“She anxiously nodded yes and we ate Mexican.”

Do you like to read aloud to your friends and family? I do. And this week, a trio of articles served as a catalyst for discourse and especially for wild gut-busting laughter during some family car trips.

The Article: How We Are Ruining America by David Brooks

The premise of this piece is that upper middle class Americans deliberately move their families away from the other half (read: “the poor and less educated”) and therefore limit opportunities for inclusion. This essentially bars class mobility. Basically, it is a caste system – locking out the untouchables, with little access to the upper classes. Education is a key part of this, and the system for college admissions is rigged to prioritize children of parents who are wealthy enough to play the game.

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While Brooks’ premise is aligned with my experiences with my own education and my profession as an educator, he makes a BIG MISTAKE – a paragraph so distracting that it is ripe for parody, and, well, just pretty dumb.

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Here it is – in all its glory:

Recently I took a friend with only a high school degree to lunch. Insensitively, I led her into a gourmet sandwich shop. Suddenly I saw her face freeze up as she was confronted with sandwiches named “Padrino” and “Pomodoro” and ingredients like soppressata, capicollo and a striata baguette. I quickly asked her if she wanted to go somewhere else and she anxiously nodded yes and we ate Mexican.

This is a lesson in writing – reread and ensure that your discourse is aligned and on message. The paragraphs before and after are written with on message and with academic language that fits the tone of the rest of the article. Brooks attempts to use a personal anecdote to connect with the reader – but it is an incredible distraction from his message and drew enormous critical responses about this single paragraph (see the fun part below). The poignant parts are forgotten as America reacts to the mention of delicatessen.

Also interesting to note that Italian is perceived as sophisticated (a change from just a century and change from when Italians were outcasts and even lynched) whereas Mexican is clearly just a step above a Miller High Life,  a bag of pork rinds, and some stale circus peanuts.

And now for the fun part…

Exhibit A: From the poignant blog The Outline, an  op-ed piece by Alex Nichols

Stop patronizing the working class: Why are pundits obsessed with Applebee’s and farm workers?

BOOM! Here’s the question on everyone’s miss after reading the sandwich shop story:

“First of all, how does someone so stereotypically provincial manage to befriend a high-profile Times columnist?”

And the following paragraph (definitely read this one aloud to a friend!) rips the equally-obsessed-with-how-the-lower-castes-handle-food columnists anti-gay conservative Rod Dreher and Bloomberg columnist Meghan McArdle a new one:

There is indeed a pattern here, but it isn’t that working-class Americans universally break out in hives when confronted with food other than hamburgers and mac ‘n’ cheese — it’s that no one wants to go out to lunch with any of these pompous hacks.

BOOM! Ain’t that the truth!

Exhibit B: From The AV Club‘s Sean O’Neal

Explaining David Brooks’ column to a stupid coworker who’s scared of fancy meat

This article is an absolute gem. And a single sentence had my husband and I laughing so hard that my daughters all laughed along with us:

“Indeed, I said single-malted-scotch-ily. I explained how this column serves as yet another clarion call alerting us to America’s slow sinking into a morass of cultural decline, which David Brooks and others like us—we who thoughtfully chew our piquant charcuterie while brooding over the Proustian reveries of ourselves it inspires—can only look upon it sadly, gazing down at our bologna-smeared consorts and lamenting the many bloviating, condescending, overpaid butchers of language and meat that are driving us apart.”

“Single-malted-scotch-ily” – who writes like this? Amazing. Just meet a friend for lunch (antipasto, anyone? or maybe just a gas station pickle in a bag)  and read this article to them. You are giving them a gift, seriously.

 

The Banality of Ignorance of Quality Reading Instruction

Below is my letter to the editor of the New York Times, regarding their recent article: “In Raising Scores, 1 2 3 Is Easier Than A B C”. Interestingly, although the article was on the lower half of the front page, only two letters about the article were published. Mine was not one of them, but I agree with the letter from Terry Thomas, a veteran reading specialist from Houston, who states: “After learning advanced decoding skills and realizing that making an inference is not simply a wild guess, most students find that their reading scores improve dramatically.” Thank you, Terry!

To the Editor:

I am disgusted by the banality of ignorance with regards to effective reading instruction. Mathematicians approach their content methodically, yet many who claim to be teachers of English lack a scientific knowledge of language development. Administrators announce their bewilderment at students’ failures to develop reading skills rather than turning their attention to the myriad of studies focused on effective reading instruction.

If more teachers instructed their pupils in systematic word identification skills, they would see a rapid increase in their pupils’ vocabulary because students would be able to independently gain exposure to new words, rather than having to rely on a teacher to do it for them.

The ideological “reading wars” are a mere philosophical distraction; the science of language is the key to unlocking literacy for struggling readers. If educators don’t look at the research, they are simply playing games with children’s lives.

Sincerely,

Jennifer Dines, M.Ed.