Speaking Truth to Power in the Education System


Originally published on June 29, 2020 for the Consortium on Reaching Excellence in Education’s (CORE) blog.Linda was president of CORE at the time.

I discovered Jasmine Lane while listening to an Amplify podcast interview. After listening to her speak about equity and education and the power of literacy, I started reading her blogs and her pieces on Project Forever Free. Ms. Jasmine, as she goes by on her blog, is unafraid to speak the truth about the conditions of education that impede equity, in particular, the failure to teach reading based on the research evidence. A post at Project Forever Free that particularly moved me was one called “Literacy: The Forgotten Social Justice Issue.”

Ms. Jasmine opens with an account of her grandfather, who did not learn to read until in his 30s and who risked, if caught reading, being “attacked, threatened, or possibly murdered for daring to be a Black Man reading in the Jim Crow south.” Jasmine connects this account from her personal history to today’s failure to apply the science of teaching reading, resulting in too many children not able to read. Ms. Jasmine is a high school English teacher, on the receiving end of students arriving with poor literacy skills year after year. This is what she says that struck me so powerfully about why she starts with her grandfather’s history:

“I tell this story not to celebrate the strength of my family, but to paint a picture of how woefully detached the debate over basic literacy is from the desires of families. Just two generations ago people risked their lives to be able to read and here we are today watching the educational establishment—through its degradation of standardized assessments, emphasis on the individual over the collective whole, and dismissal of science—risk the subjugation of an entire people to second class citizenship. It is frightening and marks the gravest miscarriage of justice we have seen this side of educational history. An entire generation of children is not being taught to read.”

Ms. Jasmine supports explicit phonics and Shakespeare, and, yes, those of us still trying to bring evidence-based practices to the teaching of reading have never suggested one or the other. It must be both: explicit skills and simultaneously teaching rigorous and challenging content. Ms. Jasmine reminds me in many ways of one of my heroes who taught me personally how to teach all children to levels most others thought impossible, Marva Collins. Marva taught her students explicit and systematic phonics and also Chaucer and Shakespeare. In actuality, Marva Collins, like Jasmine Lane, was a warrior for equity.

In the same blog, Ms. Jasmine said this about social justice:

“I am a social justice educator with roots in the history of my grandparents, in the history of my community who has been failed by shoddy science in the name of a “progressive” education. Yes, Black lives matter. But in the context of schools, as educators, as people who claim that their life’s work is for Black, brown, and disenfranchised children, we cannot fully proclaim that Black Lives Matter until Black literacy does. Black lives matter in schools when Black grades, scores, and academic outcomes do.”

Ms. Jasmine speaks the truth, something in short supply. I encourage you to read “Literacy: The Forgotten Social Justice Issue” but then to go on to read Ms. Jasmine’s recent piece about George Floyd, “I Choose to Be Numb.”  Jasmine Lane teaches high school in Minneapolis.