About P.D. Pearson’s Webinar and pushing back on Karen Vaites’ attacks on Pearson. -A Blog entry by Dr. Sam Bommarito.

About P.D. Pearson’s Webinar and pushing back on Karen Vaites’ attacks on Pearson. – A Blog entry by Dr. Sam Bommarito.

Let’s start with the good news first. P.D. Pearson and R. Tierney did a webinar this past Thursday. It was entitled Fact-Checking the Science of Reading. I’m told that over 1000 folks signed up for the event. It was very well received by the participants. Here is what one participant, @Linda_Fenner had to say (used with permission):

“R Tierney and PD Pearson did an amazing job of distilling decades of reading research into the most important insights from diverse research traditions that should inform policy and instruction. Now if we can just get journalists to pay attention to the facts.”

Pearson proceeded as a real researcher should. He looked at a very wide range of evidence and then made carefully thought out (dare I say guarded?) comments about the evidence. Pearson did not try to draw conclusions beyond the data. He was careful to advocate for proceeding in a non-combative way. Pearson called for discussion, not bickering. He tried to set the stage for genuine dialogue around the topic. He specifically said that both sides should avoid using strawmen in their discussions. That means both sides (all sides?) would have to face up to the strongest version of the “opposition,” not the weakest. The bad news is that Karen Vaites, who sees herself as a parent advocate, did not view things that way. Here is what she had to say on Twitter (see the 20h Twitter post below) and what I had to say in response:

So, let’s look at the facts behind the charges around his faculties and his failure to keep up with the research. I view these charges as falling into the category of discount and discredit public relations statements. Suppose Pearson’s faculties today are as bad as Vaites implied. How is it then that he recently co-authored a well-researched book about the history of reading LINK and used the occasion of this webinar to announce the publication of the 7th edition of Current Issues and Best Practices in Literacy Instruction?, a book he also co-authored. That book will be available in June. It contains all the latest research- research that Vaites and some of her friends seem to want to ignore. I think Karen Vaites owes P.D. Pearson a public apology for her shoot-from-the-hip, ill-considered public relations statements.

Now let’s look further at the claim that Pearson is not up on the latest version of SOR. Here are a few screen captures of slides from the webinar about the research and ideas he and his co-author considered.

They began with the premise that there is no such thing as “settled science.” In fact, they say that the term “settled science” is an oxymoron

They talked about how they prepared for this webinar:

They considered key books from the literacy field:

They considered a variety of research:

They even considered the social media debate:

By the way, there was much more in the webinar, including insights into the issues around cultural diversity. There is also the information from the two books cited earlier, which contain extensive documentation using peer-reviewed research. All this demonstrates that Pearson and his co-author made a concerted effort to consider ALL the research, including the most recent research. The real problem for what I have dubbed the social media version of Science of Reading folks is that they do not always want to consider all the research. They ignore, discount, or discredit any research that doesn’t fit their limited and limiting public relations agenda. I could use this statement as a segway into yet another US vs. THEM discussion of the Science of Reading. But that is exactly what Pearson said not to do. Pearson explicitly said that both sides should stop using strawmen. He said that both sides should be willing to talk to each other. Pearson called for everyone to follow the research, even when it leads to rejecting methods that are personal favorites but not really supported by research.

There are 1000 plus teachers who attended this webinar. I think they are ready to do that. There are thousands and thousands of teachers, researchers, and parents seeking answers based on ALL (not just some) of the research. They are willing to accept and use the kind of answers researchers have to give. Let’s not let public relations gurus like Karen Vaites derail that dialogue with public relations ploys. Instead, let’s start having serious discussions using common sense to seek out common ground and common practices. I’ve posted my hope for that kind of future once before. Here is an excerpt from one of my previous blogs, LINK. I began by asking what happened when some of the best researchers in the world tried to listen to and learn from one another. Amanda P. Goodwin, Co-Editor of RRQ, talked about that. She outlined what happened when the two special issues of RRQ were published in 2020 and 2021. Those issues looked at research from a variety of different views. She gave a link to those issues. The link allows readers to view the abstracts of all the articles from the two issues. Here is that LINK. Amanda then described how, in the review process, researchers who at first viewed themselves in different camps found themselves shifting more to the center:

“Some researchers probably started out thinking they were in different camps, but during the editing process, that changed. You know, in an academic journal like RRQ, we ask experts to review each article and give the authors anonymous feedback. A lot of them pushed the authors to say more about the gap between research and practice and to consider differing perspectives. And when they revised their articles, those researchers who started out in separate camps seemed to move more to the center and acknowledge and welcome other views. So, overall, I’d say that the experts agreed that it’s valuable to conduct various kinds of scientific research that aims to better understand and meet children’s complex and varied needs — not to insist that there’s a single, “one best” way to teach reading.”

Maybe it is time to find journalists who are willing to talk about folks who feel that it is “valuable to conduct various kinds of scientific research that aims to better understand and meet children’s complex and varied needs — not to insist that there’s a single, ‘one best’ way to teach reading.” Maybe it’s time to start listening to the whole story. Maybe it’s time to recognize just how complex and nuanced the problems we face are. Maybe it’s time for all of us to follow the example of the RRQ researchers and begin a real dialogue based on the strongest versions of all the various positions. Maybe it’s time for a reading Evolution, LINK. Dare to dream!

Dr. Sam Bommarito (aka, the guy in the middle taking flak from all sides)

Copyright 2023 by Dr. Sam Bommarito. Views/interpretations expressed here are solely this author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of any other person or organization.

I have just been invited to speak at the 2024 Wisconsin ILA convention. If you are interested in having me speak or present, contact me at bommariosam@yahoo.com

3 thoughts on “About P.D. Pearson’s Webinar and pushing back on Karen Vaites’ attacks on Pearson. -A Blog entry by Dr. Sam Bommarito.

  1. cbakula

    This whole process of cherry picking the research to fit your agenda reminds me of what fascists in authoritarian governments do. They ignore the facts that don’t fit their world-view and have a “my way or the highway” mentality. We’re seeing this play out in many states with regard to book banning, banning drag queen shows, persecuting LBGQT+ communities, etc. We don’t need to look any further than what is going on in Florida. It is terrifying and people need to “wake up” to the fact that our education system is being co-opted by fascists.

    1. doctorsam7 Post author

      I would be reluctant to throw around terms like facists. I have no qualms at all throwing around terms like spin-doctors. And the spin doctors are successfully outlawing the competition and creating a monopoly. Sooner or later that has got to catch up with them.

  2. Pingback: About P.D. Pearson’s Webinar and pushing back on Karen Vaites’ attacks on Pearson. -A Blog entry by Dr. Sam Bommarito. – Foundation for Learning and Literacy

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