Who’s Naughty or Nice?

We have all sung the line in the Christmas song Santa Claus is Coming to Town, “He’s making a list; he’s checking it twice. He’s going to find out who’s naughty or nice.” In fact, some of us believe that a list might actually exist, and a few of us keep our own.

We also remember the offensive and bad-tempered Burgermeister Meisterburger, the villain who outlawed toys in Sombertown, in the Santa Claus is Coming to Town television show. Dick Allington, a former professor at the University of Tennessee bears an uncanny resemblance to the fictional mayor. His recent disparaging comments at the Literacy Association of Tennessee Conference in Murfreesboro are enough to get Allington on the naughty list of many educators and parents across the state of Tennessee. He made my naughty list.

Let’s look at some similarities:

  • Burgermeister Meisterburger hates toys. He passes a law declaring toys “illegal, immoral, unlawful, and anyone found with a toy in his possession will be placed under arrest and thrown in the dungeon. The children of Sombertown are forced to do chores instead of playing.
  • Dick Allington “denounced dyslexia, questioning its existence and slamming advocates of the learning disorder.” Allington added that former Governor Bill Haslam was going to hell for signing the bill and said dyslexia advocates were on drugs according to the audio and media reports.  (Note:  Governor Haslam and his family are major donors to the University of Tennessee).
  • Burgermeister Meisterburger arrests Kris Kringle and others for bringing toys to the children of Sombertown. 
  • Dick Allington said “If only [Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam] had called me, I would have said, ‘Just veto it and shoot whoever made this bill,'” Allington said, of the Say Dyslexia law, which passed in 2016.

In his presentation at the Literacy Association of Tennessee Conference, Dick Allington states his son “only learned to read because he experienced his first male teacher.” That particular comment has not garnered as much attention. In fact, roughly 82% of the teachers in Tennessee are female. Whether his son learned to read because of a male or female teacher is irrelevant, that particular comment was degrading and very unnecessary. Why would he consider the sex of a teacher relevant in a speech about literacy? Educators are more interested in figuring out what’s best for their students, not the ideological bent and insults of a retired professor in upstate New York.

Functional illiteracy has become a serious deterrent to economic development, in our communities, state, and nation. Reading is a serious issue, and Dyslexia is a scientific fact. But don’t take my word for it, look at the research being conducted at Yale University and Middle Tennessee State University. Commissioner Penny Schwinn added: “At TDOE we are proud to support the whole child and focus on the science of reading for all students.” Zack Barnes, an assistant professor of education at Austin Peay State University in Tennessee, says that “the research is clear that dyslexic students need systematic, explicit phonics instruction.”

Reading is one of the most critical skills in education. The National Reading Panel’s analysis that the best approach to reading instruction is one that incorporates: instruction in phonemic awareness, systematic phonics instruction, fluency, and comprehension. Improving reading instruction at the classroom level includes providing our teachers with relevant professional development to assist them; assessing children’s reading skills in kindergarten through third grade; and, offering assistance to schools in which kids are falling behind.

Policymakers and stakeholders now know that children who cannot read on grade level by the end of 3rd grade are more likely to be poor readers their whole lives. These children are less likely to graduate or gain meaningful employment. Children who lack these necessary prerequisite reading skills are at greater risk for drug-use and other criminal behaviors.

At the end of Santa Claus is Coming to Town we find out that the Meisterburgers eventually die out and lose their power over Sombertown. The citizens recognized that the silly law outlawing toys was unnecessary, much like Dick Allington’s insults at the Literacy Association of Tennessee.

Perhaps at one point in time, Dick Allington had significance in education and literacy. However, it is time for the University of Tennessee to remove him from their website, remove the word “Emeritus” from his title and send a letter asking him to cease and desist identifying with the University of Tennessee. Any organization that invites Allington to speak in the future needs to reconsider the invitation. Dick Allington has earned a well-deserved place on my naughty list. I hope he likes coal in his stocking.

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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.