"A child's learning is the funtion more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

New Front in the Reading Wars

First of all, let me say that I am enthusiastic about science and for what it may yield to educators and policymakers regarding learning and schooling. I use the future tense deliberately here, for as yet science has yielded very little that can be translated from neurology, cognitive science, or even psychology into educational strategies that may be deemed scientific. Education, after all, is a marginal science, if one at all. It occupies a ragged borderland between the social sciences and the humanities, leaving many educationists with an even more pronounced physics envy than the one normally attributed to more respected social scientists.

The phonics phonies and the Crackpots of the Code, on the other hand, have pretended for years that their preferred dogma constitutes a science of reading that must be adhered to for a child to learn to read properly. Their crusade culminated in 2000 when Doug Carnine and Reid Lyon were able to stack the deck of the National Reading Panel to arrive at an ideological conclusion on reading strategy that was promoted as a scientifically-based conclusion. Scientific it was not, but the Panel did prove that when you toss out all the studies that do not support your preconceived conclusions, it is easy to come up with evidence to overwhelmingly support the conclusion you set out to prove in the first place. The NRP may be thought of as the Cheney Method for going to war against the whole language terrorists: manipulate and manufacture evidence to push your agenda, and suppress or marginalize evidence to the contrary.

The fact that legitimate scholars were not duped by Carnine and Lyon has set off a new round of thuggish efforts to force the adoption of the one way “science” of the phonics fundamentalists. This time the masterminds at ED are using Lyon’s fake science to try to bully education schools by threatening the accrediting organizations that determine who gets the stamp of federal approval. And seeing how NCATE has thus far only responded by saying how high when ED says jump, I suggest it is time for an organized response by reading and literacy scholars if the door is to kept open to more legitimate approaches to literacy instruction. If you doubt it, have a look the bottom line message of a report (Full pdf report) sponsored by NCTQ:

EDUCATION SCHOOLS THAT DO NOT TEACH THE SCIENCE OF READING SHOULD NOT BE ELIGIBLE FOR ACCREDITATION. (p. 44)

So this is what they do at NCTQ with the millions they get handed by ED.

And, of course, a call in to Staples at the NY Times is all that is needed to get Brent bent about the evil racist government schools that refuse to embrace the new scientific ways of reading instruction. Would he be surprised that the claims of this new “scientific” phonics are the same ones made in the 1840s by the Latin Grammar School masters of Boston?

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