03 November 2013

The Wilful Ignorance of Richard Allington

Initials after your name don't make you smart, or worthwhile to society. That's always been the problem with the credentialist society of the past 150 years. People with doctorates, for example, hand out doctorates, and maybe they do so in ways which limit intellectual and career competition.

Anyway, this is largely my case against our colleges and schools of education. Credentials trump knowledge, credentials trump experience, credentials trump value to our children in many of our "hallowed halls" of academe.

This fact appeared again - powerfully - in an EdWeek story about that impending bane of children of America, the Common Core test and its refusal to treat read-aloud - Text-To-Speech - as a fully equal testing regime for students with dyslexia. The key part of the story for me was a stunning ignorant and offensive statement from, yes, a professor of education:
"Richard Allington, a professor of education at the University of Tennessee and one of the country's most recognized experts on early literacy, calls the accommodation "cheating."

'"What special education does best is create illiterates," Mr. Allington said. "I know why they don't want their kids tested on reading activity. It's because they've done a terrible job of providing those kids with high-quality reading instruction."' - EdWeek
So, in a national educational publication, this "Doctor," this "Professor," is willing to call me - and millions like me - an "illiterate cheater," and he thinks that's a perfectly reasonable thing to say about a person, about people, he knows absolutely nothing about. In response, on Twitter, I called him a "moron" in the best slang use of the term - but here's the difference. From these quotes, I know a great deal about Richard Allington, and I know he is dangerous.

Dangerous because he is willing to mix his position of credentialed authority, and control over who becomes a teacher (and perhaps PhD) from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, with his desire for fame, with wilful ignorance and a firm disrespect for humanity.

Dr. Richard Allington:
Please take his glasses away,
accommodations are cheating

Whatever Allington's credentials - and he claims an awful lot on his web page and - I'm sure - his office walls...
"Dick Allington is professor of education at the University of Tennessee. Previously he served as the Irving and Rose Fien Distinguished Professor of Education at the University of Florida, and as chair of the Department of Reading at the University at Albany – SUNY.
   "Dick has served as the President of the International Reading Association, as President of the National Reading Conference, and as a member of the International Reading Association Board of Directors. He is the co-recipient of the Albert J. Harris Award from IRA in recognition of his work contributing to the understanding of reading and learning disabilities and the William S. Gray Citation of Merit for his contributions to the profession. In addition Dick has been named to the IRA Reading Hall of Fame.
  "Dick currently serves on the editorial boards of Reading Research Quarterly, Remedial and Special Education, Journal of Literacy Research, Journal of Disability Policy Studies, and the Journal of Educational Psychology. He has previously served terms on the editorial boards of the Review of Educational Research, Elementary School Journal, and the Reading Teacher, and as associate editor of the Journal of Literacy Research."
... he has proved to be an irresponsible person to have within the field of education, because he is willing to hurt children in the pursuit of his career.

In order to make the statements he made, this "Doctor" has to be willing to ignore almost all the actual brain research of the past fifteen years, everything we now know from genetics research around the world and fMRI research. This is probably OK with him because if there is one thing most education graduate programs teach it is to pick and choose research which supports your initial biased guess (called a "hypothesis" in the Alice in Wonderland research paradigm of education). And he probably believes he can get away with slandering a wide group of people because his "credentialed status" labels him as an expert.

Now, "Doctor" Allington, who appears to cheat using accommodations daily (if photos can be believed), also proves himself a hypocrite of the first order, accepting a solution for his inabilities as "normal" - his prescriptive eyeglasses - but seeing solutions for the inabilities of others - the digital reading support and audiobooks I use - as "cheating" and proof of illiteracy.
This "illiterate cheater" will be happy to debate the issues
of contemporary literature with "Doctor" Allington
Now, "Doctor" Allington and I can agree on the shortcomings of much of Special Education - it does, all too often, breed dependence. But the difference is that while my response is respect for, and the attempt to empower those students within the Special Ed-Industrial Complex, his solution is to blame them for their genetically differing brain structures, and to insist that they become just like him.

Now, since "Doctor" Allington has called me a "cheater" and "illiterate" - let me list my credentials - and I will argue that these are contemporary - post-Gutenberg - credentials. Sure "Doctor," I struggle mightily with decoding alphabetical text, and sure, unless I am drawing my letters, copying them in fact, my writing is just about useless, and - well, to go further, I've never learned to "keyboard" with more than one finger. So yes, "Doctor," by your standards I can neither read nor write. And to get around that I do indeed "cheat." I use digital text-to-speech tools, from WYNN to WordTalk to Balabolka to Click-Speak and I use audiobooks all the time, whether from Project Gutenberg or LibriVox or Audible. Yes, I "cheat" by writing with Windows Speech Recognition and Android Speech Recognition and the SpeakIt Chrome extension.

Hey "Doctor," we put these "cheating" tools on computers for every child.
And "Doctor," I not only use them, I encourage students all over the United States, all around the world in fact, to cheat with these tools as well. I've even helped develop a free suite of tools for American students to support that "cheating."

But beyond that, I'll match my scholarship with "Doctor" Allington's anytime, including my "deeply read" knowledge of the history of American education, and my "actual" - Grounded Theory Research - with real children in real schools in real - non-laboratory, non-abusive-control-group - situations.

And beyond that, I tend to think I'm as "well read" as any non-literature major around. So if the "Doctor" wants to debate James Joyce or Seamus Heaney or current Booker Prize shortlist fiction, or argue over why American schools often teach literature and the real part of reading, the understanding - so badly, I think I'll be able to hold my own.

Finally, in terms of recognition and accomplishment, well, for over 15 years I've been making real differences in the lives of people - from creating one of the earliest universally designed university campus computer networks at Grand Valley State University in the last century, to working for over a decade with children and adults through Michigan's Vocational Rehabilitation agency, to supporting the universal design and assistive technology initiatives of many K-12 schools, to research and teaching at Michigan State, to my present work in Virginia, and I have shared this work and knowledge base freely, never putting anything behind paywalls which might limit the access of teachers and students to essential information. And thanks to contemporary forms of social media, people know what I do.

Perhaps I should mention the books this illiterate has written - cheating with Speech Recognition, and oh yeah, spellcheck too, and WYNN for editing help - but, that's just extra...

I list my credentials not to compete, but to suggest that I have a deep kind of knowledge of these issues which is quite different from the knowledge listed on the "Doctor's" CV. It is a kind of "street," on-the-ground knowledge not available to university office researchers. And a prime part of that difference is that I deal with humans, and human brains, and human learning, and not just data points.

And with that knowledge, I would like to challenge "Doctor" Allington to a debate. We can do it in person or we can do it via those contemporary technological affordances, but we should do it in public, with the largest audience we can get.

I will ask the "Doctor" to explain and defend his definitions of "cheating," "illiteracy," "literacy," and "reading." And he can ask me whatever he wants. I will challenge his knowledge of contemporary research, and he is welcome to challenge mine.

I will ask him about his willingness to assault children in public by labelling them as he has done, and he can surely challenge my use of the term "moron" as it relates to him, and my use of "quotation marks." But I think that "Doctor" Allington should answer me before he steps back into any University of Tennessee classroom, or talks to any more future teachers.

Reading and Writing - "Reading is getting information from a recorded source into
your brain in a way which allows you to work with it. Writing is getting information
from your brain into a form which can be accessed asynchronously."
In the end our children deserve not just our respect but every opportunity we can give them. They also deserve respect for their differences, and must not be forced into conformity. Perhaps they need this most from those who claim the right to prepare our future teachers. Perhaps they do not need "credentialist experts" insulting them and attempting to deny them opportunities - especially those "experts" who have actual power over what the user experience of our students will be.

So, "Doctor" Allington, join me on an international stage, and let's let the world understand your argument, and let's let the world decide whether you get to keep using technology to fix that eyesight of yours.

- Ira Socol


Gramma Solo: Sheri Edwards said...

Ira, I love your blog posts and respect your ideas so much. I understand how this comment is so offensive because I also work with students who need accommodations in order to "understand," which is the essence in the process of reading and writing. I also respect Dr Allington's views and think he has added to helping teachers be better teachers of reading. And I hope that your post creates an extended vision to his ideas, to include an understanding of that some people struggle with literacy and find ways to become literate, ways that you suggest. Such strategies should be encouraged and honored, not called cheating.

Maruja Romero said...

Ira, me encanta haber leído este artículo, me llena de inspiración y fuerzas. No hay forma en la tierra de detener los movimientos de liberación para los que son diferentes y tienen alguna discapacidad. Tampoco hay manera de detener los avances en la tecnología que proveen gadgets que suplen y sugieren formas novedosas de enseñar y aprender. No habrá fuerza en la tierra de doblegar a personas como usted que luchan por ideales firmes y nobles que proveen puertas hacia la integración y cierran canales de discriminación. EXITO|

Paige said...

Is your transcription software to blame for the gratuitous quotation marks that plague your "writing"?

Ira Socol said...

Thanks "Paige" - I'm so fascinated by the cowardice of the critical here. No actual name, no link, no affiliation - not even an actual argument. Just the kind of snarky response bad teachers give to kids all the time, making the school experience far worse than useless.

"Paige" so succinctly demonstrates what's wrong with education in so many places.

- Ira Socol