Early Childhood Letter to the Editor

A Eulogy for Ken Goodman

June 09, 2020 1 min read
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To the Editor:

Several weeks ago, I spoke with an Education Week reporter about Ken Goodman in anticipation of an obituary about Ken’s passing and legacy (“Kenneth S. Goodman, ‘Founding Father’ of Whole Language, Dead at 92,” May 21, 2020). Great conversation. I looked forward to the tribute. I knew it would be complicated and controversial; Ken was complicated and controversial. But I was sure the controversy would be treated as part of the tribute.

Instead, we got another episode of the Reading Wars, but played out in its latest version—the Science of Reading debate. Ken was positioned as an iconoclast whose progressive views were eventually overturned by “real” science. A few celebratory moments were sprinkled throughout the debate narrative.

No quarrel with methods; the reporter did nothing to compromise canons of journalism. He quoted me accurately and got my point—that Ken busted paradigms, influenced theory and practice, and was a hero to me and many others. But like most reporters, he used a couple of my comments to support a claim that I would never make.

Two bones to pick. If this was a tribute, why situate it in a tired debate? And where’s the man and the eulogy?

Here’s what eulogy I can squeeze under my 300-word limit:

Ken was a philosopher.

• Epistemology—how do we, including kids, know what we know? We make meaning, and in the process, acquire facts and knowledge, not the other way around.

• Ethics—what is right and just? No special privileges for the well-born! Sorry.

• Power—who says what students read, write, and do? Kids, parents, and teachers—in that order. Government and business get in line behind.

Ken was a mentor—to his own students and to countless others who got in line for his sage advice. I know because I was in that line.

P. David Pearson

Evelyn Lois Corey Emeritus Professor of Instructional Science

Graduate School of Education

University of California, Berkeley

Berkeley, Calif.

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A version of this article appeared in the June 10, 2020 edition of Education Week as A Eulogy for Ken Goodman


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