"When the fail proof reading programs fail, blow up the Colleges of
by Ken Goodman, Professor Emeritus
University of Arizona
Tucson Arizona 85721
When Trent Lott slipped on the nostalgic occasion of honoring 100 year
old Strom Thurmond and admitted his belief that if the nation had
followed Thurmonds overt racism as Mississippi half a century earlier
America would be a better place today, he was revealing that the goal
has never changed- only the political tactics. Then the confrontations
were overt and ugly- with television showing rights advocates beaten as
they demonstrated peacefully and mobs harassing little children on their
way to school. Now the forces aiming to destroy social justice and limit
democracy have learned to use their money and power and the processes of
democratic institutions to accomplish their goals. They no longer
confront, they Co-opt and subvert the very groups whose interests they
attack. They dont stand in the school house door, they close down the
failing neighborhood schools using test scores as their bludgeons.
Reid Lyon, lauded by the Wall Street Journal as President Bushs reading
Czar and introduced by Education Secretary Rod Paige as one of the
Presidents main educational advisors made a similar slip on November
18 when he proclaimed at a public function attended by many educators
and representatives of professional organizations that if he made the
laws he would blow-up the colleges of education. Actually, Lyon does
have a major influence over the recent laws and their interpretation and
enforcement. By his own word he played a major role in the selection of
key members of the Bush Department of Education, unusual power for a
career bureaucrat in another federal agency, NICHD.
In his apparent advocacy of violence- terrorism- Lyon revealed
impatience with the tactics being used to destroy colleges of education
as a major step of putting the blame for school failure on the education
profession with the ultimate goal of ending public education and putting
in its place a privatized education system.
Nowhere has the switch in tactics from confrontation to manipulation of
the institutions of democracy in order to destroy democracy been more
successful than in education. A crisis in literacy has been manufactured
( to paraphrase Berliner and Biddle) and Lyon is a key player in a
campaign which has successfully imposed a national reading methodology
and curriculum on the nations highly decentralized educational system.
Through a series of sham scientific panels and reports they have
established that there is a simple solution to the literacy crisis
supported by a consensus of the scientific community and that the crisis
is so great that it warrants federal interventions in the schools right
down to the class room levels. Never mind that the laws and their
enforcement through which this has been accomplished clearly violate the
United States Constitution; those framing the laws have understood that
in a democracy if power is taken and then institutionalized it becomes
hard to challenge particularly if the judiciary system that is supposed
to be a check against assertions of power is also controlled.
Remarkably the campaign has succeeded in centralizing control of the
educational system at a bargain cost- less than 8% of the national
education budget comes from the federal government. But Chester Finn,
another key player, has gloated how easy it has been to Co-opt the local
and state decision makers- they dont have to take the money, he says.
Actually they do, because the same forces have been active at the state
level. Curiously silent are the usual ultraconservative states rights
advocates who have fought federalization all these years.
Perhaps Lyon is impatient with the process because it is becoming
increasing clear that the fail proof scientific reading programs are not
working. In the places where the imposition of the small number of
reading programs anointed as scientific by those enforcing the national
curriculum and methodology has been in place longest, California for
example, the failure of these programs is becoming increasingly evident.
Thats not unexpected, firstly because these are warmed over narrow
phonics programs with long histories of failure masked by unwarranted
claims of success. But more important the tactic of forcing conformity
on teachers neutralizes the more professional teachers, driving many out
of the classrooms, while providing a cover for less competent teachers.
Assistant Education Secretary Susan Newmans promise to stamp out
creativity among teachers shows both the extent to which power has been
centralized and the belief that by controlling teachers learners can be
The very failure of the mandated programs becomes a tool in the tactic
of blaming the professionals. Since the programs are scientifically
proven to be fail proof then it must be that their failure is the result
of the incompetence of teachers or deliberate sabotage of the programs.
In the beginning it was sufficient to blame whole language, a popular
pedagogy among innovative teachers and teacher educators. But having
declared the reading wars of phonics vs whole language over it became
necessary to broaden the blame to the entire educational establishment.
The International Reading Association, which has desperately tried to be
supportive of the reforms and willingly let itself be co-oped,
discovered it would no longer be accorded that option when a few days
before their annual convention all federal presenters canceled their
In the various states it was easy to eliminate or hamstring
professionals in the state departments of education and shift power to
state boards of education where the agenda can be more easily
controlled. Professional decision making becomes political decision
making at increasingly lower levels.
That leaves the colleges of education, which have never enjoyed high
status among their academic colleagues, as the logical group to carry
the blame for the failure of the scientific solutions to the reading
crisis. It is they who mislead and miseducate teachers. Incompetent
themselves, they fill their students with useless overly complex theory
and refuse to teach them the phonics they need to know to teach
scientifically. They are unworthy of academic freedom and can therefore
be required to clear their course syllabi with state monitors on threat
of decertifying their programs.
Black lists have been established of people, ideas, and practices that
may not be included or even cited in state or federal applications for
support. These blacklists are particularly enforced in staff development
designed to reeducate teachers in the federally mandated programs in
addition to placing the burden of proof on all teacher educators to
demonstrate their acceptance and support of the federal mandates in
order to participate. Lyon has also made reference to the possibility of
charging administrators and teacher educators with malpractice for their
non-conformity. And it is certainly true that those attempting to
conform with the mandates may find themselves legal scapegoats charged
with fraud or misapplication of funds for innocent attempts to
ameliorate the effects of the mandates.
It is a curious demonstration of how successful the seizure of power in
education in the United States has been that while Senator Lotts social
justice slip was widely criticized, Reid Lyons advocacy of acts of
terrorism was not widely challenged, even by the representatives of the
colleges of education in his audience that day. But then Lott is only a
Thanks to Dick Allington here is the link to a full video coverage of
the conference in which Reid Lyon advocates blowing up the Colleges of
You'll find him in the middle of the 1:45 panel just before Bob Slavin.
His whole 15 minute presentation is an amazing set of lies, cliches and
exaggerations. The Blow up the Colleges statement is made in dead
seriousness (nobody laughed) and follows by saying "I know that's not
politically correct." My second favorite statement in his rant is his
claim that in Texas 40% of the fourth graders "couldn't read a lick" and
he and Paige got that down to 6 %.
Call your Congress person and demand his dismissal.