Monday, April 6, 2015

Call for Reviewers

The Journal of Educational Controversy is expanding its pool of reviewers. If you are interested in being considered as a reviewer, e-mail us a letter of interest with a list of areas of expertise and interest along with a vita.

E-mail us at:

The journal is in the process of migrating to a new website managed by the Berkeley Electronic Press. Our 10th Year Anniversary Issue will be published by the end of this year.

Friday, March 20, 2015

New Issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy on "Challenging the Deficit Model and the Pathologizing of Children" now Online

We are pleased to announce the publication of  the Volume 9, Number 1, Winter 2015 issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy.  The theme for this issue is: “Challenging the Deficit Model and the Pathologizing of Children: Envisioning Alternative Models.”

Here is the controversy posed for this issue:
Martin Seligman, founder of the field of positive psychology, has said that, “Modern psychology has been co-opted by the disease model. We've become too preoccupied with repairing damage when our focus should be on building strength and resilience, especially in children.” Is this also true of modern education? Political and pedagogical responses, from the “War on Poverty” through “No Child Left Behind” to address the educational gaps in academic achievement of historically marginalized and neglected groups (the poor, minorities and children with disabilities), were often deeply rooted in a language of cultural deprivation and special needs. Has this deficit model begun to surreptitiously creep into our educational discourse for all children? Have we become too focused on needs and deficiencies and forgotten that children also have capacities and strengths? Does the current emphasis on accountability and standardized testing contribute to the pathologizing of children? We invite authors to respond critically to this argument, envision alternative models, examine historical causes and precedents, analyze political and social ramifications, and share real life stories on the influence these ways of thinking have on the classroom and on the learning as experienced by students.
With Jeb Bush apparently ready to run for the presidency in 2016, our readers might find our look behind the reform movements in Florida intriguing and enlightening.  See the Passero and Jones article.

Here is a complete table of contents for our new issue:
To Patricia F. Carini: A Dedication
 Susan Donnelly, Guest Editor
Resisting the “Single Story”
Ellen Schwartz  
Two examples of the Prospect Descriptive Process:
•Universal Power to Create (A Slide Show), Susan Donnelly
•Children’s Imaginative Communities - Microcosms of Democracy, Susan Donnelly

Link to the Prospect Archive of Children’s Work housed at the University of Vermont, Center for Digital Initiatives


Surpassing Sisyphus: The Tenacious and Promising Struggle to Push and Support a Strengths-Based Ideology and Practice in Education
 Sara Truebridge

How We are Complicit: Challenging the School Discourse of Adolescent Reading
 Andrea Davis,  Teachers College, Columbia University

 Against Rubbish Collecting: Education and Restively Ambivalent Youth
 Tracy Psycher, University of Minnesota
Breaking the Mold: Thinking Beyond Deficits
Elyse Hambacher and Winston C. Thompson,  University of New Hampshire
Urban Teachers Engaging in Critical Talk: Navigating Deficit Discourse and Neoliberal Logics
Heidi K. Pitzer,  St. Lawrence University

 Bottom Line Choices: Effects of Market Ideology in Florida’s Voluntary Preschool Policies
 Angela C. Passero and Roderick J. Jones, University of South Florida
 Precarity and Pedagogical Responsibility
Ann Chinnery,  Simon Fraser University
Building on the Strengths of Families and Communities
The 17th Annual Educational Law and Social Justice Forum
Western Washington University
Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Preview of the Forum’s Upcoming Discussion

“Everyone Should Feel so Connected and Safe”: Using Parent Action Teams to Reach all Families”
--by Members of the Parent Action Team: John Korsmo, Miguel Camerena, Andrea Clancy, Ann Eco, Anne Jones, Bill Nutting, Basilia Quiroz, Azucena Ramirez, Veronica Villa-Mondragon, Stacy Youngquist


Thursday, March 12, 2015

JEC Editorial Board Member to Speak on the 1907 Bellingham Anti-Hindu Riot

Paul Englesberg, an editorial board member at the Journal of Educational Controversy, will be a speaker in a three-part series of lectures sponsored by our local library here in Bellingham, Washington.  The series, "Intolerance & Injustice: Where We've Been, What We've Learned,” will look back at some of the intolerance that occurred in our own community.   Confronting historical memory is the first step to healing and change.  Perhaps, this is an event that should take place in local communities throughout the nation, communities that are trying to confront and reexamine their past in order to move forward to a more just future.  

Below is information on all three lectures that will take place in April at the Bellingham Public Library in Washington State:

 A free lecture series in April will explore issues of injustice and intolerance in our Bellingham and Whatcom County communities.

 The series, titled "Intolerance & Injustice: Where We've Been, What We've Learned," is three presentations in April featuring speakers who will explore examples in local history of intolerance and challenges to opportunity and justice, as well as contemporary events and issues.

The series is being put on by the Bellingham Public Library. All lectures take place at 7 p.m. in the Central Library Lecture Room in Bellingham.

April 2: Purge & Prejudice: The 1907 Bellingham Anti-Hindu Riot

 University professor Paul Englesberg presents a multi-media exploration of the 1907 riot in Bellingham, which drove away from our community hundreds of Asian immigrant workers, most of whom were Sikhs from India. Includes analysis of the causes and consequences of the riot, illustrations from archival sources, showing of the 15-minute documentary "We're Not Strangers" and opportunity for discussion.

Englesberg is professor of education at Walden University, specializing in adult and higher education and educational research. Previously he was on the education faculty at Western Washington University, where he initiated the Asian American Curriculum and Research Project.

April 8: Free Speech, Free Love & Costly Politics: Bellingham's Own Private Red Scare

 Reporter and university instructor Ron C. Judd describes the virulent political climate in 1930s Bellingham, which was well ahead of its time in "Red-Scare" politics that would sweep the nation during the Cold War. Battling factions of the day, led by The Bellingham Herald on the right, and fledgling KVOS Radio on the left, waged a decade-long media war that ultimately would put the city on the national map for political extremism -- and claim the popular president of the local college, Charles H. Fisher.
Judd is a Bellingham resident and longtime columnist and reporter for The Seattle Times. He is the author of numerous nonfiction books, including works of humor, outdoor guides and a history of the Winter Olympics. He is a journalism instructor at Western Washington University and a 2015 James W. Scott Research Fellow at WWU's Center for Pacific Northwest Studies.

April 15: Mid-Century Dream to Today's Reality: All the Ways that Race Still Matters

 Western Washington University professor and author Vernon Damani Johnson will explore the ideas and expectations set forth at mid-century, when the Voting Rights Act, Affirmative Action and other initiatives were initially conceived, contrasted with recent events and challenges to equal opportunity and justice for all.

Johnson has been a faculty member in the Department of Political Science at Western Washington University since 1986. He was on the advisory committee to Reverend Jesse Jackson’s Presidential Campaign in 1988 and served on the Steering Committee of the Washington State Rainbow Coalition from 1988-92. When the militia movement swept into the region in the 1990s, Damani helped found the Whatcom Human Rights Task Force, and chaired its board from 1997-2000.

Each presentation is free and open to the public. For more information, contact the Bellingham Public Library at 360-778-7323 or

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Chicago Politics: School Closures, Appointed School Boards and the Upcoming Mayoral Election – a Look at Some New Research

With the tight mayoral runoff election coming up this April in Chicago between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and challenger, Jesús G. Garcia, much of the opposition seems to be coming from a challenge to educational policy decisions that were made by the city’s current administration.  (New York Times, March 3, 2015)  

 A new report by the Collaborative for Equity and Justice in Education at the University of Illinois in Chicago just went public and we thought our readers would like to read the report with its review of the evidence.

From their website:

The report, “Should Chicago Have an Elected Representative School Board?  A New Review of the Evidence,” assesses the agenda and major policies of Chicago’s current Board and how their decisions have negatively impacted Chicago Public Schools students.  The research found no conclusive evidence suggesting mayor-appointed boards are more effective at governing schools, inequities in schooling have increased under the leadership of the current Board, its major policies including school closures have failed to improve schools, and the unelected Board is largely unresponsive to the complaints and suggestions of parents and community leaders.

To read the entire report published at the University of Illinois at Chicago, go to:

 For other reports, see the one published by the University of Chicago’s  Consortium on Chicago School Research in January of this year, entitled: “School Closings in Chicago: Understanding Families' Choices and Constraints for New School Enrollment.”   An interesting aspect of this report was the finding on the way the families viewed academic quality as something different than simply a schools’ performance policy rating.

 From their website:

The way that many parents defined academic quality was different than the official markers of quality represented by the district’s performance policy rating system. For example, many families defined academic quality as having after-school programs, certain curricula and courses, small class sizes, positive and welcoming school environments, and/or one-on-one attention from teachers in classes. Although some families did talk about their school’s official policy rating, most factored in these other "unofficial" indicators of academic quality when making their school choice decisions.

Readers can find that report at:

Saturday, February 28, 2015

“Constructive Resilience” as a Different Approach to Social Change: Some Reflections on Viewing the Film, “To Light a Candle”

Yesterday, I had an opportunity to view the film, To Light a Candle, the film that I mentioned in my earlier post below.  It was shown at Western Washington University as well as sites across the globe on February 27th to highlight the campaign “Education is Not a Crime.” 

The documentary by Maziar Bahari is about the denial of education for the largest religious minority in Iran: Bahá’ís.   The film shows in vivid detail the oppression that the Baha’is have undergone with a focus on one of the creative responses they have made to their denial of a university education in Iran unless they are willing to renounce their religion.  Their response was to create an alternative university for their children, the Bala’i Institute for Higher Education, which has begun to be recognized by universities around the world.  It takes place in homes and over the internet, but has met with resistance from a governmental regime that has used ways to stop it including raiding homes and making arrests.  Still it persists. 

The panel that followed the showing of the film provided an interesting context in which to view the film.  Not only did they place the oppression of the Baha’is in an historical context, but Michael Karlberg, a professor at Western Washington University, also placed it within a theoretical model of social change. Essentially, Professor Karlberg argues that the dominant strategies of traditional responses to oppression have not been effective or are limiting.  Violence to oppression often begets more violence.  Even non-violent responses by people like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King have often had only limited and short successes.   He points to the violent reactions that followed the British withdrawal from India as well as the persistent institutional racism despite the successes in overthrowing the Jim Crow laws.  What is lacking, argues Michael, is a constructive alternative in the wake of a power vacuum that emerges.  Rather than simply dismantling the systems of oppression, this approach confronts it by building an alternative.  In effect, as Michael put it, we build the world we want to live in.

The creation of the Baha’i Institute for Higher Education was offered by Professor Karlberg as an example of a constructive alternative to combating an oppressive regime that he calls a third approach to social change.  Readers can read more about this approach in an article by Professor Karlberg in the journal, PEACE & CHANGE, Vol. 35, No. 2, April 2010, entitled, “Constructive Resilience: The Baha´’ı´ Response to Oppression.”   

Watch for an upcoming interview with Professor Karlberg in a future post.   Our tenth year anniversary issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy will also feature a special scholarly article on the topic.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Education is not a Crime Campaign: The Plight of the Bahá’ís in Iran

A film screening and panel discussion of “To light a candle” will take place on Friday, February 27, 2:30 pm at Western Washington University in the Communication Facility, room 120.  “To Light a Candle,” a new human rights documentary by Maziar Bahari, is about the denial of education for the largest religious minority in Iran: Bahá’ís.  Maziar Bahari, an Iranian-Canadian journalist and filmmaker, was himself imprisoned in Iran in 2009. His documentary was the inspiration for a campaign that was started in November of 2014.  The campaign is now showcasing a major event entitled “Education Is Not a Crime Live 2015,” where “To Light a Candle” will be shown at hundreds of screenings to be held around the world on that day. Here are two websites for more information:

Thursday, January 1, 2015

The New Year Continues our Discussion between Authors Paul Thomas and Curt Dudley-Marling

Editor: Welcome back to our blog for 2015.  We will start the new year with a continuation of a discussion that was begun at the end of 2014 on our blog between two authors whose articles were published earlier in our journal.  Readers will recall that Paul Thomas in an earlier post began by criticizing those who blame poor parents for the limited vocabulary of their children.  Curt Dudley-Marling expanded on this deficit thinking in education while also commenting on the hostile responses that Thomas’ article had received in the Washington Post as part of the larger problem.  Below Paul continues the conversation.  The exchange between these two authors is a good introduction to the upcoming issue of the journal that will focus on the theme: “Challenging the Deficit Model and the Pathologizing of Children: Envisioning Alternative Models.”

 By P. L. Thomas

 Soon after The Washington Post reprinted my piece from The Conversation UK, Stop blaming poor parents for their children’s vocabulary, Curt Dudley-Marling emailed. Curt was pleased to see a somewhat mainstream acknowledgement of scholarly challenges to both the often-cited work of Hart and Risley and the deficit perspective inherent in that work and lurking beneath why so many people accept the claims without critique. 

But Curt was also deeply concerned, it seemed, about the comments posted—comments that were strongly committed to deficit perspectives of language and of people and children trapped in poverty. 

In his response here, Curt explains that he has “not lost hope,” and then ends with what I believe is an important point: “The enduring lesson here is that we can more effectively counter deficit thinking by showing students’ competence when they are engaged in thoughtful, engaging curricula rather than merely telling about the problems of deficit thinking through scholarly critiques.”

 In fact, Curt’s concluding statement hits on how important public work of scholars and educators is when compared to scholarly work, which remains mostly among the scholars, and how action will always trumps words. 

While we continue the conversation here and even in JEC and other scholarly venues, we must be resolved to act in ways that are counter to deficit narratives and deficit practices.

 Below is a follow-up blog post after Curt emailed me, spurring me to think longer and harder about the comments posted. 

The Good

Middle-class and affluent parents are good because they pass on to their children good cultural capital (such as good literacy).

The Bad

Impoverished parents and working-poor parents are bad because they pass on to their children bad cultural capital (such as bad literacy).

The Ugly

Many, if not most people, in the U.S. embrace the above class- (and race-) based views of parenting and language (vocabulary, grammar, reading, and writing).

This ugly social mythology is identified by Pierre Bourdieu in Acts of Resistance:

I’m thinking of what has been called the “return of individualism,” a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy which tends to destroy the philosophical foundations of the welfare state and in particular the notion of collective responsibility….The return to the individual is also what makes it possible to “blame the victim,” who is entirely responsible for his or her own misfortune, and to preach the gospel of self-help, all of this being justified by the endlessly repeated need to reduce costs for companies….

In the United States, the state is splitting into two, with on the one hand a state which provides social guarantees, but only for the privileged, who are sufficiently well-off to provide themselves with insurance, with guarantees, and a repressive, policing state, for the populace. (pp. 7, 32)

But these deficit views that feed an environment of victim blaming also have been echoed in the comment section of a recent piece of mine refuting those very deficit views (see the reposting and comments at The Washington Post's PostEverything).

The ugliness rests on two separate and related issues—parents and language.

Parenting: Good or Bad versus Scarcity or Slack

Within a cultural of individualism, perceptions of good or bad parenting are strongly correlated with social class—as noted above. Unpacking why and how those perceptions exist reveals the ugliness.

Despite evidence to the contrary—evidence that shows class and race are more powerfully correlated with success than effort—impoverished parents are blamed as bad and affluent parents are praised as good when we assume that individual effort of those parents has determined their status.

The focus on the individual also feeds assumptions about whether or not parents can, will, or even want to provide the necessary care and initial teaching for their children. See this comment as one of several such claims:

Being poor is not the problem.....acceptance of poverty and the social position it implies is the problem. When the poor decide that they would like their children to be better off than their parents, efforts will be made in that direction.....but, if the poor decide to instill in their children the idea that being poor is better than being rich, and that the rich are the bad guys in the play, the poor will remain resentful and poor which will define them and their children.

What is often missing in all of this are the tight margins of living in scarcity (poverty) as compared to the slack of living in affluence.

For example, good but impoverished parents may appear to be "bad" when compared to poor or neglectful affluent parents who appear to be "good"—especially when we focus on proxies for the quality of parenting such as a child's vocabulary.

Good and conscientious but impoverished parents, doing the best they can under the stress and within the tight margins of poverty, may be accurately associated with a non-standard home language, and as a result, their children may enter school with measurable literacy that is deemed behind affluent children, whose parents may have been neglectful. However, those affluent children raised in the slack of affluence may have had surrogate people and experiences that mask the weak parenting.

Impoverished parents, on the other hand, have all of their decisions and all of the factors outside of their control amplified negatively by their poverty; while affluent parents have their weaknesses masked or even mitigated by their affluence.

Class-based differences in child rearing are not "good" versus "bad," as much as more affluent children's rearing matches social expectations, ands thus appears "good" in that context.

Annette Lareau, author of Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life, explains about the differences in child rearing by class between middle-class and working-class/poor families:

The differences are striking....

Neither the approach of concerted cultivation or the accomplishment of natural growth is without flaws. Both have strengths and weaknesses [emphasis added]. Middle-class children, for example, are often exhausted, have vicious fights with siblings, and do not have as much contact with their extended families as working-class and poor children. But when children enter institutions such as schools and health care settings, the strategy of middle-class child rearing of concerted cultivation is far more in compliance with the current standards of professionals than is the approach of the accomplishment of natural growth. There are signs that middle-class children gain advantages, including potentially in the world of work, from the experience of concerted cultivation. Working-class and poor children do not gain this benefit.

Poverty creates reduced circumstances, razor-thin margins, and relentless stress; as Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir note, people cannot take vacations from poverty.

Affluence, however, allows slack, an abundance of time and money that buffers mistakes, carelessness, and behaviors that would otherwise be considered "bad."

Whether parents are "good" or "bad" is profoundly impacted by status (class and race)—more so than by individual qualities alone.

The Lingering, but Flawed, Connection Between Language and Character

The related ugly is our lingering, but flawed, connection between language and character. Many in the U.S. remain convinced that vocabulary, grammar, and even pronunciation are signals of not just intelligence but the "good" or "bad" in a person.

Non-standard English is associated with race and class, revealing more about our classism and racism than about linguistics or individual character (again, read the comments section linked above).

Deficit views of language perpetuate beliefs that the poor and racial minorities speak broken or inferior forms of English; that their language is not merely different, but inferior.

Alice Walker's The Color Purple is an epistolary novel, a story told in letters. As impoverished, black women, Celie and Nettie create a rich tapestry of using language to confront and recreate their worlds. Walker's novel, then, is a powerful rebuking of the belief that poverty and racial minorities are the provinces of flawed or deficient language.

The impoverished do not pass on "bad," but socially marginalized language to their children; we must admit that non-standard forms of language trigger the dual ugliness of classism and racism in the U.S.

In 1963, novelist Ralph Ellison confronted this language stereotype directly:

“Language is equipment for living,” to quote Kenneth Burke. One uses the language which helps to preserve one’s life, which helps to make one feel at peace in the world, and which screens out the greatest amount of chaos. All human beings do this.

Further, Ellison rejects the deficit view held about the language of poor blacks:

Some of us look at the Negro community in the South and say that these kids have no capacity to manipulate language. Well, these are not the Negroes I know. Because I know that the wordplay of Negro kids in the South would make the experimental poets, the modern poets, green with envy. I don’t mean that these kids possess broad dictionary knowledge, but within the bounds of their familiar environment and within the bounds of their rich oral culture, they possess a great virtuosity with the music and poetry of words. The question is how can you get this skill into the mainstream of the language, because it is without doubt there. And much of it finds its way into the broader language. Now I know this just as William Faulkner knew it. This does not require a lot of testing; all you have to do is to walk into a Negro church.

Also unmasking deficit views of language related to class and race, in 1979, James Baldwin asked, "If Black English Isn't a Language, Then Tell Me, What Is?":

The argument concerning the use, or the status, or the reality, of black English is rooted in American history and has absolutely nothing to do with the question the argument supposes itself to be posing. The argument has nothing to do with language itself but with the role of language. Language, incontestably, reveals the speaker. Language, also, far more dubiously, is meant to define the other–and, in this case, the other is refusing to be defined by a language that has never been able to recognize him.

Like Ellison, Baldwin recognizes poetry where others see deficit:

Now, I do not know what white Americans would sound like if there had never been any black people in the United States, but they would not sound the way they sound. Jazz, for example, is a very specific sexual term, as in jazz me, baby, but white people purified it into the Jazz Age. Sock it to me, which means, roughly, the same thing, has been adopted by Nathaniel Hawthorne’s descendants with no qualms or hesitations at all, along with let it all hang out and right on! Beat to his socks which was once the black’s most total and despairing image of poverty, was transformed into a thing called the Beat Generation, which phenomenon was, largely, composed of uptight, middle-class white people, imitating poverty, trying to get down, to get with it, doing their thing, doing their despairing best to be funky, which we, the blacks, never dreamed of doing–we were funky, baby, like funk was going out of style.

Ultimately, then, Baldwin states boldly his own recognition of the ugly:

The brutal truth is that the bulk of white people in American never had any interest in educating black people, except as this could serve white purposes. It is not the black child’s language that is in question, it is not his language that is despised: It is his experience. A child cannot be taught by anyone who despises him, and a child cannot afford to be fooled. A child cannot be taught by anyone whose demand, essentially, is that the child repudiate his experience, and all that gives him sustenance, and enter a limbo in which he will no longer be black, and in which he knows that he can never become white. Black people have lost too many black children that way.

And now we are still confronted with "the brutal truth," as Baldwin puts it. Why do we cling to deficit views of poverty and language, and why are so many angry and bitter toward people—families and children—who find themselves in poverty—while simultaneously praising the affluent?

It may well be that neither the quantity or quality of words children bring to school nor that both are strongly correlated with the socioeconomic status of those children's parents matters as much as our cultural bitterness, callousness.

More important is how adults use words to demonize the marginalized and create an Other so that they do not have to confront themselves. [1] Again, if you doubt me, return to those comments that suggest to me that if we wish to judge parents by their children, there we have ample evidence to draw some pretty harsh conclusions.


Monday, December 1, 2014

In Memory: John Goodlad 1920-2014

It is with sadness that I share with our readers the passing of educator and philosopher John Goodlad. Our journal had a very special relationship with Dr. Goodlad. Our association with a local progressive school as part of a team that participated in Dr. Goodlad’s National League of Democratic Schools enabled us not only to write about democratic educational theory but to see it in action. The head of that school, Susan Donnelly, created her school as a laboratory for democratic practices. And teachers in that school like Vale Hartley shared real life democratic experiences by writing about them in our journal. See “The Elementary Classroom: A Key Dimension of a Child's Democratic World.” They are both the legacy that John left. They shared his passion for democratic education and worked to realize his vision in the reality of their school.

John’s purpose in forming the League of Democratic Schools was to bring together those committed to the ideal of democratic renewal to regional conferences where they could share their many experiments in democratic living as well as find fellowship and support with others who shared the same vision.

Our journal’s winter 2010 issue was dedicated to John Goodlad’s lifetime work in helping us to think about the kind of education that is required to sustain a vital democracy. In his prologue to the issue that he titled, “An Agenda for Education in a Democracy,” he shared his deepening concern that public schooling was increasingly betraying its commitment to any democratic public purpose. “Whatever happened to the educational system,” he wrote, “that was once regarded as the source of our enlightenment and the bastion of our security?” John’s prolific writings were a clarion call for reclaiming a democratic public purpose for our schools against the assault by what he called “the god of economic utility.” The League of Democratic Schools was the active arm to his life of research and writing.

And so it remains an unfinished project. But his legacy will be in all those who believe we must educate “as if democracy really mattered.” John asked us to continue to think about what it means to really create a public that is capable of sustaining a vital democracy. We at the journal hope we can continue his conversation.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Author Curt Dudley-Marling Continues the Conversation on Deficit Thinking and the Pathologizing of Children, their Parents, and their Community

Author Curt Dudley-Marling’s article, “Return of the Deficit,” published in Volume 2 Issue 1 of the Journal of Educational Controversy, has been one of the most read and quoted of all the articles we have published. In his post below, he responds to our earlier post by Paul Thomas who talks about the ways we blame poor parents for their children’s limited vocabulary. Dudley-Marling comments on the hostile response that Thomas’ article received by readers of the Washington Post. His post below highlights a concern that we have had for a long time at this journal. Our aim in publishing the Journal of Educational Controversy has been to bring scholars as public intellectuals into conversation with the general public, policymakers and legislators. Unfortunately, as Dudley-Marling points out, the most promising and insightful scholarship is typically ignored in the political discussions that influence our policies, laws and practices. Professor Dudley-Marling has one suggestion on how to turn this around. Perhaps our readers have other thoughts.

Reflections from Author Curt Dudley-Marling

I recently retired from 33 years in academia. This life change has given me reason to reflect on my contributions to the field of education. I’d like to think that, at its heart, my scholarly writing stands as a critique of deficit thinking that pathologizes individual students, their families, their language, culture and communities. More seriously, deficit thinking is used as justification for providing students in high-poverty schools – as well as students with disabilities – with curriculum focused on low-level skills, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. This partly explains the so-called achievement gap in which poor children underachieve relative to their more affluent peers. Children in poverty achieve less because they are taught less. Of course, the academic performance of children in poverty is also seriously affected by the material effects of poverty (i.e., poor nutrition and medical care, high exposure to environmental toxins, higher risk of violence and on an on). I summarize most of these arguments in a piece I wrote for this journal in 2007, “The return of the deficit,” in which I use Hart and Risley’s (1995) research on the vocabulary of children living in poverty and Ruby Payne’s “culture of poverty” as illustrations of the pernicious effects of deficit thinking.

There are many other critical educators who have taken aim at deficit thinking. Richard Valencia at the University of Texas, for example, has written extensively on the ills of deficit thinking. A recent critique of deficit thinking by Paul Thomas, "Stop blaming poor parents for their children’s limited vocabulary,” was recently reprinted on the Journal of Educational Controversy blog. Thomas’s piece was originally posted in the Washington Post and the reader responses to Thomas’s piece highlight a painful realization for me. Critics of deficit thinking are widely cited by like-minded scholars but have had little impact on the deficit thinking that is deeply ingrained in popular discourses, a point driven home by the generally hostile responses to Paul Thomas’s piece in the Washington Post. Despite numerous critiques, Hart and Risley’s deficit model of poor children’s vocabulary has been extraordinarily influential cited over 1400 times in scholarly journals. Similarly, fierce critiques of Ruby Payne’s work have done little to diminish the popularity of her program. Deficit thinking is also at the heart of both conservative and liberal programs aimed at “fixing” the problem of poverty. Scholarly arguments have generally been ineffective at stemming the tide of deficit thinking.

I have not lost hope, however, in efforts to counter deficit thinking. I’ve just come to doubt the efficacy of scholarly critiques. A more promising approach has emerged from work I’ve done with Sarah Michaels from Clark University that illustrates the intellectual and linguistic competence of students in high-poverty when challenged to participate in high level, evidence-based discussions of challenging texts. Video recordings and analyses of these discussions have been effective at persuading groups of teachers of the competence of students in high-poverty schools. This experience inspired us to put together an edited collection of illustrations of the effects of what we call high-expectation curriculum in an edited text (High-expectation curricula: Helping all students succeed with powerful learning) published by Teachers College Press. The enduring lesson here is that we can more effectively counter deficit thinking by showing students’ competence when they are engaged in thoughtful, engaging curricula rather than merely telling about the problems of deficit thinking through scholarly critiques.


Hart, B. & Risley, T.R. (1995). Meaningful differences in the everyday experiences of young American children. Baltimore, MD: Brookes.

Payne, R.K. (2005). A framework for understanding poverty (4th ed.). Highlands, TX: Aha! Process, Inc.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Author Paul Thomas says: "Stop blaming poor parents for their children’s limited vocabulary"

Author Paul Thomas is well-known to our readers. He has written two earlier articles for the journal as well as a book review.

"Universal Public Education—Our (Contradictory) Missions" Vol. 6 No. 1

"Of Rocks and Hard Places—The Challenge of Maxine Greene’s Mystification in Teacher Education" Vol. 5 No. 1

Review: Police in the Hallways: Confronting the “Culture of Control” Vol. 7 No. 1

In this morning's Washington Post, Professor Thomas published an article entitled: "Stop Blaming poor parents for their children's limited vocabulary: Blaming parents for the language gap in early childhood overlooks one important point."

The article was originally published on The Conversation, that uses a Creative Commons license to republish their articles for free, online or in print. Because we believe the article has relevance to our upcoming issue on the pathologizing of children, we are reprinting Professor Thomas' article below for our readers also.

Stop Blaming Poor Parents for their Children's Limited Vocabulary

Blaming parents for the language gap in early childhood overlooks one important point

While the reading wars in education have raged for decades, most people agree that literacy is crucial for children and that the path to strong reading and writing skills begin in the home. But focusing on poor children’s parents may actually be the real problem when trying to increase their success in school.

In a recent article in the New York Times, journalist Douglas Quenqua looked back 20 years to a “landmark education study which found that by the age of three, children from low-income families have heard 30m fewer words than more affluent children, putting them at an educational disadvantage before they even began school.” He detailed new research by Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek, professor of psychology at Temple University, challenging the importance of the quantity of words a child hears and emphasising the quality of language in each child’s home.

That “landmark study” refers to a 1995 study by American psychologists Betty Hart and Todd Risley. They concluded that the key to children’s language development is quantity of words they hear. And that an important way to evaluate early years child care is the amount of talk actually going on between children and their caregivers.

What the New York Times article fails to mention is that in 2009, education researchers Curt Dudley-Marling and Krista Lucas discredited Hart and Risley’s claims as being biased in favour of middle- and upper-class children. They showed that the study’s research design, limited population studied and biases reflected assumptions about the impoverished. Thus, Dudley-Marling and Lucas argued that Hart and Risley’s claims should not be generalised to the whole population.

Also absent in these debates is the recognition that whether we identify quality or quantity of vocabulary, we remain trapped in a “deficit perspective” of language. Deficit perspectives are those that identify a person or a condition by what is missing – in this case, parents talking to their children in a certain way. That deficit often reflects biases and stereotypes.

Blame the poor

Hirsh-Pasek’s claims about the quality of words children hear complicate a simplified view of language as merely how many words a child knows. But the broader discussion remains trapped in a perspective of blaming impoverished children’s parents.

Ultimately, a shift in focus from the quantity of words a child hears to the quality of those words does not usher in a step-change in policy. This is because the myth persists that the flaws of impoverished parents are passed to their children – and so the impoverished continue to be blamed for their poverty. The deficit must be filled: first it was more words, now it is higher-quality words.

Neither approach turns our attention away from the victims of poverty and toward the social conditions creating it. This results in differences in language among social classes – often related to grammar or vocabulary – that reflect not failed people but an inequitable society.

Such debates simply allow cultural stereotypes to determine what research matters publicly and politically – and how. Whether we argue that impoverished parents fail to share the same number or quality of words with their children when compared to middle-class or affluent parents, we are still blaming those parents and not the social inequity driving poverty.

Giving children more or higher quality vocabulary teaching without addressing the roots of social and educational inequity exposes that simply embracing ongoing research is not enough in education. Without first setting aside our cultural biases, research fails us and our students.

What messages get through

In a recent article on The Conversation, Dennis Hayes lamented that a study in the UK shows education often fails to link practice to research. Back in 1947, American educator and former president of the National Council of Teachers of English, Lou LaBrant expressed a similar concern about the “considerable gap between the research … and the utilisation of that research in school programs and methods.”. This lack of research-driven practice in the classroom spans decades and stretches across national borders.

Further complicating this failure is distortion by media who disproportionately cover think-tank press reports (often not peer-reviewed) compared to more rigorous university-based research.
Psychology professor at Florida State University, K. Anders Ericsson has confronted this problem since journalist Malcolm Gladwell has misrepresented his research and made popular the misleading 10,000 hour rule – that greatness only comes by a defined amount of lengthy practice.

Ericsson has called for not allowing research to remain primarily in the hands of journalists: “At the very least [media coverage of research] should not contain factually incorrect statements and avoid reinforcing existing misconceptions in the popular media.”

As the ongoing concern for the literacy of impoverished children shows, research can be the problem and not the solution, if we view that research through the lens of stereotypes and assumptions.

Yes, we need to link research and practice in education, but we must do so while guarding against oversimplification and biases, especially those perpetuate deficit views of impoverished families and children.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Nobel Prize Focuses on Children’s Plight, Rights and Education

This year’s Nobel Peace Prize went to Indian child rights campaigner Kailash Satyarthi for her work rescuing trafficked children from servitude, and to Pakistani teenager, Malala Yousafzai, whose voice for children and the right to education made her a target of extremists in her country. Although different in its causes and strategic aims, the work toward children’s rights is a global one and has been championed by many groups in the United States. The Journal of Educational Controversy has written about these concerns in a number of issues.

One of the centers that we highlighted in Volume 7 was the Center for Children and Youth Justice. The Center was started by former Washington State Supreme Court Justice Bobbe Bridge. The issue contains an article by Justice Bridge, with co-authors, Leila E. Curtis and Nicholas Oakley, entitled, “No Single Source, No Simple Solution: Why We Should Broaden Our Perspective of the School-to-Prison-Pipeline and Look to the Court in Redirecting Youth from It.” Along with the article is a video interview with Justice Bridge. Other children advocate groups that contributed to the issue were Team Child, the ACLU of Washington State, the League of Education Voters and the Office of Education Ombudsman of Washington State.

The Center for Children and Youth Justice reveals the kinds of problems young people can face in a highly industrialized affluent nation. On the center’s website, Justice Bridge states her concerns and goals succinctly: “We can no longer be satisfied with change, however positive, without substantial change in outcomes for all children involved in Washington child welfare and juvenile justice systems. We’re leaving too many children and youth behind. Systems need to work together for all these kids. And we need to hear their voices, respect them and respond to them. That’s what CCYJ is all about.”

In her response to learning that she was receiving the Nobel Peace Prize, Malala Yousafzai dedicated it to the “voiceless.” We sometimes forget that even in a nation with institutional welfare structures in place, too many still feel voiceless and powerless. Indeed, the Center for Children and Youth Justice reveals the ways in which the foster care system, the juvenile justice systems and the public schools have often failed our children. The Center advocates for a more systemic approach that unites community forces to bring about real change. To read about recommendations to combat the School-to-Prison Pipeline, check out Justice Bridge’s article in our Volume 7 issue. To learn more about the work of the center, check out the website at:

Monday, September 1, 2014

Should the Death of Michael Brown be Discussed in the Public School Classroom: An Illinois School District says “No”

Author Paul Thomas raises this question in light of an Illinois school ban on discussions over the death of Michael Brown at the hands of a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. See his article:
“Illinois School Bans Discussions of Michael Brown's Death --Prohibiting students from talking about events in Ferguson offers them exactly the opposite of what they need” on AlterNet:

Paul’s arguments on “reclaiming civic duties of schools” and “learning to address our inadequate world” continue a discussion of the issues he raised in two articles published earlier in the Journal of Educational Controversy. We would be interested in hearing from teachers on ways they are handling the issue in their own classrooms or if they agree that such topics are off limit.

To read Paul Thomas’ earlier articles in the Journal of Educational Controversy, see:
“Of Rocks and Hard Places: The Challenge of Maxine Greene’s Mystification in Teacher Education” in VOLUME 5, NUMBER 1, WINTER 2010 issue on the theme, “Art, Social Imagination and Democratic Education”
“Universal Public Education—Our (Contradictory) Missions” in VOLUME 6, NUMBER 1, FALL 2011 / WINTER 2012 on the theme, “The Education and Schools our Children Deserve”

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Author Jioanna Carjuzaa's Video Interview on Native American Education Now Online

Author Jioanna Carjuzaa's April 8th video interview is now online on our journal's link, "Authors Talk.

Readers can read her article, "The Give Away Spirit: Reaching a Shared Vision of Ethical Indigenous Research Relationships," in our Volume 5, Number 2 issue.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Author Sam Chaltain’s Interview with the Seattle Times on Charter Schools

Author Sam Chaltain, whose article appeared in our Volume 3 Number 2 issue of the Journal of Educational Controversy, has just published his latest book, Our School: Searching for Community in the Era of Choice. He recently discussed his book in an interview with the Seattle Times. Because Washington State is just starting its journey into the charter school movement, something the voters of Washington State had earlier rejected a number of times, we thought this interview on Sam’s look at charter schools would be helpful. We want to thank Sam for permission to reprint his interview that was taken from his blog entry of May 21st.

Sleepless in Seattle? My interview with the Seattle TimesWednesday, May 21st, 2014 at 2:49 pm

The Seattle Times’ excellent education reporter, Claudia Rowe, published a nice summary of a long conversation we had about school reform when I was in town for an event at the public library. See what you think (and check out the original link here.)
First he was a private school teacher in New York City. Then, briefly, a public school teacher. After that, Sam Chaltain spent years studying schools across the country trying to determine what qualities were common to the very best.
In Washington, D.C., his current hometown, Chaltain got an unusual opportunity to examine two vastly different models up close. For nine months, he observed a new charter program struggling to get off the ground, and contrasted this with the daily ebb-and-flow of life at a 90-year-old neighborhood school. The result is Our School: Searching for Community in the Era of Choice.
Chaltain, 43, insists that he never intended to compare and contrast the schools in order to anoint one better than the other. Rather, he strives to present on-the-ground realities in each, with a mind toward suggesting a path forward. As Washington state prepares to open its own charter programs next year, his experience may have particular resonance for public school parents faced, for the first time, with a choice.
What follows is a condensed version of a conversation between Chaltain and The Seattle Times. He will be discussing his book at Powell’s in Portland on May 21.

Q: As you know, Washington is set to open its first charter schools next year. Can you share any lessons learned from your observations of a first-year program in action?

A: I’d say get away from the false notion that the solution relies on either more — or less — charter schools. Charters and public schools need each others’ strengths. What districts need most is a greater sense of innovation, the ability to think in new ways about old problems. Charters have all those things in spades — by design, everything is up for re-creation, all the way down to report cards.
So ask: How can you ensure that not everything is up for reinvention? Are there structures that can connect district schools and these autonomous charters?

Q: You were a teacher yourself. Why did you step away from the classroom after six months as a public school educator? What was unworkable there?

A: In a word, everything. But it was less about that school than my realization that teaching is really unsustainable work. What made it unsustainable were inefficiencies that overwhelmed any sense of reward you got from the kids. We were so clearly undervalued. Think about it. First, there are the pressures of trying to be a good teacher, 180 days a year, five presentations a day, working with 100 to 200 students. Add their parents into that, and it’s managing up to 200 relationships. Teachers are being asked to do things that they’re not fully equipped to do.

Q: You knew a lot going into your year-long school observation project. In the end, did anything surprise you?

A: Yes, the degree to which schools are almost entirely staffed by young, single women who had basically accepted the idea that the way to solve our problems in education was with a disposable work force. That’s insane. You would never have Doctors for America, doing two-year stints as a pit stop on the way to some other career. Yet in teaching we accept this. Part of it has to do with the ongoing misogyny of our culture. Teaching is still seen as women’s work, a sub-profession. Not only is that incorrect, it’s a horrible strategy for dealing with the one institution that offers the closest thing to a silver bullet that we have in American society.

Q: What’s common to good schools — whether publicly or privately funded?

A: The truth is most schools are pretty good. Very few are truly great. But among those you see again and again that they create a culture among the adults that is collaborative, transparent and empowering. Kids pass through. Adults are the keepers of the culture. The way that you make lasting change is by valuing and supporting the adults, the educators. We may give lip service to this, but we lack sufficient examples of how to do it well. The reality is, we’re still more likely to be persuaded by the illusory hardness of the quantitative proof — test scores — even though there is an overwhelming consensus that reading and math scores are not enough.

Q: You seem to be advocating that we take a few breaths and decide, first, how we define success. Then, how to measure it. But isn’t the glacial pace of innovation part of the problem?

A: The question is not: Are charter schools the answer or the problem? It’s not even, how do we close the achievement gap? The question is, what does high-quality teaching actually look like? What all of us need to do is spend some time thinking about what are the old habits that we need to let go of in order to let new ideas come into being? It’s about being clearer in the questions we ask.

Q: About the national picture, are you optimistic? Worried?

A: All of the above. I’m optimistic that we’re starting to shift from the job of the kid is to adjust to the school, and toward the job of the school is to adjust to the kid. After that, I’m worried. We overvalue the things that we can quantifiably measure. We continue to speak in oppositional, two-dimensional terms about one another. You’re either working for the righteous or the damned. But it’s not about pro- and anti-. It’s about to-what-end?

Friday, June 20, 2014

Thursday, June 5, 2014

10th Year Anniversary Issue will Usher in New Electronic Journal Management System: New Call for Reviewers

Our journal will soon be assisted by a new electronic journal management system from Bepress. Authors will no longer have to send manuscripts as e-mail attachments but will enter the manuscripts online instead.

We will also have a new call for reviewers whom we will input into the system. I will let you know shortly about the procedure and the information required. In the meantime, just send an e-mail of interest and where you can be contacted to

What a birthday gift for the journal’s 10th year anniversary issue.

Friday, May 30, 2014

In Memory -- Maxine Greene

It is with a heavy heart that I announce the passing of one of our century's greatest educational philosophers, Maxine Greene. As my teacher and mentor, Maxine represented to me the very best of intellectual life and social commitment grounded in a love for the power of art and the imagination to make a difference in the world. I was very grateful that so many contributed to the special issue of our journal that we dedicated to her in the winter of 2010.

Maxine was indeed a "light in dark times."

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Notes on the 16th Annual Educational Law and Social Justice Forum with Curtis Acosta, including Reflections on Student Responses

The 16th Annual Educational Law and Social Justice Forum with Curtis Acosta was held on May 14th at the Center for Education, Equity and Diversity, co-sponsored by The Journal of Educational Controversy and the Woodring College of Education. Around 70 participants, including Western students, as well as a class of students from a local middle school, were in attendance.

After presentations by Professors Kristen French, Veronica Velez and JEC editor Lorraine Kasprisin, a Skype session was held between students and Curtis Acosta. Mr. Acosta is a former Mexican-American Studies teacher from the Tucson Unified School District, where his curriculum was banned by the state of Arizona in 2010. Curtis Acosta is also a returning speaker and guest of Western Washington University, where he first spoke last fall to a large gathering of students, professors and other community members and activists. His presentation in October of last year focused on the criminalization of Latin@ youth and the struggle for social justice in education across the United Sates and was followed by the publication of his article, “Dangerous Minds in Tucson: The Banning of Mexican American Studies and Critical Thinking in Arizona,” in the eighth issue of The Journal of Educational Controversy. Student participants in our forum engaged in a lively dialogue with Curtis about his approaches to pedagogy, his work during and after the ban on MAS, his article in the Journal, and the effect that the ban had on his students.

As part of this forum, we provided participants with a think sheet containing quotations from Arizona state legislation that banned Mexican-American Studies in Tucson, as well as an exit survey. The Arizona state law, HB2281, passed in 2010 and quoted on the think sheet, prohibits “a school district or charter school from including in its program of instruction any courses or classes that”:
  •         Promote the overthrow of the United States government.
  •          Promote resentment toward a race or class of people.
  •          Are designed primarily for pupils of a particular ethnic group.
  •          Advocate ethnic solidarity instead of the treatment of pupils as individuals.
Curtis Acosta cogently analyzes the rhetoric of this legislation in his article in the JEC, so I will not attempt to do so here. One of the more intriguing results of the multiple choice exit survey we provided, however, was that respondents were less likely to decide that the MAS program was in violation of HB2281 at all.

A wide majority of respondents decided, after the forum, that the MAS program was actually not in violation of the legislation that was passed in Arizona to ban it.

Interestingly, as well, respondents to the exit survey were very likely to disagree with the law completely (5) or mostly (7), with only three remaining undecided and only one participant saying that they “agree[d] with most of it.”  No respondents agreed completely with the law.

To quickly overview the rest of the results, few of the survey respondents had attended Curtis’ presentation last fall—only 5 out of 17. Mr. Acosta’s presentation last fall drew a crowd of several hundred, packing an auditorium, and this particular statistic begs the question of how representative we can assume the 17 survey responses are of the seventy participants in the spring forum.

At the same time, one of the respondents remarked (in the section of the survey provided for comments) on not having attended the fall presentation, but finding the spring one very helpful and informative: "I came into this entirely uneducated on the topic as extra credit for a class. Leaving, I question why these forums are not more widely advertised and why I haven't been to one before. These are so important, thank you for the opportunity." As this respondent points out, there could be a larger audience for forums and presentations like this one, especially with dynamic, intelligent and impassioned speakers like Mr. Acosta. Moving forward, we welcome any suggestions on how to draw on the larger community of committed activists, students and educators within Western and bring in more participants.

Only six out of seventeen respondents had read the Mr.Acosta’s article in The Journal of Educational Controversy previous to attending the forum. This is another issue which would need to be addressed moving forward with future events—how might we motivate students and other participants in forums such as this to become engaged with the issues at hand before they attend? In what other ways might we raise awareness?

The results of the question of prior familiarity with the banned books controversy in Arizona were more positive: only seven respondents said that they were “not at all” or “not very” familiar; whereas ten chose “somewhat” to “very familiar” with the banned books controversy.

Based on the results of the survey, no one felt disappointed with their own learning during the forum. Three participants said that they had learned some, eight said quite a bit, and four said they had learned  “a lot!” Curiously, there were two participants who filled out the rest of the survey and did not choose to select an answer to this question. For a group of nearly seventy student participants, it is interesting that only some chose to fill out the survey at all. Hopefully, in the future, the numbers of students involved in consciousness-raising events such as this one will increase, as will their investment in the issues at hand. All in all the forum was a success and many thanks are due to the folks at CEED, the rest of the Journal of Educational Controversy staff, the Woodring College, Curtis Acosta, and, most of all, the students who dedicated their time to participating in the forum and filling out the exit survey.

Here are the questions (reproduced in full) that several of the seminar participants who filled out the survey left for the readers of The Journal of Educational Controversy Blog. Please feel free to respond to any or all of their questions and offer suggestions for us in the future in the comments section of this post!

·      "How can we expect students to succeed or want to be engaged if we only teach one perspective? Students should see a reflection of themselves in texts that emphasize and embrace other perspectives and cultures as valuable parts of our society."

·      "If we are trying to teach American history to students then what's wrong with teaching it through a lens other than the typical European one?"

·      "How do we see legislators, officials and people in places of institutional power are telling us what type of critical thinking is encouraged vs. 'dangerous' (and then worthy of surveillance/erasure)?"

·      "Why do we fear the truth so much that we must rewrite history, only to be given negative labels when we try to learn the truth later?"

·      "To what extent can a public education address individual needs and curiosities of students, given the necessarily broad & diverse body that it must serve?"

·      "Who decides if social justice is 'just'?"

·      "I came into this entirely uneducated on the topic as extra credit for a class. Leaving, I question why these forums are not more widely advertised and why I haven't been to one before. These are so important, thank you for the opportunity."