I'm baaaaaaack.

Hoarding All the Glitter Since 2001.

05 February 2012

In which I enjoy italics immensely.

Teach a primary school for a few years, and people begin to make certain conclusions about you:

  • you own puff-painted clothing;
  • all your shoes are sensible;
  • you never, ever raise your voice;
  • you are not too bright.
Seriously.  I once had a research fellowship, and the principal investigator - who had a kid in Kindergarten - told me he had assumed I "just a teacher" until he heard what high-faluting fancy University I attended.  And when he heard the esoteric field in which I earned a B.A. and M.A. together in four years?  Well, then he "realized [I] must be pretty intelligent".

Which your average teacher is, for the record - along with fast on their feet, able to sing, paint, sculpt, and jump rope credibly, and so on.

I wonder if this explains the miserable quality of research spouted at teachers all the time.  I'm not just talking the fact-free spin stories about charter schools (again, no more successful and sometimes far worse than real public schools) - I'm talking actual learned research.

Well, half-learned.  Ruby Payne's credentials are iffy at best, and her understanding of simple terms like peer review is limited.  That said, she sure makes a lot of money off school districts - although I was never more proud to be a teacher in my old district than when an audience of its teachers chased Payne's second off the stage.

But you also get bad research from actual university professors, which is presented to teachers with no critique to be swallowed whole.  I think now of Drs. Hart and Risely, who discovered in the 1990s that poor children have a "vocabulary gap" and that that gap lowers their IQ.

Hart and Risely never trained as linguists; I did, so upon simply hearing their conclusion about a million-word vocabulary gap I began beating my head against convenient hard objects.  When I later heard them explaining how their conclusions were not racial because they ignored all data about race, I waved my copy of the Lingustic Society of America's resolution about Ebonics in the air before resuming to bashing in my own skull.

I'm fairly well-spoken and I know the research around vocabulary gaps and deficit models in language study quite well.  I can tell you why Louisa Cook Moats doesn't actually understand language, and note that the research that might have cleared up this issue for her was completed in the 1950s.  So I generally make it my business to politely critique any professional development guru who starts yammering about Hart and Risely (I also thank the ones who sniff at the idea of the vocabulary gap).

Their shock is always magnificent.  "This is data from UNIVERSITY RESEARCH PROFESSORS," they huff.  "YOU are a KINDERGARTEN TEACHER.  I know that reading probably challenges you, but trust me: THEY DID RESEARCH."

So I really think it's best to provide my fellow educators with some links that will assist them in such situations.  "Well," they can say diffidently.  "It's true I'm just a lowly Kindergarten teacher, charged with teaching our future.  But I've read these papers by learned university professors who also challenge the deficit thinking Hart and Risely assume.  Have you?"

This little review essay sums up both the broader problem with deficit assumptions while taking on Ruby Payne and Hart and Risely.  It's a nice start; anyone looking for more of the same is welcome to comment - I've got citations from the 50s to the present day ready for my fellow educators of high-needs students who are tired of hearing about how the fabulous and brilliant children in their classrooms have been destroyed by their rotten upbringings.

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