S2 E18: How to End the Reading War: A Critical Conversation with Dr. P. L. Thomas

January 09, 2023 Season 2 Episode 18
S2 E18: How to End the Reading War: A Critical Conversation with Dr. P. L. Thomas
Show Notes Transcript

Schoolutions - S2 E18: S2 E18: How to End the Reading War: A Critical Conversation with Dr. P. L. Thomas

[00:00:00] Olivia Wahl: I am Olivia Wahl, and I am humbled to welcome my guest today, Dr. P. L. Thomas.  Paul taught high school English in rural South Carolina for eighteen years. In 2002, he moved into teacher education as a professor of education at Furman University. He is a former column editor for English Journal via the National Council of Teachers of English and is the current series editor for Critical Literacy Teaching Series, Challenging Authors and Genres.

[00:00:44] Olivia Wahl: NCTE named Paul the 2013 George Orwell Award winner. Paul co-edited Critical Media Literacy and Fake News in Post-Truth America, receiving the 2019 Divergent Award for excellence in 21st-century literacies. Paul's repertoire of published writing is vast. I will include links in the show notes for this episode.

[00:01:07] Olivia Wahl: With that said, Paul is the author of How to End The Reading War and Serve the Literacy Needs of All Students. Our conversation will reference the second edition of his book, released in 2022. Paul, welcome. I am so honored to have you as a guest. 

[00:01:23] P. L. Thomas: Thank you very much. It's great to be here. 

[00:01:25] Olivia Wahl: I kick off every episode by asking educators who an inspiring teacher is from their life.

[00:01:32] Olivia Wahl: Could you share with listeners? 

[00:01:34] P. L. Thomas: Yeah, I'd love to. I write about this a lot. My high school English teacher, Lynn Harrill, was that for me, but it's really hard to pick one person. I would say it was so many teachers; that’s why I became a teacher. But Lynn was completely different than any teacher I'd ever had, and he had just come out of the writing project, and this was late 1970s.

[00:02:00] P. L. Thomas: And I went from ninth grade where all we did was diagram sentences. I'm not joking. We did that for an entire year. Lynn had us read books and write papers, and some of us found that very disturbing. But I actually, I've taken two of his positions. I've filled his high school English position when he moved to the district office and my current position at Furman, he was there and left, and I took that position.

[00:02:27] P. L. Thomas: I would say he was the most pivotal person in my life, along with obviously my parents, but Lynn was huge for me. 

[00:02:35] Olivia Wahl: Yeah. I wanted you to be a guest on Schoolutions because I recently listened to the Sold a Story podcast, and it brought me to a place of, I'm going to use the word despair and great concern. I'm having teachers in school districts I'm supporting, quoting directly from the podcast itself. And we are going to speak a bit to that today in our conversation.

[00:03:01] Olivia Wahl: But something, Paul, I know you really advocate for is teacher autonomy. After rereading the second edition, I paused, and I reflected on myself as an educator in my journey. And I realized starting teaching in San Diego; I had complete teacher autonomy as a second-year teacher. My first year was a complete mimic of my student teaching.

[00:03:27] Olivia Wahl: But jumping forth to my second year, I was teaching at Marshall Elementary in City Heights in San Diego, a very impoverished neighborhood, mostly bilingual children. And when the principal asked me during my interview, what is balance literacy, I had not a clue what balanced literacy was. I think I said, it's balancing reading and writing.

[00:03:50] Olivia Wahl: I'm mortified. But she saw something in me as a teacher that I really wanted to do what's best by children and tailor instruction to meet the needs of every single child. And it wasn't until I moved. To New York City to teach at P.S. 116 in Murray Hill that, I still had autonomy as a teacher. Yet when I became an instructional coach and I was traveling all over, I realized there was lock-step, for lack of a better term, that teachers were expected to follow regardless of the curricula that they were using.

[00:04:26] Olivia Wahl: But it was mostly impoverished schools. It was mostly gross inequities I was seeing in the buildings. Go back to my second-year teaching though, Paul, at Marshall Elementary, there was poverty, there was vast racism outside of the building, yet there was a family center on the school grounds. There were so many pieces put into place to offer more opportunities.

[00:04:54] Olivia Wahl: So, I want to kick off by naming the issue with your own words from your book. The teaching of reading and the public debate about reading have always been characterized by overblown melodrama and the nearly complete failure to implement what we know about learning to read in K to 12 public schools because of partisan political bureaucracy, textbook companies, the massive and growing testing industry, and the misguided influence of non-educators posing as reading and literacy experts.

[00:05:31] Olivia Wahl: Boom. Paul, you named it right there. And when I read those words again, I'm like, okay, you're going to pull me out of the pits of despair. So you have many, many solutions, but I just, I want to hear from you what are key problems of the reading war in general, and then we'll jump into historical context.

[00:05:53] P. L. Thomas: Yeah, I think I will stand by that. It's always nerve-wracking to have your work quoted back to you, but I do stand by that, and it's really interesting to me because your experience very much parallels mine. I taught primarily public school in the 1980s and 1990s. I'm in South Carolina, and we were full-on with accountability.

[00:06:15] P. L. Thomas: Our governor was, uh, Dick Riley, who became Education Secretary, and Dick Riley is a wonderful person. He's incredibly kind to me, so I'm always nervous to say this, but. He was an early adopter of the accountability movement because I think South Carolina had such low self-esteem as a state in education.

[00:06:36] P. L. Thomas: Because we're a high-poverty state. Generally, we're about the 10th most impoverished state, so we're in the bottom quartile of affluence in the country. I was in a very rural, very conservative, my hometown in the upstate of South Carolina, and honestly, I could do whatever I wanted to do. And my principal also trusted me in a weird way that I don't understand because I did not know what I was doing for about seven to ten years.

[00:07:07] P. L. Thomas: But I was trying very hard, and honestly, what saved my life was the National Writing Project. When I went into the National Writing Project, Brenda Davenport was the director, and she kicked my butt. She basically is the first person to teach me that good intentions aren't enough. Um, and I love her for that because it was hard.

[00:07:28] P. L. Thomas: I was very angry because she called me on the carpet, and I was doing a lot of deficit approaches to literacy.  Because I thought I was helping my students. Your story really resonates with me. Cause that's my experience too. The problem with the reading wars and the paradox is that I would say for at least 80 years, maybe longer, we have never taught reading as well as we could.

[00:07:54] P. L. Thomas: And this is provable. I begged people find me one year or one decade where the media or political message was that we did teach reading well,  and it doesn't exist. So the essential problem with the reading war debate is a failure of logic. Over the last 80 years, we've had hundreds of different reading programs.

[00:08:20] P. L. Thomas: We've had dozens of different standards. We've had dozens of different tests. We've had millions of different human beings involved in the teaching and learning of reading, and we're never happy. So the essential problem is, to me, false blame, false crisis, and the same solutions. I think everybody should really pay close attention to the last 40 years when we started the accountability movement

[00:08:47] P. L. Thomas: Every few years, we introduced new standards and new tests because they didn't work. And we are always, but these will work. And I'm like, no, they won't. Just 20 years ago, NCLB (No Child Left Behind) made it law that you had to use scientifically based programs and strategies.

[00:09:11] P. L. Thomas: That was the law. 2001. Twenty years later, we failed because we need to use science. That doesn't even make sense. It's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard in my life. False crisis, false blame, and the same solutions over and over. Just today on Twitter, somebody was complaining that they had, you know, uh, fifth-grade students who couldn't decode.

[00:09:38] P. L. Thomas: And I didn't want to sound mean, and I'm not being snarky. If you have fifth-grade students with reading problems, just teach 'em. I mean, it's, it's just what we do. My students came to me in high school with all sorts of needs, and I just taught 'em. But what really upsets me is this teacher is convinced, and I will say probably because of the podcast that you referenced, that it's because of queuing.

[00:10:02] P. L. Thomas: And I'm like, you've got to be kidding me. Like that is overly simplistic. The way that three queuing or multiple queuing is being presented is inaccurate. The same thing with balanced literacy. Most people attacking balanced literacy, never give the right definition of it. One thing I tried to do in my policy brief from NEPC (National Education Policy Center) and what I got really good support for is this oversimplification.

[00:10:26] P. L. Thomas: Most of our problem is that media parents and politicians oversimplify, I don't know if you saw it, but Governor (Glenn) Youngkin of Virginia, I've got his quote. He said, “You know, we finally implemented the science of reading. You know, phonics.”

Like that quote captures everything. The science of reading people will say, wait a minute, science of reading isn't just phonics.

[00:10:50] P. L. Thomas: And then I show 'em. But that's way it's being interpreted. Media and politicians don't have the background. So if we can do anything, I think with this podcast, it's oversimplification.

[00:11:00] Olivia Wahl: In every episode I listened to of Sold a Story, I continued to pause after, especially episodes two and six, and say, you know, there is no magic solution to this outside of really ensuring we are tailoring our instruction to meet the needs of every child and know what every child has in place and what they need next.

[00:11:21] Olivia Wahl: This is not new. This is not a new war at all. And your book gives this beautiful historical context that you just alluded to, you know, 1940s, the reading war, 1990s, the reading war, and really we need to make sure we're looking back to see more clearly of what we need to do today. Would you give listeners some brief context around the forties, the nineties, and then how you're navigating the current third reading war a little bit differently?

[00:11:53] P. L. Thomas: Yes. I would say one of the blessings of my doctoral program is that I did my dissertation. I did an educational biography of Lou LaBrandt, that's a woman. Her name was Lou Lou, and she hated that, so she went by Lou. And she taught from 1906 to 1971, uh, an incredible career. She lived to be 102. So she had a lot of room there to work for 65 years. Um, and the context is she wrote her memoirs, and she had this rant in one section about back to basics. Because she'd lived through like four back-to-basics movements. And she was writing from the Reagan era when the back to basics was, you know, in high swing. And so I do think we have to look back to move forward.

[00:12:38] P. L. Thomas: I think that's an excellent way to put it. The 1940s reading crisis is around draftees failing literacy tests. Eleanor Roosevelt actually, you know, she responded to it. And then the media, of course, blamed John Dewey, and progressive education. Well, Lou LaBrandt was a card-carrying John Dewey progressive, and she did a little research, and virtually every draftee that failed the literacy test had been in traditional education.

[00:13:08] P. L. Thomas: Progressive education didn’t exist in many places. So all of them had been taught this scripted phonics-based reading instruction. And what really stands out to me, there was a special issue of the journal that became Language Arts - back then, it was just called Elementary English, and literacy experts weighed in and over and over.

[00:13:31] P. L. Thomas: They would say, you know, the problem with reading in the United States, it's poverty. And you know, that really upsets me because we've been saying that for 80 years, and we just will not respond to it. I mean, there's nothing in that template of the 1940s that we aren't doing exactly 80 years later, which is very frustrating.

[00:13:51] P. L. Thomas: The 1990s, I think is even a better example. My good friend Stephen Krashen, who's a professor emeritus at UCLA and an international, uh, literacy scholar, he calls it an urban legend. Everybody was convinced that whole language destroyed California and literacy in the 90s. And Linda Darling-Hammond actually did an analysis of NAEP in the 1990s.

[00:14:16] P. L. Thomas: This came out in ‘97, I believe, and it was the 1992 NAEP data, I believe. And there's a high correlation, a positive correlation between higher NAEP scores and whole language classroom practices. And, I mean, nobody paid any attention to that. That completely contradicts the narrative. Now, in between that, of course, you've got Johnny Can't Read the 60s and 70s,

[00:14:46] P. L. Thomas: you've got this fight between Ken Goodman and uh, Jeanne Chall, and then late 90s into the 2000s, you've got the National Reading Panel. There are a lot of smaller versions of this same pattern, but it's every 5 or 10 years, we scream reading crisis, and we blame the same thing, and we offer the same solutions.

[00:15:06] P. L. Thomas: So, for me, the big difference is the science of reading movement, which I put the foundations of that in 2018 with Emily Hanford. But this was starting 2012, 2013 also, a lot of states were passing really bad legislation around 2012, 2013. My home state did that too. And back then, it was the Florida Model.

[00:15:33] P. L. Thomas: And the Florida Model was retaining third graders based on their reading scores. And we've got tons of research that doesn't work. It raises scores early, but by eighth grade, any supposed gain from that intensive phonics and the grade retention disappears. I call that a mirage. It's not real gain. It's not real learning. 

[00:15:58] P. L. Thomas: But that Florida Model influenced a lot of reading policy in the 2010s. And the big difference for me is there's a social media context for this. The other part of it that I think people may not be aware of – when Emily Hanford published Hard Words by 2018, Decoding Dyslexia is a parent organization that was in all 50 states.

[00:16:25] P. L. Thomas: The structure was there. And Richard Allington, who is also one of the most highly regarded literacy experts in our, in the country, Richard Allington, had been fighting that momentum for a long time. So you see on social media, especially this hard overlap of dyslexia, advocates in science of reading advocates.

[00:16:46] P. L. Thomas: And I do want to pause and say parents who are concerned about their children's education are completely justified and being concerned. Uh, there's absolutely no one who is more concerned than me about addressing the needs of every individual child. And I always get kind of attacked. And if one parent did something and their child is a better reader and happier, then I applaud that.

[00:17:13] P. L. Thomas: For instance, I'm not saying that Orton Gillingham programs don't work. What I'm saying is they're not scientifically supported, and it's very hard for people to hear that message because, in their individual lives, they may have had what they perceive as success, which is also a difficult thing. They don't really know if OG Phonics did that.

[00:17:34] P. L. Thomas: In other words, you can't do research on your individual child's experience. So you just have to believe that coincidentally, they were put in the situation and it worked. I don't care. I'm glad it worked. Um, so I, I do think the difference now is social media and there was this advocacy network sitting there ready to happen, and Decoding Dyslexia already had been very effective in changing and creating state policy.

[00:18:07] P. L. Thomas: And for me, I, I think a lot of people misunderstand my work. . I am worried about bad policy, and I am worried about how bad policy takes away teacher autonomy and hurts students. I don't train people to be reading teachers. I'm a secondary person. I don't pretend that I have all the expertise needed. If I were handed a grade one classroom, I'll worry about policy.

[00:18:37] P. L. Thomas: I do understand the research. For instance, I know what the research says on systematic phonics, and it's not what the media says, and it's not what the governors say. 

[00:18:47] Olivia Wahl: So we're going to keep circling back to the same threads throughout our conversation because it's the core of how to move forward with this work. Two different places in the world stood out to me from your book, Mississippi and England. Why is Mississippi a focus state when it comes to the reading war, and why should we critically look at Wyse and Bradbury's 2022 Analysis of Britain’s shift from balanced literacy to systemic phonics?

[00:19:16] P. L. Thomas: Yeah.

[00:19:16] P. L. Thomas: the Mississippi story is pretty fascinating. Now, if you go back and look, since 1992, Mississippi has had a steady increase in fourth-grade reading scores on NAEP, and I will pause and say this, congratulations. I think Mississippi should be applauded because they took it seriously. It's a high-poverty state.

[00:19:41] P. L. Thomas: They have a huge percentage of black population. They did serve their students better. That's wonderful. But there's also a pretty big jump in Mississippi test scores, I think seven or eight points over two or three years, way before the 2013, 2015, 2017, 2019 jump. The ugly little secret is a lot of their gains recently are from grade retention, and Mississippi retains more students than anybody else in the country. Recently.

[00:20:20] P. L. Thomas: they're retaining about a thousand black students a year. That is just unconscionable. And I do have a white paper on grade retention. I'm strongly against that. It's very harmful. It does not help students. It only hurts students. And grade retention does create those mirages. States have had jumps in their third and fourth-grade testing when they use grade retention.

[00:20:43] P. L. Thomas: But again, it's gone by eighth grade. 

[00:20:45] Olivia Wahl: Yeah. 

[00:20:46] P. L. Thomas: So Mississippi is attractive to the science of reading propaganda movement, not the pure science of reading movement. Because going back to what I said earlier about the 1940s, one thing that some education reformers have been arguing for decades is we can't deal with poverty.

[00:21:05] P. L. Thomas: So schools have to fix it, and the hard truth is that doesn't. 

[00:21:11] Olivia Wahl: No, no. 

[00:21:12] P. L. Thomas: That doesn't work. We need both. We need equity in our society, and we need equity in our schools. So I think the Mississippi part is very important, and I really like that you're linking it to England. So since 2006, England enacted systematic phonics instruction for all students.

[00:21:29] P. L. Thomas: It was mandated. The recent Wyse and Bradbury study found two very important things. One, the policy change did work. So since 2016, teachers and students have actually been doing the systematic phonics. The second thing that's really interesting to point out is England is no better in international comparisons of reading than they were before the systematic phonics and Wyse

[00:21:58] P. L. Thomas: and Bradbury found a very fascinating conclusion that England needed more balance in how they teach reading. Now, I do want to point out they were not using balance as in the technical term balanced literacy, but they were arguing for balance. Jeff Bowers, in 2020, did an overview of meta-analyses of systematic phonics.

[00:22:23] P. L. Thomas: The newest research we have is that systematic phonics increases pronunciation typically in first grade only. It does not impact comprehension, and the gains in pronunciation made in the early grades disappear by the later grades. So any perceived reading advantage, and I don't think pronunciation is reading, but any perceived reading advantage of systematic phonics.

[00:22:53] P. L. Thomas: dissipates 3, 4, 5 years later, and students who had systematic phonics and students who didn't have systematic phonics tend to have an equal comprehension outcome later on. So a lot of us say that the systematic phonics for all students is overkill. I do want to put a pin in again, Stephen Krashen has pointed out.

[00:23:18] P. L. Thomas: There's the systematic phonics for all advocacies. There's the basic phonics advocacies, and there's the no

[00:23:28] P. L. Thomas: phonics advocacies. As Krashen points out, there's nobody in that third category. I really have never met anyone who says do not teach any phonics. Krashen, me, a lot of balanced literacy and whole language

[00:23:43] P. L. Thomas: people say that we need to teach enough direct phonics to get kids reading. And I think the misperception is, yes, phonics matters. A lot of things matter when you read. The question is, how do you get those skills? And I like to use an analogy; frequent good readers have big vocabularies. So a lot of people go, well, let's just teach kids a lot of words; like that's missing the boat, right?

[00:24:15] P. L. Thomas: And so I've always been against vocabulary instruction for that reason. I have a big vocabulary because I'm engaged in literacy all the time. I've read thousands of books. I talk to people, I read, I write. So we gain phonics, phonemic awareness, decoding strategies by reading. No one is arguing that we shouldn't have those skills.

[00:24:39] P. L. Thomas: I think the question is, how do we get there? And many of us would argue, That the systematic isolated phonics instruction is so decontextualized that it actually does more harm than good, at least in terms of time taken away from authentic and holistic experiences with reading. 

[00:25:03] Olivia Wahl: Yeah. I want to pause there because so much of what you're saying, it's just resonating off the charts. I continue to think of how we're defining reading, and I think that being a teacher of kindergartners and first graders as I have been, and now working with high school teachers as well, there is this push for developing SAT vocabulary, and I cannot wait to share the section from your book around vocabulary instruction.

[00:25:35] Olivia Wahl: It's so valuable at the high school level, especially of how we can just envelop children in vocabulary in a way that's authentic and will be meaningful to them. But then thinking of kinder in first grade. No one is saying that children do not need phonics instruction. I think that a huge issue that I've seen in schools for years is there's really not a well-laid-out implementation of any phonics instruction.

[00:26:07] Olivia Wahl: It's hit or miss. Try this, try that, try this, try that. And so there's very little consistency for children, and I have grave concerns with patterns at the elementary level. Paul, in some places, over half of the classes, the teachers are recommending children for RTI, which is Response to Intervention. Why is this happening?

[00:26:30] P. L. Thomas: Yeah.

[00:26:30] P. L. Thomas: Let's start there. I think a lot of people don't know about this. So the movement has been for about 20 years, shifting literacy into special needs. That's why I think the over-identifying of dyslexia is coming from is there's this misperception that normal developmental patterns are being turned into needs and, uh, somehow there's something wrong with students.

[00:27:00] P. L. Thomas: And again, I'll go back historically - When were kids ever all proficient at reading by third grade? I know people correlate that with like going to prison, and most of that is misinformation too. That's misunderstanding, uh, statistics. So, you know, I think that's a really important thing to interrogate. Why are we making what I would say common reading progress, a special need, and really a lot of this is just a deficit view.

[00:27:33] P. L. Thomas: A former colleague of mine who's now retired, she's one of the most brilliant literacy people I've ever known, and she was a wonderful friend. Uh, Nita Schmidt, she was at Furman with me, and then she went back home, and she taught at Iowa. And a lot of literacy departments at universities, when literacy people retire, they're being replaced with Special ED scholars and professors.

[00:27:55] P. L. Thomas: So I do think that's a really important element in all of this.

[00:27:59] Olivia Wahl: I think we need to pause and define what we mean by reading for listeners.

[00:28:04] P. L. Thomas: The reason I mentioned Nita, she and I did a book together called 21st Century Literacy, which we rotated chapters. And her chapter was basically more elementary-oriented, and mine was more secondary-oriented. We talked about multi-literacies, and that reading is more than print. So I think one thing that we really haven't addressed is a lot of our students are incredibly literate, but maybe not text-based literate.

[00:28:31] P. L. Thomas: And I think text-based literacy still matters tremendously. But a mistake that we're making is we're not building on these other literacies. And I've got two of my grandchildren, I've got three grandchildren, two of them I see quite a bit, and um, they're six and eight. And my six-year-old, he's incredibly literate from watching YouTube. Um, he's a gamer. He loves playing video games, and he'll sit watching other people play, and his vocabulary is stunning. He has concepts, and he'll say words, and I'm like, you're six. Well, where did you learn that? And yes, will he need help? And he does. He's not showing that kind of advancement in print. So if you just focused on his print, you might misinterpret him as not having a high level of literacy.

[00:29:28] P. L. Thomas: And he actually has a much higher level of literacy than I did when I was six. And I will tell you, I had high literacy. I could read before I went to school. But his is higher to me because it's so much more complex. His areas of literacy are way more types of media and way more complicated concepts. I could read anything in print out loud and tell you what it meant in first grade, but that's kind of misleading. 

[00:29:58] Olivia Wahl: So that idea of critical literacy is something that I think we need to highlight. And I think, too, for our colleagues, yes, children need that direct phonics instruction, but it has to be tailored to the needs of the children. And the place I'm starting with kindergarten and first-grade teachers I'm supporting is, let's look at student writing.

[00:30:22] Olivia Wahl: I think starting with student work to uncover patterns, the evidence is right there based on what they're hearing, how they're encoding. And I think children need practice of the phonic skills they're being taught in isolation and decodables, as well as being steeped in beautiful pattern books, steeped in beautiful trade books, having conversations about the world around them.

[00:30:47] P. L. Thomas: One thing I'll emphasize first is what you were just talking about, and this is what I try to teach. Anybody who is going to teach instruction has to start with artifacts of learning. Have students read for you. Have students write for you. Now, I think the reason balance literacy and whole language have been misinterpreted, and deemed failures is, and I've got a blog post.

[00:31:13] P. L. Thomas: I've got a couple advocating for direct instruction because people assume I'm against direct instruction. This goes back to my vocabulary example. My high school students taught me a very important lesson. Teaching upfront without context is a waste of your time and of your student's Time. 

[00:31:37] Olivia Wahl: Indeed. Yeah.

[00:31:38] P. L. Thomas: Teaching after the artifacts in the context of the artifacts directly and specifically is very effective.

[00:31:48] P. L. Thomas: So I started giving way less upfront direct instruction. Throwing students into holistic production of artifacts. Then I give 'em response, and then they get two things. All of my students get conferences with me individually and whole class, direct instruction based on the needs of the class. So a textbook can't tell me that ahead of time.

[00:32:17] P. L. Thomas: I'm against reading programs. Standards can't tell me that ahead of time. I am the expert of my students.  And I've known thousands of teachers in my life. They're the experts on the students. I was a workshop teacher. I still am. My syllabus is mostly our schedule and their days and days and days. The only word on the schedule is workshop. And that's all I need.

[00:32:42] P. L. Thomas: They come to class with their work, they work, and I interact with 'em. And I have to be prepared to teach anything they need, which is a huge ask of a teacher. That's one thing Lou LaBrandt was adamant about is you have to be prepared to teach anything at any time if your student needs it. So I think one, balance literacy and whole language have struggled because the expectations are incredibly high for the teacher.

[00:33:12] P. L. Thomas: The teaching and learning conditions have to allow it. At Furman, my first-year writing courses are capped at 12, right? When I was a high school English teacher, I had 100 to 125 students at a time, and I graded 4,000 essays a year. That wasn't sustainable. I was wearing a brace on my hand when I quit teaching high school, to be perfectly frank.

[00:33:35] P. L. Thomas: So it's asking a lot of teachers; balanced literacy and whole language. The teaching and learning conditions have to allow it. And you have to understand there is a place for direct instruction, but balanced literacy and whole language and workshop approaches tend to put the direct instruction after student production of artifacts. 

[00:34:00] Olivia Wahl: And Paul, I want to just pause and ensure that listeners are privy to Dixie Lee Spiegel's 1998 definition of balanced literacy. Because I think the term is so skewed at this point that we have to go back to its roots of definition. “A balanced approach to literacy development is a decision-making approach through which the teacher makes thoughtful choices each day about the best way to help each child become a better reader and writer.

[00:34:30] Olivia Wahl: A balanced approach is not constrained by or reactive to a particular philosophy. It is responsive to new issues while maintaining what research has already shown to be effective. It is an approach that requires and frees a teacher to be a reflective decision maker and to fine-tune and modify what they are doing each day in order to meet the needs of each child.”

[00:34:55] Olivia Wahl: This is exactly the heart of what we want every teacher to have autonomy to do, and it's in the best interest of all children. Nowhere in that definition does it state that phonics are not to be used. Phonics are not to be taught. It's actually the complete opposite. It's each teacher being flexible and reflective and giving each child what they need based on what they already have in place.

[00:35:27] P. L. Thomas: This is all really fascinating to me because it’s stuff I, I think about constantly as a teacher. And that's where I think people get lost. And I do think some people just throw students in a room and tell 'em to work. Now, I'm sure that happens, and it's a misunderstanding. So I mean, there is some justification for the misuse of workshop, but to say that workshop doesn't include direct instruction is false, right?

[00:35:55] P. L. Thomas: It's not whether or not you do direct instruction; it’s when and where.  But I think everybody should read Lisa Delpit. She's right that there are ways that progressive education has failed black and poor students, but it's typically not because progressivism is wrong; it’s because the teaching and learning conditions and understanding of progressive strategies are misguided.

[00:36:18] Olivia Wahl: So I want to pause because I can hear teachers saying, look, if you're not an advocate for standards, if you're not an advocate for reading programs, what are we actually teaching then? What are the students writing? What are these artifacts? Before you answer, I want to just let you know that my core of everything I believe teaching should be is workshop.

[00:36:39] Olivia Wahl: And it really concerns me that workshop is completely intertwined often with Lucy Calkins and units of study because those are two very different things. Workshop is a philosophy of teaching where you may choose to kick it off with a small bit of direct instruction, but as you've already articulated, it is driven by students, where students are, and what they need next.

[00:37:06] Olivia Wahl: So Paul, where are we then looking? If we're not guided by standards to help children produce writing, to help children read with a guided way. How do we know what to teach?

[00:37:20] P. L. Thomas: Uh, bingo. That was really good. I really appreciate that. This is smart, and I think this is important. I was presenting in Wisconsin at the Wisconsin State Reading Association before COVID. And Wisconsin is wonderful -the teachers and the WSRA is just a wonderful group of people. They're very concerned about literacy, and they do a great job.

[00:37:40] P. L. Thomas: So I had a lot of support in my work against science of reading, and I also found out they really loathe Lucy Calkins. They hated units of study. So part of my presentation was asking them to explain it to me, and the problem was, of course, that it became a script, right? That units of study in too many places just became a way to control teachers, and that's the problem.

[00:38:11] P. L. Thomas: So again, workshop, balanced literacy, and whole language, as you correctly stated, are philosophies. They're not practices, they're philosophies that guide, practice. Balanced literacy, whole language, and workshop will not work if we don't address class size and if we are obsessed with an efficiency model. 

[00:38:36] Olivia Wahl: Yeah.

[00:38:37] P. L. Thomas: Workshop is slow, and it's sloppy because human growth is slow, and it's sloppy. I'm in the midst of puppy life right now, and it's at my advanced age. This is harder than a child, and the little refrain that we have is, she's just a puppy. 

[00:38:59] Olivia Wahl: Just a puppy. Yeah.

[00:39:01] P. L. Thomas: And expecting a puppy to act like a grown dog is a mistake.

[00:39:05] P. L. Thomas: Expecting a third grader to act like an adult is a mistake. They're just children. And I miss teaching high school because I love teenagers.  And my whole teaching career, every time a teacher complained about a kid, I would go, they're just a teenager.

[00:39:22] Olivia Wahl: Mm-hmm.

[00:39:23] P. L. Thomas: Right? So these expectations of behavior often exceed what is possible.

[00:39:30] P. L. Thomas: So if we put a good teacher, generally with some experience, in a classroom with 15 kids, maybe 18 kids, and we give them the time and the space to do what they need to do, then all of these things will be successful. Well, how do you know what to teach? I don't have any problems with standards existing. I don't think that they should be used to hold teachers accountable. 

[00:39:59] Olivia Wahl: Thank you for clarifying. Yeah.

[00:40:01] P. L. Thomas: So, when I was teaching through the 80s and 90s, I had standards. I never looked at 'em to do planning. I looked at 'em after the fact. Did I help teach them to read better? Did I help them write better? Yep. So I met the standards. It's not even that complicated. And I would also say as kids get older, we often conflate literacy and literature, and I think we get obsessed with making sure kids are experts on the Scarlet Letter, which is a waste of human time.

[00:40:31] P. L. Thomas: and jeopardy. Uh, as opposed to using a

[00:40:34] P. L. Thomas: novel to help students be better readers and thinkers. 

[00:40:38] Olivia Wahl: Right now I have the gift of working with Cris Tovani and Sam Bennett in a school district, and they are brilliant practitioners. Sam's passion around the workshop model, Cris, just seeing her teach on the ground is inspiring at every level. And what I'm trying to do is use the way of thinking with middle and high school teachers that we're working with and push it down into K-5.

[00:41:04] Olivia Wahl: Pausing before we crack open standards and say: What are the big ideas that we want our children to leave this unit of study and go out into the world having in their repertoire? And this is based on coaching from Sam and Cris. Sam would say: How is it going to make the kids better human beings? And how is this going to be still relevant 10 years down the road?

[00:41:25] Olivia Wahl: And then we take those big ideas, and we craft targets for the unit, but they're targets tied to an end make. What will children produce to show understanding of these big ideas? What will they read? Will they write? What will they discuss to represent understanding? You have to be crystal clear on these two facets before you ever have any business jumping into teaching a prolonged unit of study. After we craft those targets to get the kids to the bigger end, make we'll call it,

[00:41:57] Olivia Wahl: then we craft smaller supporting nested targets. That's when we crosscheck with standards. Paul, and time and time again, the standards are there. But if we start with the bigger ideas and how we are going to help every child that we learn with be better humans and understand how what they're learning is relevant and how it always connects back to history, then that is the beacon.

[00:42:21] Olivia Wahl: So I'm really glad you clarified. It's not that standards shouldn't exist; it’s that teachers being held accountable, and students being put against standards; that’s a different story. The word scientific and the phrase research based are being thrown around left and right. I think that terminology is so insanely critical, and it matters.

[00:42:43] Olivia Wahl: Right? So I want listeners to hear your brilliant perspective around what research has to include to truly be scientific, and yet why often what we deem the gold standard of research doesn't work in education. Could you speak to that?

[00:43:02] P. L. Thomas: Yeah.

[00:43:02] P. L. Thomas: I think a, a pivotal point that people missed, and several of us were yelling about this in No Child Left Behind. When the federal government tried to codify scientifically based, we should have resisted. You do not want bureaucracy deciding what is scientific. So the essential problem with the National Reading Panel is they were overwhelmed.

[00:43:25] P. L. Thomas: They had too few people and no staff. So to make their job manageable, they narrowed the definition of scientific so they could handle what they examined. And then Joanne Yatvin, who is wonderful, by the way, pointed out that the National Reading Panel's conclusions were immediately skewed. So if you use only experimental research, you do narrow the field.

[00:43:57] P. L. Thomas: Experimental research is very important when you're trying to find out if a drug works. It's great in the medical profession, but in education, we can't do placebos. We can't put one group of students in a room and not teach them. So generally, education research is more quasi-experimental, which is still a very high standard.

[00:44:18] P. L. Thomas: But again, experimental in quasi-experimental research is looking for ways to generalize. Now, generalizability is important, but it really means very little in a classroom of 20, 25 students who are not a random sample. I've had classes that were skewed to outliers, and a lot of us who teach in high-poverty areas, we may be teaching predominantly outliers.

[00:44:47] P. L. Thomas: So anytime you find generalizability, there are outliers circumstances. So if you say teaching strategy X works for 85% of students, there's still 15% of students that it might not work for, it might be harmful for, and other strategies that have been found to be not scientific do work for those students.

[00:45:10] P. L. Thomas: I would recommend Rick Wormeli. Rick has some good work on why this doesn't work in education. So the science of reading people have really backed themselves into a corner. They're screaming scientific, scientific, scientific. And the two things that I point out, they turn around and quote the NCTQ (National Council on Teacher Quality), and none of their reports are scientific.

[00:45:32] P. L. Thomas: None of them. and they've all been examined by peer review outside because they don't put it through peer review. NCTQ has done all the research on teacher education or all the reports on teacher education. So they'll say scientific, scientific, scientific, and then site reports that aren't scientific.

[00:45:52] P. L. Thomas: They'll also say scientific, scientific, scientific, and then demand that teachers get trained by LETRS (Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling), which isn't supported by science. All the studies on LETRS have found that teachers gain confidence, but students do not have any academic improvement. So that would be the purpose of it, right? Like if we're going to train teachers, we would want students to have better achievement.

[00:46:17] P. L. Thomas: Now let me clarify. LETRS may be very good. It's just not scientific. So that's the corner they backed themselves into. They scream Fountas and Pinnell’s not scientific, units of study’s not scientific, teacher education isn't scientific, and then they turn around, and endorse things that aren't scientific. So I think that's actually a terrible way to decide what we use.

[00:46:44] P. L. Thomas: I think the narrow scientific is a mistake because I think qualitative research, teacher experience, there are tons of kinds of evidence. And I think a lot of people, a lot of people endorse evidence-based instruction, which goes back to our point a minute ago. To me, evidence-based instruction means you start with evidence from your students.

[00:47:07] P. L. Thomas: That's the evidence that matters the most. Then you have to have professional knowledge. You have to have other kinds of evidence, which may be qualitative, which may be quantitative. Uh, are teachers undertrained about dyslexia? Oh, I'm sure they are. That's really complicated. Are teachers undertrained on how to teach writing?

[00:47:30] P. L. Thomas: That's one of my main areas of expertise. Absolutely. They're undertrained. Are teachers as prepared to teach beginning readers as they need to be? Absolutely not. Now the other problem is, I don't know that there is a way to get teachers trained well enough to start teaching. Because as we pointed out at the beginning of this, it took us 5, 6, 7 years of own the job learning to get to where we are.

[00:47:59] P. L. Thomas: And then, you know, I'm a better teacher now than I was last year. Uh, and I've been teaching 40 years. So, I mean, I think all of this is incredibly important to keep in mind, uh, when we talk about what counts as scientific. And then state policy is really breaking the rules. Arkansas outlawed units of study, they outlawed three-cueing, and then they turn around like other states, and they implement things that aren't scientific.

[00:48:27] P. L. Thomas: The hypocrisy in it is what I'm upset about. And I will say I've heard from a lot of teachers, and it's not even that imbalanced. Many have found LETRS training to be quite bad. I mean, I've had people live message me misinformation. I've also had other people say it was a wonderful opportunity to think more deeply and again about instruction.

[00:48:55] P. L. Thomas: So, could LETRS be good professional development? It probably could be. I don't like the price tag. I don't like that we're spending taxpayers’ money on any of this stuff that really upsets me. But again, scientific can mean a lot of things, and I think we would be much better off in education, talking about evidence, expanding what evidence means, but targeting that the first evidence we always have to start with is students. What you were saying a minute ago, I'd say we should bookend our units.

[00:49:28] P. L. Thomas: They should provide evidence at the beginning, and then they should provide evidence at the end. And a lot of times if you get evidence at the beginning, you can find out what you don't need to teach. In other words, they may show you, they have a lot of knowledge that you can use to build on the things that they need to be taught. 

[00:49:47] Olivia Wahl: Absolutely. And I think another trend I see in it's been years is how any evidence, whether it's based on what students are producing or ways we're assessing children overall, is a deficit way of thinking. It's often what students don't have in place. And a quote from your book, “The Deficit Gaze fails because it focuses on individuals and not the conditions within which people find themselves through no fault of their own.”

[00:50:15] Olivia Wahl: And I continue to think of these horrible data walls in school buildings. Oh my gosh. With children's names attached to letters of progress, and it makes me feel so sad. A child's not a level. A child's not a letter. I said earlier terminology is everything, and something that you say in your book, the terms causation versus correlation, warrant versus zeal, these terms are really important.

[00:50:44] Olivia Wahl: We're going to circle back to warrant versus zeal, but I want to just linger a moment before we jump into the mainstream media conversation. What's the difference between causation versus correlation when it comes to scientific research?

[00:50:59] P. L. Thomas: Yeah. If you're using hard science, if you're using experimental and quasi-experimental research, you have to control for all the variables. And you have to be able to say that one thing directly caused another thing. And I think in education, we've got a real problem. I try to give this example all the time.

[00:51:17] P. L. Thomas: I could give a test, and I don't test, but let's pretend that I gave a test, and a student could get the answer right, who happens to be sitting in my room and they could have learned the answer on the Discovery Channel. They could have learned the answer in another teacher's class. But since they're sitting in my room, people want to think that I caused it.

[00:51:41] P. L. Thomas: And that's correlation. I just happened to be the teacher; they just happened to be in the room. And I will never forget one of my high school students made an 800 on the verbal part of the SAT when I was teaching her. Pretty stunning. She was brilliant. People congratulated me, and I'm like, are you serious?

[00:52:01] P. L. Thomas: Her mom was also a teacher, and I said, go down the hall and congratulate her. Or better yet, congratulate the student. Right? Because I would say, thousands of things contributed to her 800, right? I've probably helped her some, but by the time I got her, she was going to make that 800 or not. So I think science narrows down causation to simplistic A causes B.

[00:52:32] P. L. Thomas: I understand why we do that, but it's unhealthy to think that way. I argue way more for complexity. We get to be the way we are for thousands of reasons. Dozens of teachers, parents, movies, books, friends, just and experiences. So I worry about the narrowness of causation, and I do think that hurts us in education. 

[00:52:58] Olivia Wahl: So I want to shift our conversation. When folks' voices are put out there into the world, there is intent, and there is impact. And often, you may intend to get a message across. And I think there's, as you would say, good intentions, but good intentions are not enough, and it's just fanning this war that does not need to exist.

[00:53:20] Olivia Wahl: It's not doing what's right for our children in any way. So I know that we need to change how the mainstream media drives the national discussion on reading. I know that in everything I believe to be true. Something that you say is that: “The science of reading movement is deja vu all over again. Since the movement looks essentially like many other education reform patterns that have all failed because they misidentify the problem and grasp for silver bullet solutions all wrapped up in media and political frenzy, that is almost impossible to stop.”

[00:53:53] Olivia Wahl: And Paul, I have felt this since Sold a Story podcast came out. Since I'm hearing teachers quoting from it. I have advised many school leaders to listen to the podcast to hear what's being said. And then please, if they haven't already, read your book, in the book that we're talking about again is How to End the Reading War and Serve the Literacy Needs of All Students because you give the context that can make everybody smarter in the room and have a grounding point.

[00:54:25] Olivia Wahl: How do we change how the mainstream media drives the national discussion on reading?

[00:54:31] P. L. Thomas: Right now. I just want to give credit Paul Gorski, who is a great equity scholar, has a wonderful piece on decolonization that uses the concept of good intentions aren't enough. And I will say that I do think that a lot of people have good intentions, but not everybody. The one thing that we're missing is the market element.

[00:54:52] P. L. Thomas: This has certainly helped several journalists’ careers. We have journalists keynote speaking at literacy conferences. That is not appropriate, in my opinion. I haven't key-noted at any journalism conferences, and I probably would turn it down. So there's a fundamental problem there, and I highly recommend to everyone.

[00:55:14] P. L. Thomas: Maren Aukerman at Calgary has three pieces out; they’re blogs. They're easy to access. She has detailed with heavy citations how the media has grossly misrepresented almost everything that's in the podcast. Almost everything that's in the articles in APM (American Public Media), Education Week has done this almost weekly, Forbes, New York Times, and she lays out with evidence how it's misrepresentation.

[00:55:47] P. L. Thomas: It was very hard to resist media narratives until social media. The reason I have a blog is it allows me to make information accessible to anybody, but anybody can access it. I try to put the full body of research. A lot of the science of reading people are cherry-picking. It's not that they're pointing out incorrect research.

[00:56:13] P. L. Thomas: They misrepresent it and cherry-pick. They do misrepresent the National Reading Panel grossly, and again, Joanne Yatvin warned us when it came out, and it's been true for 20 years. So I don't really argue on social media. I try good faith, and then I mute because it's just, it's not productive. I have found that making things accessible online so that people don't have a paywall is incredibly important.

[00:56:41] P. L. Thomas: My policy brief at NEPC is free for anyone to access, which is why I love doing work for them. My policy brief I did for the Ohio Education Association, and part of the condition was that I make it, anybody can access it.  And they're happy to do it. They, they just want to end grade retention. They're not trying to make any money. And I will come back to that.

[00:57:02] P. L. Thomas: I do think we have to be skeptical. LETRS and Louisa Moats are benefiting from the science of reading propaganda. Clearly, people are making money. The irony to me is the podcast has really, really been angry that people have made money, while they're helping people make money. And okay, if we're going to be mad that people make money, which seems an odd thing to do in the United States and a capitalist society, then we should be mad at everybody.

[00:57:35] P. L. Thomas: Let's not cherry-pick who we're mad at. And I think we should reconsider how much money people make off of educational materials.  You just mentioned my book is in two additions. Academic publishing makes a little bit of money for the academic publishers. It generally makes no money for the authors, and my blog makes a little bit of passive income that covers paying for the blog.

[00:58:01] P. L. Thomas: Now I'm lucky, I work for a university who pays me a decent salary, and that's what I depend on. I basically depend on being an independent scholar because my university supports and appreciates academic freedom, so they don't tell me what to do in my scholarship, and they never have, and they're wonderful.

[00:58:22] P. L. Thomas: So I do think we have to consider that market element. Yes, there are people with good intentions, but there are also people with market intentions. 

[00:58:29] Olivia Wahl: You have an amazing section in your book around strategies for engaging in debates about teaching reading and reading achievement online, and so I want to have listeners know that that exists, even though you say you don't often engage. It's incredible the research you offer in that section in your book.

[00:58:46] Olivia Wahl: And I think too, with any conversation we're having, I continue to pause and think of people that are close to me in my life and that I can hear. A good friend of mine who has a daughter, and she is diagnosed with dyslexia; she struggled with reading. It really came to a head between third and fifth grade.

[00:59:08] Olivia Wahl: I have another close friend that her son was pushed through elementary school with reading intervention support, and he was always a tiny bit behind. He has since been screened, and he has been diagnosed with dyslexia. And so I want to just pause and say I have really close friends that their children have been impacted, and in no way am I trying to say that

[00:59:31] Olivia Wahl: I don't think that that's important.

[00:59:34] P. L. Thomas: Right. And I just want to make sure we slip in here Johnston and Scanlon current research. The current science on dyslexia universal screening does not add anything to traditional screening for beginning readers or kids beginning school. And it is very likely to create problems. So over-identification and over-focusing on dyslexia often ignores other students with different reasons for struggling to read.

[01:00:05] P. L. Thomas: So the science does not support universal screening. We should say that as often as we possibly can. The science does not support universal screening.

[01:00:14] Olivia Wahl: So I'm going to shift our conversation around how reading programs, the weight of standards, high-stakes tests, parental zeal, are all distractions and a way of scapegoating because these beautiful friends of mine deeply care about this work. They care about their children. Before you respond, I want to read a quote from your book because this rocked my world.

[01:00:40] Olivia Wahl: “Just as the market economy of the US depends on poverty to thrive, and thus market forces will never overcome poverty. The reading program industry depends on struggling readers and thus will never seek ways to foster reading among all children.”

So how does all of this impact, along with parental rights, the rights of our own children?

[01:01:04] P. L. Thomas: The science of reading movement is a lot like the anti-critical race theory movement. Only some parents are being served in this. There are tons of parents who don't want their kids screened. They don't want their kids labeled. They do want their kids engaged in holistic literacy. They don't want their kids in scripted curriculum.

[01:01:28] P. L. Thomas: They don't want their kids getting systematic phonics. So it's weird to me that people keep saying parental rights when we're not looking at all parents' rights. I have pointed out there was a story in the Hechinger Report about a school having success, their multilingual learners having success with Fountas and Pinnell, and that that school and those parents are thrilled with Fountas and Pinnell.

[01:01:54] P. L. Thomas: And it doesn't mean that it's scientific. It doesn't mean that that would work for everyone. But why are we ignoring these stories? There's tons of stories of kids having incredible success with Reading Recovery. Why is that not being covered? So I do think the parent part of it is pretty fascinating, but it also still comes back to, uh, you know, I'm going to sound like a broken record.

[01:02:19] P. L. Thomas: We should get the market out of education. The market should be out. Let's hire Fountas and Pinnell. Let's hire Lucy Calkins. Let's hire Louisa Moats. Let's hire every literacy person we can to create literacy products to serve as tools for teachers. And when I say let's hire, that's what public institutions are for. 

[01:02:45] P. L. Thomas: U.S. Department of Education, the Departments of Education in every state can do this. And it can be publicly funded. So that the point of it is that we have the materials, not that people are getting rich from the materials. And then it would stop the merry-go-round. We're constantly adopting, failing, adopting new, failing, adopting, new failing.

[01:03:05] P. L. Thomas: It's, it's insane. As I say, we find ourselves in a hole. We just keep digging.

[01:03:10] Olivia Wahl: And so going back to that conversation we had had around assessments and students being recommended for intervention. Why do you believe that so many children right now are being recommended over the last couple of years?

[01:03:24] P. L. Thomas: So this is really fascinating to me, and it took me a while to understand it, but in France, nobody has ADHD. And I started looking into that, and I thought, well, that's really weird. So what really is going on is France under-identifies, which is wrong, and the United States over-identifies, which is wrong.

[01:03:46] P. L. Thomas: And I think what it really says is the United States is a labeling culture, and I think that's a mistake. So if I'm a parent and my child is struggling, and I can say it's not my fault. Then there is a natural urge to find another reason. Now it's very possible this child is struggling to read, not because of parent negligence and not because of dyslexia.

[01:04:16] P. L. Thomas: There's a lot of reasons. So I think we have to; we have this urge in the United States to label and blame, to label and blame. Everything is kind of also individualistic. There's got to be an individual problem as opposed to academic achievement has correlated almost perfectly with affluence. So poor kids tend to do worse.

[01:04:38] P. L. Thomas: Middle-class kids tend to do okay and affluent kids tend to do well. And we just don't want to admit that. We don't want to admit systemic reasons. So a systemic reason for struggling to read isn't as sexy in the United States as a label. I would point out; I've written on this a lot. I'm against all labels, and I've written a lot about gifted.

[01:04:59] P. L. Thomas: I think gifted is just as problematic as dyslexia as a label. I understand the need in some cases, especially medically to label, but labeling is the problem, and I think it's a way to just deflect blame. Because we're such a blame culture too. 

[01:05:17] Olivia Wahl: Something that a colleague said to me recently is that instead of labeling all of these children as it needing RTI or Response to Intervention Services, we really need to strengthen our Tier One, which means in the classroom on the ground instruction. And could that mean that children need more direct phonics instruction?

[01:05:36] Olivia Wahl: Absolutely. Because you're basing it on what they are showing they have in place and what their needs are. You are going to be a keynote at LitCon. What can we expect to hear from you at that conference?

[01:05:51] P. L. Thomas: A big thing that's boosted me lately is like I mentioned a minute ago, Maren Aukerman's, three blogs are really, really important. There's really good new research about dyslexia. One of them has to do with environmental elements of dyslexia and how that's a huge factor in what students are labeled dyslexic.

[01:06:11] P. L. Thomas: Also, I've discovered there's implementation science, which is pretty fascinating. And the article that I found actually walks through the No Child Left Behind debacle and the whole language debacle. So it's very literacy-oriented, so it's really wonderful. And surprise, surprise, education policy is more effective if it starts with the teachers and is built upward.

[01:06:35] P. L. Thomas: And the science of reading movement is being imposed on the teachers, which the paradox to me is, that's what's wrong with reading programs, is it's used as a structure to impose on the teachers in schools as opposed to what do you need and how can we help you? And we're screaming for structured literacy, which is scripted curriculum.

[01:06:55] P. L. Thomas: No one is listening to the problem with units of study. That's the problem. Teachers will tell you it's how it's being implemented. And structured literacy is doubling down on the mistakes that are being made with reading programs. 

[01:07:12] Olivia Wahl: I think the hardest thing for me to swallow, time and time again, is feeling powerless. Feeling like the pieces you mentioned that need to change. Paul, I'm one person, and how can I change policy? How can I change high-stakes testing when it's a money machine? So I want to leave listeners with hope and a call to action moving forward.

[01:07:36] Olivia Wahl: I think the list you have of where we should start to end the reading war is amazing. It's on pages 98 through 99 of your book. But your words, “Social reform must proceed or at least be concurrent to in-school reform. While both must seek equity, not accountability.”

So, where do we start?

[01:07:59] P. L. Thomas: So I think we can learn from the science of reading movement. Decoding Dyslexia and the science of reading movement, which is grounded a lot in a Facebook page, by the way, is about community. So, uh, those of us who see a different world and think differently need a community. And I have found, I, I get contacted almost daily by teachers who are being demonized, attacked, silenced by the science of reading movement, being more or less de-professionalized with LETRS and structured literacy.

[01:08:35] P. L. Thomas: So I think we just have to keep building a community of resistance. And I also think our community of resistance should be asking the science of reading people to join us. Uh, we have the same goal. We're not antagonistic to teaching. We're not antagonistic to teachers. We're not antagonistic to students.

[01:08:54] P. L. Thomas: And so I think, to me, the hope is community. Keep reaching out. I am on a Facebook page with like-minded people. That is a wonderful thing to have. I built a community on Twitter. I think Twitter might die, but I hope not. I'm fighting. I want to stay there, and I want to save it because it's a good community.

[01:09:12] P. L. Thomas: I'm also on Post now. My blog helps build a community. I would also say National Council of Teachers of English, International Literacy Association. LRA (Literacy Research Association) is wonderful. I mean, uh, LRA is turning out to be probably the best professional organization out there right now for this, and that's where Aukerman's work is being posted.

[01:09:35] P. L. Thomas: Looking for state chapters of the same thing. National Writing Project is a great place to have community about literacy also. Those people are wonderful. They're some of the smartest people. So I would say community, find like-minded people.

[01:09:49] Olivia Wahl: And I think something critical. When you say find like-minded people, it's not like-minded that everyone sits and agrees with each other. It's like-minded in that we care deeply about what's best for children and that we will do everything to put aside our own opinions, to really do right by kids and whatever that takes.

[01:10:12] Olivia Wahl: I love your words to end the conversation, “Let's develop policies that provide books for children in their homes while we commit to social programs that allow impoverished families the sort of security and opportunities supporting them in their roles as a child's first teachers. Let's ensure that all children have rich, diverse, and engaging formal schooling experiences.”

[01:10:37] Olivia Wahl: Paul, it has been a gift to have this conversation with you. I am humbled, and I just, I think that there's so much in this world that is really important for our children, and letting them know that we care about them becoming better human beings and living rich, literate lives is at the core of that. So thank you so much.

[01:11:00] P. L. Thomas: Bless you, and it's very kind to give me this opportunity. I hope your listeners gain from this opportunity, also. 

[01:11:08] Olivia Wahl: Take care, Paul. Thank you. 

[01:11:10] P. L. Thomas: You too. Thank you.