The “Science of Reading” Multiverse
Published in 1942 in The Elementary English Review, a flagship journal of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) that later became Language Arts, “Research in Language” is one of the most cited pieces by Lou LaBrant in my scholarship and public writing about education and literacy.
LaBrant served as president of NCTE in the 1950s, and along with being an active and influential literacy scholar, LaBrant was a practitioner over a staggering 65 years of teaching.
LaBrant made two incisive claims in this article:
A brief consideration will indicate reasons for the considerable gap between the research currently available and the utilization of that research in school programs and methods. (p. 87)
It is not strange, in view of the extensive literature on language, that the teacher tends to fall back upon the textbook as authority, unmindful of the fact that the writer of the text may himself be ignorant of the basis for his study. (pp. 88–89)
LABRANT, L. (1947, JANUARY). RESEARCH IN LANGUAGE. ELEMENTARY ENGLISH, 24(1), 86–94. HTTP://WWW.JSTOR.ORG/STABLE/41383425
Having written an educational biography of LaBrant for my doctoral dissertation, I am vividly aware that LaBrant taught and wrote as a complex progressive who used the term “research” in broad Deweyan terms that included everything from gold-standard experimental research to the daily observations made by classroom teachers.
I cite her because as a practitioner and scholar I also embrace a very complicated understanding of “research,” “evidence,” and the word of the moment, “science.” I am also deeply skeptical of textbooks and programs.
Since early 2018, the phrase “science of reading” has entered and often dominated media, public/parental, and political discourse around the teaching and learning of reading in the U.S.
Almost for as long — I discovered the movement a few months after it began — I have been waving a red flag, advocating for skepticism and extreme caution about that discourse, the media, public/parental, and political rhetoric. For that reason, I persist in placing the phrase in quote marks since I am specifically criticizing the discourse.
If anything, my criticism is having far too little impact on the consequences of the “science of reading” discourse that is driving many states to adopt new reading legislation. And on social media, I am routinely attacked, often quite aggressively, as a science denier and someone intent on hurting children (although I have been a life-long educator across five decades as both a K-12 classroom teacher and a college professor).
I am also often discredited and told that journalists, parents, and politicians understand my own field better than I do.
Part of the problem with debating the “science of reading” movement is the term itself, one that has at least three different meanings, a multiverse if you will (although absent, darn it, Doctor Strange or Wanda).
[Please continue reading HERE.]