Thank You Dyslexia Moms: Now Can We Get Some Back Up?
This new year, I raise my glass to dyslexia moms everywhere. Like many parts of parenting —moms are often expected to take the lead. #10millionmoms. Reporters from Emily Hanford of APM to Stephen Sawchuck of Ed Week to linguists and reading and curriculum experts like Lyn Stone and Karen Vaites have all written about the significant role dyslexia moms have played in advocating schools to provide explicit, systematic evidence-based reading instruction for all our children at school entry and additional interventions for those children who are at risk for reading difficulties and who are dyslexic.
And why shouldn't moms take the lead on this issue when as a group, we generally have way too much unencumbered, free-time on our hands. Plus, our labor is so over-compensated and highly valued! Especially moms of color and single moms. Admit it, as the mom, you come to school to help paint a class paper mâché project, and you look around at the other parent volunteers, and it's ALL dads. Like, where are the mommies? You never trouble yourself with trivialities like the school medical forms, carpools, bus schedules, aftercare, replacing clothes and shoes your people have outgrown, coordinating summer care and camps, organizing parties, gifts, thank you cards, watching family expenses in addition to all your other professional and family obligations and commitments. Laundry, dishes, repairs, pet care, emotional labor, groceries, aging parents, is their toilet paper in the bathroom, and did people wash their hands, and more, more, more. None of this is in my bag of tricks. So why shouldn’t moms be using our abundant free time and emotional energy to take on the enormous task of advocating for a sea change in the way most schools teach children how to read words on a page? I will save my ambivalence about mother’s having special standing on early reading instruction as it seems to assume that ensuring our little people learn to read is largely women's concern and charge because there’s just too much work to be done and once you realize what a massive equity issue this is, you can’t look away. But can I put out a call for some more back up here?
I have zero interest in "owing" the science of reading nor does any other parent I know, but somehow we are expected to shoulder the significant cost of privatizing reading instruction when our schools fail to implement a reading program that aligns with the science of how children learn to read or have to navigate the IEP process and see our children suffer. The moms I know who are cutting back on their paid labor, working odd hours to take their child to an afternoon reading tutor, working more in order to afford outside reading support, or stepping out of the paid workforce entirely to make sure their children learn to read aren’t exactly making money off this state of affairs and sometimes sacrificing saving for our own futures. I spend a not insignificant part of my “free” time having coffees and emailing mom friends and friends of friends trying to navigating reading interventions and supports for their children. I see a friend working in a coffee shop—and I say—"ooh—I’m sending you David Kilpatrick’s webinar on phonemic proficiency and another with Roland Good on goal setting and progress monitoring." And I can’t shake this feeling that I wouldn’t be accused of being “phono-centric” and having such limited aspirations for my children or others if the parent charge for evidence-based reading was being led by daddies. As the adult child of a single mom who put herself through college and law school while raising me, and then did the same for me, and the product of two bookworms, my grand dream for my children and yours is not that they become fantastic decoders. My husband didn’t woo me by reading Bob books with prosody, though fluency is hot!
My hope is that all our children who didn't win the phonological awareness, decoding, spelling and/or RAN lottery or just need explicit instruction in how to crack our alphabetic code is that they have rich, full meaningful lives. I want them to not only be able to read a ballot when they are eligible to vote, but I also want them to be on the ballot and rock the ballot. I want them to be in decision-making roles and positions of authority in all settings including as tenured faculty at schools of education if they so choose and to read widely for pleasure and purpose. I want all our kids to light this world on fire. But in order to do any of these things, they need to learn how to read words on a page proficiently in addition to developing their language comprehension skills.
Teaching our children to learn how to read, read proficiently and ensuring we have a literate society shouldn't be a mommy issue or a woman's issue. Ensuring all our children flourish at school, become productive and successful members of our society and are engaged and active citizens should be an EVERYONE issue.
So, while I raise my virgin Bloody Mary with extra olives glass (I don’t have time to get drowsy) to dyslexia moms everywhere who have led the charge of #untileverychildcanread as one more of their unpaid, often underappreciated, part-time jobs, as well as the rising chorus of journalists, educators, and policymakers who have taken up this issue, here’s to a 2020 in which we are joined by an ocean of dads, uncles, and grandpas who commit to rolling up their sleeves, digging into the science, making their voices heard, and making this parent advocacy movement a tsunami.
Your fellow mom in the trenches
Selected Resources (I’m still learning)
Faith Borkowsky (2018) Failing Students or Failing Schools?: A Parent's Guide to Reading Instruction and Intervention
Core Learning's free webinars Their next one coming this month is on Casualties of War: Reading Science Denial and Racism's Impact on African American Children with Kareem Weaver, Member of Education Committee, NAACP, Oakland Branch
Decoding Dyslexia--find your local chapter!
David Kilpatrick, Essentials of assessing, preventing and overcoming reading difficulties, Hoboken, NJ: Wiley
The International Dyslexia Association also check out their local chapters
Louis Moats, Speech to Print: Language Essentials for Teachers (2nd edition). Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brooks Publishing. & Of ‘Hard Words’ and Straw Men: Let’s Understand What Reading Science is Really About
Find your state or local Parent Training and Information Center
Parental Readiness Empowerment Program: PREP, The Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights helps parents become stronger advocates for their children’s education.
Sally Shaywitz, (2003) Overcoming Dyslexia: A New and Complete Science-based Program for Overcoming Reading Problems at any Level. New York, NY: Random House.
Natalie Wexler (2019) The Knowledge Gap: The Hidden Cause of America's Broken System, and How to Fix It
Daniel T. Willingham (2017) The Reading Mind: A Cognitive Approach to Understanding How the Mind Reads
Maryanne Wolf, (2014) Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain.
Links to Lucy Calkin’s Statement “No One Gets to Own the Term ‘Science of Reading’” & Several Responses to: