Monday, December 28, 2009

The anatomy of an Op-Ed. . .

A fellow professor at Furman, Sean O'Rourke, and I have discussed the Op-Ed, concluding that expressing an effective commentary in 750-850 words is akin to writing poetry.

Much of today I have been drafting an Op-Ed on the Harlem Children's Zone. Here are the resources I have been using to communicate a complex idea to the general public:

• David Brooks's Op-Ed titled "The Harlem Miracle," which is the primary focus for my discussion.

Aaron Pallas's challenge to Brooks and the paper on HCZ by Dobbie and Fryer.

Diane Ravitch's challenge to the praise of HCZ.

Alex Molnar and Holly Yettick offer compelling discussions of how the media misrepresents educational research.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Sense Series

My new Sense series, Critical Literacy Teaching Series: Challenging Authors and Genres, is shaping up well.

I am excited to announce the following Editorial Board members for the series:

Karen Stein, PhD
Professor, English Dept.
University of Rhode Island

Shirley Steinberg, PhD
Associate Professor
Department of Integrated Studies in Education
Director, The Paulo and Nita Freire International Project for Critical Pedagogy
McGill University

Jeanne Gerlach, EdD
Associate Vice President for K-16 Initiatives/ Dean
College of Education
University of Texas-Arlington

Leila Christenbury, PhD
English Education
School of Education
Virginia Commonwealth University

Renita Schmidt, PhD
Assistant Professor
Elementary Education, Literacy
Furman University

Ken Lindblom, PhD
Associate Professor
Directior of the English Teacher Education Program
Stony Brook University
English Department
Editor, English Journal

New Op-Ed in The State

New president, same failed education policy

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Series resurrected at Sense

My canceled series at Peter Lang has been resurrected from the ashes at Sense Publishers: Critical Literacy Teaching Series: Challenging Authors and Genres.

I am now working on an editorial board and hope to have the first volumes arranged soon. . .

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Boy Culture

An encyclopedia, Boy Culture, is finally about to be available.

I have an entry on comics and graphic novels in this work, edited by Shirley Steinberg, Michael Kehler, and Lindsay Cornish.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

The power of the written word. . .

Margaret Atwood's writing is some of the most powerful work. . .about the power of the written word.

In her newest novel, The Year of the Flood, Ren, in the second chapter, opens with:

Beware of words. Be careful what you write. Leave no trails.

. . .

As for writing, it was dangerous, said the Adams and the Eves, because your enemies could trace you through it, and hunt you down, and use your words to condemn you. (p. 6)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Upcoming piece on teacher education

Very excited to have a piece coming out in the Journal for Educational Controversy

My piece looks at the work of Maxine Greene and her concerns about the roadblocks to effective teacher education; Greene's piece is from 1978, but fits all too well with our current climate of mandates, standards, and tests.

I recommend the journal highly (great issue on poverty) and a valuable blog also.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

New article in Power and Education

I am very pleased to have an article included in the newest issue of Power and Education. See the contents listing here.

The Futility and Failure of Flawed Goals: efficiency education as smoke and mirrors

P.L. THOMAS Education Department, Furman University, Greenville, USA

Educational reform in the USA is traditionally grounded in mechanistic assumptions about accountability paradigms and narrow concepts of assessment; those reforms tend to ignore the burden of poverty and other external factors on student and school success. Focusing on accountability and testing strategies in the United States during the post-Nation at Risk era (1983), this article argues that mechanistic assumptions about school reform are inherently destined to fail because they are aiming at the wrong goals and ignoring the inherent imbalance of power among the stakeholders of teaching and learning; these patterns identified in US practices parallel dynamics and policies found internationally (standardized national tests in the United Kingdom, outcomes-based education in South Africa, and bureaucratic policies and corruption in Mexico, for example). Further, the discourse and tone of the discussion is a parallel argument about the nature of our scholarly discussions of education, often bound themselves by traditional (and mechanistic) assumptions about the nature of academic writing.

Friday, September 11, 2009

new poems

Poetry just comes to me, unlike my prose. Here are two new ones and they seem to be moving me toward simple poems with a turn, a twist of idea. I like the idea of a question being a lie and the word-play with "lie" in "he asked her." And "paradox" came watching L. A. Story by Steve Martin (many poems of mine come from watching movies, reading books, or listening to music).

"he asked her"

he asked her

(he could have
asked anyone

but questions
can be lies too)

to let his hands
run over and over
every inch of her

so he could memorize
the curves and touch of her
there beside him

for all the nights
he would lie
alone without her

closing his eyes
and remembering her
with his hands



he wanted
more than anything

to lure her away
from everybody else

holding her and holding her
sitting together naked in the house


he wanted
more than anything

to walk with her
in front of everyone

holding her and holding her
saying loudly “she is the one”

Monday, September 7, 2009

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

New Series Proposal

Here is what I hope to start at IAP. . .

Critical Literacy Teaching Series: Challenging Authors and Genres

Kincheloe (2005) offers a foundational argument about the role of critical pedagogy in our classrooms:

[P]roponents of critical pedagogy understand that every dimension of schooling and every form of educational practice are politically contested spaces. Shaped by history and challenged by a wide range of interest groups, educational practice is a fuzzy concept as it takes place in numerous settings, is shaped by a plethora of often-invisible forces, and can operate even in the name of democracy and justice to be totalitarian and oppressive. (p. 2)

This series will explore major authors and genres through a critical literacy lens that seeks to offer students opportunities as readers and writers to embrace and act upon their own empowerment. Further, the volumes in this series are guided by Freire (2005) as well:

One of the violences perpetuated by illiteracy is the suffocation of the consciousness and the expressiveness of men and women who are forbidden from reading and writing, thus limiting their capacity to write about their reading of the world so they can rethink about their original reading of it. (p. 2)

Proposed volumes will focus on the following:


Sandra Cisneros (Gerlach)

Louise Erdrich (Hammond)

Rachel Carson (Stein)

Alice Walker


Graphic novels and comics (Thomas)




Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Phoenix. . .

I have my fingers crossed that a different publisher may be allowing me to start a new series to pick up where the Lang series was before being canceled. . .keeping my fingers crossed. . .info as it develops. . .

Wednesday, July 29, 2009


Looks as if the publisher of my Confronting the Text, Confronting the World series at Lang is canceling the series due to economic issues. . .bad economy and low sales figures. . .

Very sad news for me. . .I think the volumns are quite good, but also think the marketing was weak. . .sigh. . .thanks to all who bought copies and to the many fine works included in the series. . .

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Poisoning a moveable feast?

A Heimgway classic has been revised. . .here is a great Op-Ed on the mistake by the publisher. . .

Monday, July 20, 2009

Writing is rewriting

Spent four hours this morning rewriting the introduction to my Parental Choice? book. Most of my writing involved rethinking what I have already put down.

Also, most of my writing is done while I am going about my day (and night). My brain drafts and brainstorms nearly continuously once I have committed to a project. How I wanted to re-vision this book (the original idea was a book TO parents about choice, but the new book is more broadly about choice and to all the stakeholders in education) was tumbling around in my head for the past two days, and with the Tour de France having an off day, I was eager to get up and write.

I am often accused of not working (people don't tend to understand the work of an academic and writer), but after four hours of writing, I am shot. . .not saying this is like roofing a house, but writing is fairly draining. . .

More as I go. . .

Saturday, July 18, 2009

New book contract. . .

Have submitted several book ideas lately with no luck. . .but just had a confirmation on my Parental Choice? book idea from IAP; the series is Critical Constructions: Studies on Education and Society, edited by Curry Stephenson Malott.

I'll try to post the process for this book on this blog; may help those looking at this sight and trying to submit/write a book of their own. . .

Monday, June 22, 2009

Poverty and Violence

Is there any real wonder why our schools in SC struggle to be successful?

Look at the reality of poverty, childhood poverty, and violence in SC (and throughout the nation):

Interactive poverty map

SWP, June 22, 2009

Where to publish as a classroom teacher?

• Local media. . .Op-Eds, blogs, discussion groups. . .

• State journals and conferences. . .SCET (SCCTE), SCIRA

• National journals and conferences. . .NCTE, IRA, ASCD

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Considering (and reconsidering) writing as a scholar

This excerpt (pp. 198-201) from my book co-authored with Nita Schmidt (Furman University), 21st Century Literacy: If We are Scripted, Are We Literate? (Springer, 2009), addresses the outstanding work of Robert Nash, Liberating Scholarly Writing (TCP, 2004):

Composing and Writing as a Researcher

Nash (2004) argues for liberating scholarly writing; his position addresses perfectly a key dilemma we face in literacy instruction inside schools. While I have suggested that we need to address writing more authentically—thus more as writers compose in the real world—I have also acknowledged that writing in school simply is not the same as writing professionally. School writing has more and more narrow purposes than writing in the real world, and, possibly more importantly, only a few of our students are interested in writing professionally after their lives as writing as students ends. Nash provides us with a compromise that helps us move beyond scripts while maintaining our obligation to address the writing that is unique to scholarship, to being a student. School writing and writing instruction inside school have an obligation to both fostering students who write as part of the scholarship and fostering authentic portrayals of all genres and purposes for writing inside and outside the context of school. Nash explains that scholars do not write as narrowly as we claim when we teach students to write academic assignments; this parallels the assignment replicated by Landrum (2007). Thus, Nash suggests that we offer students more authentic parameters for scholarly writing, parameters that liberate scholarly writing but also reinforces, instead of contradicts, the context-driven conventions of all writing we find in the world outside of schooling. Nash offers ten guidelines—which he labels “tentative,” emphasizing the need to move away from a rules mentality—that value the integrity of scholarship, the authenticity of writing, and the empowerment of students:

• Nash (2004) offers his first guideline as a more authentic alternative to the scripted thesis emphasis we use in traditional approaches to essay writing: “Establish clear constructs, hooks, and questions” (p. 57). Nash recognizes that all writers establish a clear focus somehow, including scholarly writers. Our students in school must learn to establish a clear focus, but the scripted thesis is neither effective nor authentic. Related to this is how writers come to their focus. In school, the scripted approach is requiring student to establish a thesis before they draft; in the real world, writers often draft as a process to discover the focus of their writing. Again, we must allow students to discover that focus instead of requiring that all academic writing follow a sequential and linear process that is simply an arbitrary requirement of the teacher instead of an empowering process.

• “Move from the particular to the general and back again. . .often,” suggests Nash (204, p. 59). Here, Nash addresses a deep problem scripted writing instruction creates, but could be easily avoided. We have traditionally instructed students to write introductions that are general and follow them with bodies that are specific. My experience has been that students practice that script by writing opening paragraphs that are vague and following that with a smattering of more vague, some general, and far too few specific support. The traditional script prompts vague writing by students; Nash offers a guideline that shows that both generalizations and particulars (specifics) are valuable along with noting that scholarly writers need to maintain the relationship between the particular and the general. While I balk at offering students guidelines that easily turn into scripts, here we should note that students can benefit from being warned that being vague, especially being vague without purpose, almost always damages the effectiveness of any writing.

• Confronting the traditional script that academic writing must be objective, thus impersonal (“Do not use ‘I’”), Nash (2004) suggests: “Try to draw larger implications from your personal stories” (p. 60). All writing benefits from the concrete, notably animating any genre with people and action—thus personal narrative. Particularly with young writers, personal narrative is an effective strategy since it involves content with which the writer is familiar (the student’s own life), relieving student writers from adding any additional new material for them to manage as they attempt to write a sophisticated essay.

• “Draw from your vast store of formal background knowledge,” adds Nash (2004, p. 61). Here, Nash acknowledges the unique quality of scholarly writing—the use of expert scholars to support the writing and ideas of an emerging scholar. In school, making an academic point requires more than the personal stories of students, in other words; students must show that they are working within a field, that they are students of the significant experts in the field.

• Skirting on redundancy, Nash (2004) presents his fifth guideline: “Always try to tell a good story” (p. 62). The techniques of narrative are powerful; in the traditional script of academic writing, students are allowed to analyze those techniques in the works of others, but are rarely allowed and almost never encouraged to implement those techniques themselves in their own original works. Nash adds a key observation: “Thus, narratives are instruments that help us know about ourselves and others, and to solve problems; they are also tools for us to tell others about our experiences” (p.62). In other words, narrative techniques are ideal for the work of students as writers—characterization, plot, details, figurative language, etc.

• The sixth guideline, “Show some passion,” challenges the objective script that dominates how we teach students to write (Nash, 2004, p. 63). This guideline acknowledges a postmodern shift in academics that is still in process. Traditionally, scholars and researchers have adopted detached voices for writing; however, in the past few decades, scholarly writing has included first-person constructions and more open subjectivity as equally rigorous as writing adopting an objective tone.

• When Nash (2004) suggests, “Tell your story in an open-ended way,” he is acknowledging academic conventions within his call for narrative technique (p. 63). In scholarly settings, ideological badgering is, or at least should be, rejected by the field. Scholarship relies on the weight of evidence and the expertise of the writer to analyze that evidence and draw conclusions and questions from that evidence in fair ways that are free of agendas outside the realm of scholarship (such as financial gain or political manipulation).

• Although he offers this as his guideline eight, “Remember that writing is both a craft and an art” is a central guideline for the classroom (Nash, 2004, p. 64). “The craft of writing also requires the writer to be disciplined and motivated, and even a little obsessive-compulsive,” he adds, characterizing perfectly the qualities we must require of students in our classes (p. 65). Yes, our students need craft as they negotiate documentation style sheets, surface feature conventions, and final document formatting. Within academia, such details matter; the professional writer in the real world must face these standards, as well.

• Guideline nine follows perfectly: “Use citations whenever appropriate” (Nash, 2004, p. 65). All writing is more vibrant with the specific and the concrete; many genres achieve the specific and concrete through evidence. In scholarly writing, in much of the writing we need in our classrooms, evidence comes in the form of quotes and paraphrasing taken from primary and secondary sources. The caveat I will offer here is that we tend to reduce citation and documentation instruction to scripts that ruin many students’ ability to understand fully the concepts of citation and documentation. With our focus on the details of a single style sheet (MLA or APA, for example) students believe they are supposed to memorize that style sheet as if it is sacred, instead of becoming expert at citing and documenting more broadly and becoming adept at working within any style sheet needed for a particular context.

• Nash (2004) offers a powerful final guideline: “Love and respect eloquent (i. e., clear) language” (p. 67). Regardless of the message or content of a student’s writing, that content is always housed in language. One of the most flawed lessons students learn from the scripts we use to teach writing is that good writing is obscure and complex, both in the style and the diction. Reality reveals, however, that clarity and simplicity are actually the hallmarks of effective and eloquent writing. Scholars use precise and technically accurate language.

Landrum, J. E. (2007). Students: Do experts follow the rules you’re taught? Journal of Teaching Writing, 23(1), 1-16.
Nash, R. J. (2004). Liberating scholarly writing: The power of personal narrative. New York: Teachers College Press.
Weaver, C. (1996). Teaching grammar in context. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Op-Ed, Greenville News, June 18, 2009

Scripted education doesn't teach students how to think

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Teaching the Language: Mistaken Assumptions. . .

Many years ago when I was teaching English at a small rural high school and was English Department chair, my principal cautioned the entire faculty about our students' scores on the language part of a national standardized test: "Before we look at our language scores, remember that we don't teach grammar in our English department."

He even made an effort to make eye contact with me and gave me a slight nod and smile. He thought this comment was what I wanted to hear.

But, the truth was that most, nearly all in fact, of our English faculty still taught grammar in isolation and required their students to write very little (one veteran teacher taught strictly by the exercises in the grammar text and required his seniors to write one, yes one, essay due at the end of the year, and that was it for writing).

And the few of us who were focusing on writing and addressing grammar, mechanics, and usage authentically (in the context of our students' writing)—basically me—were teaching grammar.

And herein lies our problem. . .

So when we hear anyone talk about "teaching grammar," we should pause and help clarify a few things:

(1) Few people have any real need to learn grammar (or any of the conventions of the language) as a goal itself. If a student or adult wants to be a grammarian, that is fine, but the conventions of the language are rarely our true goals in the ELA classroom. We more often actually want to raise the literacy of our students, and that goal includes grammar (or conventions) as a skill that contributes to that larger ends.

(2) Few, even teachers of ELA, have 100% proficiency in the language. So we often over-exaggerate the weaknesses our students have in conventions and underestimate how much people know about language since much of our language "knowledge" is at the usage level, not at the explicit level (similar to our being able to drive without being able to name the parts of a combustion engine or being able to dismantle and reassemble that engine). Humans need not be perfect in the conventions (which chnage, by the way) to be highly literate. But humans do need to enjoy and value language to grow in their literacy.

(3) But. . .those of us who teach writing and address literacy should all work on our understanding of the language. We must continue to grow as writers and continue to hone our understanding of the language. I recommend highly Style by Joseph Williams.

(4) And we must know the research on addressing grammar and conventions as a skill that leads to stronger writers. For this, you must begin with Connie Weaver's Teaching Grammar in Context.

So we must be careful how we talk about and help others understand that for many decades we have flipped our approaches backward—believing that since strong writers have strong grammar skills (which isn't even true) that we can force grammar in students and magically make them good writers. The irony is that writers are made by WRITING; the writing and revising, especially in a workshop and process setting with a mentor teacher guiding, will gradually raise the grammar and conventions of the students. As Lou LaBrant wrote more than five decades ago, "Writing Is Learned by Writing"—and that includes the conventions of the language.

Here is a great resource:

Summary of research and guidelines from Fox Valley Writing Project (Word doc download).

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Submitting Work. . .Be Careful. . .

I have been submitting a book proposal to two different publishers. A proposal is time-consuming and ultimately it can be a tremendous amount of work only to be told, "Sorry, no thanks. . ."

Here are some proposal guidelines I have been working from:



Now, my embarrassing story: I have published eight books and co-authored two additional books. I am no stranger to proposals. However, I recently received a confirmation of a book proposal submission. . .and as I glanced down at my cover letter copied beneath the confirmation, I noticed my cover letter started, "I submitting. . ."—Yes, the "am" is missing!

So I responded, thanking the publisher for confirming my submission and then apologizing profusely for the copyedit mistake. The publisher responded again, and was kind, but we must try diligently to send in clean submissions. But we all make mistakes. . .

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Grammar, Grammar Everywhere and Not a Spot to Think. . .

January 22, 2009
Op-Ed Contributor
Oaf of Office

IN 1969, Neil Armstrong appeared to have omitted an indefinite article as he stepped onto the moon and left earthlings puzzled over the difference between “man” and “mankind.” In 1980, Jimmy Carter, accepting his party’s nomination, paid homage to a former vice president he called Hubert Horatio Hornblower. A year later, Diana Spencer reversed the first two names of her betrothed in her wedding vows, and thus, as Prince Charles Philip supposedly later joked, actually married his father.

On Tuesday, Chief Justice John Roberts joined the Flubber Hall of Fame when he administered the presidential oath of office apparently without notes. Instead of having Barack Obama “solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the office of president of the United States,” Chief Justice Roberts had him “solemnly swear that I will execute the office of president to the United States faithfully.” When Mr. Obama paused after “execute,” the chief justice prompted him to continue with “faithfully the office of president of the United States.” (To ensure that the president was properly sworn in, the chief justice re-administered the oath Wednesday evening.)

How could a famous stickler for grammar have bungled that 35-word passage, among the best-known words in the Constitution? Conspiracy theorists and connoisseurs of Freudian slips have surmised that it was unconscious retaliation for Senator Obama’s vote against the chief justice’s confirmation in 2005. But a simpler explanation is that the wayward adverb in the passage is blowback from Chief Justice Roberts’s habit of grammatical niggling.

Language pedants hew to an oral tradition of shibboleths that have no basis in logic or style, that have been defied by great writers for centuries, and that have been disavowed by every thoughtful usage manual. Nonetheless, they refuse to go away, perpetuated by the Gotcha! Gang and meekly obeyed by insecure writers.

Among these fetishes is the prohibition against “split verbs,” in which an adverb comes between an infinitive marker like “to,” or an auxiliary like “will,” and the main verb of the sentence. According to this superstition, Captain Kirk made a grammatical error when he declared that the five-year mission of the starship Enterprise was “to boldly go where no man has gone before”; it should have been “to go boldly.” Likewise, Dolly Parton should not have declared that “I will always love you” but “I always will love you” or “I will love you always.”

Any speaker who has not been brainwashed by the split-verb myth can sense that these corrections go against the rhythm and logic of English phrasing. The myth originated centuries ago in a thick-witted analogy to Latin, in which it is impossible to split an infinitive because it consists of a single word, like dicere, “to say.” But in English, infinitives like “to go” and future-tense forms like “will go” are two words, not one, and there is not the slightest reason to interdict adverbs from the position between them.

Though the ungrammaticality of split verbs is an urban legend, it found its way into The Texas Law Review Manual on Style, which is the arbiter of usage for many law review journals. James Lindgren, a critic of the manual, has found that many lawyers have “internalized the bogus rule so that they actually believe that a split verb should be avoided,” adding, “The Invasion of the Body Snatchers has succeeded so well that many can no longer distinguish alien speech from native speech.”

In his legal opinions, Chief Justice Roberts has altered quotations to conform to his notions of grammaticality, as when he excised the “ain’t” from Bob Dylan’s line “When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose.” On Tuesday his inner copy editor overrode any instincts toward strict constructionism and unilaterally amended the Constitution by moving the adverb “faithfully” away from the verb.

President Obama, whose attention to language is obvious in his speeches and writings, smiled at the chief justice’s hypercorrection, then gamely repeated it. Let’s hope that during the next four years he will always challenge dogma and boldly lead the nation in new directions.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Writer's Bookshelf

One the primary tools for any beginning or veteran writer is a bookshelf of works that help us become and grow as writers. I will begin a list of recommended books here and add as often as I can. This post will be accessible through a "Writer's Bookshelf" link on the right at all times.


The Art of Fiction, John Gardner

On Becoming a Novelist
, John Gardner

On Writers and Writing, John Gardner

On Moral Fiction, John Gardner

Becoming a Writer, Dorothea Brande

Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott

On Writing, Stephen King

Liberating Scholarly Writing, Robert Nash

On Writing Well, William Zinsser

Style, Joseph Williams

The Writing Life, Annie Dillard

Making Comics, Scott McCloud

Reading like a Writer, Francine Prose

The Faith of a Writer, Joyce Carol Oates

Negotiating with the Dead, Margaret Atwood

The Art of the Novel, Milan Kundera

Writers on Writing
, The New York Times

Writers on Writing II, The New York Times

Inventing the Truth, William Zinsser

Monday, January 19, 2009

"If no one can teach me, then how can I learn to write?"

Many years ago, now, I was a would-be writer. I mean a serious writer—one who writes to be published. My initial urge was to be a poet and literary fiction writer—years spent writing and writing and submitting and submitting and being rejected and being rejected. I actually have published a smattering of short stories and several poems, and I have come to terms that being a poet is something someone is simply is, not something one decides to do (or decides to stop doing). Poems come to be nearly fully formed and I have no recourse except to type them into Word, tinker and tinker, and accept them as if they matter (regardless of any hope about publication).

While I have one complete novel in a file cabinet somewhere that never saw print, my life as a writer has turned fruitful as a writer of scholarly work, enough books and articles to keep me excited about my life as a writer. But in those dim days of the 1980s, when I was determined to be a novelist, I was faced with the necessity of having my career and such (I was a full-time English teacher at the high school level), leaving me unable (I believed) to dive fully into an MFA program or some such "traditional" route to being a published writer of serious fiction and poetry. Being a teacher, I decided to teach myself to write and teach my students to write.

The bibles for my venture were the fiction of John Gardner (my models) and the books Gardner wrote about the art of fiction and the art of being a writer. So I firmly believe that if you are a writer and you want to begin teaching yourself (regardless of the type of writer you want to be), you should consider these works by Gardner:

The Art of Fiction

On Becoming a Novelist

I never became a novelist (although I still toy with writing even more novels), but Gardner's insight on being a writer and his faith in the art of writing (a craft that can and should be honed) have served me well daily as I write and work as a scholar.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

When Writers Talk (or Write) about Writing. . .

One motif that runs through my research on writers that has impacted my view of writing and teaching writing greatly is that many writers reveal a life in writing, a life that brought them to writing, that often struggled against traditional schooling. Barbara Kingsolver, Kurt Vonnegut, Margaret Atwood, and Ralph Ellison all came to a high level of success as writers, but often in spite of school. Kingsolver majored in biology, and Vonnegut, in anthropology (although he was a journalist as early as high school). Atwood left academia while working on her doctorate; Ellison too left college, and entered college to be a musician.

A tremendous paradox exists in the relationship between academia and writing. Writing is an integral part of academia for both the students and the teachers/professors (that which is already written and that yet to be written), but the classroom often does more to suealch writers than inspire them.

Few things are as valuable for any writer (whether student, scholar, poet, or storyteller) than reading and/or listening to a writer discuss the life of the writer. One of my favorites comes from Tim O'Brien, author of The Things They Carried: President's Lecture, Brown University (April 21, 1999).

Scholarly Vita

Paul Lee Thomas II, Ed. D.

Furman University

Education Department


Ed. D. (1998) Curriculum and Instruction, University of South Carolina (1995-1998)

Masters +30 (1992) Non-degree, University of South Carolina

M. Ed. (1985) Secondary Education/ English, University of South Carolina (1984-85)

B. A. (1983) Secondary Education/ English, University of South Carolina-Spartanburg (1981-83)

Cum Laude

A. A. (1981) Liberal Arts, Spartanburg Methodist College (1979-81)

Professional Experience:

Furman University, 2002-Present

Assistant Professor of Education

English Education, Secondary Education, Curriculum and Instruction

ED 11: Perspectives in American Education

ED 50: Curriculum and Methods of Teaching in Grades 7-12

ED 52: Teaching English in Grades 7-12

ED 56: Practicum in Teaching

ED 51/EDRD 148: Literature for Young Adults

EDEP170: Teaching Internship, Induction Candidates

EDEP 100: Research and Inquiry

Woodruff High School, 1984-2002

English/ Language Arts, A. P. Literature and Composition, journalism, creative writing, drama, U.S. history

Department Chair (1989-2002)

Taught at the college level in a number of colleges and universities in South Carolina

(Information available upon request)

Professional Involvement:

Column Editor, English Journal

“Confronting the Text, Confronting the World”

Fall 2008 (TBD)

Series Editor, Sense

Critical Literacy Teaching Series: Challenging Authors and Genres


Reading Panel

ACT, Iowa City, IA

October 12, 2007

Series Editor, Peter Lang USA

Confronting the Text, Confronting the World: Bringing Writers into the Classroom


South Carolina Council of Teachers of English

Executive Committee (2003-present)

Co-Editor, Carolina English Teacher (2003-present)

SC Council Historian (2006-present)

National Council of Teachers of English

Standing Committee on the History of the Council (2001-2005)

Task Force on Council History (2006-present)

Publishing History:

(Refereed Journals)

Thomas, P. L. (2010, July/September). The Payne of addressing race and poverty in public education: Utopian accountability and deficit assumptions of middle class America. Souls, 12(3). TBD.

-----. (accepted). “A respect for the past, a knowledge of the present, and a concern for the future”: The role of history in English Education. English Education. TBD.

-----. (accepted). Diving into genre—A case for literature as T(t)ruth. Notes on American Literature. TBD.

-----. (2010, Winter). Of rocks and hard places—The challenge of Maxine Greene’s “mystification” in teacher education. Journal of Educational Controversy.

-----. (2009). The futility and failure of flawed goals: Efficiency education as smoke and mirrors. Power and Education, 1(2), 214-225.

-----. (2009, Fall). Shifting from deficit to generative practices: Addressing impoverished and all students. Teaching Children of Poverty, 1(1).

-----. (2009, May). Challenging texts (and other assumptions) in a digital age. “Challenging Texts.” English Journal, 98(5), 99-102.

-----. (2008, September). Reading with a political ax: Critical literacy for all students. “Challenging Texts.” English Journal, 98(1), 81-84.

-----. (2007, May). Of flattery and thievery: Reconsidering plagiarism in a time of virtual information. English Journal, 96(5), 81-84.

-----. (2006, January). Languages we don’t understand: Considering America through words born of ashes. English Journal, 95 (3), 96-99.

-----. (2005). Fostering composing pre-K and beyond—Avoiding the artificial nature of writing and teaching. Journal of Teaching Writing, 22 (1), 63-81.

-----. (2005, May). Grading student writing: High-stakes testing, computers, and the human touch. English Journal, 94 (5), 28-30.

-----. (2003, November). A call to action. English Journal, 93 (2), 67-69.

-----. (2003, July). When choice failed—Or did it? English Journal, 92 (6), 17-19.

-----. (2001, September). Standards, standards everywhere, and not a spot to think: Claiming authentic purposes for student reading and writing. English Journal, 91 (1), 63-67.

-----. (2000, September). “The struggle itself”—Teaching writing as we know we should. English Journal, 90 (1), pp. 39-45.

-----. (2000, January). Blueprints or houses?—Looking back at Lou LaBrant and the writing debate. English Journal, 89 (3), pp. 85-89.

-----. (1999, Fall). The paradoxes of Lou LaBrant: Choreographer of the learner’s mind. Vitae Scholasticae, 18 (2), 35-54.

-----. (1999, Fall). A new honesty in education—Positivist measures in a postmodern world. Contemporary Education, 71 (1), 51-55.

-----. (1998, March). “It beckons, and it baffles—”: Resurrecting Emily Dickinson (and poetry) in the student-centered classroom. English Journal, 87 (3), 60-63.

-----. (1991, January). Booksearch: The Mosquito Coast. English Journal, 80 (1), 87.

-----. (1989, Fall). Teaching poetry as reader, writer, and editor. Oregon English, 11 (2B), 34.

(Book-length publications)

-----. (2010). Parental choice?: A critical reconsideration of choice and the debate about choice. Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, Inc.

-----. (2008). Reading, learning, teaching Ralph Ellison. New York: Peter Lang USA.

-----. (2007). Reading, learning, teaching Margaret Atwood. New York: Peter Lang USA.

-----. (2006). Reading, learning, teaching Kurt Vonnegut. New York: Peter Lang USA.

-----. (2005). Reading, learning, teaching Barbara Kingsolver. New York: Peter Lang USA.

-----. (2005). Teaching writing primer. New York: Peter Lang USA.

-----. (2004). Numbers games—Measuring and mandating American education. New York: Peter Lang USA.

-----. (2001). Vivid language: Writer as reader, reader as writer. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, Inc.

-----. (2001). Lou LaBrant: A woman’s life, a teacher’s life. Huntington, NY: Nova Science publishers, Inc.

(Non-refereed Journals, Book Chapters)

-----. (accepted). The educational hope ignored under Obama: The persistent failure of Utopian goals and crisis rhetoric. In P. R. Carr & B. J. Porfilio (Eds.), The phenomenon of Obama and the agenda for education: Can hope audaciously trump neoliberalism? (TBD). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.

-----. (2010). Comics and graphic novels. [entry]. In S. R. Steinberg, M. Kehler, & L. Cornish (Eds.), Boy Culture (pp. ). Santa Barbara, CA: Greenwood Press.

-----. (2009). No damn cat, and no damn cradle”: The fundamental flaws in fundamentalism according to Vonnegut. In D. Simmons (Ed.), New critical essays on Kurt Vonnegut (pp. 27-45). New York: Palgrave.

-----. (2007, Fall). “The most intimate of all teaching”—Bridging the great divide in writing instruction. The Wisconsin English Journal, 49(2), 11-19.

-----. (2007, Winter). Confronting public discourse and the silent classroom: Critical literacy and students as “active thinkers.” Statement, 43(2), 19-23.

-----. (2007). Expanding the feminist critical lens: Using children’s literature as a means for analyzing women’s literature. English Record, 57(2), 41-47.

-----. (2006). The cult of prescription—Or, a student ain't no slobbering dog. In J. Kincheloe & S. Steinberg (Eds.), What You Don’t Know about Schools (pp. 103-113). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

-----. (2005). Reading in the time of high-stakes testing: When teachers seek reading for understanding. New Jersey Journal of Supervision and Curriculum Development, 50, 29-39. [With Catherine Adams, Gina Barksdale, Susan Bostic, Nancy Camp, Peggy Groover, Mary Lu Hinner, Susan Lassiter, Yvonne Mason, and Erich Sturgill.]

-----. (2005, Fall). How tests fail our children—Reclaiming learning in our schools. Carolina English Teacher, 2-5.

-----. (2005, January). Winning teachers the respect they deserve. The Education Digest, 70 (5), 4-8.

-----. (2004, November). Reframing the teaching profession. Virginia Journal of Education, 98 (2), 7-10.

-----. (2004, October). The negative impact of testing writing skills. Educational Leadership, 62 (2), 76-79.

-----. (2004). The writer’s life—Inviting students to become authors. In (Ed.), Making connections: Students and authors on the same page (pp. 31-44). Amsterdam, NY: New York State English Council.

-----. (2003/2004). Choosing public schools—Why vouchers and choice fail American students and democracy. New Jersey Journal of Supervision and Curriculum Development, 47, 57-67.

-----. (2003). Our Rodney Dangerfield profession. In M. Scherer (Ed.), Keeping good teachers (pp. 195-201). Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

-----. (2003, Fall). Feeding the tests, starving our ELA students. Carolina English Teacher, 3-4.

-----. (2003, Fall). When our students write, when our students read—The paradox of genre. Carolina English Teacher, 19-23.

-----. (2003, Spring). It’s not so simple—The reading/writing connection and our impoverished students. Virginia English Bulletin, 53 (1), 15-19.

-----. (2003, Winter). Facing the undoable: Becoming a teacher of writing. English Record, 53 (2), 20-24.

-----. (Dec 2002/Jan 2003). Reading and writing as ways of understanding in the content classroom. Classroom Leadership Online, 6 (4).

-----. (2002). Entry—Lou LaBrant. In The Encyclopedia of Education, 4. Second Edition. New York: Macmillan Reference USA.

-----. (2002). Being honest about writing and individual freedom—Or, children, there ain’t no rules. In C. Moore & P. O’Neill (Eds.), Practice in Context: Situating the Work of Writing Teachers (pp. 149-157). Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.

-----. (2002, Fall). Our never-ending challenge—Lou LaBrant and PS 65. English Record, 53 (1), 17-21.

-----. (1996). When Wordsworth is too tame: Merging minority literature with the classics in the secondary language arts curriculum. In L. Cooke & H. C. Lodge (Eds.), Voices in English Classrooms: Honoring Diversity and Change, 28 (pp. 177-185). Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English.

-----. (1992/1993). At the end: Moving towards reading and writing integration in high school language arts. Carolina English Teacher, 16-21.

-----. (1992, Spring). “A vivid and continuous dream”—Offering secondary students the framework for discovering their own fiction. Western Ohio Journal, 13 (1), 6-10.

-----. (1991). Maneuvering between the Scylla and Charybdis of writing instruction. Education Issues, 2 (1), 18-32.

-----. (1991, Spring). Exposing the universal through the diverse: The role of minority literature in the language arts curriculum. Western Ohio Journal, 12 (1), 58-61.

(Op-Ed Publications)

Thomas, P. L. (2010, June 19). Test scores aren't the most serious problem. The Greenville News.

-----. (2010, June 17). The paradox of teacher quality. The State.

-----. (2010, April 3). Reject misleading rhetoric about public education. The Greenville News.

-----. (2010, March 16). A smarter way to focus education dollars. The State.

-----. (2010, January 26). Bauer's comments reflect our own misconceptions. The State.

-----. (2009, December 6). New president, same failed education policy. The State.

-----. (2009, November 28). Misleading comparisons used in school debate. The Greenville News.

-----. (2009, September 1). Answering the question before it’s asked. The State.

-----. (2009, August 20). Understand the “research” about school choice. The Greenville News.

-----. (2009, June 18). Scripted education doesn't teach students how to think. The Greenville News.

-----. (2009, April 16). Take the politics out of schools. The State.

-----. (2009, March 1). When competition makes things worse. The State.

-----. (2009, February 7). Schooling must reflect society we envision. The Greenville News.

-----. (2009, January 3). Hypocrisy reigns in fixing blame for health, school ills. The Greenville News.

-----. (2008, December 6). Learn Latin, but not to raise SAT scores. The State. (On-line Saturday Opinion Extra).

-----. (2008, September 26). Realism often lacking in education debate. The Greenville News.

-----. (2008, August 22). Crisis rhetoric, Utopian thinking and school “reform.” The State.

-----. (2008, June 30). Teaching credential hasn't been shown to be cost-effective education investment. The Greenville News.

-----. (2008, June 19). How test mania hinders learning. The State.

-----. (2008, May 16). A nation at risk of distorted school critiques. The State.

-----. (2008, April 19). Don’t blame schools for high school dropout rate. The Greenville News.

-----. (2008, January 29). Demographics play big role in school performance. The Greenville News.

-----. (2007, October 30). Schools can’t be panacea for all our problems. The Greenville News.

-----. (2007, September 28). Schools cant’ repair all of poverty’s ills. The State.

-----. (2007, September 3). U.S. Education Department plays games with statistics. The Greenville News.

-----. (2007, June 22). School consolidation may not fulfill promises. The Greenville News.

-----. (2007, June 13). Rethinking school accountability. The State.

-----. (2007, March 10). AP courses valuable when implemented properly. The Greenville News.

-----. (2007, January 18). Open enrollment a bad idea for S.C.’s public schools. The State.

-----. (2007, January 12). Addressing poverty key to improving public schools. The Greenville News.

-----. (2006, November 29). Students can only learn to write well by writing a lot. The Greenville News.

-----. (2006, September 3). The SAT is A) wildly overemphasized .... The State.

-----. (2006, August 26). Tests were never meant to prove anything conclusively. The Greenville News.

-----. (2006, June 25). S.C. must change way it treats poor students. The State.

-----. (2006, June 14). Public education ultimately is about securing our freedom. The Greenville News.

-----. (2006, February 23). Open enrollment plan assumes teachers are failing. The Greenville News.

-----. (2006, January 9). Computer-based testing just creates more problems. The Greenville News.

-----. (2005, October 5). Pledge of allegiance should come from the heart. The Greenville News.

-----. (2005, July 5). Our addiction to testing is failing our schools. The Greenville News.

-----. (2005, March 3). Consumerism, competition won’t cure our schools. The Greenville News.

-----. (2004, December 9). Parents should oppose back-door voucher plan. The Greenville News.

-----. (2004, September 20). Stop obsessing about SAT and look at what it’s telling us. The Greenville News.

-----. (2004, July 25). Can we afford numbers games that rule our schools? The Greenville News.

-----. (2004, March 28). Choice won’t solve the problems in our public schools. The Greenville News.

-----. (2003, October 21). Politicians should stay out of the business of running schools. The Greenville News.

-----. (2002, November 21) Can Vouchers Improve South Carolina Schools? The Greenville News.

(Co-Authored Works)

Co-authored with Schmidt, R., Johnson, S., Mitchell, D., & Thomas, T. (2009, Spring/Summer). “Let’s not play these kids cheap”—Generative literacy Practices for all children. Virginia English Bulletin, 59(1), 8-17.

Co-authored with Schmidt, R. (2009). Competition and education: How the market forces failure on and in our schools. Competition: A multidisciplinary analysis. Netherlands: Sense Publishers.

Co-authored with Schmidt, R. (2009). 21st century literacy: If we are scripted, are we literate? Heidelberg, Germany: Springer.

Co-authored with Kincheloe, J. L. (2006). Reading, writing, and thinking: The Postformal basics. Netherlands: Sense Publishers.

Co-authored with Welchel, E. (2005, Spring). The art from war—American classrooms and literary responses to war. Oregon English Journal, 27, (1), 26-29.

Co-authored with Shelley, A. C. (1996). Using metacognitive strategies to enhance learning in the English classroom. New England Reading Association Journal, 32 (2), 10-15.

Co-authored with Shelley, A. C. (1995, Winter). Righting the Reading and Writing Miscues of Adolescents Through Integrated Instruction: Research in the Classroom. Reading Instruction Journal, 38 (2), 36-43.

(Edited Volumes)

Stein, K. (2009). Reading, learning, teaching Toni Morrison. New York: Peter Lang USA.

Welchel, E. (2009). Reading, learning, teaching Howard Zinn. New York: Peter Lang USA.

Thesing, W. B. (2009). Reading, learning, teaching James Dickey. New York: Peter Lang USA.

Mason, Y. (2009). Reading, learning, teaching Clyde Edgerton. New York: Peter Lang USA.

Charles, J. (2007). Reading, learning, teaching N. Scott Momaday. New York: Peter Lang USA.

(Poetry and Fiction)

Have published a number of poems and short fiction in a wide range of publications

(Citations available upon request)



Thomas, P. L. (2009, November). “Choices Offered, Choices Ignored: Lou LaBrant and the Historical Call for Choice in Student Reading.” Presentation given as part of “How Our History Helps Us Read between the Lines” at the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention 2009, Philadelphia, PA.

-----. (2009, November). “’Talk about the Passion’: Reading Loved Authors again for the First Time.” Presentation given as part of “Talk about the Passion: The Reading Interests of Secondary Students” at the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention 2009, Philadelphia, PA.

-----. (2008, November). “Learning to Take Responsibility for One’s Own Reading: Lou LaBrant and the Enduring Value of Free Reading Programs.” Presentation given to participants at the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention 2008, San Antonio, TX.

-----. (2008, November). “From Deficit to Generative Practices in Secondary Literature Study” Presentation given to participants at the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention 2008, San Antonio, TX. Also served as Chair for this round-table, “’Let’s Not Play These Kids Cheap’: Needed Shifts in ELA Practices.”

-----. (2007, November). Chair: “Writing across the Academy: The Rhetoric of Science, Public Discourse, and Classical Rhetoric.” Presentation given to participants at the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention 2007, New York, NY.

-----. (2006, November). “The Compleat Cycle: Student, Writer, Teacher.” Presentation given to participants at the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention 2006, Nashville, TN. Chair of session: Creating Space for Innovative Writing Assessments in Overly-Standardized ELA Curricula.

-----. (2005, November). “What Do They Want?—Navigating Between Accountability and Authenticity in Writing Instruction and Assessment.” Presentation given to participants at the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention 2005, Pittsburg, PA.

-----. (2004, November). “Creating Our History—Gaining a Voice in National Council of Teachers of English, Our Field, and Beyond.” Also, Chair: “Lou LaBrant: A Voice, A Life.” Presentation given to participants at the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention 2004, Indianapolis, IN.

-----. (2004, November). “If Rising Tides Lift All Boats, What about Those without Boats?” Paper prepared as part of a panel for the participants at the Association of Educational Service Agencies Annual Convention 2004, Kansas City, MO.

-----. [with Felicia Oliver, Dawn Mitchell, Brenda Davenport, Laurin Baker] (2002, November). “Creating a Site Leadership Team: Developing Leaders, Enriching Sites.” Presentation given to participants at the National Writing Project Annual Convention 2002, Atlanta, GA.

-----. [with Cindy Moore, Heather F. Bruce, Pavel Zemilansky, Katie Hupp Stahlnecker, Jeff Somers] (2002, November). “Practice in Context: Situating the Work of Writing Teachers.” Presentation given to participants at the National Council of Teachers of English Annual Convention 2002, Atlanta, GA.

-----. (2001). “Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.” Presentation given to participants at the JCT Annual Convention 2001, Bergamo Center, Dayton, OH.


Thomas, P. L. (2009, January). “Re-imagining Comics as Literature: Expanding Our Views of Genre and Reading.” Presentation given to participants at the South Carolina Council of Teachers of English State Conference, Kiawah, SC.

-----. (2004-2008). Featured Guest—“Speaking of Schools.” Multiple appearances on SCETV Radio, Clemson, SC.

-----. (2008, January). “Publishing as a Classroom Teacher—The ‘Why’ and the ‘How.’” Presentation given to participants at the South Carolina Council of Teachers of English State Conference, Kiawah, SC.

-----. (2007, November). “Writers and Teachers of Writing—Writing in Class and for Professional Publication.” Presentation given to participants at the Writing Improvement Network Conference, Greenville, SC.

Co-resented with Schmidt, R. (2007, February). “Literacy Profiles: Student-Centered Literacy Instruction and Assessment.” Presentation given to participants at the SCIRA annual conference, Myrtle Beach, SC.

-----. (2007, January). “Writing in the Classroom—Real problems, Real Solutions.” Presentation given to participants at the South Carolina Council of Teachers of English State Conference, Kiawah, SC.

-----. (2006, November). “The Life You Write Might Be Your Own—Memoirs and the Craft of Writing.” Presentation given to participants at the Writing Improvement Network Conference, Greenville, SC.

-----. (2006, January). “Confronting the Text, Confronting the World—Reconsidering Reading and Writing with Nonfiction.” Presentation given to participants at the South Carolina Council of Teachers of English State Conference, Kiawah, SC.

-----. (2005, October). “Teaching Writing in a Time of High Accountability.” Presentation given to participants at the Writing Improvement Network Conference, Greenville, SC.

-----. (2005, January). “Righting the Writing Assessment Ship—The Authentic Writing Classroom.” Presentation given to participants at the South Carolina Council of Teachers of English Annual Conference 2005, Navigating Change in K-College Classroom, Columbia, SC.

-----. (2003, January). “Standards, Standards Everywhere and Not a Spot to Think.” Presentation given to participants at the South Carolina Council of Teachers of English Annual Conference 2003, Greenville, SC.


Co-presented with Schmidt, R. (2007, March). “Implementing Literacy Profiles: High Accountability and the Changing Face of Literacy.” Presentation given to participants at the Spartanburg Writing Project annual conference, Spartanburg, SC.

-----. (2006, March). “Confronting the Text, Confronting the World—Reconsidering Reading and Writing with Nonfiction.” Presentation given to participants at the Upstate Writing Project Annual Conference 2006, Greenville, SC.

-----. (2005 , March). “The Writer's Life—Teachers and Students as Authors.” Presentation given to participants at the Spartanburg Writing Project Conference, Connections 2005, Spartanburg, SC.

-----. (2005, February). “Reading and Writing with Adolescents.” Presentation given to participants at the Greenville Council of Teachers of English, League Middle School, Greenville, SC.

-----. (2004, March). “Building Professional Communities through Best Practice.” Presentation given to participants at the Upstate Schools Consortium, Furman University, Greenville, SC.

-----. (2004). “The Politics of How We Teach—No Child Left Behind as Assault on Academia.” Presentation given to participants at the Furman University Faculty Seminar, Greenville, SC.


Distinguished Alumnus, School of Education



Faculty Award

National Honor Society, 1998, 1993

Creativity in Teaching Award

National Art Honor Society, 1997

Woodruff High

Institutional and Community Involvement:


Furman University

•Admissions Committee, Fall 2007

•Honors Programs and Senior-Year Experience, Ad Hoc Committee, Spring 2007

•Admissions Committee, Ad Hoc Reader, 2006-2007

•Academic Discipline Committee, 2006-2007


2003-2004 PTA Reflections Program, High School Judge/ SC PTA