Broader, Bolder Approaches to Literacy

  • 07 September, 2008

During the summer, a group issued the so-called “Broader, Bolder Approach” (BBA) statement. It called for economic and social responses to support greater educational progress for our children. Much was made of the statement because of its obvious contrast with Bush administration education policy that mainly has emphasized the changes that schools must make. Much to the consternation of some of my friends and colleagues, I signed that statement.

  How can someone square the circle? How can I support NCLB and BBA?

Frankly, I don’t find it to be any kind of contradiction—not even a stretch. I have said for years that I would do anything I could to support improving reading achievement for our kids. Anything.

  So, when it was obvious that poor kids in my town were not getting medical care and this lack of medical care was undermining both their health and chances to learn literacy, I had no problem testifying in court against my employer (the state of Illinois) to try to correct the problem. Similarly, I have worked on any numbers of public health and employment projects over the years for the same reason. To me, the BBA statement is just a continuation of those efforts.

  The Bush administration has tried to reduce the emphasis on those aspects of social policy to put the emphasis on school improvement. I believe that some educators have come to hide behind various social and economic problems. “We can’t possibly improve schools if children are coming from poverty. You fix the poverty and then we can worry about the schools.” I just think that kind of formulation is wrong.

  I work with many inner city physicians and public health workers. They are up against all the same poverty problems we are. However, I’ve never heard them make the claim that there was nothing they could do about lead abatement unless incomes were equalized or housing policy was made perfect. No, they are willing to work all out on that kind of an issue and statistics tell us they have been winning more and more on that one.

  So, when I am working in schools, my total emphasis is on what the schools need to do for kids, not what larger social policy could do to make the job easier. It is not that I don’t think that larger social policy needs to be addressed in ways that support kids better, it is just that issue is irrelevant during professional development or book selection or assessment review. There are lots of tables in this restaurant and sometimes the best thing that can be done to make the restaurant run well is to tend to your own tables.

  In other words, I’m willing to work all out trying to solve our children’s literacy problem through my role as an educator, but in other venues I am willing to push for changes that will make that work less hard. (That means at times, my disagreements with Bush policies have tended to be in areas other than education, in other words, in areas outside my special expertise. One exception to this has been the administration's discouragement of efforts to support parents’ involvement in their kids’ schooling: something done to keep schools from just blaming the literacy problem on the parents—which I agree with, but which reduces the chances of these parents being an active force for helping their kids do better in school—which I disagree with).

  I signed the BBA statement because it supports kids, not because it contradicts current education policy per se—it does not.


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Broader, Bolder Approaches to Literacy


One of the world’s premier literacy educators.

He studies reading and writing across all ages and abilities. Feel free to contact him.