Literacies Circle: Authoritarianism and Our Literacy Coaches

Authoritarianism in reading and writing development is proliferating from both left and right sides of the political aisle. The level of authoritarianism ranges on continuum from mild shouldas, couldas and wouldas to loud, and even violent, calls for bans and mandates. Some of the common traits of authoritarianism involve a desire for social uniformity (equality instead of equity), rigidity, and punitiveness. And unfortunately, a strong ideological orientation can result in exclusion and restricted inquiry. 

There is widespread push back on how children learn to read, write, listen, share, and think. The reading “war” is back with laws requiring an adherence to the (?) “science of reading.” Critical race theory, a concept that was non-existent in K-12 schools, is now weaponizing literature, arts, humanities, history, and civics. Both concepts are unwittingly guilty of attempts to indoctrinate our children’s literacies identities. In that, we should teach only phonics (even when many children are already readers and writers in their own right), that we should teach only the basics, or that we should not use books that mirror the multiple ethnic, racial, economic, and linguistic identities that children bring to schools, and that we should not have conversations about our historical, current, and futuristic times—even when some of our youngest children are already asking hard questions.  

And ironically, as some people try to protect our children from truth, some of our adults—who the children are watching—are behaving badly. At school board meetings. On social media. And even toward a thoughtful group of teachers: our literacy coaches. 

Literacy coaches are analytical and critical literacies learners themselves. They not only keep abreast on literacy research, methodology, equity, and school efficacy, but they listen to each and every classroom, teachers, administrators, and readers and writers in their school buildings. They are humans in their own right. They have their own set of beliefs, values, and identities, but they work to keep their ethnocentrism in check. And they know a lot about the widely varying strengths and aspirations of growing readers and writers.

But when literacy coaches are placed in a position of prescriptive teaching and have increasing fear for personal and professional safety, there is loss of purpose, curiosity, engagement, motivation, joy, and…humanity…for all of us.

Our literacy coaches cannot do the work of strengthening skills, identities, and literacies

alone.

How do we move from using simple data sets toward building relationships among people surrounding literacies?

How can we make time for deep conversations among literacy coaches, parents, teachers, administrators, and readers and writers?

How do we bridge multiple languages and linguistics in reading and writing instruction?

How do we move from “correct” comprehension answers to conversations in which children can annotate, refer back to texts, and even challenge concepts from their viewpoints?  

How can we coordinate and collaborate on the needs of an individual reader and writer without imposing a program or method on all children?

How will we know that reading and writing instruction is working well for a child?  

How do we foster flexibility to change instructional programs, methods, and reading groups as children grow?

How do we maintain a focus on inclusion when meeting the individual instructional needs of our readers and writers?

How do we preserve the identities of our readers and writers as well as strengthen their identities as readers and writers?

How do we explore the difference between the science/s of reading versus the simple view of reading?

How do we explore the difference between critical race theory and culturally responsive (or sustaining) teaching?

How do we build space, grace, gentleness, and trust in professional expertise?

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