As a hopeful future history teacher, I often question how I should construct my future lesson plans. When students seek to learn information, what should they learn them from? What sources are most reliable and from where should they draw them from?
Today, in class, I got to observe how the utilization of a variety of sources could enhance the understanding of a complex issue. My fellow students and I came into contact with three very different ways of learning about reading policy in the United States.
The first was a scholarly article critiquing the National Reading Panel Report. The National Reading Panel Report was a document that attempted to lay out the scientifically proven, optimal methods for teaching students how to read. James Cunningham critiqued the Report because its positivist approach significantly limited what sources of information the Panel could draw upon before issuing its report.
The second source of information that we students encountered was a lecture given by our professor about the context and content of the National Reading Panel. From her, we learned that the Report has proved to be an extremely influential, foundational document in the shaping reading policy in the United States since it was issued in 2000.
The third source of information came from a fish bowl activity in which we (the students) provided information about the National Reading Panel Report. We were able to do this as non-experts by presenting information about our own experiences with literacy policies that were shaped by the report and implemented within our own schools. People told stories of times that policies made them excited about learning, and times when they felt discouraged or bored. Personal experience and narrative enhanced our understanding of the implications of the topic at hand.
We also had the option of examining the report for ourselves, but, admittedly, I did not invest the time in perusing the document.
The report, our professor’s interpretation, Cunningham’s critique and personal experience shaped how we analyzed the report and its impact.
This variety of sources constitute tiny slivers of a complex mosaic. By the end of a three hour class, there still remains a lot that I do not know about the science of reading or the political processes that shaped its synthesis. The report itself only utilized 2% of available studies on the subject material, and policy makers, like students had to go through the process of selecting which sources they deemed to be most relevant while making their decision.
Whether a student or policy maker. How do we, when making policy decisions, determine what information is vital and necessary? What information does ethics necessitate us to discover? How can complex social issues and learning processes be understood? Who has the right and the experience to speak on them?
Are answers to be found in a summary of select studies? Among academic experts? Or somewhere within personal testimonies of those who have experienced policies first hand?
I think that the most complex and holistic answer lies in combining these sources of, often contradictory, information. Truth, if it can be found anywhere, will be found in the complexities and the contradictions.
James Cunningham, The National Reading Panel Report