The Resistance | January
Terroristic threats by Bush education advisor
By Susan Ohanian
On November 18, 2002, Reid Lyon announced, “If there
was any piece of legislation that I could pass it would be
to blow up colleges of education.” We’ll get to
the context of the remark a bit later, but first let’s
look at Lyon’s Chicago connections.
Reid Lyon, Chief Child Development and Behavior
Branch, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development,
is no stranger
to Chicago. Just five days
after making his infamous “blow up the colleges of education” remarks,
he offered a keynote address, “In Celebration of Science in the Study of
Reading Development, Reading Difficulties, and Reading Instruction,” at
Chicago’s All City Conference “Helping All Students Achieve,” sponsored
by the Office of Specialized Services and The Special Education Leadership Academy
in collaboration with the offices of Professional Development and The Chicago
Reading Initiative. Whew! Quite a mouthful.
If teachers coughed up the $60 registration
fee, they could earn up to five CPDUs — and
they got a choice of salmon, chicken, or vegetable lasagna for lunch. The registration
form kind of says it all: Listed at the top of the form is Mayor Richard M. Daley.
Underneath comes the Board of Education, and then Chicago Public Schools CEO
Arne Duncan and the other city education executives.
Is there any other city in America where the
mayor gets top billing on an education conference registration
Reid Lyon’s credentials listed on the program included this information: “He
is currently responsible for transmitting the research findings and scientific
discoveries of the National Institutes of Health relevant to the health and education
of children to the White House, the United States Congress and other governmental
One can only speculate how many times he’s told them to blow up the colleges
This wasn’t the first time Lyon and Daley had teamed up. In April 2001,
Lyon served as a member of the Mayor’s Reading Round Table. Other panel
members included: Edward J. Kame’enui, Louisa C. Moats, Susan B. Neuman,
and Jean H. Osborne, names very familiar to those battling the imposition of
direct instruction and imposed teaching scripts.
In a question and answer format, Mayor Daley
asked, “What do you think
should be our goals: first, for helping our youngest children to learn; and second,
for teaching reading to children in the primary grades?”
In his reply, Reid Lyon gave a gentler/kinder
precursor to his “blow up
the colleges of education” statement.
Mr. Mayor, we know a great deal about what it will take to achieve those goals.
We have a fairly strong idea of how children learn to read. We have a good idea
of what goes wrong when they don’t. And we have a very good idea about
which kids are most susceptible to that type of failure, and we know a great
deal about what to do about it.
The goals directly are to make sure that every youngster is able to read well
enough so that they enjoy what they’re reading and they can read to learn.
And that requires a fairly complicated process. And that requires that teachers
be prepared adequately to make sure they have those abilities. We know how to
do that. The disappointing fact over the last many years has been we can’t
close the gap between what we know how to do and how we can provide our schools
and teachers with that information so that they can carry it out effectively.”
Then to pound home the point about inadequate
schools of education, he answered another question with:
Our problem is that we continue to have the gap between what we need to be doing
and what our fine teachers are being provided in their preparation programs … If
Chicago is like many large cities and smaller cities in this country, the teachers
coming out of some teacher education institutions simply do not have these kinds
of backgrounds, nor probably are they going to get these backgrounds from those
kinds of institutions.
In several states either the superintendents or the governor or whomever it may
be are beginning to figure out ways where their teachers can get the critical
information, become certified such that the certification is aligned with what
we know about teaching reading and moving simply around the colleges and education
which are concretized in some cases. A big accountability factor here that isn’t
used, and it’s a tough thing to say, but many of our colleges of education
simply do not have the will, the courage or the knowledge to do anything better
than they’re doing, and it’s time to move around them.”
Then-President of the Chicago Board of Education
Gery J. Chico asked, “Given
the local control of schools in Chicago, how do we best select system-wide programs
Reid Lyon concluded his reply with a variation
on a theme: “The problem
in education has been that we have gravitated toward belief systems and dogmas
over so many years. You know, I have to address this with Congress a great deal.
They always ask me ‘How is it that our teachers are using programs and
approaches that simply don’t have any evidentiary base?’ And I have
to answer them that the assumptions upon which those instructional approaches
have been built are in fact erroneous but were never tested, and the educational
community did not monitor itself, because … everybody feels that everybody
can teach kids to read or to learn. They can’t do it. Learning is the most
complex interaction that our youngsters are going to have to go through, and
it takes a heck of a long time to figure out how we can get teachers to know
their stuff, how those teachers can apply their stuff, and how those teachers
stuff those kids every chance they get.”
In reporting on the conference, the Chicago
Sun-Times education reporter noted that then-Chicago schools
CEO Paul Vallas
said the discussion
plan to limit the curriculum models that 200 struggling schools
can use. “If
there was any recurring theme, it was professional development, and if anyone
got beat up, it was the colleges of education,” Vallas said. “Clearly
they are not delivering … We’re going to have to pick up the ball.”
Vallas and Lyon were, of course, both chosen
for incoming President George W. Bush’s Education Transition Team in January 2001. Other team members included
former governors, executives at Lockheed-Martin, Cisco Systems, State Farm Insurance;
such conservative foundations as Hoover, Thomas Fordham, Heritage, American Enterprise
Institute; state standardisto education functionaries.
Perhaps the passage of “No Child Left Behind” has made Reid Lyon
more bold. Perhaps being a “close advisor” to the president makes
him feel he can say anything he wants — with impunity. In 2002 he added
the language of terror to his prepared remarks. People ruling the schools from
Washington D.C. can say anything about educators they wish. Corporate America
sponsors them to do this.
If there was any piece of legislation that I could pass it would be to blow up
colleges of education.”
Reid Lyon, Chief, Child Development and Behavior Branch, National Institute of
Child Health and Human Development, NIH, speaking at a major policy forum, held
by the Council for EXCELLENCE in Government, titled “Evidence-based Education
Forum with Secretary Page.”
The Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy is going
to help the Department of Education push scripted curriculum
classroom in the
land. This “Coalition” was
set up solely for the purpose of making sure No Child Left Behind is implemented.
You can see and hear the video containing Lyon’s remarks: http: // www.excelgov.org/
Interested readers can see and hear that after
these remarks Lyon continued talking and participated in the
asked to explain
his rhetoric of terrorism; no one denounced this rhetoric
of terrorism; no one asked him why he’d threatened colleges of education. Lyon was safe in saying
this because with this group it’s business as usual. No one indicated in
any way that anything unusual or outrageous had been said.
Business as usual. Maybe those in attendance
had heard it before. Maybe these remarks are shocking only
It is no coincidence that Lyon opened his remarks
by talking about his intimate conversations with the President,
his claim to
importance. He declared that “most doctorates in education do not know what they do
not know” whereas the President is “interested in evidence.”
Is it this intimacy with the President that
gives Lyon free rein to make terroristic threats?
If a professor of education said she’d
like to blow up the National Institute of Health, she’d
find herself behind bars.
Editor’s note: For more information about the “evidence-based” education
forum and its sponsor, the Council for Excellence in Government, including the
council’s officers, trustees, past chairs, vice chairs, and corporate and
foundation partners, please see Susan Ohanain’s website: www.susanohanian.org.
The detailed list is fascinating. Ohanian writes: “The staggering weight
of corporate/government alliances who declare their alliance to No Child Left
Behind should raise alarm bells. It should serve as a call to action from the
education community and the public.”