Category Archives: Media

Media “Distorts” Coverage of the “Science of Reading”: A Reader

In the first of a series of posts, Maren Aukerman, The University of Calgary, details the dominant media “narrative [that] distorts the picture [of reading] to the point that readers are easily left with a highly inaccurate understanding of the so-called ‘science of reading.'”

As literacy scholars and teachers have noted since the beginning of media coverage of the “science of reading,” Aukerman explains how the coverage often misinforms through oversimplification and switching between claims of “research” and simple anecdotes:

I examine how well-intentioned journalism about the “science of reading” is frequently biased and inadequately research-based, ultimately making the case that such reporting has damaging consequences for the teaching of early reading.

The Science of Reading and the Media: Is Reporting Biased?

Mainstream media, in fact, remain selective in what and how they report on education and reading; for example, the daily email from the New York Times sends a different message about reading than their articles on the “science of reading” (notably by Goldstein and Hanford):

More recently, the national test results capture both the initial academic declines and any recovery, and they offer some nuance. While there was a notable correlation between remote learning and declines in fourth-grade math, for example, there was little to no correlation in reading. Why the discrepancy? One explanation is that reading skills tend to be more influenced by parents and what happens at home [emphasis added], whereas math is more directly affected by what is taught in school.

So remote learning does not explain the whole story. What else does? In a sophisticated analysis of thousands of public school districts in 29 states, researchers at Harvard and Stanford Universities found that poverty played an even bigger role in academic declines during the pandemic [emphasis added].

“The poverty rate is very predictive of how much you lost,” Sean Reardon, an education professor at Stanford who helped lead the analysis, told me.

NYT “Behind the declines” daily email (28 November 2022)

Below, then, are sources from scholarly and public publications/posts examining the patterns and bias identified by Aukerman:

See additional resources for examining media coverage, misinformation, and bias:

‘Sold a Story’ Continues “Science of Reading” Misinformation Campaign: A Reader

The debate about teaching students to read has a long history of misinformation.

In early and mid-twentieth century, pro-phonics advocates misrepresented and attacked John Dewey and progressivism (neither of which had much real influence in public education).

By the late twentieth century, whole language became the target of misinformation and attacks (although NAEP data in the 1990s showed a strong correlation between whole language approaches and higher student scores on reading [1]).

During the NCLB/NRP era of the turn of the century, attacks and misinformation focused on balanced literacy.

The current reading war driven by the “science of reading” movement is also mired in emotional anecdotes, personal attacks, and a steady diet of mainstream media misinformation.

As Hoffman, Hikida, and Sailors have documented [2], Emily Hanford at APM and mainstream media such as Education Week are following the same “big lie” approach to covering reading and education repeated throughout the last 80 years:

Hanford critiqued approaches named balance literacy and whole language without citing any evidence around those claims. She continued with anecdotes on how a focus on the SOR has improved student performance, but there is not a single citation of evidence in support of this claim. … Stirring public opinion further, Education Week has taken up critiques on literacy teacher preparation with numerous articles and blogs related to the SOR, with implications for reform in teacher preparation. The bulk of these articles and reports have been negative toward current practices and have drawn on the work of Moates and the NCTQ.

It is clear that the repeated critiques of literacy teacher preparation expressed by the SOR community do not employ the same standards for scientific research that they claimed as the basis for their critiques.

Hoffman, J.V., Hikida, M., & Sailors, M. (2020). Contesting science that silences: Amplifying equity, agency, and design research in literacy teacher preparation. Reading Research Quarterly, 55(S1), S255-S266.

I have documented the same careless journalism—calling for the “science of reading” and then switching to anecdotes, misinformation, and unsupported claims—as Hanford recycles her original articles into an overreaction to Mississippi’s 2019 NAEP scores.

The newest recycling of Hanford’s misinformation is a podcast, Sold a Story, which itself is selling a false story, a “big lie.”

Boosted by overzealous and often angry and hateful advocates of SOR and dyslexia, the misinformation is mostly allowed and excused in an “ends justify the means” environment around the SOR movement.

That many SOR advocates continue to use anecdote while calling for “science,” that many SOR advocates are comfortable misrepresenting practices, scholars, and programs—this erodes their credibility even as many if not most people in the literacy community agree that students should be better served in their literacy education and that teachers should be better prepared and better supported as professionals.

Simply put, the ends do not justify the means, especially when SOR advocates means are creating ends that are in fact harmful.

To be clear, identifying misinformation is not endorsing the people and programs being attacked and misrepresented. I am a strong critic of both reading programs [3] and teacher education [4].

But that someone or something deserves criticism does not justify emotional attacks, hateful rhetoric, or easily refuted misinformation.

Here, then, I am collecting evidence to correct the misinformation:

Don’t Buy SoR Propaganda APM Reports Is Selling

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

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

Marie Clay: A Personal Reflection on an Unparalleled Professional Career

Joint International Statement in Response to Hanford’s Sold a Story

Fact Check: Three Things Hanford Got Wrong about Dr. Marie Clay

Responding to Misinformation about Fountas and Pinnell Literacy

P. David Pearson speaks out about Hanford’s portrayal of Marie Clay: My take- Hanford has gotten things wrong (again). A blog entry by Dr. Sam Bommarito

Thomas, P.L. (2022). The Science of Reading movement: The never-ending debate and the need for a different approach to reading instructionBoulder, CO: National Education Policy Center.

UPDATE: OPINION: A call for rejecting the newest reading wars

[1] See the chart on page 12: Doing What Matters Most: Investing in Quality Teaching, Linda Darling Hammond (1997)

[2] Hoffman, J.V., Hikida, M., & Sailors, M. (2020). Contesting science that silences: Amplifying equity, agency, and design research in literacy teacher preparation. Reading Research Quarterly, 55(S1), S255-S266.

[3] See Reading Programs Put Reading Last and Teaching Reading and Children: Reading Programs as “Costume Parties”

[4] See The Fatal Flaw of Teacher Education: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” and If Teacher Education Is Failing Reading, Where Is the Blame?

Don’t Buy SoR Propaganda APM Reports Is Selling

American Public Media Group announced in June “that APM Reports has been targeted for an unspecified reorganization.” Those of us in literacy, specifically the field of reading, have been highlighting since 2018 that APM Reports (specifically the work of Emily Hanford) has been misrepresenting both the problems around reading achievement and how to teach reading.

Hanford and APM Reports are ground zero for the deeply flawed “science of reading” (SoR) movement that now pervades mainstream media.

Ironically, the SoR mantra has been very valuable for mainstream media and several journalists, like Hanford, who have beat the same drum for four years, regardless of ample evidence that their messages are oversimplified, misleading, cherry picked, and lacking the very scientific evidence they demand from teachers.

Yet, it appears APM Reports is shifting its SoR propaganda cashcow to podcasts, and the next one, Sold a Story, will launch even more attacks, focusing on reading programs.

Here is the short version: Don’t buy it.

While not only APM Reports (the SoR messaging has been uniformly misleading across mainstream media), a tremendous amount of the misinformation can be attributed to the messaging there and then journalists such as Hanford getting platforms at the New York Times, for example, which is a key representation of the misinformation.

See the jumbled coverage of NAEP scores from 2019, falsely announcing a Mississippi “miracle”: Mississippi Miracle, Mirage, or Political Lie?: 2019 NAEP Reading Scores Prompt Questions, Not Answers [Update 15 February 2022].

The media coverage at APM Reports (and Education Week) has been so deeply flawed, scholars have detailed the problems; I recommend this:

Hoffman, J.V., Hikida, M., & Sailors, M. (2020). Contesting science that silences: Amplifying equity, agency, and design research in literacy teacher preparation. Reading Research Quarterly, 55(S1), S255-S266.

The passage addressing media is here:

I also recommend this book:

Afflerbach, P. (2022). Teaching readers (not reading): Moving beyond skills and strategies to reader-focused instruction. The Guilford Press.

The passage addressing media is here:

While the podcasts do not drop until October, I predict they will be more of the same misinformation, a good bit of projecting (is profit really a disclaimer in the U.S.?), and another example of a key criticism offered by Hoffman, Hikida, and Sailors (2020) in Reading Research Quarterly: “the SOR community do not employ the same standards for scientific research that they claimed as the basis for their critiques.”

And thus, again, don’t buy it.


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

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

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

Media and Parental Advocacy Not Credible Sources for Reading Policy

Media and Political Misreading of Reading (Again): NYC Edition

NYT Blasts Calkins with “Science of Reading” propaganda

Posts on the “science of reading”

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

Beware The Reading League

The Fatal Flaws of the SoR Movement: SVR and Phonics First

Reading Programs Put Reading Last

Don’t Write Like the NYT

At first glance, I thought this was satire from The Onion or McSweeney’s:

Since this is a real thing, I want to state clearly for anyone aspiring to be a writer or (which is the case for many of us) for anyone currently being a writer and trying to continue our journey, don’t write like the NYT.

I am not being satirical, by the way, and I am not being hyperbolic.

The NYT provides an unmatched platform for their journalists and opinion columnists:

The New York Times (NYT) is an American daily newspaper, founded and continuously published in New York City since September 18, 1851. It has won 112 Pulitzer Prizes, more than any other news organization. Its website is one of America’s most popular news sites, and the most popular among all the nation’s newspapers, receiving more than 30 million unique visitors per month as reported in January 2011. The paper’s print version remains the largest local metropolitan newspaper in the United States and third-largest newspaper overall, behind The Wall Street Journal and USA Today. Following industry trends, its weekday circulation has fallen to fewer than one million daily since 1990. Nicknamed The Gray Lady, The Times is long regarded within the industry as a national “newspaper of record”. It is owned by The New York Times Company. Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr., whose family has controlled the paper since 1896, is both the paper’s publisher and the company’s chairman. Its international version, formerly the International Herald Tribune, is now called the International New York Times. The paper’s motto, “All the News That’s Fit to Print”, appears in the upper left-hand corner of the front page. Its website has adapted it to “All the News That’s Fit to Click”. It is organized into sections: News, Opinions, Business, Arts, Science, Sports, Style, Home, and Features. The New York Times stayed with the eight-column format for several years after most papers switched to six, and was one of the last newspapers to adopt color photography.

Roper Center for Public Opinion Research

Yet, invariably, nearly daily, the NYT and its journalists badly mangle their public duty to report the news and offer high-quality and informed opinions from what can be argued as the loftiest perch in print/online newspapers in the U.S.

Being this big and this powerful, it seems, has simply allowed the NYT to be arrogant and incredibly lazy—even petty.

A search on my blog site reveals that over the past ten years I have blogged dozens of times about the inaccurate, misleading, and even harmful articles that are essentially what is common in the NYT.

In a 2017 open letter to the NYT, I detailed why the newspaper of record is failing its mission, including a list of posts where I detail those failures:

And over the past five years, I have continued to catalogue the many predictable ways that the NYT fumbles their relentless coverage of education (and specifically teaching reading) and other topics:

So here, at no cost, I want to outline why no one should write like the NYT, and ironically, how reading critically the NYT can serve as a “what not to do” as a conscientious and credible writer.

First, at a superficial and practical level, the NYT simply represents that mainstream media and journalism are in serious decline (however, I want to emphasize, as I will explain below, that the NYT essentially is deeply flawed because of traditional and long-standing journalistic standards of writing). Even major newspapers have been firing editors and journalists for many years.

The field of journalism has contracted significantly, and one of the great costs has been a reduction in editing and editorial oversight as well as shifting the workforce from veterans with full-time, well paid positions to younger (read: cheaper) and even part-time (or freelance) journalists who often have to survive through their own blogging even while being traditional journalists or after they lose their full-time position. (For a little peak at the consequences, I recommend following Typos of the New York Times on Twitter.)

More substantially, however, the NYT is a bastion of bad writing that is a reflection of bad thinking—again, in part, because that is how journalists are trained to write (and think).

In the posts I include above, I have detailed all these essential problems with bad writing/thinking at the NYT and all across mainstream media, but here let me make an accessible list of those problems:

  • Both-sides journalism. The NYT is certainly among almost all journalism in this flaw, but, again, the outsized platform that is the NYT makes their impact far greater, and more harmful. Journalists are taught to look for and present “both sides” of issues to give the appearance of not being biased (see more on this below). First, presenting any issue as a “both sides” argument is lazy, the sort of thinking I would not allow in my first-year writing students. Next, by presenting “both sides,” journalists often give the impression the sides are equally valid (and they often are not).
  • Press-release journalism. As a result of the contracting industry, journalists have ceded investigative journalism and research to aggressive think tanks and advocacy organizations. Too often, articles in the NYT and across mainstream media are simply repackaged versions of press releases, regardless of the credibility of the information or perspective. Readers are left with deeply biased information presented as credible and unbiased “news” coverage of a topic.
  • Crossing the Big Foot Line. Press release journalism is one aspect of a larger shift in journalism. At one point, tabloid journalism and the type of credible journalism found in the NYT were distinct. The example I use is Big Foot. The National Inquirer (tabloid) used to run when I was growing up repeated stories about someone seeing Big Foot. The scam was that the tabloid simply covered that someone made the claim (there was no effort to verify the claims of the source). Just because a tabloid printed a story that Bob claimed the world was going to end in October didn’t mean the tabloid actually was reporting the world would end in October; the article was about Bob claiming the end of the world. Not to be nostalgic or to oversimplify, but mainstream media at that time decades ago would not have touched that sort of story. Yet, during the Trump era and again because the field is contracting, more and more mainstream media simply covers a topic without seeking verification of credibility of any claims (see the many years of Trump when mainstream media simply reported Trump saying false things but refusing to label his claims as “lies”).
  • Peddling stereotypes. One of the most insidious flaws with the NYT is grounding journalism and commentary in stereotypes and “common sense” thinking. The NYT perpetuates stereotypes about people living in poverty, public education, policing, race/racism, and essentially every topic they cover. The NYT is absent any critical interrogation of assumptions—mostly because journalists and commentators have little or no background in the topics covered.
  • Lacking historical context and crisis rhetoric. Journalists tend to have backgrounds in journalism (a problem as noted above). Without expertise in a topic, journalists and commentators are often trapped in presentism, and the result is Christopher Columbus journalism—the delusion that you have discovered something new and the failure to realize there is a history and likely many experts on the topic to draw from. This is common in coverage of education topics. Because of the lack of context, the coverage often frames topics in crisis rhetoric. Over the past few years, the media coverage of reading is a classic example of misreading a topic, failing to offer historical context, and misidentifying an issue as a “crisis.”
  • Taking an objective/non-political pose (and fearing the “liberal media” label). The journalism especially, but the commentary also, at the NYT is mostly discredited by the relentless effort to take an objective pose. That is inherently a lie since everything is subjective, and political. By simply choosing to cover a topic, journalism is biased; by deciding which “side” of “both sides” to present first, journalism is biased. As I have noted before, when I interact with journalists and challenge them for framing “both sides” as equally credible (when they are not), those journalists have often retorted, “It isn’t my job to determine if the position is credible or not.” Yet, in fact, that certainly should be their job. Since journalism and the NYT are often slandered as “liberal media,” the NYT seems determined to prove otherwise—resulting in a constant gaze into the minds of conservative America. The key point here is that the NYT (and any media) cannot be unbiased, objective, or non-political; instead, the NYT could make a much greater effort to be biased toward nuanced and valid claims about the topics they choose to cover.

Suffice it to say, don’t write like the NYT.

And don’t believe most of what you may read in the NYT because the “national ‘newspaper of record'” is broken.

WandaVision: Pastiche, Past, and Present (A Course)

Below I am sharing my MayX (2 credit undergraduate) course I will be offering in about a month.

The course grew out of the following post based on the series WandaVision: Teaching WandaVision: A Textset on Pastiche.

See Also

A Vision of Being Human: “Am I normal?”

EDU 116 – WandaVision: Pastiche, Past, and Present

“The law is meant to be my servant and not my master, still less my torturer and my murderer.” — James Baldwin. The Nation. July 11, 1966.

Equity, Anti-Racism, and Anti-Bias Statement


In my teaching, scholarship, public writing, and life, I am fully committed to racial, gender, and all forms of equity not yet realized throughout the U.S. and world. While academic spaces are often intellectually challenging and even uncomfortable, I will not tolerate in any aspect of this course language, ideas, or behavior/symbolism that are hostile to marginalized/oppressed groups (racism, sexism/misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, etc.).

Academic freedom for students and professors is tethered to consequences, and is not license. (See Free Speech and Diversity of Thought?

Students uncertain about what language and ideas are not acceptable because they are hostile or offensive are invited to discuss those questions with me privately and are guaranteed those exchanges will be treated confidentially and respectfully. I am eager to share evidence, research, and reading to help anyone better understand goals of equity, anti-racism, and anti-bias (see materials in Box, Race and Racism).

If you witness or experience any form of bias, please report here:

Bias Incident Report

Title IX syllabus statement

Course Overview

Catalogue Description

This MayX will explore reconsidering the past through the present by viewing the 9-episode series WandaVision (and other texts), which incorporates pastiche as a technique to reflect and challenge the sit-com genre. Students will apply critical media literacy strategies to explore pop culture and apply those strategies to understanding public and popular controversies in K-12 education. An active subscription to Disney+ during MayX is required.

Course Topics

Critical media literacy/ K-12 educational controversies


History/teaching history

Pop culture/Marvel Cinematic Universe/sitcoms


Course Texts

Vision: The Complete Collection (graphic novel)

WandaVision (series)

Pleasantville (film)

Sitcom episodes (TBD)

Brief readings (TBD; see schedule)

The 1619 Project

Course Objectives

  • Understanding and application of the concept of “pastiche” in media and pop culture
  • Understanding and application critical media literacy strategies
  • Awareness of educational controversies (for example, Critical Race Theory, the 1619 Project)
  • Understanding of the field of history (relationship of past and present) and the teaching of history
  • Understanding of the essential aspects of liberal arts education
  • Reconsideration of race and gender in history and pop culture


  • Read Vision (before class sessions) and submit reflections* per schedule below
  • View WandaVision episodes (before class sessions) and submit reflections* focusing on pastiche technique in each episode
  • Independent Project – critical analysis of one episode of a classic sit-com referenced in WandaVision after series viewing (PP and class presentation)
  • Group Activity – viewing Pleasantville (film) for in-class critical analysis in groups
  • Final Portfolio Submission (all assignments resubmitted in Box folder)

* Written reflections should be submitted per the daily schedule below. Submit each reflection pasted into email (not attached) and include the reflection number (see schedule) in the “subject” line of the email. Due before each class session by schedule.

Schedule (Meeting 9 am -12 pm)

Week 1

May 11

Course Overview and Assignments

Read Vision (before class sessions) and submit reflections per schedule below

View WandaVision episodes (before class sessions) and submit reflections focusing on pastiche technique in each episode

Independent project – critical analysis of one episode of a classic sit-com referenced in WandaVision after series viewing (PP and class presentation)

Group activity – viewing Pleasantville (film) for in-class critical analysis in groups

May 12

Intro – Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU); Sitcoms; Pastiche (Postmodern Use of Parody and Pastiche, Nasrullah Mambrol)

Critical Media Literacy – Teachable Moment: Fake News and Critical Media Literacy

Rethinking the past through the present? – Dismantling Monuments: History as a Living Document

May 13

Intro – Wanda and Vision

Teaching WandaVision: A Textset on Pastiche

Week 2

May 16

Vision 1-3 (reading and reflection DUE before class) discussion

May 17

Vision 4-6 (reading and reflection DUE before class) discussion

May 18

Vision 7-9 (reading and reflection DUE before class) discussion

May 19

Vision 10-12 (reading and reflection DUE before class) discussion

May 20


Week 3

May 23

WandaVision E1 – Filmed Before a Live Studio Audience

WandaVision E2 – Don’t Touch That Dial

(Viewing and reflection DUE before class)

May 24

WandaVision E3 – Now in Color

WandaVision E4 – We Interrupt This Program

WandaVision E5 – On a Very Special Episode…

(Viewing and reflection DUE before class)

May 25

WandaVision E6 – All-New Halloween Spooktacular!

WandaVision E7 – Breaking the Fourth Wall

WandaVision E8 – Previously On

(Viewing and reflection DUE before class)

May 26

WandaVision E9 – The Series Finale

(Viewing and reflection DUE before class)

May 27


Week 4

May 30 Memorial Day Holiday

May 31

Pleasantville (DVD Collection PN1995.9.C55 P63 1999) in-class viewing/discussion

June 1

Last class – final portfolio/exam DUE (submit in Box)

Presentations shared in class

US Media Consumers Trapped in Both-Sides Multiverse [updated]

Jerry: I’m open. There’s just nothing in there.


If you want to fully understand mainstream journalism in the U.S., Twitter provided a few excellent examples recently.

The examples often come from the New York Times, a publication either viewed as the paper of record or a liberal rag, but mainstream journalism is consistently equally hollow regardless of outlet.

In a post from December 23, 2021, Twitter exposed the NYT’s use of passive voice, shading the public’s view of police killings by focusing on bullets:

That’s a magical agent-less bullet [1], much like the raging SUVs killing people as well:

Burying the agent, passive construction, is a common practice of mainstream media; for example, not saying aloud a key aspect of a story:

Refusing to acknowledge that the Critical Race Theory attacks are driven by white parents and white politics is distorting the public’s perception of this manufactured crisis in a similar way to the NYT’s coverage of police shootings.

But the primary go-to of the NYT and most mainstream journalism is reducing all coverage to “both sides” false equivalence:

In Enid, both sides in the mask debate believed they were standing up for what was right. Both cared deeply for their city — and their country — and believed that, in their own way, they were working to save it. And it all started as an argument over a simple piece of cloth.

First They Fought About Masks. Then Over the Soul of the City.

Of course, advocating for health and safety based on medical evidence is exactly the same as advocating for endangering people based on nonsense—as long as “both sides” are passionate.

Just like during the Holocaust, we might imagine the NYT’s coverage framing Nazi’s and Jews “believ[ing] they were [both] standing up for what was right.”

While, as I noted above, people tend either to oversell the NYT as having the “best” journalism or to demonize the NYT as absurdly “liberal,” the truth is that the NYT and most mainstream journalism are consistently hollow; “[t]here’s just nothing in there.”

If you pay attention to mainstream journalism, for example, you discover U.S. public schools suck, teachers don’t know what they are doing because teacher educators are clueless (especially when teaching reading), and , of course, poor people are incredibly lazy and horrible with money (notable is the NYT apparently cribbing from The Onion).

Why such baseless and hollow criticism of education and people trapped in poverty? My guess is the mainstream journalism is using deflection to cover for the essential hollowness of mainstream journalism.

And coincidentally, since my fields of experience and expertise include both education and writing (I taught and have written journalism), I believe journalism suffers a similar fate to education, especially elementary education.

Let me emphasize here that I strongly believe journalism and education are robust and credible fields of study, worthy of scholarship and suitable as majors for undergraduate and graduate students. However, when journalism and education are reduced to skills only, the problems noted above occur.

Being well versed in how to conduct journalism or how to teach is important, but not adequate.

Having been a so-called serious writer for about 40 years, I am certain I have the rhetorical skills to write authoritatively about any topic. But those skills would prove to be a mirage, a veneer with quite a few subjects about which I have no expertise.

As I have noted repeatedly about the “science of reading” movement, media coverage of how to teach reading is reductive and worst of all lacking historical context. The SoR problems are examples of Christopher Columbus journalism, a journalist approaching a topic as if they are the first to discover the topic while running roughshod over an existing field.

Being an experienced journalist and having a degree in journalism are of little real value if the journalist doesn’t also have the extensive knowledge of a topic that scholars have.

Ironically, the “both sides” approach, I think, comes in part from admitting a lack of knowledge by the journalist, who then reaches out to people who know the field. The mistake comes when the journalist has no knowledge that would allow them to evaluate who they cite—resulting in far too often journalism that is nothing more than false equivalence.

I was invited once to debate corporal punishment, and the people organizing the debate were perplexed they couldn’t find anyone who was pro-corporal punishment to participate, to which I noted that some topics do not have two sides. The person I was interacting with, a journalist, was completely disoriented by that concept.

People who are anti-racist are not morally or ethically equal to white nationalists or people who oppose anti-racism education; that “both sides” are passionate is a silly equivalence, a hollow equivalence.

Finally, let’s circle back to the Todd/Hannah-Jones exchange. Journalism and education have something else in common—disproportionate whiteness. Journalists are about 70% white (and incredibly under-representative of Black journalists at just over 5%), and educators are about 80% white (also under-representing Black educators at 7%).

Just as mainstream journalism defaults to passive constructions around police shootings, mainstream journalism rarely utters “white” because most journalists cannot see whiteness; whiteness perpetuates itself because it blinds white people to the facts of race.

The manufactured attacks on CRT as a subset of Trumpism are reinforced by mainstream media’s refusal to delineate for readers between credible and false claims. In the early days of Trump, we watched mainstream journalism struggle to call Trump’s lies “lies.”

The simplistic “objective/neutral” pose of journalists is one of the foundational flawed skills of journalism that stands in place of actual expertise.

Mainstream journalism does not suffer from a liberal bias, but mainstream journalism does suffer from a hollowness that is reflected in journalists defaulting to passive constructions and erasing the most essential elements of the topics they are covering.

Unlike Jerry on Seinfeld, journalists have yet to come to the awareness that when you confront their reporting “[t]here’s just nothing in there,” like, as the many Black folk I follow on Twitter noted, the meals white folk prepared at Thanksgiving.

[1] Updated coverage; note the passive voice in the subtitle:

Key information from the coverage:

Surveillance video showed the suspect attacking two women, including one who fell to the floor before he dragged her by her feet through the store’s aisles as she tried to crawl away.

Multiple people including store employees called police to report a man striking customers with a bike lock at the store in the North Hollywood area of the San Fernando Valley. One caller told a 911 dispatcher that the man had a gun. No firearm — only the bike lock — was recovered at the scene….

In bodycam video, armed officers entered the store and approached the suspect. The victim was seen on the blood-stained floor and the suspect was on the other side of the aisle. At least one officer opened fire, striking the man.

The 24-year-old suspect, Daniel Elena Lopez, died at the scene. Also killed was Valentina Orellana-Peralta, 14, who was hiding with her mother inside a dressing room….

LAPD officers have shot […] 38 people — 18 of them fatally, including the shooting Sunday of a man with a knife — in 2021, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Those figures mark a dramatic rise in cases where officers shot or killed people in either of the last two years — 27 people were shot and 7 of them killed by LA police in all of 2020. In 2019, officers shot 26 people, killing 12.

Los Angeles Police Video Shows Officer Shooting That Killed 14-Year-Old Girl

The “Science of Reading”: A Movement Anchored in the Past

One of the defining moments of my first-year writing seminar is my reading aloud the first few paragraphs from A Report from Occupied Territory by James Baldwin.

This essay in The Nation from July 11, 1966, offers students dozens of powerful examples of compelling and purposeful writing, Baldwin at his best. But the circumstances of the essay are what first strike my students.

“There was a great commotion in the streets, which, especially since it was a spring day, involved many people, including running, frightened, little boys,” Baldwin writes. “They were running from the police.”

We note that Baldwin uses “police[men]” five times in the first paragraph, which focuses on people in the Harlem “in terror of the police” because “two of the policemen were beating up a kid.”

Students immediately noted that Baldwin was addressing exactly the same racism grounded in policing that has been the source of social unrest in the U.S. throughout 2020.

In other words, racism in policing in the U.S. is not a recent crisis, but a historically systemic fact of policing.

The more things change, we noted, the more they stay the same.

The history of education in the U.S. is often fascinating and surprising, but it also is like being Phil (Bill Murray) in Groundhog Day—especially when it comes to bandwagons and political and public cries of “crisis.”

Fews aspects of education represent this pattern more than reading, suffering the “science of reading” (SoR) movement since early 2018.

The SoR movement is nothing new, a movement anchored in the past.

But as David Reinking, Victoria J. Risko and George G. Hruby note at The Answer Sheet (The Washington Post), “More worrisome, a majority of states have enacted, or are considering, new laws mandating how reading must be taught and setting narrow criteria for labeling students as reading disabled.”

Reading was declared a crisis in the 1940s because of literacy tests of WWII recruits, throughout the 1950s and 1960s because of Rudolf Flesch’s Why Johnny Can’t Read, in the 1990s because of handwringing over NAEP scores, during the George W. Bush presidency with the National Reading Panel and No Child Left Behind, and, as noted above, over the last couple years because of the SoR movement prompted by the journalism of Emily Hanford.

As my students came to recognize about racism and policing in the U.S., anyone who examines the history and current bandwagon of reading will see that schools, teachers, and students have, like Phil, lived the same day over and over—reading is in crisis and here is the silver-bullet for all students to read.

One must wonder why we never pause to confront that this formula has never resulted in anything other than the same crisis.

And one must acknowledge that something cannot be a movement if it is anchored in doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results.

Take for example The Science of Reading: A Defining Movement.

The Coalition Members include a strong connection to The Reading League, formed in 2016.

Both the website and the League represent the very worst of missionary zeal and good intentions; and they both fail the fact check necessary for claims about a reading crisis and the bandwagon of SoR.

First, The Reading League grounds their concerns in a misguided and false red flag about whole language, as reported on “Murray is referring to the large base of research and knowledge that proves scientifically-grounded methodology in teaching reading is more effective than the ‘whole language’ approach most curriculum takes.”

This argument has two significant flaws. First, whole language has been replaced by balanced literacy for decades. And second, the 1990s revealed a discredited assault on whole language and an ignored analysis of by Darling-Hammond that showed a positive correlation between higher NAEP scores and students being in whole language classrooms.

The website, The Science of Reading: A Defining Movement, is complicated to fact check because there seems to be a purposeful effort to appear to be different than the SoR bandwagon by rejecting the term as a “buzzword” and demanding “We must preserve the integrity of reading science.”

Further, in the Preamble to their The Science of Reading: A Defining Guide, one sentence stands out: “We know that our children can be taught to read properly the first time.”

“The first time”?

Literacy and reading are lifelong learning experiences, and this claim raises a genuine red flag about this movement.

But the biggest reveal about the so-called SoR movement is in the definition, where there is a narrow parameter set for “scientifically-based”: experimental/quasi-experimental study design, replication or refinement of findings, and peer-reviewed journal publication.

If that sounds familiar, you have simply awakened to the same day some twenty years ago when the National Reading Panel made the exact same claim—and proved to be a deeply flawed report while the policy implications not only did not improve reading but also became mired in funding corruption with Reading First.

The SoR movement is a bandwagon with its wheels mired in the same muddle arguments that have never been true and silver-bullet solutions that have never worked.

Like Phil, we find ourselves waking up to the same day in reading.

This is no crisis, but it certainly is a tired, old story that needs to be left behind through some other vehicle than a bandwagon.

See Also

Greenville News (SC): SC should not “jump on bandwagon” of “science of reading” movement

Open Letter to SC House and Senate Concerning Bill 3613 [UPDATED]

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

Social Media and the Marketplace of Ideas

When I was first married, we lived in the room of my parents’ house that had been converted from a garage. My sister and her husband also lived with my parents, them in her old bedroom inside the main house.

One night, we were awakened by my sister pulling the screened door to the room free of the flimsy latch, yelling that my father needed help.

That was a terrible and important night for me as a young man. My mother had found my father collapsed in the bathroom, blood everywhere. He had been hiding a bleeding ulcer from everyone, waking that night in pain and passing out while vomiting blood.

My mother was running around frantically as my sister tried to calm her. While they called the ambulance, I cleaned up my father as best I could and helped rouse him.

They sent me with my father in the ambulance; the first hour or so at the hospital was terrifying as I watched the doctors try to stabilize my father.

He survived this, but in my early 20s I had to face a fact that I had been avoiding for many years—the inevitable and very real physical frailty of my father.

It is no easy thing for any of us to confront our parents’ weaknesses, to admit that our parents are wrong, even when the evidence is right there in front of us.

We humans want to believe what we want to believe. And we aren’t very well equipped for changing our minds, especially if we have to admit those beliefs were wrong all along.

No parent is superhuman, no parent is immortal.

Even in my early 20s, I was quite different than just a few years before, but I was still quite a ways from who I would become, who I am becoming. My journey was always moving away from my parents, my hometown, and what many people would consider mainstream.

Over nearly 60 years in this planet, I have watched as people struggle with unfounded beliefs, stubbornly clinging to and even promoting those unfounded beliefs.

In our era of social media, in fact, people spend a tremendous amount of time sharing provably false information because they are fatally committed to the beliefs at the expense of truth.

While this has been a common attribute in the U.S. for many years, maybe all of the country’s existence, the combination of the Trump administration and social media has certainly amplified the problem.

Technology has created a sort of bastardized marketplace of ideas on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, but it has also allowed almost anyone to communicate, create memes and manipulated images, and perpetuate any and everything as if all information has the same value or credibility.

Posting it makes it so.

Trump’s incessant (pathological) lying has invigorated the fact-checking business exponentially, but the free market has also allowed a partisan fact-checking backlash that uses the label of “fact check” to legitimize fake news and outright lies.

The result is that many people simply silo themselves with “their” evidence and languish in a perversely post-modern Frankenstein world of no facts matter—unless they are mine.

Two of the worst ways people communicate on social media are memes and images. I regularly warn people not to share any memes, but at least fact-check before posting.

As is becoming more common, however, doctored images are spreading faster than people can refute them.

Regardless of the ideology or partisan politics, that false information is being shared can never be justified. I spend far too much time posting links refuting memes, images, and social media posts.

What is frustrating here is that all I ever have to do is switch tabs to Google; in minutes, or even seconds, I have several examples of the meme or image being false.

And this poses a real problem for blaming technology. In fact, the problem is us, and our beliefs that resist evidence.

Social media also poses a real problem for our idealizing the marketplace and democracy. The market often rewards dishonesty and even abuse, and all voices are not, in fact, equal when some level of expertise is involved.

The entire world right now is witnessing that not everyone should be holding forth about Covid-19; epidemiologists and others in the medical profession are rightly the voices that should be elevated while some, as hard as this is to admit, should be silenced.

One of those beliefs is that things today are worse than ever, that the U.S. is more divided than ever (let’s not forget slavery and the Jim Crow era, just for some context about a divided country).

But we do have many calling for ways we can get along, come together.

My modest proposal is that we do not return to some naive belief in objectivity, but that we can agree to navigate social media and our IRL experiences with the same verifiable facts.

When we have video and audio that Trump said X, we must begin with that he did in fact say X.

Being the loudest or the most persistent doesn’t make you right. Posting provably false memes, images, and comments online does make you the problem, and proves that we shouldn’t value anything you believe.

My father was always merely a human before that night I saw him lying in the bathroom floor, bloody and unconscious. I was naive until than night, but to deny his mortality after seeing him right there in front of me would have been worse than delusional, a discredit to us both.

See Also

11 Warning Signs of Gaslighting | Psychology Today

Better Call Saul: On the High Art of Centering Whiteness

Bob Odenkirk and Rhea Seehorn in Better Call Saul (2015)
Bob Odenkirk and Rhea Seehorn in Better Call Saul (2015)

Among the pantheon of white-man art, including the Coen brothers and David Lynch for me, the creators of Better Call Saul offer a finely crafted and deeply flawed series that is really hard not to look at and enjoy.

This prequel to Breaking Bad shares many of the strengths (beautifully and finely filmed, nuanced and morally ambiguous characters) and most of the flaws (centering whiteness, ignoring or running roughshod over brown and black characters) with its source. As I am nearing the end of the series on Netflix (with the newest season on AMC), I often find Saul better than the original, in part because I think it unpacks extremely well being a lawyer against the moral ambiguity of many compelling characters (even as I have no real expertise in whether or not the series captures the law in any sort of valid way).

Saul fits into my fascination with moral ambiguity, notably Andy Sipowicz in NYPD Blue as one example. But I have to admit that I am primarily drawn to how well made the series is; as TV, it is just damned compelling to look at. (I often find myself seeing comic book panels, still camera shots that do as much as the acting or dialogue.)

As I noted above, I have this affection for Lynch and the Coen brothers, although I would put the creators of Saul closer to the latter.

Well into my 20s and my young teaching and writing career, I was an uncritical (and self-contradictory) devotee of a sort of John Gardner “craft idealism” that had too much grounding in modernism and white-man art arguments that posed craft over (for example) diversity of characters and voices in the name of “universal”—a humanities/fine art veneer like “objectivity” to protect the status of white men.

In those formative years, I wasn’t paying very close attention to the tension among my love and admiration for Ernest Hemingway, Alice Walker, John Gardner, Ralph Ellison, e.e. cummings, Langston Hughes, and Adrienne Rich (just to offer a brief array).

I recognized some of that tension directly, then, in Season 3, Episode 10, Lantern, of Saul, when Kim Wexler, hyper-ambitious romantic partner of Jimmy/Saul, is left injured after a car accident.

Wexler, distracted by her newest client’s case while driving on a dangerous highway, crosses three lanes of traffic and crashes into rocks on an embankment. After returning home battered and with a broken right arm, the law office assistant, Francesca, brings Wexler her law files and has rearranged her schedule so that Wexler can salvage a deadline with the new client and maintain her commitment to her main client.

We watch as Wexler immediately drops into her Type A self-sacrificing persona. But Wexler pauses, freezes in fact, before telling Francesca to cancel the new client rescheduling and push forward her commitments with her main client.

The next time we see them together, Francesca is on her cell talking to the new client, and recommending a different law firm, while Wexler grabs a couple handfuls of DVDs.

Later when Jimmy/Saul returns to the newly relaxed Wexler on her couch, Kim asks Jimmy what he wants to watch next, handing him Monty Python before musing about watching To Kill a Mockingbird, “again.”

Jimmy and Kim then have what I imagine to be a conversation with a much different meaning than intended.

In the popular consciousness, the film Mockingbird is an iconic moment for the actor Gregory Peck but also a window (like the novel it is based on) into the white savior narrative that few in the U.S. are willing or able to confront.

There is much to unpack in Wexler saying she was motivated as a child to be Atticus Finch, but to the show’s credit, Kim does make fun of her idealism when she responds to Jimmy’s dig about becoming a lawyer to change the world; she acknowledges she is working herself almost literally to death to make a successful local bank into a successful regional bank.

Again, where I think Saul excels is in the many types of lawyers the show explores, knocking the sort of idealistic and hokey shine off the Finch iconic lawyer myth.

Yet, Saul for all the craft and care isn’t much different than Mockingbird for its inability to avoid possibly the most common flaw in pop culture in the U.S., centering whiteness.

While Walter White in Break Bad can be seen as something of a twisted Finch white savior, Jimmy/Saul is certainly not that, but remains the center of a morally ambiguous and morally corrupt world where lawyers, police, and the Mexican cartel all intersect in ways that do not leave anyone in the best of light—even Jimmy/Saul’s Finch-like brother, Chuck.

Michael Mando in Better Call Saul (2015)
Michael Mando in Better Call Saul (2015)

By comparison, Saul is far more aware of and attentive to black and brown characters; on balance, characterization, along with camera work, is an admirable craft in both series, I think.

The Salamanca/Fring dichotomy is fascinating and tense even as those who watched Break Bad know where these men’s lives are leading.

Saul is rich with allusion and references as yet another hallmark of craft-focused art; yet, even as we may enjoy and value this craft, I think we must remain vigilant to set that aside and recognize that while care is taken in many of the elements of making a series, there is enough carelessness to take the series to task.

Mike and Nacho are fascinating ancillary characters (although many of these types of characters often feel as important as Jimmy/Saul)—the former yet another centered white man and the latter, a powerful example of the type of diversity that deserves more than it receives.

With Saul, I am torn, but I think it unintentionally makes a case against itself (the use of Mockingbird, for example) that suggests centering whiteness is a feature and a flaw of this sort of film-making craft, but to acknowledge that doesn’t mean this flaw has to be fatal.

Educational Accountability and the Science of Scapegoating the Powerless

Several years ago when I submitted an Op-Ed to the largest newspaper in my home state of South Carolina, the editor rejected the historical timeline I was using for state standards and testing, specifically arguing that accountability had begun in the late 1990s and not in the early 1980s as I noted.

Here’s the interesting part.

I began teaching in South Carolina in the fall of 1984, the first year of major education reform under then-governor Richard Riley. That reform included a significant teacher pay raise, extended days of working for teachers, and the standards-testing regime that would become normal for all public education across the U.S.

In fact, SC’s accountability legislation dates back to the late 1970s (I sent her links to all this).

As a beginning teacher, the only public schooling I ever knew was teaching to standards and high-stakes tests by identifying standards on my lesson plans and implementing benchmark assessments throughout the academic year to document I was teaching what was mandated as a bulwark against low student tests scores. State testing, including punitive exit exams, pervaded everything about being an English teacher.

Yet, an editor, herself a career journalist, was quick to assume my expertise as a classroom practitioner and then college professor of education was mistaken.

This is a snapshot of how mainstream media interact with education as a topic and educators as professionals.

I am reminded of that experience over and over in fact as I read media coverage of education. Take for example this from Education Week, Want Teachers to Motivate Their Students? Teach Them How, which has the thesis:

Most teachers intrinsically understand the need to motivate their students, experts say, but teaching on intuition alone can lead to missteps in student engagement.

A study released in May by the Mindset Scholars Network, a collaborative of researchers who study student motivation, found most teacher education programs nationwide do not include explicit training for teachers on the science of how to motivate students.

Two key elements of this article stand out: The new scapegoat in proclaiming education a failure is teacher education and the go-to failure is always about a lack of “science” in teacher education.

This article on motivation is following a media template well worn recently about students in the U.S. can’t read because teachers are not taught the “science of reading,” you guessed it, in their teacher education programs.

As I detailed in a Twitter thread, scapegoating teacher education has many flaws, and my experience and expertise as a teacher educator for almost two decades, following almost two decades as a classroom teacher, inform my understanding of how finding scapegoats for educational failure during the accountability era is fool’s gold.

How has the accountability era gone in terms of where the accountability and locus of power lie, then?

In the 1980s and 1990s, the accountability mechanisms focused on holding students accountable (think exit exams) and schools accountable (student test scores often translated into school rankings or grades, designating schools as “failing,” for example).

Keep in mind that students had no power in that process, and that schools were merely agents of the standards being implemented, again outside the power dynamics of those mandates being determined.

With No Child Left Behind spawned by the false claims of the Texas Miracle, the accountability era was greatly accelerated, including a creeping sense that the process wasn’t improving education but it was punishing students (lower graduation rates due to exit exams) and demonizing schools (most high-poverty and high-racial minority schools were labeled as “failing”).

By the administration of Barak Obama, with education policy under another false narrative (the Chicago Miracle) and false ambassador with no background in education other than appointments (Arne Duncan), the scapegoating took a turn—the problem, went the new message, was “bad” teachers and the solution was not holding students or schools accountable for test scores but those teachers (the era of value-added methods [VAM]).

As some have noted and documented, teacher bashing increased and then prompted a backlash (see magazine covers from Time for a great series of artifacts on this); it seems that VAM proved to be a false metric for accountability and that maybe teachers were not the problem after all.

With the scapegoat role now vacant, the media have discovered a new candidate, teacher education.

Let’s here recognize that once again the power context is way off in who is determining the accountability and who is being held accountable. For the most part, teachers and teacher educators are relatively powerless agents who are mandated to implement standards and assessments that they do not create and often do not endorse as valid.

Now consider another really important reason accountability in education is deeply flawed: The constant misguided scapegoating of powerless agents in formal teaching and learning is a distraction from the actual causal sources for educational challenges.

Fun fact: Decades of research from educators and education scholars have detailed that out-of-school factors overwhelmingly determine measurable student outcomes, some estimates as high as 80+% and most scholars agreeing on 60%. Teacher quality’s impact on measurable student achievement has been identified repeatedly as only about 10-15%.

Yet, the entire accountability era since the early 1980s has focused on in-school reforms only (scapegoating along the way), while tossing up hands and embracing harsh ideologies such as “no excuses” practices that argue teachers fail students with the “soft bigotry of low expectations” and students fail because they lack “grit” or a growth mindset.

Many of us have doggedly argued for social context reform, addressing socio-economic reform first and then reforming education along equity (not accountability) lines next, or concurrently. Many of us have also demonstrated that “grit” and growth mindset have racist and classist groundings that are harmful.

For those positions, we have been demonized and marginalized for decades.

So imagine my surprise when, first, the tide shifted on teacher bashing (I have 34 posts on my blog discrediting VAM and dozens on misunderstanding teacher quality) and then these articles: Better Schools Won’t Fix America (The Atlantic), The Harsh Discipline of No-Excuses Charter Schools: Is It Worth the Promise? (Education Week), and Unchartered territory: 2020 Democrats back away from charter schools (MSN).

My blog posts, however, on social context reform and poverty (157), “no excuses” reform (70), and the mirage of charter schools (80) have either mostly been ignored or are harshly (even angrily) rejected. Like my interaction with the editor discussed in the opening, my experience and expertise as an educator and education scholar have held almost no weight with those in power pr the media.

The media and journalists as generalists seem deeply resistant to learning a lesson they create over and over.

Take for a current example Karin Wulf’s examination of Naomi Wolff and Cokie Roberts; Wulf herself is a historian:

It’s been a tough few weeks for amateur history. First, journalist Naomi Wolf discovered on live radio that she had misinterpreted key historical terms in her new book, “Outrage,” leading her to draw the wrong conclusions. A week later, journalist Cokie Roberts, too, got a quick smackdown when she claimed on NPR that she couldn’t find any incidence of abortion advertised in 19th century newspapers, a claim quickly disproved by historians.

Wolf and Roberts fell victim to a myth widely shared with the American public: that anyone can do history. Whether it’s diving into genealogy or digging thorough the vast troves of digital archives now online, the public has an easy way into the world of the past. And why would they imagine it takes any special training? After all, the best-selling history books are almost always written by non-historians, from conservative commentators like Bill O’Reilly to journalists like Wolf and Roberts.

Wulf’s confronting “that anyone can do history” immediately prompted in me my experience when I first moved from teaching high school English (and adjuncting at several colleges, including being a lead instructor in a university-based summer institute of the National Writing Project) to higher education. My university was debating a curriculum change that included dropping traditional composition courses (popularly known as English 101 and English 102) for first-year seminars.

One of those first-year seminars was to be writing-intensive, and the argument being posed was that any professor could teach writing.

This change passed, and the English department and professors were relieved of sole responsibility for teaching writing.

Over the next eight years or so, the university learned a really disturbing lesson (one I could have shared in the beginning): “Any professor can teach writing” is false.

As Wulf argues about history, with writing and education, experience and expertise matter.

So here I sit again, writing over and over that the media are getting reading wrong, that scapegoating teacher education is missing the real problem.

How many years will it take until I see articles “discovering” these facts as if no one with experience and expertise ever raised the issue?