Catherine Snow remembers Peg

I first worked with Peg In the mid 1990’s, when the National Academy of Sciences determined it was time to undertake a consensus report on early literacy development – that was yet another point in the history of the field when it was thought that the ‘science of reading’ offered clear direction to educators. I was asked to chair the National Research Council Committee entitled Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children; experienced early childhood education researcher Susan Burns was appointed the Study Director, and she had the perspicacity to bring Peg Griffin into the team leading and carrying out the project. We would all benefit today if Peg were here to comment, with her characteristic acumen but not without a twinkle in her eye, on the ridiculous extremes to which this decade’s commitment to the ‘science of reading’ is driving us.

Peg’s insights into literacy development had a firm foundation in her training in sociolinguistics, and had been further nurtured during her time working at the Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition in San Diego. She was not identified with any particular view of how to teach reading, and thus could bring her critical analytic skills to bear in evaluating contributions from across the full spectrum of views on the topic. She exercised those skills at every step over the three years it took us to produce the Committee report. Understanding language development and language variation is absolutely central to making sense of the findings about literacy development and the distribution of risk for literacy. Peg’s insights were thus crucial to the Committee’s product.

Even more importantly, though, Peg’s sense of humor and uniquely quirky view of the world were crucial to Susan’s and my well-being, as we navigated this complex terrain, attempting to reach consensus among a group of people who started out with firm commitments to disparate, even opposed perspectives. Peg’s consistent good humor, unfailingly accurate acerbic observations, and reliable ability to bring relevant information that challenged others’ thinking into the conversation served the purposes of ensuring a better report and of keeping us motivated and engaged.

Fortunately, after the committee report appeared Peg agreed to stay involved, collaborating on the many rounds of PD and conference presentations that followed the 1998 appearance of the report, and collaborating on a version designed for parents and preschool educators (Starting out Right, 1999), two different volumes designed to draw out lessons for teacher education (Preparing our teachers: opportunities for better reading instruction in 2002 and Knowledge to support the teaching of reading: Preparing teachers for a changing world in 2005), as well as various articles and chapters. All of those undertakings were much more fun (and the products were better) because she was involved.

Peg was a source of wisdom on so many topics beyond reading instruction: which congressional districts were featuring tight races so one’s contributions of time or money would make the most difference, how to minimize side effects from chemotherapy, good cheap restaurants in DC, and how to make a great martini. She practiced the values of being politically informed and involved, of traveling light, of living among people you disagreed with in order to get to know them, of forming lifelong bonds with other people’s children, and of keeping all one’s options open.

Not a bad model for the rest of us.

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