Monday, June 2, 2008

Leaving the List

I unsubscribed today from the reading teachers listserv. Perhaps someday I'll sign back up, but for now I've decided that we can do without each other. I told list members that anyone that wanted to communicate with me privately could, but that I wouldn't respond to emails that went to both me AND the list. (I was tired of being talked AT while they postured for each other...)

I write about this here on my personal blog instead of on my education blog, Constructivist Leanings, because there really isn't an educational issue involved. I'm simply blogging about my experience on the listserv.

On May 24 a list subscriber asked if anyone knew anything about a particular curriculum package - a package designed to address dyslexia. She said it: the "D" word.

Mention of the "D" word almost always provokes a response from another list subscriber, Hugo Kerr, who says basically that dyslexia doesn't exist and that we should not talk about it because doing so is counterproductive and helps to perpetuate the myth of dyslexia.

meMy synopsis of his words, I'm almost certain, wouldn't suit him and he'd claim that I've misrepresented his views (set up a straw man); but I don't believe I've done that. And Hugo's words are available for anyone to read in the listserv's searchable archives, hosted by the International Reading Association. Just type "Hugo Kerr" in as a search string. You can do much the same thing with this Google search. (Actually, all of the deep links here come to your courtesy of the IRA's website - except, of course, the actual Google search just mentioned.)

So someone jokingly told Hugo to cover his ears and, on cue, Hugo showed up to explain about dyslexia. He started with:
Seriously, this is a real issue and a real and worthy battle. There are very real issues of disempowerment and ingrained failure around this one. I will content myself with my regular plea for deliberate deployment of scepticism...
The response was fairly brief and ended with Hugo suggesting that the conversation be continued off the list. Someone else suggested that Hugo try to restate his position on dyslexia for "the sake of all the teachers out there who haven’t heard your persuasive argument" - new list members who might not have been around the last time the "D" word popped up. Hugo's response ran to just under 440 words.

And me, being who I am - well I jumped into the discussion...

I've always been a little puzzled by Hugo's position. In the four or five years I've hung around the list, my knowledge of reading has grown and I am now certified in reading. But that doesn't mean my knowledge doesn't have its limits. The irony in this discussion is that I've come to largely agree with Hugo. But there are nooks and crannies in his position that trouble me and I've never been able to decide why until now. I thought this might be the opportunity.

Hugo is a hard person to debate. I tend to follow a process: listen to someone, try to restate what they said so that you can be sure you understand them, formulate and ask a question. The problem with that process (in my experience) is that Hugo rarely agrees that you have adequately restated his position; he seems to become defensive and usually says in effect that "it's more complicated than that" - which, of course, gives him a way out, later, if you think you see some contradiction or problem in his reasoning. When all else fails, he seems to close down discussion if it appears that his position is going to undergo serious challenge. And that is what he offered to do on this occasion.

Frustrated, I suggested that perhaps I'd just remove the discussion from the listserv and, given that I had a lot of his material to look at from the archives, try and work out what I thought of his position on my blog...

Well, you'd a thought that someone peed in the punchbowl. Hugo asked that I not mention his name; I thought that request was silly, given the fact that he's got a new book on the subject out (check his website) and has published more that 1,200 postings on the reading teachers listserv. How do you talk about someone's views without saying their name?

That was May 31. Since then I've been berated, bullied, and kind of threatened. Evidently at least a few of the more vocal people on the list have been under the misimpression that a listserv is a series of private conversations. If I quote Hugo, I'm betraying a confidence (even though it's all right there in Google). I've always thought that when I wrote the listserv I was stepping up to the mic in a room with twelve HUNDRED people in it (the approximate number of subscribers, I think) and that what I said was being recorded for posterity. Some list members haven't arrived in the 21st Century yet...

So I signed off the list today.

You can access individual emails from the beginning of this particular conversation about dyslexia until Hugo suggested that we drop the discussion here.

You can read individual emails from the conversation starting with Hugo's suggestion that we quit the discussion and running through the point where discussion turns to the question of what to do about me here.

And you can access individual emails from the conversation leading up to my departure here, in the reading teachers listserv archive.


And boys and girls, remember! The microphone is still on...


Liz Ditz said...

Greg, I've now read through the whole discussion.

A great deal of opinions being tossed about, and virtually no reference to research on the brain functions in reading, which by now have been well-studied.

No one mentions Wolf's book, Proust and the Squid, which elegantly distills the evolution of the reading brain.

Hugo Karr denies the validity of Shaywitz's research. You report that you haven't read Shaywitz's book (not that it is the be-all and end-all, but it is a good summary of the research, and has an excellent bibliography.

No one mentioned Virginia Berninger's work in dyslexia and remediation, which seems a glaring lack to me.

No one mentioned Lynn Flowers' work on remediation.

No one mentioned Guinevere Eden's work on remediation of adults.

Pretty depressing showing -- opinions rather than arguments based in the research literature.

By the way, I highly recommend Brain Literacy for Educators and Psychologists, ISBN-13: 978-0120928712, by Berninger and Todd Richards.

Liz Ditz said...

Oh, I wanted to highlight this comment of yours:

On the contrary, I suggesting that there are (or at least may be) any number of innate brain functions that carry out abilities or tasks involved in reading, and that a disorder impacting any particular one of them could meet the definition (“an innate, neurological condition seriously disabling the acquisition and use of literacy”). In fact, given Hugo's definition, I could argue that congenital blindness is a form of dyslexia - though that would be obviously counterproductive within the framework of this discussion.

You have described, in a nutshell, my understanding of dyslexia -- one or more innate processes work in such a way as to impede the process of rapidly being able to associate symbol with sound.

Another note: I am astonished that Louisa Cook Moats' Speech to Print curriculum has been undiscussed at Rteacher. It is as if no one has read it or thought it worthy of discussion.

Greg_Cruey said...

Hi Liz,

A couple of thoughts.

First (to be fair to Hugo), Hugo altered his definition of dyslexia late in the discussion. The word "seriously" was a typo; it should have read "specifically." That narrows the definition in an important manner. At the point in time that Hugo suggested an end to discussion, we had not reached a conclusion as to what "innate" means and we had not much talked about how the word "specifically" impacted the discussion. My sense is that Hugo was looking for a "first cause" of sorts for dyslexia that could be geographically pinpointed in the brain and described in isolation as resulting in the symptoms associated with dyslexia. He states pretty clearly that he did not expect to find it - that he thought that reading difficulties commonly called dyslexia were the BY PRODUCT (not the prime product) of other problems. And his conclusion seemed to be that as such, they did not deserve to have a syndrome or disorder named for them. The issue, he seemed to think, should be dealing with the primary issues.

An illustration might be to say that I have headaches because my vision needs correcting. Getting glasses might stop my headaches; but glasses are still a treatment for vision problems (not headaches, per se), while the headaches are just a secondary issue.

I'm sure I've put a huge number of words into Hugo's mouth and probably not adequately represented his views (especially since discussion stopped before we fully dealt completely with these issues). But he's free to correct the misrepresentation of his views if he likes by commenting here.

The second thing I should point out is that, while Hugo was talking about dyslexia, I wasn't. I was talk about Hugo and trying to clarify his views on dyslexia. Because, so often, Hugo's views on dyslexia became an issue that inhibited discussion (in my opinion)....