Friday, November 6, 2015

Call for Papers for 2016 - Journal of Educational Controversy, Volume 11


Publication Date - 2016
Papers due - Fall, 2016

Journal of Educational Controversy: 

THEME:  Is “Best Practices” Research in Education Insufficient or even Misdirected?


For decades the research agenda for identifying “best practices” for reforming education has been structured around testing hypotheses of either effectiveness or prediction of outcomes.  Within the quantitative approach researchers have used a variety of traditional causal and correlational designs to examine relationships between specific measurable variables. Researchers have also used qualitative approaches to examine implementation of such practices in more depth through observations in the field, interviews with students and educators, and content analysis of curriculum and student work. 

However, educational research seeking the best practices can often ignore or minimize the mechanisms that generate the phenomenon studied.  From school-to-prison and mass incarceration, racial-gender disproportionality in special and vocational education, to school dropout rates, correlations abound, but they don't by themselves explain the phenomenon.  Good intentions frame much educational research, but can over-dramatize correlations at the expense of deeper explanation.

This volume seeks papers that exemplify the "paradoxical" nature of educational research.   Submissions should focus on two things: the intentions or motivations that (often) inform educational research, but where the results or outcomes are unintended or unanticipated.  We seek papers that go beyond descriptions of educational issues, however detailed, as well as beyond explanations that repeat initial intentions or motivations.  Papers should reveal and discuss the specific forces and mechanisms that generate the topic of analysis, be it educational practices (teaching, assessment), outcomes (achievement, court decisions, enrollments) or events (protests and emergent social movements, school shootings, drop outs) that are the subject of the paper. 

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Presidential Candidate Ben Carsen and Howard Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences

I have been thinking lately about the paradoxes that are emerging from the 2016 presidential debate and the implications for us as educators.  Presidential candidate Ben Carson and his political remarks have been receiving much criticism along with some admiration of a certain segment of the public that appears to be mesmerized by his inexplicably na├»ve statements – Obamacare is the moral equivalent of slavery, Jews could have prevented the holocaust if only they had the right to bear arms, etc., etc.  (By the way, we are talking about a public who largely went through our schools on the way to “enlightened adulthood.”)

Despite his much acclaimed (at least from what I read) skills as a neurosurgeon, his political acumen sinks to a rather low level given his offhand and often ill-conceived and ill-formed remarks on political issues.  Perhaps, there are many types of intelligences and proficiency in stem education does not assure wisdom in social, political, personal and historical understanding.  But simply limiting our discussion to departmentalization might actually do us a disservice if it moves us away from a more fundamental question we should be asking about the purposes of public education in a liberal democratic society and the development of "enlightened adulthood.”  Over the last decade, this nation has been consumed in debates on how to achieve better test scores in reading, mathematics, stem education, etc., along with outcomes and standards that can be explicitly formulated.  (Ok, for those who reflexively respond that these are important things to know, let’s just concede that point so it doesn’t distract us.)  What is important, is that it has been a distraction from the kind of conversation we should have been having about the purposes of education.

There is an ancient philosophical, religious and political goal that never enters into these discussions.  How do we help the next generation grow in “wisdom” and enlightened adulthood?  This ancient concept, from both a secular and religious perspective, encapsulates the kind of holistic pursuit that allows us to see the world from a larger, more empathic, vantage point.  It is one that Socrates saw containing a certain humility to exercise.  And Proverbs 4:7 reminds us that “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.”  It cannot be easily operationalized and tested on some standardized test. And, as a result, it can be easily dismissed.  And so to our peril, we have a certain blindness when it comes to raising questions about what it means to live a life fully and the knowledge and virtues that such a life entails, and instead continue with the same diatribe that has dominated our national discourse.

I just throw out this idea as a seed to plant and perhaps as a community to reflect upon, explore, and “evolve” in our thinking.  Perhaps, we should have a special issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy on the topic so we can start to probe more deeply on exactly what we mean and whether it is worthy of our attention.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

National Education Policy Center Continues its Critical Look at the Claims of Charter School Research

Editor: In our continuing look at charter schools, we are providing below the National Education Policy Center’s most recent critical look at charter school research focusing on the so-called “No Excuses” schools. Earlier, the Journal of Educational Controversy published a critical examination of the “no excuses” schools in an article by Alice Ginsberg, entitled, “The Dog Ate My Homework”: Embracing Risk in the Chilling Climate of No Excuses Schools.” Readers can find the article in our 2011 Volume6, Number 1 issue. While the National Education Policy Center reports on the inflated research claims made for such schools in the post below, author Alice Ginsberg gives us a vivid look inside.

Charter Researchers Promoting“No Excuses” Schools Republish Inflated Claims

Reference Publication:
Review of No Excuses Charter Schools

Arkansas researchers temper, but don’t correct, errors

William J. Mathis, (802) 383-0058;
Jeanne M. Powers, (805) 893-7770,
URL for this press release:

BOULDER, CO (October 9, 2015) – In December 2014, the “Department of Education Reform” at the University of Arkansas published a meta-analysis of the effects of so-called No Excuses Charter Schools. The report was subsequently reviewed by Professor Jeanne Powers of Arizona State University, for the National Education Policy Center. Powers raised several serious questions, and she criticized the report for its overstated claims about the potential of these types of schools to close the achievement gap.

A new version of the report was recently released by the National Center for Studies of Privatization in Education (NCSPE), and Professor Powers has now provided a short follow-up review, published along with the initial review on the NEPC website. She finds that the NCSPE version has a revised introduction and conclusion, wherein the authors do note additional limitations to their study. However, the report’s major shortcomings remain. In the follow-up review, Powers explains, point-by-point, her remaining concerns with the study:

1. The primary (and repeated) claim of the report is that “No Excuses” charter schools can close the achievement gap. Powers explains that the underlying research that this report relies upon only supports the more limited and appropriate claim that the subset of No Excuses charter schools have done relatively well in raising the test scores of the students who participate in school lotteries and then attended the schools. The claim that these schools can close the achievement gap is supported by nothing other than an arithmetic extrapolation of evidence that comes with clear limitations.

2. A common and well-recognized problem in charter school research is “selection effects.” That is, parents who choose “No Excuses” schools may be more educated, more engaged in the school-selection process, and differ in other significant ways from those parents who did not choose such a school. This would logically be a major concern for oversubscribed “No Excuses” schools, but the findings cannot be generalized to all parents.

3. Over-subscribed schools that conduct lotteries for student admission are, one would assume, different from less popular schools. Nevertheless, Cheng et al. imply that the findings can be generalized to all No Excuses charter schools.

4. The prominent and oversubscribed “No Excuses” schools are often supported by extensive outside resources. Offering an extended school day, for example, may not be financially feasible for other schools, and the scaling-up costs of doing so are not addressed. A charter that takes the No-Excuses approach yet lacks the additional resources should not be assumed to show the same results.

5. The sample of schools included in the studies Cheng et al. analyzed is largely drawn from major urban areas in the Northeast and is small, particularly at the high school level.
Find Powers’ original review and follow-up review of the “No Excuses” charter report here.
The original Arkansas report is currently available at the following url:
The republished version of the Arkansas report is currently available at the following url:

The mission of the National Education Policy Center is to produce and disseminate high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. We are guided by the belief that the democratic governance of public education is strengthened when policies are based on sound evidence. For more information on the NEPC, please visit

Please forward this to anyone you think might be interested. You can learn more about NEPC and sign up for publication updates by visiting To learn more about the Think Twice think tank review project, visit

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Amidst Accolades for her Life Lies the Realities of her Death – Why the Life and Work of Grace Lee Boggs Remains a Clarion Call

After writing a post below on the passing of Grace Lee Boggs, I started to read the many tributes that were coming in including one from the White House that I added to my post.   What struck me was something else I found on a google search.  In her final year, Grace’s friends were left trying to raise funding for her elder care that came to $8000 a month.

After a lifetime devoted to others and their causes, the last days of her life were perhaps the most poignant reminder of how little public effort we extend for end-of-life support and how distorted our priorities have become in this nation.   Her work and message live on.

The Death of a Human Rights Advocate and Voice for Many Causes: Grace Lee Boggs Dies at 100

I was saddened to read of the death of social activist, human rights advocate, and philosopher Grace Lee Boggs in the newspaper this morning.
In 2011, the Journal of Educational Controversy published several reviews of her book, The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the 21st Century, written by her with Scott Kurashige.  We broke with publishing tradition by printing a very personal open letter to her by a colleague whose life had been touched by her example along with a more traditional book review by another colleague.  Grace Lee Boggs graciously wrote a response to the reviews on this blog and allowed us to continue the conversation with her.

Below we reprint Grace Lee Boggs’ blog post along with links to the two reviews to which she is responding.

Grace Lee Boggs Responds to her Reviewers from the Journal of Educational Controversy
Written with Scott Kurashige

It has been a true joy to see so many diverse peoples turn to this little book for help in understanding how and why another world is necessary, possible, and already in the process of being created. The thoughtful responses by Molly and Victor reveal the huge reserves of humanity that have been repressed by our "civilization" and are being unleashed by the movements of 2011 to heal us.

 Their book reviews further help us to understand that people are finding inspiration from the book because they are connecting with a set of ideas whose time has come:

• Maybe it’s because it is giving Americans in all walks of life a more people-friendly view of revolution as empowerment rather than struggle for political power.

• Maybe it helps us view Revolutionaries as Solutionaries, working together to solve very practical problems of daily life, growing our souls by growing our own food.
• Maybe it’s giving us the new, more positive view of ourselves that we’ve been hungry for.

 • Maybe it helps us envision ourselves as Revolutionaries, moving away from the wrong side of the world revolution where we have seemed stuck since the Vietnam War.

• Maybe it also helps us see ourselves as Evolutionaries, making the radical revolution of values that Dr. King called for during that war, transformimg ourselves from materialists, militarists, and individualists into a people who can be proud of how we are advancing humankind to a new stage of consciousness, creativity, and social and political responsibility.

 To link to the original book reviews, go to:

 1. A Book Review by Victor Nolet

2. A Personal Open Letter to Grace Lee Boggs by Molly Ware

 Both reviews appeared in the Journal of Educational Controversy: Vol. 6, No. 1

To read today's New York Times article announcing her passing, go to:

Statement by President Obama on the Passing of
Grace Lee Boggs
Michelle and I were saddened to hear of the passing of author, philosopher, and activist Grace Lee Boggs. Grace dedicated her life to serving and advocating for the rights of others – from her community activism in Detroit, to her leadership in the civil rights movement, to her ideas that challenged us all to lead meaningful lives. As the child of Chinese immigrants and as a woman, Grace learned early on that the world needed changing, and she overcame barriers to do just that. She understood the power of community organizing at its core – the importance of bringing about change and getting people involved to shape their own destiny. Grace’s passion for helping others, and her work to rejuvenate communities that had fallen on hard times spanned her remarkable 100 years of life, and will continue to inspire generations to come.  Our thoughts and prayers are with Grace’s family and friends, and all those who loved her dearly.

Monday, September 28, 2015

More on Charter Schools

Editor: In light of our recent post on the Washington State Supreme Court decision finding charter schools unconstitutional in our state, I thought readers would find this website on educational policy and current research to be of interest.  Readers can find the National Education Policy Center website at  Below are the most recent comments on charter schools that the center just sent out on its listserv today.  Check out their website for more complete information.

Problems with CREDO’s Charter School Research: Understanding the Issues

Andrew Maul’s rejoinder to CREDO’s response

William J. Mathis, (802) 383-0058,
Andrew Maul, (805) 893-7770,

URL for this press release:

BOULDER, CO (September 28, 2015) – Earlier this summer, the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) published a response to professor Andrew Maul’s review of CREDO’s Urban Charter School Study. The National Education Policy Center (NEPC) today released Maul’s reply, in which he thanks CREDO for the response yet explains, point-by-point, why he stands by the following eight concerns he had earlier raised about that study:

1.     The nature of the comparison between charter and traditional public schools in the CREDO studies is not clear;

2.     The matching variables used in CREDO’s studies may not be sufficient to support causal conclusions;
3.      Some lower-performing charter students are systematically excluded from the CREDO studies;
4.     CREDO’s reasons for the systematic exclusion of lower-scoring charter students do not address the potential for bias arising from the exclusion;
5.     The “days of learning” metric used in the CREDO studies is problematic;
6.     The CREDO studies fail to provide sufficient information about the criteria for the selection of urban regions included in the studies;
7.      The CREDO studies lack an appropriate correction for multiple significance tests; and
8.     The CREDO studies have trivial effect sizes.

Maul’s original review and his short rejoinder are published by the NEPC, housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education. Maul, an assistant professor in the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Santa Barbara, focuses his research on measurement theory, validity, and research design.

Find Maul’s original review of CREDO’s urban-charter report and his full rejoinder here or go to:

The original CREDO report, and the CREDO response to Maul’s review, are currently available at the following urls:
Original report:
Peterson’s Response:

 The mission of the National Education Policy Center is to produce and disseminate high-quality, peer-reviewed research to inform education policy discussions. We are guided by the belief that the democratic governance of public education is strengthened when policies are based on sound evidence. NEPC is housed at the University of Colorado Boulder School of Education.

Please forward this to anyone you think might be interested. You can learn more about NEPC and sign up for publication updates by visiting To learn more about the Think Twice think tank review project, visit

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Washington State Supreme Court Rules Washington Charter Schools are Unconstitutional

The Washington State Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that the charter school law in the state of Washington violated the state constitution.    After three earlier defeats at the voting booth, Washington voters, in a campaign that was heavily influenced by the backing of big money, narrowly voted for initiative 1240 in 2012, an initiative that created charter schools in the state.

 In a decision that came down yesterday, the High Court found that charter schools do not fall under the definition of common schools as defined in the state constitution.  "Because charter schools under I-1240 are run by an appointed board or nonprofit organization and thus are not subject to local voter control, they cannot qualify as 'common schools' within the meaning of Article IX" [of the state constitution], Chief Justice Barbara Madsen wrote on behalf of the majority. Indeed, the High Court stated, “Under the Act (I-1240), charter schools are devoid of local control from their inception to their daily operations.”

Because charter schools do not fall under the Washington State constitution’s definition of common schools, funds intended for the common schools cannot be diverted to charter schools.  I-1240 “relies on common school funds as its funding choice,” Madsen wrote.  “Without those funds, the Act cannot function as intended.” 

The High Court found that diverting public school funds to charter schools was a violation of the state constitution.

 Madsen made clear that the issue before the court was not about the “merits or demerits of charter schools,” but only if the voter-approved initiative was in compliance with the state constitution.

 Chief Justice Madsen was joined in the ruling by Justices Charles Johnson, Charles Wiggins, Mary Yu, Debra Stevens and Susan Owens.

 Appellants in the case were a coalition of groups including the League of Women Voters, the Washington Education Association, El Centro de la Raza, and the Washington Association of School Administrators and several individual plaintiffs.

 Readers can read the full decision at:

 The decision follows another one that we reported on in the post below.  In that decision, the court had ruled that the Washington State legislature had failed to adequately fund public education in the state and imposed a $100000 daily sanction on the legislature. See our earlier post


Sunday, August 23, 2015

Rejecting “Testing our Way to Success”: Washington State Tribal Leaders Speak out on Standardization

Editor: Our blog has been following events in American Indian educational reform in Washington State for some time.   See the links to the newly developed  Tribal Sovereignty Curriculum” in our section on EDUCATIONAL UPDATES FOR THE STATE OF WASHINGTON: POLITICAL, LEGAL, AND SOCIAL ISSUES.  We also have some discussion about it in our April 8, 2014 video with author Jioanna Carjezaa, who talks about the work they are doing in Montana through a constitutional mandate called “Indian Education for ALL.”  Below is an interesting post (July 27, 2015) from the blog, “TeacherTalks Truth.” We thank Kathleen Hagans Jeskey for permission to reprint it on our blog.


Washington State Tribal Leaders Speak out on Standardization

By Kathleen Hagans Jeskey
Standardized education for Native youth: Carlisle Indian Industrial School, Pennsylvania (c. 1900) one of many "Indian Boarding Schools", where official policy was to attempt to strip children of their Native language and culture, during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Earlier this month I posted a letter written to Senator Patty Murray by Robey Clark, a fellow member of Oregon Save Our Schools, regarding reauthorization of ESEA. Today I am posting a letter he shared with me that was sent to Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn by the governing tribes of the Washington State Tribal Compact Schools on June 5th, 2015. Mr. Dorn has yet to respond to the tribes.

The sentiment in this letter can be broadly applied not only to Native students but to all students.  Our public schools are diverse. Students deserve to have their cultures recognized and respected. They deserve lessons that engage and speak to them, and they deserve to be evaluated in an authentic way. We must bring the humanity back to our schools.

 Big thanks to Robey Clark for sharing this with me and for fighting for the schools our children deserve.


We, the governing tribes of the Washington State Tribal compact schools, hope to break the chronic cycle of failure among schools serving American Indian reservations. We intend to capitalize upon the opportunity presented by this new Tribal Compact School law by promoting the adoption of teaching practices which we believe to be more congruent with tribal cultures. In support of this effort, we intend to foster some important reforms in educational accountability methods that will encourage and reward a change in practice.

In recent decades, state and federal educational policy has focused on raising test scores for poor and minority students up to the general population average by the third grade (or soon after) in an effort to minimize the dropout rate. This policy has been a particular disaster for most public schools serving Indian reservations. The result has been a system that labels Indian children early; subjects them to continued remedial instruction; and fails to keep them engaged after the 4th grade. The over-emphasis on early grade test scores has evolved into a self-fulfilling (and self-perpetuating) prophecy of failure for Indian students. We believe it is this labeling effect, coupled with limited instructional methods that cause many if not most dropouts.
The Iroquois Sachem Canasatego once said to the English colonists of his time, “ who are so wise must know that different Nations have different Conceptions of things and you will, therefore, not take it amiss if our Ideas of this kind of Education happen not to be the same as yours. We have had some Experience of it...”.

Our experience has been that our schools have diligently tried to adopt “research based” models and “data based decision making” as primary methods for school improvement for years now. For the past 15 years, federal policy has placed more and higher stakes on test results. So much weight has been placed upon them that, standardized tests have become an end unto themselves. Something must change. We do not accept that standardized testing defines the potential or truly measures the growth of our children in any meaningful way. Therefore, as sovereign tribal governments, shouldering the new responsibilities under the state compact, we feel it is our duty to make a change toward authentic assessment and accountability. If Indian students are motivated, they will succeed. It is our goal to create places where our children and young adults wish to be and where there is an inherent expectation and tradition of success.

In recent years, the state has commissioned and adopted assessments, such as the High School Proficiency Test (HSPE) and End of Course (EOC) exams, which have only served to make the student disengagement and dropout problem worse. Now, with the coming adoption of the Smarter Balanced Assessments (SBA) testing will take a quantum leap toward becoming much longer, more difficult, and demanding even greater attention. We believe that we cannot test our way to success. We have walked far enough down this path and are determined to change direction. Therefore, we are proposing a five-year moratorium from standardized testing in Tribal compact schools. During this time, we propose to develop a new evaluation paradigm based on applied learning and public demonstration. During this development period, we will use formative tests and/or other tools chosen by our staff to monitor progress and assist in teaching. We will develop a viable alternative evaluation system equaling or surpassing the rigor of state adopted testing. In addition, we will demonstrate American Indian student attendance and graduation rates that match or exceed state averages. Although intended for reservation-based districts, we hope such a system might be used by any district experiencing this chronic syndrome of failure.

We will call upon our schools to develop ways to teach content and to hone student academic skills through authentic work for real life purposes rather than to depend mainly upon passive and abstract classroom instruction. These methods may further enhance Indian student learning as they more closely resemble historical tribal teaching practices. Traditionally, our children learned specific skills within the context of an immediate and worthwhile task. As students progress toward later grades, authentic instruction should increase and passive classroom instruction decrease. To support these proposed reforms, we intend to provide our schools an evaluation model based upon public demonstration to the community. We will give our professional educational staff the flexibility to re-organize as necessary and to experiment in developing more deeply engaging educational experiences. In addition, we will find new ways to evaluate and award credit for the work completed outside the classroom. The teachers will work in teams to share the burden and include high school students in yearly planning.

We will require our schools to initiate formal public demonstrations of student work that meet the highest level of state standards, so that the tribe and community may appreciate the quality and value of the school. The demonstrations may include but are not limited to: individual or group projects in science and applied math; performance in music and dance; displays of art and literary work; student enterprises and worthy deeds for the school, tribe or community. The demonstrations will be challenging enough to show high skills and/or thorough understanding by students. Such demonstrations will also serve to help WOSPI to evaluate student accomplishments in terms of the state standards. We anticipate that the institution of such events will not only serve as a new method to evaluate student work but will also help rally our communities to support their schools.

To us, making sure all students graduate “on time” is not as important as making sure that all do indeed graduate as mature capable individuals with knowledge and skills to go forth in their chosen path. Our students will receive a diploma when each is ready to present herself or himself before the community with a portfolio that shows she or he is ready for college, skilled career training or the everyday work world. By the same token, this also means a student may graduate early by petition if they demonstrate extraordinary ability or talent and can meet the standards. As the vision stated in: From Where the Sun Rises: Addressing the Educational Achievement of Native Americans in Washington State--Delivered to the Washington Legislature, December 30, 2008--"Indian education dates back to a time when all children were identified as gifted and talented. Each child had a skill and ability that would contribute to the health and vitality of the community. Everyone in the community helped to identify and cultivate these skills and abilities. The elders were entrusted to oversee this sacred act of knowledge being shared. That is our vision for Indian education today."

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Washington State Supreme Court to State Legislature: Fix Educational Funding or Pay $100,000 Daily Fine

This blog has been following the McCleary decision on educational funding in Washington State for some time.  See the earlier court decisions in our section on:  EDUCATIONAL UPDATES FOR THE STATE OF WASHINGTON: POLITICAL, LEGAL, AND SOCIAL ISSUES.  Last Thursday, the Washington State Supreme Court decided to place sanctions on the state legislature in order to get compliance.  Here are some links to the story.

Here is a link to the actual documents from the court:

Supreme Court Case Number 84362-7  - McCleary, et al. v. State of Washington

Here is a link to archived videos of court and legislative actions on TVW in Washington, the public access channel.


Tuesday, August 4, 2015

ACLU to Argue in Federal Court on Behalf of a Third Grader with Disabilities who was Handcuffed in School: See Video Below

Editor: The Journal of Educational Controversy published a special issue in the past on the School-to-Prison Pipeline.   We pointed out that this trend to criminalize students rather than educating them has had a disproportionate impact on students of color and students with disabilities and emotional problems.  The American Civil Liberties Union has just filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of two elementary school students with disabilities.  The ACLU has been showing this disturbing video below on one of the students, a third grader, who was handcuffed in school.  Following the video is the ACLU's account of it.



This third grader was shackled and crying out in pain for 15 minutes. He was restrained because of behavior related to attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and a history of trauma.  A member of the school's staff videotaped the incident.
Students with disabilities represent 12% of public school students but are 75% of all students subjected to physical restraint at school, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
Students of color and students with disabilities are especially vulnerable to push-out trends and the discriminatory application of discipline. One child in this case is Latino, and the other is African-American.
Law enforcement in schools must be trained on how to work with children with disabilities and trauma. Learning de-escalation skills should be as common as fire drills for schools and any law enforcement officers who serve them.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Author Sam Chaltain Reflects on Harper Lee’s Atticus Finch and the Racism in All of Us

 Dear White People: We Are All Atticus Finch
by Sam Chaltain

Editor: Readers will remember the article by author, Sam Chaltain, “Ways of Seeing (and of Being Seen): Visibility in Schools,” in our journal’s issue on “Schooling as if Democracy Matters.”  Below are Sam’s thoughts on the recently published book, Go Set a Watchman.

Have you heard the news? Atticus Finch is a racist.
Guess what? So are you. So am I.

I know, it’s hard to square with the images of ourselves we like to project. After all, we just took down the Confederate flag! We recoiled in horror at the images of Eric Garner being strangled! We hated George Zimmerman! We voted for Barack Obama!

But here’s the thing: being racist isn’t only about explicit acts. It includes implicit privilege. It requires complicit silence.

James Baldwin told us this fifty years ago, at the height of the civil rights movement – and just two years after To Kill a Mockingbird made its celebrated debut. “This is the crime of which I accuse my country and my countrymen,” he wrote. “That they have destroyed and are destroying hundreds of thousands of lives and do not know it and do not want to know it.

“It is not permissible that the authors of devastation should also be innocent. It is the innocence which constitutes the crime.”

It is the innocence which constitutes the crime.

The opportunity of the present moment – a moment when it has become undeniable to all but the most sand-headed White people that, even amidst all the progress, Black people are living under siege – is to finally step courageously into a new conversation about race and racism in America.

But that conversation, and the actions that follow, must begin with this admission: we are all Atticus Finch.

Up to now, we’ve taken solace with the idea that we are that Atticus Finch – the first one, the one who was a crusading attorney who stood up for what was right in the face of the pig-fisted brutality of the American South.

For some of us, maybe, sometimes we have been.

But we’re also that Atticus Finch – the new one, just revealed to us via Harper Lee’s eagerly anticipated sequel, Go Set a Watchman. And as the first reviews tell us, that Atticus Finch attends Klan meetings, denounces segregation efforts, and asks his daughter pointedly, “Do you want them in our world?”

Being that Atticus Finch doesn’t require that we attend white supremacy meetings, support police brutality, or poison our own children with hate. It merely requires that we maintain our innocence amidst the maw of institutionalized racism, and mask our complicity in that system via periodic outrages at current events that clash with the saintly pictures we have painted of ourselves.

It is striking that Go Set A Watchman, with its unflattering revision of a beloved, one-note character, should come out now, amidst Charleston, and Baltimore, and #blacklivesmatter. But perhaps, as Alexandra Alter writes in the New York Times, “if To Kill A Mockingbird sugarcoats racial divisions by depicting a white man as the model for justice in an unjust world, then Go Set A Watchman may be like bitter medicine that more accurately reflects the times.”

Harper Lee’s bitter medicine should not taste that bitter to us. As much as we would like to believe it, there are no clear heroes and villains; we are neither one nor the other.

We are both.

We have been born into a society that confers a lifetime of invisible advantages to our families. We have the opportunity to cherry-pick which injustices to our Black brothers and sisters should move us to dissatisfaction. And we have chosen, thus far, not just to maintain what James Baldwin calls “the innocence,” but what The Atlantic correspondent Ta-Nehisi Coates calls “The Dream.”

“The Dream is treehouses and the Cub Scouts,” he writes in his new memoir, Between the World and Me. “The Dream smells like peppermint but tastes like strawberry shortcake. The Dream rests on our backs, the bedding made from our bodies.”

“It does not matter if the agent of those forces is white or black. What matters is the system that makes your body breakable.”

What matters is the system that makes your body breakable.

So we are all Atticus Finch. We have beauty and prejudice and ignorance and complacency and privilege and compassion and the chance to do something or nothing. We can be forces for good or a silent and gradual force for community decay and destruction.

Who we aspire to be is not solely who Atticus was. It is not solely who we are, either.

And so we have work to do. And it will require a much more constant vigilance, and honesty, and self-awareness than we have shown so far.

(Reprinted with permission of the author from the Sam Chaltain website. This article also appeared in The Huffington Post.)

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Who was Ella Higginson? Award Winning Professor Argues for the Recovery of Lost Voices

Editor: Professor Laura Laffrado, an English professor at Western Washington University and new JEC editorial board member, has just published a new book, Selected Writings of Ella Higginson: Inventing Pacific Northwest Literature. Her book raises an important question for our readers to ponder.  What other writers need to be recovered in the literary canon and why have they been lost?  We invite our readers to join the conversation by contributing their thoughts.

Meet Me at the Intersection of Lost Voices and Education: The Ella Higginson Project
Laura Laffrado
Western Washington University 
In recent years my scholarly time has been devoted to bringing public notice to the life and writings of Ella Rhoads Higginson (1862?-1940), the first prominent literary author from the U.S. Pacific Northwest. Higginson has been forgotten as a key American writer. Yet she was once so internationally celebrated for her writing that she was said to have put the Pacific Northwest on the literary map. However, by the time she died in 1940, most of her work was out of print and both she and her writing were almost completely forgotten. Higginson and her work had disappeared from literary history.

In order to recover Higginson and her writing, I needed to persuade editors, interviewers, publishers, scholars, readers, and others that it mattered that Higginson’s voice had been lost. The unstated question I was expected to answer was this: why should anyone (else) care about the works of one long-dead Pacific Northwest white woman? Behind that question loomed a larger one: why make the effort to reclaim any works by any forgotten writers? After all, numerous writings by a range of authors are widely available. Many once neglected works have already been brought back to prominence. We already have plenty. Why do we need more? Though I had long held firm opinions on such subjects, I needed now to become especially fluent in arguing convincingly about the significant value of overlooked writers and writing. In what follows, I discuss my project to recover the works of Ella Higginson and how my efforts both furthered my thinking and reinforced my concerns about the intersection of lost voices and education.

Long before she was forgotten, Higginson was the best-known Pacific Northwest writer of her day. During the turn from the nineteenth century into the twentieth century, readers across the United States were introduced to the remote Pacific Northwest region by Higginson’s descriptions of majestic mountains, vast forests, and scenic waters, as well as the often difficult economic circumstances of those dwelling near Puget Sound. Higginson wrote poetry, fiction, nonfiction, essays, newspaper columns, novels, and screenplays. Her work appeared in all the leading periodicals of the day such as the Atlantic, Harper’s Bazar, and McClure’s Magazine. Her primary publisher was the prestigious Macmillan Company in New York. She was extensively praised both nationally and internationally for her writing. Many of her poems were set to music by well-known composers and performed by celebrated dramatic singers such as Enrico Caruso. As a crowning honor, in 1931, Higginson was named the first Poet Laureate of Washington State.

Given Higginson’s popularity over decades, her prolific writing, and the glowing reviews of her work, one might think that a voice such as hers would not, could not, disappear. Yet disappear it most certainly did. The conditions that led to Higginson’s removal from the literary record as well as the long neglect of her work are the same conditions that regularly determine the diminishment of certain kinds of writers and their writings. Higginson’s case may be seen as a model for understanding what writers and writing tend to be cast off from the body of valued American literature.

                Large cultural reasons played a substantial role in the downward spiral of Higginson’s career. Most significantly, the advent of the First World War, which occurred at the height of Higginson’s popularity, shifted what was produced and purchased in the United States. The resulting decrease in book publication caused many books, including Higginson’s, to go out of print very quickly. As a result Higginson’s prominence dramatically diminished. She was, of course, not alone in this. Many writers experienced a similar eclipse of literary success during the war.

                To compound this collapse, after the war had ended, literary tastes begin to shift. Such changes were guided by editors, publishers, and university professors, nearly all of whom were professional white men. In their capacity as cultural agents, these men, directed by various biases and assumptions, primarily promoted works written by other white men. Consequently, the works of most once-popular US women authors, first out of print because of the war, now remained out of print. As a result, women’s writing in general received dramatically less attention than it had in earlier decades.

Personal circumstances also impacted the ruin of Higginson’s career. Higginson, a widow without children, expected her estate to be managed after death by her niece, her heir and only close surviving relative. But a little more than two months after Higginson’s own death, her niece died unexpectedly. Her death delivered a significant blow to the possibilities of Higginson’s writings and reputation being preserved and promoted. No one remained to perform such crucial work.

Taken together, all these conditions helped to reinforce the neglect of Higginson and her work. Other women writers and writers of color were similarly impacted by war, shifting production, and less normative personal circumstances. Though exceptions do exist, in general, authors who were not white men of higher class status found that their literary voices were no longer sought out or published.

After many years passed, the later decades of the twentieth century saw a welcome rise of scholarly attention to much neglected United States writing. At that time and in the years since, the texts and the literary reputations of many authors have been valuably recovered. However, Higginson and her writings were overlooked during this period. Higginson’s location, remote from the regions of the writers with whom she was classed in her lifetime, became an additional factor in her neglect. While authors who had been part of more populated regions were recovered, Higginson, from the remote turn of the century Pacific Northwest, remained forgotten.

But that is no longer the case. Higginson’s name and work are now, at last, returning to public notice. This very welcome occurrence has emerged from a mix of newspaper articles, television interviews, scholarly essays, and public lectures that focused on Higginson and her writing. Most significantly, a book that I have edited, Selected Writings of Ella Higginson: Inventing Pacific Northwest Literature, has just been published, bringing Higginson’s work back into print for the first time in decades. Higginson’s writing is important today for a variety of reasons, one of them being that her writing introduced the world to the Pacific Northwest. With the new availability of Higginson’s writing, a crucial piece of the diversity of American literature has been reinstated.

But I am here to tell you that such retrieval is not an endeavor for the faint-hearted. Daunting forces hinder recovery, among them prevailing assumptions regarding what constitutes literary writing, extensive archives that must be navigated, vast databases that must be searched, and the limits of the 24-hour day. Even if you manage to succeed in such work, you will not, as with most things education-related, reap large or even small financial rewards. But having said that, you may find that your tenacity will result in other kinds of compensation. Each success in the recovery of neglected authors and their writing adds a little more diversity to the accepted body of American literature. While such work does not put money in the bank, it does enrich the greater educational endeavors to which we devote ourselves.

As I say, I had always advocated for lost voices in the classroom and in my work. However, in recovering Ella Higginson, I came to recognize more forcefully that when voices are lost or censored, education inevitably becomes more dangerously and damagingly narrow. In losing voices, we lose what those voices represent, who they speak for and who and what they speak about. Many times after a voice is lost, we are unaware that such a voice ever spoke at all. This is a crucial point. We never simply lose one voice. With every loss, the historical, literary, and cultural records are reshaped and inevitably made more restrictive. They become more homogenous—whiter, richer, more male, more heterosexual, more able-bodied, more Northern, more Protestant. When voices are lost and when we permit them to remain lost, the richness of our shared past is significantly depleted and the diversity of the material that we teach is radically diminished.

 Laura Laffrado is an award-winning Professor of English at Western Washington University. Her most recent book is Selected Writings of Ella Higginson: Inventing Pacific Northwest Literature.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Journal of Educational Controversy Now on New Website

I am pleased to announce that the Journal of Educational Controversy has migrated to a new website.

Readers can now find the journal at:

Working with the Berkeley Electronic Press, we can now offer more flexibility and options for our authors and readers.  Authors can open an account online and submit their manuscripts through the system.  They will also be able to go back at any time to make revisions. Moreover, the review will be done through the system.

With our 10th Year Anniversary Issue about to be published this fall, we have grown significantly as a voice in education with a special thank you to our great authors and our growing readership.

As we continue to grow, we need even more reviewers.  Thanks to all who responded to our first call for reviewers.  If you are interested in reviewing for the journal, please send an e-mail with areas of expertise and interests along with a vita to:

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Innovative Uses of Technology to Meet the Needs of All Students

Meeting Diverse Needs with Technology
Linda Schleff
Woodring College of Education
Western Washington University

Chelsea confidently swipes through the multiple pages of apps on my iPad until she spots the one she is looking for. Then she calmly, but firmly, guides her little sister's probing fingers away from the 'home' button. This four-year-old, who has been diagnosed with autism, can independently navigate the complexities of iPad technology, but she is unable to verbally communicate her wants and needs to those around her.

This is where the services of the Ershig Assistive Technology Resource Center (E-ATRC) come into the story. Following a meeting in Chelsea's preschool classroom where family, school district team, and E-ATRC director informally brainstorm to consider technology tools that might benefit this young student, the family applies for and is awarded an 'AT Grant to Families' that provides $200 to support them in purchasing technology that they believe will benefit their child at home. Now Chelsea has her own iPad that will travel between home and school to support communication and learning across her customary environments. To hear the center director speak about the benefits of the E-ATRC's AT Grants to Families program watch the brief video clip here: Western Window Episode 23 (start at 15:10).

Assistive Technology (AT) is a term defined in disability law and is, essentially, any item that improves functioning for an individual with a disability. However, time and experience have shown us that many of these tools, when made available as standard tools in general environments, will support others with a wide range of diverse needs, as well, including, but not limited to:

   Those with more commonly occurring disabilities such as learning, behavior or attention challenges,                                                                       

   Young children or aging elders,

   People who are English language learners, and

   Any one of us who doesn't spell well!

Consider, as an example, an FM system that amplifies a teacher's voice making it easier to hear and understand. Our first thought might be that a student with a hearing loss could benefit from this technology. But think of others who might be supported as well from having the teacher's voice highlighted as something critical to attend to in the environment. English language learners, students who struggle to maintain focus and attention, in fact, any of us may 'tune in' better when the person speaking picks up a microphone. See examples here.

 Similarly, software or an app that will read text on the screen out loud (text-to-speech), highlighting each word as it is spoken, can improve access to content for a student with a learning disability or an adult who is learning a language. One of these applications, called Snap and Read can even adjust the readability level of text materials to meet the needs of an individual reader, whether their need is due to a learning disability or to learning a language! You can learn more about these applications at Don Johnstons website.
Other applications can 'predict ahead' and suggest, based on commonly used grammar, the word a person might want to type (word prediction) thereby benefitting an individual with fine motor challenges (by reducing the number of keystrokes required) or anyone who doesn't spell well. Learn more about Co:Writer, also from Don Johnston.
Assistive technology has historically benefitted individuals with disabilities and has been most often considered for those with significant, complex disabilities. It has also frequently been complex and costly, until recent decades as the number of technologies has increased exponentially. As this has occurred, affordable tools have become more available to meet a wider range of needs across an array of increasingly diverse users.

No to Low-tech


High Tech

Pencil grips


Powered Wheelchair

Bar Magnifier

Adapted Keyboard or Mouse

Eye Gaze Hardware/Software

Noise canceling headphones

Specialized software

Speech Generating Device
 These tools range from simple non-digital supports to 'mid-tech' tools to 'high-tech' devices - see above for examples. For more specifics about AT basics, AT decision making, technology tutorials or additional AT resources visit the Assistive Technology Training Online Project (ATTO) website at
The Ershig Assistive Technology Resource Center (E-ATRC) is located on the Bellingham, Washington campus of Western Washington University. It is one of the resource centers of Woodring College of Education (WCE) where next generation teachers, nurses, and human service professionals are trained. The E-ATRC's primary charge is to work with these WCE professionals-in-training to support them as they learn about the technology tools that can benefit their future students, patients and clients.
In addition, the center director is able to collaborate with local families, educators and othersin the community who are interested in learning more about assistive technology. All local users of the E-ATRC are welcome to browse the myriad items on the shelves and are also invited to check items out from the AT lending library to use them with individuals with whom they live and work.

Assistive technology can increase participation and improve performance in school, support equitable access to information, and enhance quality of life for a variety of individuals. To learn more about assistive technology or the E-ATRC and their services visit the center website.
The author, Linda Schleef, is Director of the Ershig Assistive Technology Resource Center. She is a Special Education Teacher, a Senior Instructor at Woodring College of Education, and is credentialed by RESNA (Rehabilitation Engineers and Assistive Technology Society of North America) as an Assistive Technology Professional (ATP). You can contact her at