Sunday, August 31, 2008

Visiting the Archives at The Reading Teacher Listserv: Hugo's Still There...

I stopped participating in the reading teacher’s listserv some time back, but I still browse it from time to time to see what interesting topics have come up. I saw a couple of threads earlier this month and, well, the listserv is still sometimes not that nice a place…

Both threads (subject lines: “really illiterate adults” and “under-estimating failing learners”) started with a posts from Val Yule, though the larger discussion seems to tie back to a post that (predictably) mentions dyslexia in an adult. In the first thread she said that she had met people “whose problems are too great to be able to learn.” Val’s post, taken in context, is innocent and well meaning. She’s talking about the use of distance education tools to help illiterate adult.

But Val commits an egregious error of philosophy and assumptions. Any standard school vision statement in America is likely to include an acknowledgement that all people can learn. It’s an underlying assumption of public education and a cornerstone of disabilities rights. I don’t know that she meant it, but she said it pretty clearly: some people can’t learn.

meTwenty-nine hours later there was only one reply to Val’s post and no one had mentioned the gaffe on her part.

Enter Marshall Eubanks. Marshall’s only previous post was when I decided to leave the list (June 2, 2008). And it was not complimentary toward the list. Here he expressed a simple idea, I thought: he asked how the list could tolerate someone suggesting that there were people who can’t learn. “This talk is tolerated here .... I am simply amazed…. How can anyone make the statement …and be taken seriously as an educator? Shame on you and shame on anyone that tolerates this statement.

It took nine minutes for Hugo Kerr to post a response: “This needs a more adult explanation.” Hugo ignores Marshall’s complaint completely, is sarcastic out of one side of his mouth (suggesting that Marshall might not be capable of making a more developed argument on the issue), and demands respect from Marshall out of the other side of his mouth.

A few hours later Beth Forrester posts in the same vein as Hugo. She’d Googled Marshall and wonders if he is this or that particular Marshall – posting his employment information to the list. “We know who you are.” That tactic was used on me, too. I can’t remember who it was that offered to get hold of officials in my school district and have my blog posts about the list taken down for me.

In the second thread Val talks about the limits that, in her view, some learners have: “However, there are different ceilings for what different people can achieve, just as there are in athletic skills, so it is important to help people to learn what they can without stressing them to go too far too fast.

And Marshall replies… “My, my, my .... genetically deficient people/populations that should simply be ‘trained’ to survive. Hitler made this determination in Germany and murdered millions. Shame on you Valerie .... shame!

In an email that is a thread unto itself, Val speaks directly to Marshall. She is civil and professional, and explains how some of her own personal handicaps have brought her to her views. As I see it, Marshall’s concern about her statements are reasonable (and expressed in a manner that is clear enough not to need further expansion). At the same time, Val’s remarks are open to some level of interpretation and don’t necessarily make her the Nazi sympathizer that Marshall first thought.

Val made a statement. Marshall expressed his shock at its implications. Val clarified it in a very professional manner.

And there was Hugo. Hugo said that Marshall’s comments were “at the very least not helpful!” Hugo is wounded, he says, over Marshall taking the list to task. And what does Hugo want? He wants Marshall to “make proper argument?” Well, of course that’s what Hugo wants…

About a day after Marshall’s original post in the thread I first mentioned, Hugo replied to Beth (the “We Know Who You Are” Post) and suggested that they should “give up” on Marshall coming back for the fight. “Having spewed his bile all about he has now gone to ground. We should wash the bile off as best we can and hope the smell fades over time.” Hugo's prose sounds almost Biblical - Ezekiel or one of the minor prophets, perhaps. But the truth is that Marshall's points were concise and important. And while Val addressed them professionally, Hugo sought to make it personal on behalf of the list without ever conceding that the ideas involved (all people can learn, we don't believe in eugenics anymore) had some significance. And Hugo thinks Marshall is childish...

LOL. And they called the moderator on me! I wonder where Julie Coiro is. I would have hoped that these sorts of threats and belittling would have been addressed privately back in June. Oh well.

Anyone can read posts to this listserv at the listserv's searchable archives.

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