneer Valley Books

October 20, 2022 – 4:00 – 5:00 pm

Webinar (view online)

PowerPoint HERE

Unpacking Reading Science to Inform a Different Path to Literacy 

The “Science of Reading” movement that began in 2018 has gained momentum and has had outsized influence on state reading policy and classroom practice. However, the SoR movement presents two negative impacts on long-term literacy education—a commitment to the “simple view” of reading (SVR) and mandates for phonics-first instruction for all beginning readers. In this webinar, Paul Thomas, Ed.D. (Professor of Education, Furman University, and author of How to End the Reading War and Serve the Literacy Needs of All Students) places the SoR movement in the context of the robust but complex current state of reading science. Come join us on October 20, 2022, at 4 p.m. as we explore what’s next in literacy education.


Ohio Education Association

Education Matters podcast; grade retention

November 10, 2022


University of Arkansas

October 24 at 6:30

The Jones Center for Families

Serving the Literacy Needs of All Students: While Resisting Another Reading War


30th annual Reading Recovery Council of Michigan Institute, Thursday, November 17, 2022, Somerset Inn, Troy, Michigan

Keynote

The “Science of Reading” Multiverse (click for PP)

Before anyone can, or should, answer “Do you support/reject the ‘science of reading’?” we must first clarify exactly what the term means. I detail the three ways the phrase currently exists since it entered mainstream media during 2018. “Science of reading” as discourse, as marketing, and as a research base.

Break-out Session

How to Navigate Social Media (and RL) Debates about the “Science of Reading” (click for PP)

Let me start with a caveat: Don’t debate “science of reading” advocates on social media. However, if you enter into a social media or real-life debate, you must keep your focus on informing others who may read or hear that debate, and be prepared with credible and compelling evidence.


NCTE 2022, November 17 – 20, 2022, Anaheim, CA 

Friday November 18, 2022

Event Title: Banned in the USA: Lighting a Fire for Reading and Not to Books (click for PP)

Cowards, Censorship, and Collateral Damage: The Other Reading War (click for PP)

Type: Roundtable Sessions

Time: 12:30 PM PST – 1:45 PM PST

Location: 264-BC


Consulting: Charleston County School District

Reading programs, “science of reading,” and potential PD for faculty and administrators

November 21, 2022


Schoolutions podcast

December 20, 2022


2023

2023 Comprehensive Literacy and Reading Recovery Conference, Chicago, IL, January 18-20, 2023 

Keynote – 8:00 – 9:00 CT January 20, 2023

Teaching Literacy in a Time of Science of Reading and Censorship

The key elements of the science of reading (SOR) movement as well as the current move the ban books and censor curriculum are outlined against historical and research-based contexts. The unique challenges facing literacy educators iden/fied with considera/on of how literacy teachers can maintain professional autonomy in the classroom and prac/ce ac/vism in pursuit of a more nuanced understanding of “science” and research as well as in support of academic freedom.

90-minute breakout sessions

Academic Freedom Isn’t Free: Teachers as Activists – 9:15 – 10:45 CT January 20, 2023

The US is experiencing one of the most significant waves of book bans and educational gag orders impacting academic freedom, access to diverse voices and history, and the safety of teachers and students. Teachers are historically required to be apolitical and avoid advocacy in and out of the classroom. This session examines the politics of calling for no politics among educators, and explore with participants both the need to advocate for their professional autonomy and academic freedom as well as for academic freedom.

Unpacking the “Science” in the Science of Reading for a Different Approach to Policy and Practice – 11:30 – 1:00 CT January 20, 2023

The science of reading (SOR) movement and the use of the “science of reading” in marketing literacy programs have had a significant impact on reading policy and practice across the US since 2018. Policy and practice related to dyslexia, adopting reading programs, teaching reading (and the role of phonics instruction), however, have too often been guided by a misleading and overly simplistic version of SOR portrayed in the media and advocated by parents and politicians. This session examines the contradictions between claims made by SOR advocates and the current research base.


LitCon 2023, January 28 – 31, Columbus, OH

Rethinking Reading Policy in the Science of Reading Era

Sunday, January 29, 2023, 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm ET

Monday, January 30, 2023, 4:00 pm – 5:00 pm ET

Since 2018, states have been revising or adopting new reading legislation prompted by the science of reading movement. Placed in the context of several reading crises over the last 100 years, however, this movement is deja vu all over again, destined to fail and be replaced by another reading crisis in the near future. This session explains why and offers a new approach to reading policy at the state, district, and school levels.

Book signing: How to End the Reading War and Serve the Literacy Needs of All Students (2nd Ed)

Monday, January 30, from 8:00 – 8:30 am


WSRA 2023 Conference, Milwaukee, WI, February 9-11, 2023 

PROGRAM

Thursday, February 9, 11:15-12:30 B01

Creating Worlds of Possibility: Closing Our Opportunity Gaps Through Recognizing the Sciences of Literacy and Learning

Expert Panel Discussion with Dr. Annalee Good, Dr. Lara Handsfield, Dr. Carol Lee, Dr. Paul Thomas, Dr. Don Vu

Thursday, February 9, 2:00-3:15 C08

Banning Books Is Un-American

The U.S. is experiencing a wave of book censorship and educational gag orders. This session examines the historical context of censorship as it impacts the teaching of literacy and literature by focusing on writer Kurt Vonnegut’s response to censors. The session will include powerful policy and position statements supporting the rights of teachers to teach and students to learn, including The Students’ Right to Read (NCTE), Freedom to Teach: Statement against Banning Books (NCTE), and Educators’ Right and Responsibilities to Engage in Antiracist Teaching (NCTE). Participants will have an opportunity to discuss and explore how and why educators must and can seek ways to defend academic freedom and thew right to teach and learn.

Friday, February 10, 9:45-11:00 A10

The “Science of Reading” Multiverse

Since early 2018, the phrase “science of reading” has entered and often dominated media, public/parental, and political discourse around the teaching and learning of reading in the U.S. Before anyone can, or should, answer “Do you support/reject the ‘science of reading’?” we must first clarify exactly what the term means; therefore, in this session, then, I want to detail the three ways the phrase currently exists since it entered mainstream use in the media during 2018. The session will cover the research base around the SoR movement for context. Participants will be invited to discuss their experiences with these three versions as well.


PSLA Conference 2023, February 23-25, 2023

Marriott Hilton Head Resort and Spa, Hilton Head Island, South Carolina

Friday, February 24, 2023, 8:00 – 9:00

Invited Speaker: Rethinking Reading Science: Beyond the Simple View of Reading, Paul Thomas

Focusing on reading science published since 2018 addressing reading, dyslexia, and phonics, this session details a complex but robust state of reading science. Media and think-tank messaging parents, political leaders, and the public are receiving about the “science of reading” are oversimplified, cherry-picked, and contradictory to that current state of reading science. Classroom teachers deserve the autonomy to interrogate reading science, understand the individual needs of all their students, and then the teaching and learning conditions to serve those students with evidence-based practice.

Saturday, February 25, 2023, 10:15 -11:15 

Panel: Carving a Path Forward: Equity, Neuroscience, Policy Mandates and Literacy Education 

The Politics of Teaching Reading, Paul Thomas

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:

Should South Carolina Ban Critical Race Theory and the 1619 Project?

[UPDATE: See published version here: MY TURN: Should South Carolina cancel Critical Race Theory?]

“In total, lawmakers in at least 15 states have introduced bills that seek to restrict how teachers can discuss racism, sexism, and other social issues,” reports Sarah Schwartz for Education Week.

South Carolina (H630) has joined Republicans across the U.S. challenging Critical Race Theory (CRT) and the 1619 Project.

The key problem with this copycat legislation is CRT isn’t implemented in K-12 education and the 1619 Project is not adopted curriculum.

CRT is rare in higher education, reserved for some graduate programs (specifically among legal scholars), but CRT provides a way to examine systemic racism, not simply the actions of individual racists.

For example, CRT is an academic process for trying to understand why police kill Black people disproportionately to white people. According to CRT, the killing of Tamir Rice is rooted in systemic racism (viewing Black boys as older than their biological age) that does not require the officer being consciously a racist individual.

Ultimately, legislation aimed at CRT or the 1619 Project is misleading, a threat to academic freedom and the education of students in SC. As Eesha Pendharker reports in Education Week: “[E]xperts say the laws ultimately will unravel years of administrators’ fitful efforts to improve educational opportunities and academic outcomes for America’s children of color, who today make up the majority of the nation’s student body.”

What, then, is occurring in SC K-12 education in terms of race and racism?

  • Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) training that covers implicit bias, systemic racism and racial privilege, and microaggressions. This training is now common for educators and students, but worth monitoring because DEI training is often not effective and can serve as superficial distractions allowing schools to avoid harder diversity work.
  • Diversifying faculty and the curriculum. Public school teachers are about 80% white, less diverse than society and the population of students in public schooling (increasingly Black and brown). Also, for many years, a greater representation of Black and brown voices and history have been included in what students are taught (typically in English/ELA and history/social studies). Diversifying the curriculum has prompted controversial legislation by Republicans, however.
  • Implementing culturally relevant teaching. The work of Gloria Ladson-Billings has gained momentum in K-12 education. Culturally relevant teaching, as she defines it, is “a threefold approach to ensuring that all children are successful. That approach requires a focus on students’ learning, an attempt to develop their cultural competence, and to increase their sociopolitical or critical consciousness.” This focus seeks to honor all children while acknowledging that differences remain among students by race, gender, culture, etc.
  • Adopting responsive discipline. Decades of research have revealed racially inequitable discipline in schools, popularly known as the school-to-prison pipeline. Many schools have begun to reconsider inequitable practices such as zero-tolerance policies and expulsion/suspension, for example.
  • Expanding educational access and improving educational quality for children of color. Black and brown students are under-represented in advanced programs (such as Advanced Placement and gifted programs), and often are taught by teachers with the least experience, who are under-/un-certified, and sit in classrooms with the highest student/teacher ratios. Public schools are not the “great equalizers” politicians claim, and often reflect and perpetuate inequity.

State legislation and the Superintendent of Education targeting CRT and the 1619 Project is political theater, a solution in search of a problem. Race and racism remain a significant part of life as well as education in SC. Republicans are poised to ruin the very good and needed, but incomplete, work identified above.

It is critical that teachers and students are free to examine the truth of our past and our present so that we can create the future we believe is possible.

There Can Be No Equity without Community and Empathy

[D]espite overwhelmingly good intentions, most of what passes for intercultural education practice, particularly in the US,
accentuates rather than undermines existing social and political hierarchies.

Paul Gorski, Good intentions are not enough: a decolonizing intercultural education

A split second of awareness kept me from stepping into my apartment’s elevator, the floor covered in vomit, recently.

I thought about this moment yesterday while standing in that same elevator filled with an unpleasant smell as I also noticed a new orange-brown stain on the floor.

A week or so ago, I was unloading two bicycles from my car rack, going up and down the elevator and walking through the enclosed garage of the complex a couple of times. I encountered twice a women with her small dog on a lease, and in both cases, she paused while the dog urinated on a steel beam in the garage.

It isn’t uncommon to see dog droppings scattered down the hallway carpet in this complex either.

Having lived almost four decades in my own homes before becoming an apartment dweller, these experiences are new but not shocking, and they remind me of the general lack of concern for others I experienced in dorm life in college. I also recognize these behaviors are typical of the American character, one grounded in rugged individualism and lacking any real sense of community.

It is the trash carelessly tossed out of car windows or dropped on the sidewalk.

It is the “I got mine so you get yours!” ethos of the good ol’ U.S. of A.

As I stepped out of the elevator yesterday, I was thinking about #TransDayofVisibility and about why people are so antagonistic about diverse sexualities and races, about gender fluidity and transexuality.

A type of awareness for me that helped move me past the bigotry and intolerance of my upbringing was coming to peace with my own self-awareness, being able to articulate that I did not make choices about my gender identification or sexuality but that I came to recognize my gender identification and sexuality.

To be blunt, I cannot fathom denying other people that recognition because I want my awareness to be honored. I also had to come to terms with differences being simply different and having nothing to do with right or wrong, or normal or abnormal.

What is “right” or “normal” for me is not in any way a template or commentary on anyone else, and vice versa.

While this may not be uniquely American, it is certainly true of Americans that we have a fatal lack of community and empathy.

And that “we” is statistically white Americans who exist in a sort of fear that if the “normal” white America has constructed isn’t the only way of being then maybe it isn’t “right.”

Rugged individualism is a significant part of the enduring presence of racism, sexism, homo-/trans-phobia, and all sorts of bigotry in the U.S.

But the negative consequences of rugged individualism are more than the narcissism inherent in racism and other types of bigotry (the provincialism that leads a person to see themselves as “right” and “normal” and people unlike them as “Other”).

What may be worse is that a society that centers the individual maintains inequity even when trying to expand diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) if the centering remains.

I have been involved in DEI initiatives at my university for many years, and since I actively incorporate anti-racism/anti-bias elements in my scholarly and public work, I find myself regularly confronting the misguided “good intentions” of my colleagues, my progressive white colleagues.

My first rude awakening about DEI in colleges and universities came early on when I discovered that my department and DEI structures across campus used the strongly debunked “framework of poverty” promoted by Ruby Payne.

Payne’s work is steeped in racist and classist stereotyping, and it suffers from the centering of whiteness and an idealized middle-class “normal.” When I challenged using Payne’s workbooks, I also encountered the other level of centering: “But it works,” I was told, “with our population of students.”

“Our population of students” happens to privileged and white.

Almost twenty years later, I faced the same situation and same justification again.

An event was held for students examining the storming of the U.S. Capitol in January 2021. The featured speaker was a former white nationalist. When I raised concerns about centering a former white nationalist, I heard the exact same justification I heard in my first weeks of coming to my university—but our (white) students.

What if we created opportunities for growth in DEI by centering those people experiencing the unfair weight of inequity? What if we considered a Black student sitting in the audience while a former white nationalist was given center stage and honored as an authority?

If we were organizing an event on sexual assault would we invite a former rapist to speak to that audience? If not, I imagine some of that decision is grounded in considering those people who have experienced sexual assault.

I included the central point from Gorski above this blog because I am disheartened by DEI efforts; I am witnessing Gorski’s recognition that “good intentions” often still perpetuate inequity by refusing to confront it, not resisting the urge to center whiteness and privilege.

While I no longer see Payne’s materials around campus, many still eagerly guide students through poverty simulations, poverty tours, and “pretend to be a minority” activities; these are all dehumanizing and offensive approaches that are grounded in stereotyping while continuing to center the sensibilities of the “normalized” group.

No one needs to pretend to be poor or minoritized is they are willing and eager to listen to people with lived experiences in poverty or being a minority.

Days ago I avoided stepping into that elevator because I was looking beyond myself instead of assuming the world was centered on me.

That elevator would have been clean and safe to enter, however, if everyone else lived with a sense of community and empathy.

The Crumbling Facade of “No Excuses” and Educational Racism

Sarah Karp offers a long overdue and somewhat surprising opening lede for WBEZ Chicago, home to a number of charter school chains:

Chicago’s largest charter school network sent a letter to alumni this week admitting that its past discipline and promotion policies were racist and apologizing for them. The apology is notable not just as an acknowledgment of misguided policies, but as a repudiation of the “no-excuses” philosophy adopted by many charter schools during the 2000s.

Top Chicago Charter School Network Admits A Racist Past

“No excuses” ideologies and practices have been a foundational staple of charter schools disproportionately serving Black students, Hispanic students, and poor students well back into the 1990s but blossoming in the 2000s since both political parties jumped on the charter school bandwagon. By the late 2000s, mainstream media and the Obama administration were all-in on charter schools as “miracles.”

There were always two problems with the charter school mania and propaganda—data never supported the “miracle” claims (see my “Miracle School Myth” chapter), and worse of all, “no excuses” ideology has always been racist, shifting the blame and gaze onto students and teachers in order to ignore systemic inequity and racism.

“No excuses” schools always began with the assumption that Black, Hispanic, and poor students are fundamentally “broken” and must be “fixed”—an ugly and racist version of deficit thinking.

Almost a decade ago, I spoke at the University of Arkansas after the publication of my book on poverty and education; in that work and talk, I directly challenged “no excuses” ideologies and charter chains as harmful and, yes, racist.

In the wake of that talk, I was discounted and mis-characterized in Education Next, along with an equally unfair swipe at another KIPP critic, Jim Horn: “critics fear that disadvantaged parents do not know enough to choose wisely, or else do not have their children’s best interest at heart.”

Neither Horn nor I hold those views, and our criticisms were firmly and clearly grounded in arguing that “no excuses” is essentially racist and classist.

As I have documented, when I contacted the article authors about the false narrative they created around Horn and me, Maranto both admitted the framing was unfair and claimed the article would be updated; it never was.

The Noble charter chain mea culpa is likely too little, too late, but it is a serious crack in the facade perpetuated by “no excuses” advocates over the last two decades, included so-called “scholars” at the Department of Educational Reform (University of Arkansas) where Maranto works.

Many years ago, in fact, after dozens of blog posts and talks, I co-edited a volume refuting “no excuses” and proposing social context reform instead.

Jim Horn has an excellent volume confronting and dismantling the many problems with KIPP charter schools, Work Hard, Be Hard: Journeys Through “No Excuses” Teaching.

Our work, along with many other scholars and educators committed to equity and anti-racism, has been ignored and often directly attacked, primarily because we dare to name racism as “racism.”

While I am not suggesting that Noble’s confession trumps our scholarship and work that has spanned multiple decades, I do want anyone concerned about education, education reform, and educational equity to step away from assumptions and see clearly how harmful “no excuses” ideologies and practices have been for students and their teachers.

“No excuses” ultimately fails for many reasons—being trapped in “blame the victim” approaches that normalize an unspoken white and affluent standard against which marginalized populations of students are judged, and harmed.

“No excuses” has been compelling because in the U.S. we are prone to seeing all problems as individual and not systemic. But it has also been compelling because education reform has always been tragically drawn to silver-bullet solutions and the shiny mirages seen as “miracles.”

Let me stress here that currently “no excuses” has quite a number of equally racist and flawed practices entrenched all across K-12 schooling: “grit,” growth mindset, word gap, Teach for America, grade retention, and the poverty workshops of Ruby Payne.

K-12 education in the U.S. is mostly a reflection of the communities schools serve; our schools tend to house and perpetuate our social inequities, but schools do very little to overcome racism, sexism, classism, etc.

Education reform has for nearly four decades refused to acknowledge systemic inequity, choosing instead to punish students, teachers, and schools. The many policies and fads of education reform over those decades have been themselves racist and classist, ultimately doing more harm than good to students, teachers, and education.

Karp includes an important realization by Jennifer Reid Davis, chief equity officer for Noble:

“It’s important to own it,” she said. “I think you have to say it, I think you have to be honest. Part of what it truly means to be anti-racist is to be honest about the circumstances in which you are in and or created.”

Top Chicago Charter School Network Admits A Racist Past

The list is quite long still of those who need “to own it” and allow confronting racism to be the first step to ending racism in our schools and our society.

The Lower Realities of Higher Education

I posted a fairly tame Tweet about the Wall Street Journal‘s recent Op-Ed attacking Jill Biden using “Dr.” and editorial doubling-down on negative responses to the Op-Ed (none of which I will link here):

The Tweet attracted conservatives with ten’s of followers, most of them misreading the Tweet and many of them attacking me for being an academic/professor (the typical snarky references to Marx, etc.) as well as being in the field of education (my university affiliation and doctorate, an EdD, are part of my Twitter bio and handle—although several Twits thought they were outing me in some way for these public facts).

While I am enormously privileged, I share with Jill Biden the paradox of holding a doctorate in an often marginalized field, education; when I attained my EdD in the mid-1990s, it was still a much lesser degree than a PhD—and remains well down the hierarchy of academic credentials since education is often discounted as a pre-professional field.

Over 37 years as an educators, I spent the first 18 as a public high school English teacher. K-12 teachers are disproportionately women, and being a K-12 teacher is a profession rarely recognized as such—mostly, I contend, because it is perceived as mere women’s work.

Like babysitting.

Now in the middle of my nineteenth year as a professor, having moved through the ranks to full professor and received tenure, I am part of a male-dominated field (especially at the higher ranks) that often warrants far more prestige than K-12 teachers but also receives a fair amount of public shaming and ridicule (notably from conservatives, as my Twitter experience illustrates).

That ridicule is based in large part on cartoonish stereotypes of the Ivory Tower (academic knowledge not being realistic or practical) and a mischaracterization of professors as radical Leftists.

What popular and conservative attacks of higher education often miss is that academia is incredibly traditional, especially in terms of policies and practices that are sexist, racist, classist, and (often) petty.

Higher education, like K-12 education, more often reflects society—the good, the bad, and the ugly—than not.

The Jill Biden debate prompted by the conservative WSJ is an opportunity to confront the gendered inequity of academia that is replicated in the racism, classism, and other inequities that permeate disciplinary hierarchies, the tenure and promotion process (along with faculty evaluation such as student evaluations of teaching [SET]), and numerous unspoken norms.

That higher education fails to be the Ivory Tower of equity is not the only paradox of academia. Many would assume, for example, that academics practice research-based policies and procedures, but one of the greatest inequities of being a professor is the use of SETs for annual evaluations and the tenure/promotion process (see here).

From 2019, Kristen Doerer reported:

“Having a female instructor is correlated with higher student achievement,” Wu said, but female instructors received systematically lower course evaluations. In looking at prerequisite courses, the two researchers found a negative correlation between students’ evaluations and learning. “If you took the prerequisite class from a professor with high student teaching evaluations,” Harbaugh said, “you were likely, everything else equal, to do worse in the second class.”…

Studies since the 1980s have found gender bias in student evaluations and, since the early 2000s, have found racial bias as well. A 2016 study of data from the United States and France found that students’ teaching evaluations “measure students’ gender biases better than they measure the instructor’s teaching effectiveness,” and that more-effective instructors got lower ratings than others did….

Despite the data, at many colleges, particularly research-based institutions, student evaluations are still the main measure, if not the only one, of teaching effectiveness in promotion-and-tenure decisions.

Just as the WSJ editorial staff doubled down on a grossly incompetent and even laughably weak Op-Ed by a classic mediocre white man, academia repeatedly doubles down on SETs, arguing that colleges must have something to evaluate teaching and casually flaunting the research base.

But even the college classroom remains inequitable for women; Lee and McCabe have found that gender inequity in the college classroom hasn’t improved over the past 40 years, as they observed:

Men students are more likely to take the floor to talk while women students are more likely to wait for their turns. Across all nine courses observed, men students talk 1.6 times as often as women. In addition, men are also more likely to speak out without raising their hands, interrupt other speakers in the classroom, and engage in prolonged conversations with the professor during class….

Despite great gains in women’s access to and achievements in higher education, contemporary college classrooms seem to have remained “chilly.” Our observations suggest that men students continue to occupy advantaged positions while women students are largely hesitant to take up space in classrooms. These differences occur regardless of students’ or professors’ awareness of these inequalities. 

A key point here is that women for many years have surpassed men in attending and achieving success in higher education. And the nonsensical WSJ Op-Ed seems to reflect anther disturbing finding about gender and higher education by Levanon, England, and Allison:

Occupations with a greater share of females pay less than those with a lower share, controlling for education and skill. This association is explained by two dominant views: devaluation and queuing. The former views the pay offered in an occupation to affect its female proportion, due to employers’ preference for men—a gendered labor queue. The latter argues that the proportion of females in an occupation affects pay, owing to devaluation of work done by women. Only a few past studies used longitudinal data, which is needed to test the theories. We use fixed-effects models, thus controlling for stable characteristics of occupations, and U.S. Census data from 1950 through 2000. We find substantial evidence for the devaluation view, but only scant evidence for the queuing view.

As women surpass men in doctorates, the prestige of that credential has diminished.

Once again, however, we need only to listen to women themselves, of course, to recognize the lower realities of higher education that have nothing to do with cancel culture, Marxism/socialism, or diversity/equity/inclusion initiatives.

Those lower realities are mostly good old American sexism.

“Contrary to what one might have expected,” Allison Miller explains while unpacking the Jill Biden controversy, “I have found that the further away from higher education I’ve gotten, the more respect for my degree colleagues have shown.”

Miller continues:

Where I have encountered most disrespect for my doctorate is actually from academics. It’s not just that all Ph.D.s are not created equal — some schools still dominate hiring and will continue to do so as the academic-job market shrinks….

[T]he fetishization of hazing hasn’t disappeared from inside academe….

Once you have a Ph.D. … you learn the lessons of academic hierarchy all over again. What’s called “collegiality” is actually deference, a willingness to get along by going along, to put up with corridor microaggressions, to smile through Professor X’s department-meeting BS — but like a whack-a-mole, there’s always another Professor X. The rules of deference are unwritten because most of them would probably be illegal. “Wait until you get tenure” is not in the faculty handbook….

The demands for deference speak to gatekeeping and a general clubbiness that is hard to penetrate without a background that includes close proximity to upper-middle-class white people. 

Three key points must be acknowledged here in order to recognize the lower realities of higher education: “hazing,” “gatekeeping,” and “clubbiness” all confront that higher education is a highly insular and sexist system that, like most formal organizations, is more concerned with conserving its structure than changing for the good of all.

Higher education is often a good ol’ boys club with more credentialing and a more arcane vocabulary.

Attaining a doctorate—PhD or EdD (JD or MD)—is a relatively rare achievement, but those credentials do not guarantee that people are better humans after they earn the opportunity to be called “Dr.”

Dr. X and Dr. Y are no less likely to be selfish and arrogant, and we have no guarantee that anyone in any field, academic or medical, wasn’t last in their class—or isn’t a charlatan, a hack.

But when medical doctors gained the label of “Dr.” (after academics) and when academic doctors were mostly men, society rarely balked at the possibility that “Dr.” didn’t make any of those guarantees.

If anyone is ready for a reckoning in the U.S. (and I doubt many are), we would be better served to question the outsized role of mediocre white men, like the recent scribe of a WSJ Op-Ed, both inside and outside the academy.

In the mean time, it’s Dr. Jill Biden who will be the next FLOTUS, and along with Kamal Harris being the vice president, there is much to celebrate about women and simply no room for adolescent Op-Eds in the WSJ that can’t rise above Ayn Rand basement level pseudo-thinking.

Equity Politics: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness

I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own. And I am not free s long as one person of Color remains chained. Nor is any of you.

“The Uses of Anger,” Audre Lorde

The U.S. has elected Joe Biden president, ending the presidency of Donald Trump.

This is a return to the standard failure of the democratic process in a country that is primarily committed to the free market, rugged individualism, and guns.

Biden is the normal but truly awful presidential candidate, replacing the uniquely horrible election of Trump.

As many people have noted, changing presidents typically means only small differences in the daily lives of people. Those with some affluence and privilege continue to have really good lives, lives that allow them to focus on trivial matters that seem huge because of that affluence or privilege.

People in poverty, working class people, and the many different categories of people living in what we have euphemized as “diverse” identities, however, will mostly continue to live barely in the margins of the American dream—even when these people also attain some level of wealth or privilege in their accomplishments.

The American democracy is a failed and failing experiment because it has allowed inequity to flourish, and those living with the most privilege, white Americans, refuse still even to acknowledge that inequity because they are so enamored with their own pettiness and convinced that they too face disenfranchisement and disadvantage.

It is the “war on Christmas” rhetoric that arrives every holiday season by people who benefit from being in a majority and Christian-centric nation; there is no rational basis for such nonsense, but white America is still a majority of delusion, clinging to the one thing they will not relinquish—their white privilege.

Having never been a Republican or Democrat, and having never drunk the Kool Aid of idealism about the founding of the U.S. or the American Dream, I have always none the less found one possibility of the U.S. not only beautiful but also worth believing in—life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

There is a poetic brilliance to that phrase that genuinely can and should be a map for the country the U.S. could become.

Even as I acknowledge Biden is a horrible candidate, I have found that his willingness to admit the U.S. has not yet reached our ideals and his charge to be the president for all Americans and not just those who elected him to be some of the better political rhetoric we can hear.

Those of us, especially those of us on the authentic Left, who embrace the possibility of human equity guaranteed by and for a free people have no real political party for our allegiance, but I do think we can use this moment in history to commit to a politics of equity built around the ideals of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

A first step to making equity a reality in the U.S. is an education campaign, one specifically targeting the demonizing and fear-mongering around “socialism.”

First, there must be an honest distinction made between regimes that are identified as socialism or communism—regimes rules by dictators or de facto dictators—and democratic socialism.

Fear-mongering around the former U.S.S.R., China, and Castro’s Cuba is purposefully distracting the voting public from democracies that embrace first publicly funded and democratically chosen institutions that make the free market and personal freedom possible in equitable ways for all citizens.

Pure socialism and communism would mean the end of private business and private property, and frankly, I see no avenue to that sort of shift under either Republicans or Democrats. I also see no Leftist movement in the U.S. that calls for rule by a dictator; only the Trump movement and his followers (all occurring on the Right, not the Left) appear eager for a dictator.

The sort of totalitarian “socialism” that the Right is using to fear-monger voters would be equally rejected by the Left, including the seemingly growing belief among young Americans that democratic socialism is preferable to the Social Darwinism of the unfettered free market in the U.S.

“Socialism” as a concept, then, is quite different than how that term has been folded into dishonest political rhetoric or even claimed improperly (or misleadingly) by political movements more concerned about totalitarian control.

I do support democratic socialism; I also embrace the idea that a robust publicly funded network of institutions must be established in order for the free market and individual freedom to be equitable and accessible to all people regardless of their identity or status.

I am essential public institutions first, and then free market and individual liberty.

And thus, equity politics must be policy first, and not partisan politics first.

Life?

Universal healthcare.

Women’s reproductive rights.

De-militarizing and reforming policing and the judicial system.

Liberty?

Fully publicly funded K-16 education (student loan debt relief).

De-criminalizing, legalizing marijuana (releasing prisoners trapped in the war on drugs).

Removing the Electoral College and reforming representation across the U.S. that is equitable for rural and urban Americans.

Expanding access to voting and guaranteeing all Americans can vote without threat.

The pursuit of happiness?

Full rights to LGBTQ+ Americans.

De-coupling healthcare and retirement from employment.

Increasing the minimum wage and reducing the work week as well as expanding guaranteed paid vacation and family leave policies.

I cast a (worthless) vote for Biden/Harris in South Carolina (a self-defeating conservative state) as a symbolic gesture to end the reign of Trump. There is little hope in the Democratic Party, but the Republican Party is aggressively against all of the policies above that would move the U.S. closer to the ideal of human equity for all.

If the Senate remains in Republican hands, there will be little Democrats can do to move the moral arc toward equity.

But unless we have the political will as a people to form a new and stronger party built on principles of equity, we have only one option, transforming the Democratic Party into a genuine movement for change that serves all people.

And this cannot be achieved by compromising with Trump Republicans who do not value equity, human agency, or human dignity (except for themselves and those who look like them).

Biden as a person and a politician is only marginally preferable to Trump; this election should be seen as a mandate rejecting Trump, but it cannot be seen as an endorsement of returning to the normal that allowed the killing of George Floyd and Breanna Taylor.

White men and women in a majority and over 70,000,000 Americans voted for Trump, angrily and with a middle finger voted against equity for all because they belong to the cult of individuality and wealth that Trump represents.

This is a disturbing cancer on the American way of life; this is why the American Dream remains a nightmare for many and a fantasy for most.

Equity politics is a moral imperative, one driven by this proclamation by one of the most famous socialists in U.S. history, Eugene V. Debs:

Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.

Without equity for all, there is equity for none.

Without the American Dream for all, there is no dream for anyone.

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness must be extended to each and every American or we are failing our charge as humans.