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P. David Pearson Remembers Kenneth S. Goodman

By P. David Pearson
 | Mar 23, 2020
Kenneth Goodman headshot

On March 12, ILA past president Kenneth S. Goodman passed away peacefully at home. Goodman was without question one of the most influential scholars in the field of literacy education. In this series of posts, several of Goodman’s colleagues reflect on the indelible impact of his work and his life.

When I received the email from my colleague Patty Anders letting me know that Ken had died, my heart stopped. We knew this day would come eventually, but when it did, it seemed surreal to me. Hard for me to imagine the field of literacy and reading research without Ken. Hard to imagine the world without him.

We agreed on a lot of issues about literacy research and practice but not everything. Unlike modern political discourse, our points of difference prompted deeper conversations and more reading, not an exit from the room. If I had to argue a point, I wanted to do it with Ken because I always left the conversation richer for the interaction: I always learned something new. Differences aside, one thing we always agreed on was policy—and how important it is—to support teacher knowledge and prerogative, not mandated curriculum or assessments, as the primary tools for shaping the ways we support student learning.

I knew Ken though his research before I met him in person. But I’ll never forget the first time I heard him talk. It was about 1970, at a pre-convention institute hosted by the Psycholinguistics and Reading committee of the International Reading Association (IRA), and I heard him give the oral version of Reading: A Psycholinguistic Guessing Game. I knew then that the old model of reading as the sum total of an assembly line of skills was doomed, and the behavioristic reading theory apple cart I had inherited from early grad student days was crushed—for good!

We became friends, making sure to meet at every IRA and National Council of Teachers of English meeting. Ken and his wife, Yetta, became mentors, offering advice (what kinds of research to do), consolation (in response to an all too frequent string of manuscript rejections in those early days), and community (an invitation into their expanding cadre of scholars committed to applying theory and research to student learning, teacher learning, and teacher education).

The day before Ken died, Patty Anders told me that she was going out to see Ken and Yetta and the family. I asked her to tell him, if the opportunity arose, that he has always been, still is, and will always be my literacy hero—my model of what it means to be a scholar of both theory and practice. Ken died before Patty was able to make that visit. I think, I hope, Ken knew how I felt about him.

Ken was a model, a mentor, a colleague, a friend. Miss him forever. Remember him even longer.

P. David Pearson is an emeritus faculty member in the Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Berkeley, where he served as Dean from 2001–2010.

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