Literacy is not political or partisan. The right to literacy is as fundamental as the right to a free and appropriate public education, and both are deeply intertwined. Lately, it seems, everything is political, and now there’s a movement to suggest that those parents, teachers, literacy specialists, and advocates spouting about the science of reading are part of the far-right movement. If we weren’t living through a pandemic and one of the most challenging times of our lives, it could almost be funny.
It’s not the first time I have personally experienced this attempt to pigeon hole literacy advocacy with politics. When I was brand new to the literacy space, I spun off about schools not embracing the approach to literacy proven to help all kids, especially children with dyslexia, learn to read. I was accused of representing a conservative think tank funded by the far right. Years later, during an advocacy meeting, I was charged with representing a well-oiled and well-funded machine. I wish the latter, at least about the funding, was correct.
With all the uncertainty and divisiveness in the world, the last thing we need is to use our children as pawns to maintain the status quo in reading instruction that doesn’t work for all. I have witnessed higher education faculty cut down parents, tutors, and anyone without formal education in literacy for stating that they know what works for their child or student. However, it is that tutor, perhaps a teacher, or maybe anyone trained in a systematic, explicit literacy program that ends up teaching our kids that fall through the cracks to read. There is no shame in admitting that something isn’t working, but there is shame in blaming the people fixing the problem.
I am a parent in this world, and I am someone who has spent their entire career in some form of education. Most of my authors in publishing were higher education faculty. They are people like us and fallible. I have never given up on the possibility of higher education change, albeit slow change. I would imagine it’s hard to devote your career to a subject you are passionate about and considered a subject matter expert in, only to have people “on the ground” telling you that the way you teach doesn’t work.
Our programming at Teach My Kid to Read focuses on libraries and the community because we don’t have time to wait, and there aren’t enough trained tutors to go around. It was hard enough to bicker over reading instruction before the pandemic. Now that education is uncertain, we have the challenge of not even knowing what school will look like and how teachers will identify our kids that that struggle to read and offer them the right instruction and interventions.
What I know is that literacy must be a high priority and that what works for children that struggle to read works for all children. If ever there was an equity issue, it is literacy. If I could go back in time, I would have named systematic, explicit instruction “inclusion instruction.” It would have been easier to market. Bless America: Literacy for All!