One of my summer resolutions was to clear out my email box. I made little subfolders for my Yahoo groups, as well as for various topics and ideas. Members of my homeschooling loops are always posting suggestions for sites, books, and products they love, and I threw all these into a file marked "Homeschooling Recommendations." I barely glanced at the following before I tossed it into its folder:
I know everyone is going to jump up and down and claim that this is an ad or something, but I swear it's not. I just happened to run across this web-site and wanted to share. You can look at it or not, it's up to you. It's a digital magazine called Gobbledygook that has short stories for students in grades 3rd-6th with assessment questions after each story.
I was just google searching for reading magazines with short stories for kids and came across it. I downloaded a third grade issue for my son after looking at the free sample story on the site. There are assessment questions after each story in the issues.
Even though my son is homeschooled, I'm still having him take the standardized tests at his grade level. So, this really helps him prepare for the reading portion.
Anyway, enough blabbing I suppose. Check it out if you get a chance...
If I'd been reading in more than a cursory fashion, a few things would have set my alarms off.
I've posted about a book or game I love. Probably everyone does. "This is the best thing ever! Blah blah blah, my child learned his times tables in ten minutes and loves math now, blither blither, if it hadn't been for this I would have sent my child to boarding school, blah blah, degree from Harvard and he's only twelve years old, blahbiddy blah blah."
Generally there's something disarming about that tone of naked enthusiasm. And that tone was entirely missing from key sentences in this posting. But I wasn't reading, as I said. I was classifying. This went into my "recommendations to read later" file, as did the following, posted by the same woman a couple of weeks later:
Hello everyone. I'm fairly new to this group. Anywho, I ran across this great resource for science or social studies called "Jabberwocky." It's a service from this company where they'll create a custom set of 45 "Fact or Fiction" cards on any subject for you that you can download and print for use with your kids.
I just requested a set of cards for my son's study of the Earth's layers. I haven't received it yet because it looks like it takes them five days to make my custom card deck, but the free sample I downloaded on their web-site about George Washington was really well done. I have a feeling I'll be using their service for my other units of study too.
Anyway, I hope no one thinks I'm advocating it or anything...just want to share what I'm using in my classroom.
Oh, you can check this service out at
Again — sorting, not reading. Or I would have noticed that the address happened to be the same site she mentioned earlier — it was just a different page. Nothing wrong with that, except that her subject line read "Me again... I thought I'd pass along another superb resource!"
Nobody talks like that. And it's not "another" resource. It's something else she found on the same site she mentioned a couple of weeks ago.
A few weeks after the posting above, Lisa posted once more, with the subject heading "Neat Stuff! Check This Out...":
If you get a chance, check out this company:
I'm using many of their materials with my son already.
Someone posted a response:
Moderator, could you search the posts by lisa_proesel? I am no longer sure she is giving us unbiased recommendations.
Someone checked an information page on the site to which Lisa had so incessantly referred. Under "Editorial Staff — Intermediate," who could that be but — Lisa Proesel!
Someone else went ahead and contacted the company. She got a huge letter in reply, which she obligingly posted to the group, and which was trying so hard to be friendly it overshot straight into condescension.
I visited the web site, found their contact address, and sent the following:
A member of a homeschooling loop I'm on contacted you recently, concerning some postings that had been made regarding your company. She posted the reply she received. Though you may not recall your exact words to her (assuming I'm addressing the person she reached), can you please confirm that the following quotations from the reply she received at least represent your company's sentiments?
"To respond to your inquiry, 'Lisa Proesel' is a pen name that many of our employees use in order to promote our company at the grass roots level. Since the far majority of our employees and contributors are current teachers, we ask that they use this, and other monikers so that there is never a question as to whether the school district for which they work is also advocating our products. Also, many of the home school parents that work for The Extra Reading Company have part-time jobs in many different employment sectors. They also never want it to appear that their primary employers are advocating our products through them as agents."
"...deciding whether or not to use the product of a company based on its promotional methodologies would be akin to choosing not to drink a particular soft drink because you see too many advertisements on television for such. Our posts are designed simply to make you aware of our website, nothing more."
(not a pen name)
Editor, Secular Homeschooling Magazine
I got a reply later that evening, from Patsy Parker. She told me that every email the company sends has a disclaimer at the bottom stating that the email can only be read by the addressee, and must not be forwarded, shared, or looked at over one's shoulder in a crowded café. Please let the person in question know that they'd been violating the company's copyrights.
I sent back the following (which may be read, reread, quoted, forwarded, talked about over the phone with your mom, spray-painted on any wall you can rightfully call your own, embroidered into a sampler, or tattooed on your thigh):
Dear Ms. Parker,
Thank you for the information. However, you haven't addressed the question I brought up in my email. Does The Extra Reading Company encourage its employees to use "Lisa Proesel" as a pen name when said employees post about the merits of its materials on loops and forums? I'd rather not have to print "No comment" as your response to this question.
Editor, Secular Homeschooling Magazine
Well, my question was still about someone else's correspondence, so she really couldn't give me any answer. If I had any questions of my own, she could forward them to someone who might be able to help.
I had made it clear from my very first email that I wasn't just a vaguely interested civilian. I was obviously planning to write something about her company; she was apparently under the impression that if she did enough non-talking, whatever I said couldn't be too bad.
Or else maybe she hoped that if she annoyed me enough, I'd give up and go away.
She should have been able to guess from the name of my magazine that giving up and going away just isn't my style.
She wanted me to start from scratch? Fine.
Dear Ms. Parker,
A homeschooling loop I'm on has a member named Lisa Proesel. Proesel has posted twice — once about a company called The Extra Reading Company, once about a resource called Jabberwocky. In both emails, Proesel stressed that she knew it would sound like she was advertising, but that she just happened to come across these while searching online for educational materials. The name Lisa Proesel is on your company's masthead. Is this a coincidence? I'd like to know for an article I'll be writing for the homeschooling magazine I edit.
Editor, Secular Homeschooling Magazine
Ignore that, lady.
The next morning, I found the following in my mailbox. Please note two things: it did NOT have the infamous disclaimer at the top or the bottom or anywhere else, and the writer expressed deep concern that I not quote him out of context. Therefore, I believe I can do no better than to reprint his letter in its entirety, without correcting spelling, grammar, or punctuation:
Dear Mrs. Markus,
I was forwarded your questions from one of our customer support representatives some time yesterday. I apologize for not getting back to you sooner; however it took me some time this morning to investigate the matter fully within our company.
To be frank, although I was aware that our digital marketing department was involved in grass roots advertising, I did not know that any sort of deception was involved in such. I have reviewed these advertising methods after speaking with several of our personnel and in response have issued a company-wide directive that they cease immediately.
It appears that since some of the contributors of stories and articles to our digital magazines like to use pen names, our marketing department thought such would be a good idea for advertising as well. While I think it's entirely appropriate for an author or editor to choose to utilize a pen name, I don't believe it has a place within our advertising methodologies.
As a very young company, we will continue to make educators aware of our products at the grass roots level. However, I have directed any further advertising measures to be forthright as of this point onward.
I believe our employees are good, hardworking, people that simply made an error in judgment while wrapped up in the excitement of being part of a brand new company.
Finally, since it seems you work on some level for a publication, I would appreciate you not using any of my statements of this letter out of context. If you would kindly forward a copy of your finished article to me, I would appreciate that as well.
You may forward any further inquires about our company to me directly.
Joshua S. Mason
President & CEO
The Extra Reading Company
The guy calls me "Mrs." (completely inappropriate, since although I'm married, Markus is my birth name) when I've used "Ms." in every letter I've sent them. He tells me that it "seems" I "work on some level for a publication" when I've flat-out told him exactly what magazine I edit. And then he tells me what he'd appreciate my doing.
And by the way — the email address where I can forward any further "inquires" to him directly? It's the same email address the company has posted on its site as a general contact addy.
I'd like to believe that he and his employees are going to do the right thing from this point on, but excuse me if I don't hold my breath.
As someone on the loop this all started on pointed out, this kind of thing really messes up loop dynamics. People who want to talk about a book or product start to think maybe they shouldn't, because they don't want to sound like they're selling something. But as homeschoolers, we rely on exactly this kind of recommendation, because most of us are fairly short of disposable cash and we don't want to throw it away on something we won't end up using. And the best way to gauge the worth of a product is to hear about it from a fellow homeschooler.
And these loops are our communities. They're where we go to relax and hang out. I know we're supposed to be wary of weirdos, but I thought that meant not giving out too much personal information in case of potential perverts.
Several people on the loop in question mentioned that what Extra Reading was doing might be against anti-spam laws. I don't know, and although I'd be happy to hear that they got into trouble because of their disingenuous employees, that's not the only issue here. What's important is that plenty of people in this company thought that Lisa Proesel-ing was just fine.
And they still might, for all I know. How long did it take me to get through to someone who finally, belatedly disapproved of this behavior in his own company?
Speaking of which:
Either Mason really didn't know this was going on, in which case he's a lousy CEO; or he did, in which case he's a weasel and a snake.
Either way, keep an eye out for Lisa Proesel.