White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre doesn’t know how to pronounce the following words: “Em-er-eye-tis” – “Bicarmel” – “Noble” Prize – “Armtice” – “Nordstrom” pipeline







January 7, 2023. Tags: , , , , . Dumbing down, Education, Joe Biden. Leave a comment.

This 34-year-old just learned how to read. Now lots of people are sending him books, and he’s reading them on TikTok. Very inspiring!

This is his TokTok channel: https://www.tiktok.com/@oliverspeaks1


‘What’s up! I can’t read.’ O.C. resident goes viral after schooling left him functionally illiterate

By Sonja Sharp

December 28, 2022

It was just after dawn, and TikTok’s unlikeliest literary hero was running late.

Oliver James, 34, backed his white Ford cargo van into his favorite spot at Upper Newport Bay Nature Reserve in Orange County, his face aglow in the autumn sunlight as he rushed to set up his first livestream of the day. He tugged a makeshift curtain behind the driver’s seat, snapped his cellphone into a mount by the side mirror, and pulled a gently loved paperback from his knapsack.

“It’s a new day, a new start,” James told the camera, flipping to page 190 in “Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl” as hundreds of strangers logged on. “We’re going right up to the top — can’t waste no time!”

With that, he began reading aloud from the 75-year-old memoir — a book that everyone in the audience had read.

James is not a mellifluous reader, though he shares the blinding smile and infectious energy of other viral creators on the popular video app. A personal trainer by trade, he has never penned a bestseller, taught English, studied library science or appraised a first edition.

Yet his six-figure following puts him in a rarefied tier of “BookTok” influencers, ahead of the New York Public Library, The Last Bookstore and all the “Big Five” publishers combined.

“I snuck in through the back door,” he said of his sudden success. “I snuck in from the back and have more followers than most #BookTok people.”

Indeed, his meteoric rise among the app’s literary luminaries has proved the year’s biggest plot twist.

It began with five words.

“What’s up! I can’t read.”

If you’ve made it this far, you likely have little memory of how you learned to read.

Partly, that’s a function of mechanics: Formal phonics instruction, which builds literacy from letters and sounds, is only newly in vogue among today’s grade-schoolers, after decades of disfavor in American education. In California, it was not taught at all from the Reagan era through the impeachment of President Clinton.

Yet even children who study this “science of reading” rarely recall the painstaking synthesis of sign and sound that first alchemized tree pulp and petroleum ink into Desmond Cole of “Ghost Patrol” and Matilda Wormwood, Roald Dahl’s 5-year-old protagonist from the book of the same name.

At some point, for most of us, it just happened.

“People really can’t imagine what it is to exist without being able to read,” said James’ partner, Anne Halkias, 38. “I don’t think people understand how much extra work you have to do.”

Because we can’t remember it, illiteracy can seem total, akin to the formless darkness many sighted people imagine blind people see.

But for adults like James, the reality is both brighter and blurrier than that.

“There was some foundational stuff there,” Halkias said. “He knew his alphabet. He knew certain words.”

But he lacked the skill to tap out a text message or untangle the instructions in a video game. He couldn’t parse a job application, browse a takeout menu, recognize a comma or pronounce a contraction if he saw it on a page or screen.

In terms of fluency and comprehension, James was years behind Halkias’ 10-year-old son.

“I remember them telling me [I] was at a first-grade reading level when I was in high school,” the TikTok star said.

Anyone who’s read with a first-grader will recognize the flat affect, halting pronunciation and bursts of fluid prose that characterize James’ live TikTok broadcasts, even after months of practice.

His dash-cam confessionals look nothing like the polished “shelfies” and breathless reviews that first surfaced #BookTok from the app’s vast warren of subcultures, transforming its bespectacled
influencers into kingmakers of the publishing world.

The typical viral BookToker is a white woman with statement glasses, annotations on brightly colored page markers and stacks of immaculate hardcovers in her to-be-read pile.

James, by contrast, is a dark-skinned Black man with a trim beard and clipped salt-and-pepper locs who mostly films from his van. In October, close to a million people watched him check out his first library book. In November, tens of thousands saw him build his first bookcase.

For the weeks he was reading “Anne Frank” this fall, close to 100,000 TikTokers tuned in every night to watch.

“I didn’t do a Live [one night], and they’re messaging me in the middle of the night,” James said, bemused. “Like, ‘Are you OK? Why aren’t you live?’”

To the denizens of BookTok, James’ inability to decipher the symbols that give meaning to the world seems like a witch’s fairy tale curse.

But experts say it’s all too real.

“This isn’t a rare story,” said professor Subini Annamma of the Stanford Graduate School of Education. “His story is a story of how the education system fails Black disabled kids.”

Before he went viral, James rarely spoke about his disability, or the schooling that left him functionally illiterate.

In fact, he’d tried for decades to forget the segregated classroom in Bethlehem, Penn., where he languished from second through fifth grades.

But the flood of attention since his TikTok debut washed up memories he’d buried back home in the former steel town.

“When I was in elementary school, I was in special education,” James explained in an early viral clip. “They used to be able to put their hands on us.”

In his telling, violence was the norm in the class where he landed after being diagnosed with ADHD and other learning disabilities. (He also has obsessive compulsive disorder, though he says he was not diagnosed as a child.)

While his peers progressed from Shel Silverstein (“The Giving Tree”) to Roald Dahl (“James and the Giant Peach”) to J.K. Rowling (“Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”), James “just sat there” filling in worksheets, he said. Defiance was met with armlocks, chokeholds and body slams.

School is supposed to be a safe space, his new fans responded. Several asked if his former teacher was in jail.

But Annamma and other experts said what happened to James is not only legal, but textbook.

“He talks about being held with his arms across his chest — that’s restraint and seclusion,” a controversial practice that is disproportionately used on Black kids with disabilities, Annamma said. “That’s about compliance. It’s not about learning.”

Black students such as James are far more likely to learn in segregated special ed classrooms, where such physical discipline is the rule, federal civil rights data show.

“I ended up getting restrained two, three, four, five times a day,” he said. “It was torture.”

The memories bubble up from his body as he talks during an interview. He becomes his classmates, neck craned and eyes bulging in terror. His teacher, racing toward him in a lather. His muscular arms encircle his chest, hauling him up on his tiptoes. Then boom — 9-year-old Oliver hits the wall.

“I was just crying and crying and crying and crying,” he recalled recently, his shoulders slumped as he replayed the moment in the small Costa Mesa apartment he shares with Halkias and her son. “But I also remember that feeling of, like, [the teacher] won.”

The feeling haunted him through his teens, playing running back for a high school he never attended. He told his teammates he was enrolled at the vocational school down the block. In reality, he took the short bus from a segregated special ed program 20 minutes away.

It stalked him on the streets, where he briefly trafficked guns to help support his mother, court records show. It followed him to federal prison, where he spent his early 20s.

Rather than insulate him from mistreatment, as it often does for white children, a disability diagnosis pushed James to the margins, as it does for many students of color, said professor Jyoti Nanda of Golden Gate University.

According to the Department of Justice, at least a quarter of incarcerated adults spent their school years in special education.

After prison, James fell into fitness, first in Bethlehem and then in Orange County, where he woos wealthy clients with roadside acrobatics and breezy fits of strength. He dreams of becoming a motivational speaker, but makes his living as a personal trainer, advertising his business doing chin-ups on street lights, push-ups on sidewalks, one-armed handstands in the median.

“If you knew how to read, you probably wouldn’t have to do this,” he remembers telling himself.

But every time he tried, the feeling overwhelmed him.

“It’s like someone’s holding you upside down, and your blood’s rushing to your head — you know that feeling?” James explained as he and Halkias sorted the new books fans had sent him. “And then at the exact same time there’s also water dripping down your face, and [it’s] like someone’s holding your arms from wiping the water off?

“That’s how it feels every single time I read a word. I feel that feeling the whole page.”

According to BookTok, that sentence should be in past tense.

James is a reader now, his fans insist. Finishing “Anne Frank” and “The Outsiders” by S.E. Hinton proves he’s overcome the poverty he grew up with and the racialized trauma he suffered in special ed.

Not everyone is thrilled with the reaction.

“There’s a lot of ‘I’m the nice savior white lady who can help you with this,’” said Annamma, the Stanford professor.

Her observation echoed broader criticism of BookTok, which has overwhelmingly elevated white authors and influencers above writers and readers of color.

“I really hope [James] gets connected with the Black disabled community,” the scholar said. “He doesn’t have to be someone’s pet project.”

In the viral version of James’ story, he whispered the five magic words to the algorithm — “What’s up! I can’t read” — and BookTok appeared to grant him his wish. Literacy. And an audience of thousands to cheer him along.

In reality, BookTok discovered him in medias res — in the middle of his journey.

“I did it for a whole year with no one on there — I just talked to the camera,” James said. “I used to be on there for two hours with zero people.”

Then one day while he was sitting in his van, the magic words just came out.

Ten minutes later, he was internet famous.

There’s nothing mysterious about James’ inability to read. The real question is why he decided, at age 33, to learn. Or at least to try.

The reason? Last December, he found out he was going to be a father.

“That was a big surprise,” James said. “A very, very, very, very, very big surprise.”

In Halkias’ telling, James’ first response was panic. Then she suffered a miscarriage. When they decided to try to have a child, James committed himself to reading every day. He did it live on TikTok to keep himself accountable.

“I just wanted to read for a little bit, maybe a couple of people like it, and just go from there,” he said. “I just wanted to get these things off my chest.”

He read doing push-ups, practicing handstands and skating at the beach. He confessed his secret at least half a dozen times before it landed him on anyone’s “For You” page.

To be sure, landing on BookTok helped. Librarians showered his efforts with praise. Teachers noticed when he improved. Fellow readers sent stacks of their favorite books to his door: “Black Buck” and “Watchmen” and the Percy Jackson series, compliments of complete strangers.

For a time, at least, the community embraced him.

But it didn’t teach him to read.

He did that himself, a word at a time.

One day, he hopes, he’ll teach his son.

January 1, 2023. Tags: , , , , . Books, Education, Kindness. Leave a comment.

Gov. Kate Brown signed a law to allow Oregon students to graduate without proving they can write or do math. She doesn’t want to talk about it.


Gov. Kate Brown signed a law to allow Oregon students to graduate without proving they can write or do math. She doesn’t want to talk about it.

By Hillary Borrud

August 6, 2021

For the next five years, an Oregon high school diploma will be no guarantee that the student who earned it can read, write or do math at a high school level.

Gov. Kate Brown had demurred earlier this summer regarding whether she supported the plan passed by the Legislature to drop the requirement that students demonstrate they have achieved those essential skills. But on July 14, the governor signed Senate Bill 744 into law.

Through a spokesperson, the governor declined again Friday to comment on the law and why she supported suspending the proficiency requirements.

Brown’s decision was not public until recently, because her office did not hold a signing ceremony or issue a press release and the fact that the governor signed the bill was not entered into the legislative database until July 29, a departure from the normal practice of updating the public database the same day a bill is signed.

The Oregonian/OregonLive asked the governor’s office when Brown’s staff notified the Legislature that she had signed the bill. Charles Boyle, the governor’s deputy communications director, said the governor’s staff notified legislative staff the same day the governor signed the bill.

Boyle said in an emailed statement that suspending the reading, writing and math proficiency requirements while the state develops new graduation standards will benefit “Oregon’s Black, Latino, Latina, Latinx, Indigenous, Asian, Pacific Islander, Tribal, and students of color.”

“Leaders from those communities have advocated time and again for equitable graduation standards, along with expanded learning opportunities and supports,” Boyle wrote.

Lawmakers and the governor did not pass any major expansion of learning opportunities or supports for Black, Indigenous and students of color during this year’s legislative session.

The requirement that students demonstrate freshman- to sophomore-level skills in reading, writing and, particularly, math led many high schools to create workshop-style courses to help students strengthen their skills and create evidence of mastery. Most of those courses have been discontinued since the skills requirement was paused during the pandemic before lawmakers killed it entirely.

Democrats in the legislature overwhelmingly supported ending the longtime proficiency requirement, while Republicans criticized it as a lowering of academic standards. A couple lawmakers crossed party lines on the votes.

Proponents said the state needed to pause Oregon’s high school graduation requirements, in place since 2009 but already suspended during the pandemic, until at least the class of 2024 graduates in order for leaders to reexamine its graduation requirements. Recommendations for new standards are due to the Legislature and Oregon Board of Education by September 2022.

However, since Oregon education officials have long insisted they would not impose new graduation requirements on students who have already begun high school, new requirements would not take effect until the class of 2027 at the very earliest. That means at least five more classes could be expected to graduate without needing to demonstrate proficiency in math and writing.

Much of the criticism of the graduation requirements was targeted at standardized tests. Yet Oregon, unlike many other states, did not require students to pass a particular standardized test or any test at all. Students could demonstrate their ability to use English and do math via about five different tests or by completing an in-depth classroom project judged by their own teachers.

A variety of factors appear to have led to the lack of transparency around the governor’s bill signing decisions this summer. Staff in the secretary of the state Senate’s office are responsible for updating the legislative database when the governor signs a Senate bill. Secretary of the Senate Lori Brocker said a key staffer who deals with the governor’s office was experiencing medical issues during the 15-day period between when Brown signed Senate Bill 744 and the public database was updated to reflect that.

Still, a handful of bills that the governor signed into law on July 19 — including a bill to create a training program for childcare and preschool providers aimed at reducing suspensions and expulsions of very young children — were updated in the legislative database the same day she signed them and email notifications were sent out immediately to people who signed up to track the bills.

No notification ever went out regarding the governor’s signing of the graduation bill. That was because by the time legislative staff belatedly entered the information into the bill database on July 29, the software vendor had shut off bill updates to member of the media and the public who had requested them. They cut it off because of a July 21 system malfunction, said legislative information services Systems Architect Bill Sweeney.

September 11, 2022. Tags: , , , , , , , , . Dumbing down, Education, Social justice warriors. Leave a comment.

New York state ends literacy test for prospective teachers because too many blacks and Hispanics failed. I wonder if they will extend this to other areas.

The New York Times recently reported:

The Board of Regents on Monday eliminated a requirement that aspiring teachers in New York State pass a literacy test to become certified after the test proved controversial because black and Hispanic candidates passed it at significantly lower rates than white candidates.

And there you have it.

The radical left thinks that racial diversity is more important than competence.

I wonder if they will be extending this kind of insanity to other professions, such as to medical doctors who perform surgery to save people’s lives, or to engineers who design bridges that are safe and which are able support the weight of all the cars, trucks, and buses that drive across them, or to auto mechanics who fix the brakes on people’s cars so they don’t crash and die.

The New York Times once reported:

The rate of AIDS among black women is 27 times the rate among white women.

Based on the same logic, the test which detects HIV antibodies in the bloodstream is also racist, and therefore, should also be eliminated.


March 15, 2017. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , . Dumbing down, Education, Political correctness, Politics, Racism, Social justice warriors, War against achievement. 2 comments.

Councilwoman wants police department to hire black police officers who can’t read well enough to do their job

By Daniel Alman (aka Dan from Squirrel Hill)

October 18, 2015

A city councilwoman in Oakland, California, wants the police to lower their standards on their written test so more blacks can become police officers. The exam measures reading comprehension and other things that are necessary for the police to properly to their job.

You know what? I’m sick of fighting against this kind of nonsense. And I don’t live in that city anyway. So let them adopt her proposal. Let’s see what happens when a city hires police officers who don’t know how to read at the level that their job requires. It would make a great experiment.

The San Francisco Chronicle reports:

An Oakland City Council member who wants the Police Department to hire more African American officers has focused her attention on the written exam for new applicants — which is the point where many candidates get eliminated.

Councilwoman Desley Brooks suggested the department could consider lowering the passing score on the written test or getting rid of the exam altogether.

The exam… measures reading comprehension, and knowledge of certain vocabulary words — such as “corroborate.”

… the written exam is a critical indicator of whether an officer can fill out police reports, gather testimony from witnesses and comprehend the laws he or she has to enforce.

Note from Daniel Alman: If you like this blog post that I wrote, you can buy my books from amazon, and/or donate to me via PayPal, using the links below:

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October 18, 2015. Tags: , , , , , , , , , . Dumbing down, Education, Politics, Racism. 3 comments.

Can you name an author of a book – any author? These people’s can’t.


August 26, 2013. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Books, Education, Humor. 2 comments.

People who say U.S. public schools are “underfunded” have no idea what they are talking about.

The United States is tied for first place with Switzerland when it comes to annual spending per student on its public schools.

July 13, 2012. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , . Education, Politics. 1 comment.