School Choice and the Inequitable Meat Grinder of Social Darwinism

A close second to Trump himself as the poster child for the tragic consequences of being rich, white, and blindingly ignorant is Betsy DeVos, billionaire from a pyramid scheme and smiling shill for school choice.

In the ugliest of ironies, DeVos has possibly achieved the single greatest moment of racial appropriation for political gain with her nonsensical twisting of HBCUs:

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To understand the racism and privilege driving how and why the Right and Republicans chant “choice” and reach awkwardly out to blacks, consider Poet Claudia Rankine on studying whiteness, and the age of protest:

Why is it important to deconstruct whiteness? Rankine, whose most recent poetry is dominated by short paragraphs surrounded by expanses of white space, explains: “White people don’t see that their own positioning is a created position. They think it’s a meritocratic situation . . . rather than that the entire culture is set up to help them,” she says. “And so then they begin to believe that they are what is normal. That means everybody else is other to their position and, until you interrogate that, they will feel that individually they’re being attacked any time race comes up rather than understanding they are part of a community that includes all of us that put this hierarchical structure in place.”

DeVos, like Trump, believes she has earned her stature, believes she knows more than anyone else, and believes everyone else simply isn’t trying, isn’t deserving.

Blinded by her wealth and whiteness, she cannot see that choice is tossing everyone else into the inequitable meat grinder that is Social Darwinism.

From Trump to DeVos and all the other Overlords of white privilege, they cannot comprehend the next level of a people providing for everyone the basic human dignity that makes choice unnecessary.

Community, collaboration, and human kindness are beyond the Overlords.

DeVos, like Trump, knows nothing beyond her own empty soul blanketed in ill-got wealth and secured by her whiteness.

And thus the larger irony, the choice now confronting decent humans in Trumplandia, as Rankine explains:

“My feeling about it is [Donald] Trump has made apparent the mechanism that has always been in place; and, as Americans, we were OK with it as long as you didn’t say it. As long as the white nationalism that has built this country was not made apparent,” [Rankine] says. “Once it was made apparent, people were depressed. They’re not depressed about the systemic articulation of those views. They’re depressed about the fact that, as Americans, they are overtly now tied to it and its rhetoric. That’s the difference . . . suddenly, as Americans, we saw that this other thing was also who we are.

“Was I devastated? Yes. But I feel like we live here, we saw it coming. We saw the rallies. We understand how patriarchy, misogyny, racism work. We know it’s alive and well. What did we expect?”

The meat grinder has been exposed with a white hand at the crank arm.

What are you going to do?

Rescuing Education Reform from Decades of Post-Truth

The presidential campaign and administration of Donald Trump have spurred a focus on the role of mainstream media as well as the influence of fake news and post-truth discourse on political and public debate.

For those of us involved in education and the education reform movement, however, the negative consequences of post-truth discourse have been around for more than a century—and during the past three decades, a harbinger of what the Trump phenomenon has brought to the U.S.

While fake news is a specific term about using click-bait headlines and purposefully false “news” to generate revenue, the concept of post-truth is more complex, and adjacent to that is the much less often addressed issue of how media and politicians often mislead through ignorance and bias grounded in common-sense beliefs that are not supported by evidence.

In those latter gray areas rest the problems associated with claims about education and education reform.

Now that we are admitting and confronting post-truth discourse and the role of media as well as the credibility of political leaders, the path to improved education must include rescuing education reform from decades of post-truth debate.

Here, then, I want to highlight the most common but false claims about education and education reform, false claims found throughout the media and at all levels of political leadership regardless of party affiliation:

(1) Public schools are a failure. This is one of the oldest and most enduring claims about K-12 education in the U.S. It is a standard punch line that is false by oversimplification. Before explaining this one, let’s add the second and related false claim.

(2) When we adjust for poverty, U.S. public schools are not failing. This is the standard rebuttal to the first bullet point, and while statistically true, this is false by omission. To understand both these first two points, we have to make a really difficult admission that almost no one is willing to make: Public schools in the U.S. have historically reflected and perpetuated social advantages and inequity—and continue to do so today.

The more blunt version is that public schools have virtually no impact on the narrow data we use to judge school quality, mainly test scores. Standardized measures of academic achievement are most powerfully linked to out-of-school (OOS) factors.

Therefore, neither of the first two claims are fully true; the first is the same as blaming hospitals for housing sick patients, and the second is a glossing over that public schools do far too often fail racial subgroups (black and brown students), impoverished students, English language learners, and special needs students (vulnerable populations of students).

(3) Teachers are the most important part of children’s education. Again, this is a lazy but effective claim, repeated often by political leaders. In fact, teacher quality accounts for only about 10-15% of measurable student achievement, dwarfed by OOS factors (accounting for at least 60%) and typically about the same or less than school quality.

If we connect the first three claims, we can begin to see a better and more honest appraisal since teacher assignment reflects privilege and disadvantage: privileged students (white and affluent) are mostly assigned to experienced and certified teachers while vulnerable populations of students are assigned new and un-/under-certified teachers.

(4) Private and/or charter schools outperform public schools. Evidence overwhelmingly shows that, if we return to the second claim (false by omission, but statistically accurate), the type of school is not the key to quality, but demographics of student populations tend to correlate strongly with measurable outcomes. Thus, since many people focus on elite and selective private schools, the political and public claims about private schools are, again, lazy. When adjusted for student populations, private, charter, and public schools are about the same; however, private and charter schools benefit from misleading advocacy while public schools suffer under claim 1 above.

(5) Measurable student outcomes are driven by either low expectations or “rigor”—both of which can be traced to school climate and the quality of standards. Two of the most popular claims during the most recent thirty years of education reform have been targeting the “soft bigotry of low expectations” and periodically calling for more “rigorous” standards. Both of these are at least problematic since as long as we focus on standardized test scores, these claims mask the elephant in the room about the strong correlations between race/class and test scores.

The “soft bigotry of low expectations” fails as a way to blame the victims (both poor and minority children in schools as well as the disproportionately inexperienced and un-/under-qualified teachers charged to teach them). And three decades of ever-new standards and ever-new high-stakes tests have shown that neither the presence nor quality of standards correlates with greater student achievement or a closing of the so-called achievement gap.

(6) A world-class education system is needed to be internationally competitive. Disproven repeatedly, how any country ranks in educational quality (usually test scores again) does not correlate with economic power internationally. This claim sound good, and obvious, but has no basis in fact.

(7) Education is the great equalizer, or a game changer. Simply put, no it isn’t. At every level of educational attainment—from not completing high school to advanced degrees—income is still deeply inequitable within each level by both race and gender: with undereducated white males still earning more than better educated black and white men and all women:

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(8) K-12 teachers and university professors are indoctrinating students with leftwing politics. A favorite and renewed form of fear-mongering from the right is to paint all levels of education as liberal indoctrination. This claim is false as oversimplification and from misreading that K-12 education and universities are mostly reflections of social norms and not radical or revolutionary institutions.

Part of this false claim comes from associating tradition and dogma with the right and questioning tradition and dogma with the left. In that sense, then, yes, all education is leftwing, but these characterizations also frame the right as inherently indoctrination.

Also, this misconception is grounded in misunderstanding the political nature of education and that many people view anything outside of their beliefs as politically threatening. For conservative people, teaching patriotism in U.S. history seems neutral—although that is political and potentially indoctrinating.

Ultimately, how we talk about and view education impacts powerfully what policies we embrace. Education policy has been ineffective and even harmful over the past three to four decades because of a post-truth dynamic just now being acknowledged in our wider political discourse.

The truth is that we have mostly failed education and our students—not that K-12 or higher education have failed us.

Accountability based on standards and high-stakes tests, school choice (from vouchers to charter schools), intensified teacher evaluation—all of these and more have failed repeatedly because they are solutions grounded in post-truth claims about schools.

Education should be about the pursuit of the truth, but that pursuit is fraught with complications. We have for many decades tarnished that pursuit of truth by making enduring and compelling claims about education that simply are not accurate.

If we are genuinely committed to the truth, let’s start with an honest discussion about our schools so that we can begin to build the education our children and democracy deserve.

The Perfect Minority Trap: White Privilege as Teflon Factor

Dan Le Batard headlines an anti-sports-talk-show sports talk show on ESPN, and has stirred controversy by arguing that Magic Johnson has been named President of Basketball Operations for the Los Angeles Lakers of the NBA because of Johnson’s charisma and not any essential expertise for such a high office.

Some have called out Le Batard’s remarks as racist, while others have defended Le Batard.

This debate highlights that recognizing and discussing racism in the U.S. remain marred by the codes that blind; in this case, although Le Batard may have good intentions by self-identifying as not racist, his comments about Johnson are steeped in and speak to a racist code: the perfect minority trap.

Particularly important to understanding why Le Batard’s comments ultimately are racist—even if Johnson’s new position is more about his charm than his credibility—is that the comment comes during the rise of Donald Trump to President of the U.S. and his appointments to his cabinet, notably Betsey DeVos as Secretary of Education.

Two dynamics are at play to understand that Le Batard’s criticism is offensive.

First, white privilege created the Teflon Effect in which wealth and being white as well as male allow virtually nothing to stick to a person who maintains his statues. The two most powerful examples of this is Ronald Reagan, often called the Teflon President, and Trump himself.

Let us imagine if Barack Obama as a candidate had done even one of the outlandish things Trump did during his run to the White House. Would Obama’s political career have survived? No way.

Second, and related, is the Perfect Minority Trap that mandates perfection for any marginalized group—by race, gender, or economic status.

Consider the demonizing of people in poverty who depend on welfare by The New York Times through misrepresenting their purchasing of soft drinks, which actually is at the same rate for those on welfare and those not on welfare.

The poor, the narrative goes, must be perfect in order to deserve public assistance, but everyone else can do as she or he pleases.

But if we return to Obama, his presidency was characterized by nearly a perfect ethical record as President and as a person; yet, he continued to be demonized by the Right while Republicans (white, wealthy, and male) skirted along without any actual unethical behavior sticking.

Finally, we must place Le Batard’s criticism of Johnson also in the context of the NBA—where the workforce is overwhelmingly black men but disproportionately positions of power (owners, general managers, coaches, etc.) remain white [1].

If Johnson has received his position on charisma and not qualifications, he is simply experiencing the white norm in the U.S. that includes people receiving advantages by connections and not by earning those advantages. For example, while as president, George W. Bush challenged affirmative action for college admission, yet he gained access to an elite college by being a legacy, connectedness, not his academic achievement.

Legacy admissions—mostly white and affluent recipients—receive little criticism in the U.S., but race-based affirmative action—mostly racial minorities and women—is routinely excoriated by politicians and the public.

And if we remain in the sports world, Marshawn Lynch and Rob Gronkowski personify how Lynch is apt to be called a thug (see also Richard Sherman) while Gronkowski is merely a meathead; Lynch must be perfect, and no behavior by Gronkowski receives more than a grin.

That is the U.S.—where white privilege goes unchecked, but as Le Batard’s comments trigger, where minorities must be perfect.

Racism in the U.S. is systemic, and less codified in laws than before the Civil Rights movement.

As such, racism is often coded and perpetuated by individuals who otherwise appear to be good people who would never consider themselves racist.

Le Batard’s criticism of Johnson is a perfect moment for the U.S. to confront how good intentions are not enough when we continue to practice and then deny having one set of standards for white, wealthy males (Teflon Effect) and another for racial minorities and women (Perfect Minority Trap).

Again, if Johnson received preferential advantages for a position he is not qualified to hold, it seems far more pressing to confront how and why Trump has become our president and Betsy DeVos was allowed to buy her cabinet position with billions earned through a less than credible business.

The only qualifications Trump and DeVos have nothing to do with expertise or earning their status—being white and wealthy.

So in the end, yes, Le Batard’s criticism is steeped in racism, a racism grounded in white privilege and different standards for wealthy white men and everyone else.


[1] Let’s note the NBA does receive credit for being at the top of pro sports for racial and gender equity, however.

Beware the Bastards: On Freedom and Choice

Your Honor, years ago I recognized my kinship with all living beings, and I made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class, I am in it, and while there is a criminal element I am of it, and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free.

Eugene V. Debs: Statement September 18, 1918

Based on “Eight O’Clock in the Morning” by Ray Nelson, the cult science fiction film They Live focuses on the main character, Nada (Roddy Piper), who discovers a pair of sunglasses that reveal to him that aliens are controlling the human race.

In the real world, the trick is not finding a pair of enlightening sunglasses to expose the alien overlords but to recognize the bastards we have chosen to rule over us—because the bastards controlling the U.S. are really easy to see.

Here’s one:

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And here’s a whole room full:

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The masking, you see, is not taking on human form to hide alien bodies, but the use of words that appear to say one thing while actually meaning something entirely different.

The trick in the real world is not visual, but verbal.

So we have Ryan on Twitter:

And Vice President Pence:

O, happy freedom! And glorious individual responsibility!

Let us, of course, step back and note that our federal political leaders are overwhelmingly white and wealthy men who have healthcare, retirement/pension, and daycare all provided for them at tax payers’ expense—although every one of them due to their wealth are free to take the individual responsibility to choose to pay for those luxuries that they are denying everyone else.

*

In Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Offred (June), the eponymous handmaid of the tale, reveals that “[t]he circumstances have been reduced” (p. 8) for the younger women of Gilead, a post-apocalyptic theocracy of sorts. These seemingly fertile women have become extremely precious for the survival of the white race and paradoxically the embodiment of a perverse slavery for procreation.

Atwood has written at length about being indebted to George Orwell—those who control language control everything and everyone—and that her speculative novel includes a quilting of human actions drawn directly from history, not fabricated by Atwood.

How have humans kept other humans in literal and economic bondage? Often by exploiting token members of the group being exploited.

Thus, in The Handmaid’s Tale, a few women are manipulated to control other women. The handmaid’s are trained by Aunts, who instill the propaganda:

There is more than one kind of freedom, said Aunt Lydia. Freedom to and freedom from. in the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don’t underrate it….

We were a society dying, said Aunt Lydia, of too much choice. (pp. 24, 25)

Throughout the novel, readers must navigate how Offred (June) weaves the overlap of her own original ideas and vocabulary as that intersects with the propaganda of Gilead:

Will I ever be in a hotel room again? How I wasted them, those rooms, that freedom from being seen.

Rented license. (p. 50)

“Freedom” and “license” are exposed as bound words, the meanings contextual.

As Offred (June) continues to investigate rooms, she discovers a powerful but foreign phrase:

I knelt to examine the floor, and there it was, in tiny writing, quite fresh it seemed, scratched with a pin or maybe just a fingernail, in the corner where the darkest shadow fell: Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.

I didn’t know what it meant, or even what language it was in. I thought it might be Latin, but I didn’t know any Latin. Still it was a message, and it was in writing, forbidden by that very fact, and it hadn’t been discovered. Except by me, for whom it was intended. It was intended for whoever came next. (p. 52)

The power to control language includes defining words, but also denying access to language—forbidding reading and writing, literacy, to those in bondage.

And then, Offred (June) explains about her life before Gilead:

We lived, as usual, by ignoring. Ignoring isn’t the same as ignorance, you have to work at it.

Nothing changes instantaneously: in a gradually heating bathtub you’d be boiled to death before you knew it….The newspaper stories were like dreams to us, bad dreams dreamt by others. How awful, we would say, and they were, but they were awful without being believable. They were too melodramatic, they had a dimension that was not the dimension of our lives.

We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of the print. It gave us more freedom.

We lived in the gaps between the stories. (pp. 56-57)

And from that previous life of “ignoring” the other since it wasn’t about them, Offred (June) finds herself the procreation slave of a Commander, in “reduced circumstances” where she realizes: “There wasn’t a lot of choice but there was some, and this is what I chose” (p. 94).

Her previous life of “ignoring” has been replaced by something seemingly more awful, but nearly exactly the same as she explains about the Ceremony: “One detaches oneself” (p. 95).

Even in Gilead, Offred (June) again becomes the other woman, lured into an infidelity characterized by playing Scrabble with the Commander, who reveals to her that Nolite te bastardes carborundorum is slang Latin for “Don’t let the bastards grind you down” (p. 187).

Adolescent language as rebellion has become a life-or-death slogan for Offred (June).

As her relationship with the Commander becomes increasingly trite and complex, Offred (June) declares, “Freedom, like everything else, is relative” (p. 231).

*

It is 2017, and many are living lives by ignoring because it just doesn’t seem to be about them.

Detached, unwilling to look or listen carefully—skipping along to the hollow mantras of “freedom,” “choice,” and “individual responsibility.”

As with Offred (June), this is no longer an adolescent joke; it is the only real option we have.

Nolite te bastardes carborundorum: Don’t let the bastards grind you down.

 

“Every white person in this country…knows one thing,” James Baldwin (1979)

On Language, Race and the Black Writer, James Baldwin (Los Angeles Times, 1979)

Every white person in this country—and I do not care what he or she says—knows one thing. They may not know, as they put it, “what I want,’ but they know they would not like to be black here. If they know that, then they know everything they need to know, and whatever else they say is a lie.

What Can a Sincere White Person Do? Malcolm X

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Misreading Wealth as Intelligence and Universal Expertise

While the British appear hopelessly trapped in worshipping the arbitrary lineage of royalty, in the U.S., our senseless obsession is the wealthy.

Edwin Arlington Robinson’s “Richard Cory” captures perfectly that fascination:

And he was rich–yes, richer than a king–
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.

While Robinson dramatizes the trite argument that money doesn’t buy happiness (“And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,/Went home and put a bullet through his head”), the poem also reveals that the wealthy are far less than what the public has manufactured about them—notably that wealth somehow equals intelligence and universal expertise.

A poster boy for this nonsense is Bill Gates, who has parlayed his billions into his hobbies well outside of his computing background—specifically education.

As I have noted during the heydays of Gates as education expert: Without his billions, who would have listened to Gates hold forth on education? Or anything for that matter.

No one.

Gates depends on the false conflating in the U.S. that his wealth is a fair proxy for universal expertise.

Not nearly as successful or credible as a billionaire, Donald Trump has leveraged his own narrative that he is some great business man (he isn’t) along with his self-promotion as a celebrity (the hollow sort of Paris Hilton celebrity) into the presidency, a nearly perfect, although perverse, logical consequence of the hero worshipping of the wealthy in the U.S.

In a review of Brooke Harrington’s Capital without Borders: Wealth Managers and the One PercentSam Adler-Bell argues, “Americans have insufficient antipathy toward the extraordinarily rich,” adding:

We like them too much. Despite a short-lived blossoming of post-recession anger toward the “one percent,” and the efforts of anti-plutocratic politicians like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, Americans persist in seeing extreme wealth as a virtue—a sign of integrity, intelligence, merit. Those who have it garner respect and deference, even reverence. Being wealthy signifies that you have done something good, achieved something praiseworthy. More than any previous presidential candidate, Donald Trump made his net worth a centerpiece of his campaign, the proof he was worthy of the office. His opponent, in turn, sought to portray him as not quite as wealthy as he claimed: a boastful con man, not a real billionaire. We know how well that worked.

Adler-Bell confronts how the allure of great wealth is contradicted by ample evidence that the wealthy are likely ill-suited to be political leaders; their wealth, in fact, should be a political liability, not an advantaged.

Harrington’s book, Adler-Bell notes, “helps dispel two of the most pernicious myths underlying America’s overly tolerant attitude toward the extremely rich:first, that they deserve to be so, and second, that the rest of us might one day be extremely rich too”:

The first falls when we understand that the vast majority of these high-net-worth individuals—including our president and his children—have benefited from dynastic wealth. As legal scholar Lawrence Friedman has said, “An upper class is a class that inherits. A lower class is a class that inherits nothing.” In the next three decades, it’s estimated that between $10 and $41 trillion in private wealth will be inherited in the United States. Practically all of it will descend to a tiny fraction of the population. Eighty percent of us will inherit nothing at all.

The second myth is dispelled when we realize that, for much the same reason, the prospects that the non-rich will accumulate great or even significant wealth in their lifetimes are miniscule. This is Thomas Piketty’s central insight, made famous by his blockbuster book Capital in the Twenty-First Century. When the rate of return on capital (r) exceeds the rate of economic growth (g)—as has been the case for most of human history—wealth originating in the past inevitably grows faster than wealth stemming from work. The wealth you create from your labor (unless you’re Taylor Swift or LeBron James) simply cannot compete with wealth derived from inheritance. We’re screwed from the start.

And while these facts that contradict our fantasies about the wealthy remain important in terms of understanding Trump, his Secretary of Education appointee, Betsy DeVos, proves to be an even more powerful cautionary tale.

DeVos is the sort of ill-got wealth that we conveniently ignore in the U.S. Amway is at least a controversial business model, if not an outright scam (see here and here).

As Harrington details, the white wealth gap is not the result of hard work and some sort of white advantage of intelligence, hard work, and expertise, but the result of hoarded and inherited wealth (think Trump, again).

Wealth buys opportunities no one earned, guarantees margins that allow risk and failure, and cushions every aspect of the so-called struggles the wealthy want the public to believe they have suffered.

Devos represents not only that inequity but also how great wealth must necessarily come at the expense of others—whether by massaging the limits of a pyramid scheme (Amway) or on the backs of underpaid workers (think the Walton clan and Walmart).

Adler-Bell, then, offers a profound warning that instead of assuming the best about the wealthy, we are likely much closer to the truth to assume the worst.

Part of that transition, I believe, must be to stop prefacing criticisms of our uber-wealthy ruling class with “I am sure s/he has good intentions” because, first, good intentions are never enough, and, second, it is more likely the wealthy are being self-serving than seeking to do good by others.

The key to doubting good intentions comes back to how often the wealthy perpetuate and depend on the belief that wealth equals expertise, universal expertise.

If you have genuinely good intentions, you seek out experts to address problems that others do not have the capital to address.

To announce yourself both wealthy and the One Who Can Get This Done (despite having no background in This) is megalomania, not good intentions.

It is also naive, if not delusional, and deeply offensive to those who have worked to gain the expertise needed.

So as with gates, we must ask who would listen to DeVos—or nominate her for a cabinet position—if not for her enormous and ill-gained wealth?

No one.

We are currently confronted with an entire administration about whom we can ask the same.

If the U.S. had an expert class committed to generating great wealth, equitably distributed to all who participated in that endeavor, these are the sorts of people in whom we should place our trust, the sorts of people we should ask to sacrifice their time as our political leaders.

Instead we have the wealthy-as-royalty—wealth as an accident of lineage and power bought, not earned.

And unlike Richard Cory, these bastards are happy, laughing all the way to the bank at our great expense.

The Facts about Reading Just Don’t Matter: On the Absence of Ethical Leadership

Elizabeth Kolbert’s Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds is even more sobering in Trumplandia, but “reasonable-seeming people are often totally irrational” being confirmed—again—is incredibly frustrating for educators.

The facts of many years of research show that people cling to their beliefs regardless of the evidence; contrary evidence, in fact, tends to cause people to dig in even deeper to their misguided beliefs.

Democracy is a tenuous thing, then, when the willfully misinformed vote for those who learn to speak to and perpetuate that misinformation.

Trump has cashed in on false claims that work because of the public’s beliefs and the power of fear:

Opinion surveys regularly find that Americans believe crime is up, even when the data show it is down. In 21 Gallup surveys conducted since 1989, a majority of Americans said there was more crime in the U.S. compared with the year before, despite the generally downward trend in both violent and property crime rates during much of that period. In a Pew Research Center survey in late 2016, 57% of registered voters said crime had gotten worse since 2008, even though BJS and FBI data show that violent and property crime rates declined by double-digit percentages during that span.

Public policy in the U.S. too often is driven by popular beliefs not grounded in evidence. And an ugly irony to this dynamic includes public education policy—mostly a jumble of pet programs by people without any expertise in education who offer platitudes that resonate with a public ill-informed about what works in teaching and learning.

The misinformed echo chamber about education among political leaders, media, and the public has maintained for over thirty years now an accountability era of education policy committed to practices that have not worked, and often have caused more harm than good.

One of the many casualties of this belief culture is literacy, notably reading.

Education policy continues to march through a never-ending series of new reading programs, new reading standards, and new high-stakes reading tests (that have children perform in ways on the tests, brief passages with multiple choice questions, that are unlike real-world reading).

In 2017, then, it is stunning that a news article on reading research (from a publisher!) confirms—again—the facts we have known about reading for more than a century, but refuse acknowledge and practice.

The problem is what we know about reading and fostering literacy in children and young adults just isn’t that sexy (or profitable for politicians and publisher/testing companies): access to books in the home and libraries (community and school) and choice in what is read are strongly correlated with reading ability and eagerness.

Not phonics programs, reading programs, standards, or high-stakes testing.

Access to books and choice. Period.

From federal immigration and policing policy to how we teach our children to read, we are experiencing a fatal absence of ethical leadership.

Ethical leaders would inform the public about the decrease in violent crime, and ethical leadership would admit that our reading problems have relatively simple solutions.

Continuing to lead the uninformed by perpetuating misinformation is both a doomed practice but also a tremendous waste of our resources.

In education, the tens of millions wasted on reading programs, retooling and retraining for ever-new standards, and the bloat testing industry can and should be redirected to proven investments in books for children and robust libraries.

If we committed to buying every school-aged child 20 books a year to own (10 the choice of the child and 10 the choice of the teachers/schools), we would see an increase in reading ability and eagerness. Of course, direct instruction and fostering literacy are still needed, but these are greatly enhanced by the mere increase in book access and student choice in that reading.

And as well, we must make the same sort of ethical choices about social and education policy—addressing equity over accountability.

The facts about reading are not that sexy, but access to books and choice in what children read are what must be addressed in fostering childhood and young adult literacy.

These commitments require a move away from the inexpert ruling class and toward a culture that acknowledges, appreciates, and applies the evidence—evidence that should ground a call for ethical leadership and responsive policy.