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  • Writer's pictureThe Dyslexia Initiative

Facing Giants

by Ashley Roberts

Right, wrong or indifferent, when I joined the advocacy world I was not under any illusions that any movement towards change would be easy. Doing what I do for a living, having deeply political parents, and a passion for history, I knew that the battle ground was monumental in size.

While I do not possess illusions, it hurts me to see a new entrant into the fray throw themselves completely at the opposing side, thinking a win will be quick and decisive, just to see them slam into a wall and find out just how far the corruption of #BalancedIlliteracy runs.

Perhaps that sounds jaded, and likely it is, but I prefer to think of it as realistic. Knowing what one is up against is truly the only way to understand that while change is essential to everyone, change will not happen quickly or easily.

Every time I myself think the battle is almost over, I have to remind myself that it is far from ending. This is a battle for a lifetime, yet I hope that it is within my lifetime that we see real change happen.

I'm sounding cryptic, so let me explain.

Many have said it, but this is a money game. Education is now a corporate entity, and while I am a supporter of corporations, I believe that they have a responsibility to society. The educational corporation is essentially a Ponzi scheme. It is selling bad content to willing buyers. The ed corp is ignoring science in favor of profit even though they are supposed to create and print content for the education of children. They are willingly feeding the PR machine to keep their current content seemingly relevant at all costs. They see failure on the horizon if anti-Balanced Literacy proponents keep on with their fight, but they keep fueling the fires of the reading wars to keep from having to abandon what they've always sold, afraid of losing their market share to those publishing companies that are supporting SoR curriculums. Instead of taking the opportunity to contribute to the necessary change our educational system needs, they remain in power, fueling all those who keep the reading wars going, praying their scheme doesn't collapse under their feet.

When publishing companies transformed themselves into consulting companies they made a dynamic play to ensure and retain their power. First, it was a brilliant move from a business perspective. Now instead of just selling books, they have consultants the districts can put on their payroll to help "train" and "roll out" the materials and ensure they remain up to date with the latest updates, extension packs, hand outs, printables, etc. The presence of these consultants ensures materials keep being purchased, and it sells the concept that without the latest tool the curriculums are incomplete and that teachers and children will suffer from the lack of materials, and ensures the "consultants" stay deployed, earning even more for the corporation.

The continual PR spins, bolt-ons, add-ins, etc. maintains a facade of relevancy, while doing nothing to change the actual materials themselves and reprinting the same staid, failed curriculums year after year.

The partnership between the publishing companies and the American university runs deep. A recent article I read pointed out how Columbia's Teacher College educated a bunch of PhD's who then spread out across the other American universities and tainted the teacher educational colleges with Balanced Literacy, staining the concept of structured literacy, aka the science of reading as outmoded, boring and useless.

Teachers are indoctrinated with methods that do not support reading and writing. Those teachers are well meaning, altruistic individuals, but they find themselves ill equipped to truly teach reading. They, like our children, are equal victims in the Reading Wars, unwitting accomplices to the choice made by others to NOT actually educate our children, yet as long as the university system stays entrenched in this outmoded and damaging pedagogy, teachers will continue to, year after year, enter the educational environment without the necessary knowledge to teach reading and writing.

But, there's more to this Ponzi scheme than that. A successful Ponzi scheme requires people that one admires as names to banty about to entice others to invest. First it begins with the scholars. Enough published papers on a topic warrants a publishing deal, then you sell the educational agencies the idea that they're missing out on the latest and greatest mind on any particular subject. Result? They buy in since they don't want to be left out. Now you have a few education agencies so you throw those names out to other education agencies. "Well, if State A and State B are doing it then so will we!" This continues so on and so forth, but this isn't yet enough.

One must further solidify this position. Enter the lobbyist.

Seemingly well meaning people meet with decision makers, congressmen and senators both state and federally based, and do what they do best. The state educational agencies have bought in and their districts are supporting it and we have the greatest modern day thought leaders materials we're publishing so we know best what is needed for the educational system. Without other voices loud enough to create dissent, policies are entrenched.

So they control the universities, the state education agencies, and the school districts, but how do they ensure their scheme isn't toppled? They create trenches and solidify the opposing sides into separate camps and then they weaponize words like "love;" yet they can go one step further too. They weaponize the protection of the teachers who are teaching their materials by making it evil to ever question a teacher's knowledge, actions or motives by insinuating that a question to a teacher should be perceived as an attack not just against that teacher but against all teachers everywhere. This is a successful move which ensures that the altruistic people who willingly went into teaching are entrenched at all times protecting one another against the unknowing and unwitting parent. Then to top things off, they ensure the parents are seen as unknowing fools.

They've figured out that making this a heated and deeply personally emotional battlefield ensures the opposing sides simply tear each other apart instead of having sensible conversations about the actual, real, genuine needs of the children the establishment is actually supposed to be serving, but seriously, who cares about them.

Now, double down by ensuring the lawyers hired by the state educational agencies and the school districts do everything in their power to ensure that these children's parents stay bullied, lied to, intimidated, retaliated against and continually lose their mediation and due process hearings because no one actually understands the science of reading anymore and if they do they damned well won't admit it on the record otherwise the whole thing collapses, hence the intimidation to be silent permeates the schools too.

Yet, all alone stands the parent whose child can't read. The parent is given a litany of excuses about why it's either their fault or their child's fault why the child can't read. Years go by, testing may or may not ever happen. Maybe federal timelines are followed, maybe they aren't. IEP meetings convene and poor goals are presented since no one really understands how to close the gap. Dyslexia is therefore a real disability, right? These children can't really learn how to read, right? Fluency is just how fast one can read words in 60 seconds, right? It has nothing to do with comprehension ability, right? Let's just give them AT so the computer will do it for them and we don't have to help. What does the parent know, right? They are only a parent after all. They don't have education degrees.

So parents hire advocates. God forbid a district hasn't engage in a smear campaign and under anonymous names entered hateful, awful, misogynistic, abusive comments on a website where parents might look up the advocate's name to see if they're worth hiring or not. Advocates may or may not get anywhere, but they do try. Enter the SpEd attorneys when the advocates have exhausted all means of defense, assuming the family can take on a cost allocation of roughly $50,000. What are the political dynamics in the state? Who pays the hearing officers, the state education agency or someone else? At what rate are parents winning their due process hearings? If less than 10% of the time, why is that? Is the system that has been contrived by the educational establishment to function outside of the court system truly impartial and just, or is it all tied together? Is getting the Federal DOE involved the only way to implement change for a single child?

The point of saying all of this isn't to create a level of intimidation, but quite the contrary. The point is to open eyes. The battle front for change is not going to be easy or quick. This fight is not for the faint of heart either. There are some dirty games that get played and you need your eyes wide open to understand what you're up against.

Alone each of us can only do so much. For each of our individual children we stand alone. We can't take our community into the IEP meeting with us; spiritually we can hold each other up, but not in person; but together, united, voices raised as one, we can topple giants. Historically speaking it's the only way that has ever brought about REAL change.

But that's the other thing too. Change isn't quick, even when you win. Note the comment Dr. Louisa Moats made during her Dyslexia Coffee Talk session when she said that implementing real change will take at a minimum three years, but realistically five. That's five years where the dogs are nipping at the heels of those you've convinced to make change, stating their methods are tried and true and there already. Change takes powerful leadership, committed to lasting change and the time it will take to get there. Proof is in the changes that have taken place in Mississippi and are taking place in Arkansas. Our laws can't be vague, but have to be specific about what can and cannot be used as curriculum. State educational leaders have to be invested in real change, not political careers.

We are in the fight of our lifetimes, and it is for all children, not just our dyslexic children. This is the greatest equity front of all time as literacy is the key to self determination and what I mean by that is literacy is the key to society, earning income, taking care of oneself, and ensuring the next generation is taken care of too. This is a #LiteracyRevolution.

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