Dear LRA Family and Friends,
Greetings! I hope you are looking forward as much as I am to LRA’s upcoming 72nd Annual Conference in Phoenix, Arizona. If the weather predictions hold for December 2022, it will be “clear and sunny,” with delightfully cool-ish temperatures in the high 60s during the day, dropping to crisper 50s in the evening—mere summer temps for those of you in the northern climes! Time to break out those chic jackets and sweaters you’ve saved for this occasion.
Our indefatigable Conference Chair, Doris Walker-Dalhouse and her team have organized a stellar line up of conference speakers and research presentations during the week. Headliners will be plenary speakers Bryan Brayboy and Angela Valenzuela, Guadalupe Valdés, the 2022 recipient of the Distinguished Scholar Lifetime Achievement Award, and Arlette Willis, the 2021 Oscar S. Causey awardee. And anchoring the conference on Saturday will be the Integrative Research Review Panel, comprised of notable scholars and researchers, including Drs. Catherine Compton-Lilly, Marcus Croom, Allison Skerrett and Mary McVee.
I do have one concern that I am hoping we can discuss as a professional literacy organization in December and that is the overreach of legislative policies and laws passed in the name of the science of reading which have directly impacted teacher education programs in at least 30 states. For example, here in Arizona, there is a new dyslexia screening test for kindergarten and first grade mandated by fall 2022, two new and required university courses covering the identification of dyslexia and the five “pillars” of reading (à la NCLB) to be in place by spring of 2023, and a new reading endorsement (with a phonics focus) and high stakes assessment which must be completed within three years of initial certification, otherwise the credential is revoked.
This strident conservatism sweeping educational practice, also manifested in the bans of discussions of CRT, gender identity, ethnic and racial issues, and the history of slavery (perniciously euphemized in some states as “involuntary relocation”) has had an insidious and demonstrable effect on what teachers and students can discuss—and read—in our nation’s classrooms. All the more disheartening is the squelching or outright ignoring of the research represented by LRA scholars and researchers (e.g., see https://literacyresearchassociation.org/research-reports-policy-briefs-and-press-releases/) as well as the critiques of the science of reading research by most of the 50+ articles in the two Special Issues of the Reading Research Quarterly (see https://ila.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/rrq.402 for an example).
Indeed, what is represented as research-based practice by science of reading advocates is directly opposed to what literacy scholars and professionals all over the globe have realized in that “learning is far beyond just a cognitive function, but is deeply embedded in the racial, cultural, historical, socioeconomic, and gendered identities of language and literacy users” (Yaden & Rogers, forthcoming, Literacies and Languages vol., International Encyclopedia of Education, https://www.elsevier.com/books/international-encyclopedia-of-education/tierney/978-0-12-818629-9). Unfortunately, this more sophisticated understanding of literacy development has been subverted, at least in the U.S., by a one-size-fits-all, over-simplified, retrograde definition of literacy—the predictable outcome of adopting “a simple view of reading.”
The rhetoric of the reading wars has now become more than just a sterile, academic debate, but is encoded in the very laws, house and senate bills, and legislative policies of the majority of the states, policies which are, in turn, being foisted upon school districts and university teacher training programs where nearly all of us work. Thus, we are required to spend time in questionable course development since legislators, public officials, and journalists have become the self-appointed the literacy experts, attempting to determine both university curriculum in literacy and even what topics literacy researchers can address in classroom settings.
It is my belief that LRA must become a leader in turning this restrictive tide and tunnel vision related to literacy development. Our collaboration with the National Academy of Education in their Civic Reasoning and Discourse initiative is certainly one way, understanding that “our polarized, racialized, and politicized climates highlight the importance of equipping young people with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions they need to understand complex social issues, respect multiple points of view, and dialogue across differences” (National Academy of Education, https://naeducation.wpenginepowered.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/NAEd-Educating-for-Civic-Reasoning-and-Discourse-Exec-Summary.pdf).
But there must be other ways as well. As a long-time NRC/LRA member (40 years), the old message of “if we do the research, they will come,” to paraphrase a movie catch phrase (cf. Field of Dreams), is simply not being heard, or worse, being ignored as irrelevant. In addition to the good research which we must continue to do and promote through our journal and book publications, what other tools does LRA have which can be employed to rewrite this pervasive conservative narrative? Increased social media presence? Partnerships with other literacy and educational organizations? Webinars, workshops, seminars, or other public-facing intellectual work which highlight key research findings to a much broader audience? Through what types of Structured or Sustained Dialogue can we engage with parents, school officials and legislators to successfully traverse the liminal binaries which deter productive conversation?
There is no easy road to follow here—it will be a steep climb. But I believe LRA is up to the challenge. Our solutions will be collective; I look forward to the dialogue with you.
With great respect and appreciation,
LRA President 2021-2022