(Guest post by Greg Forster)
In the past I’ve stayed out of the Reading Wars, but no longer. OCPA carries my latest, in which I compare whole language to leechcraft:
Whole language is based on a fundamentally wrong understanding of what reading is. It’s not a self-contained skill like throwing a baseball or riding a bike. I feel confident in asserting that nobody in the whole history of the world has ever read anything for any reason other than to access the content of what they’re reading. It’s a testament to the resilience of the human spirit that our children somehow manage to learn to read in spite of the methods we use to teach them.
For 17 years, since I got into the education reform business, I’ve been trying to convince people that there is no educational “one best way” that works for all children, and that goes for reading, too. But just because there is no one approach that works for everyone doesn’t mean there aren’t some approaches that don’t work at all. There’s no “one best medicine” that cures all patients, but leeches don’t work for any patients.
When it comes to getting public schools to use phonics instruction, I counsel despair:
There is nothing—I mean it, nothing—we can do to get teachers in public schools to drop whole language. They believe it works. And when the classroom door closes, they’re going to do what they believe works….
The bottom line is that teaching is not a science, it’s an art. There is such a thing as a science of education, such as when we conduct empirical studies and find out that phonics produces better results when the teachers actually do it, but that big programs designed to bribe them to do it don’t cause them to do it. However, the act of teaching itself is not something that can be engineered like a machine. Those classroom doors, which the technocratic reformers who want central control hate so much, simply have to close.
And despair leads to . . . school choice.
Use your mastery of phonics to read it and let me know what you think!