Replacing Phonics and Spelling With Word Bingo and Politics
The first item here is a sheet sent home with parents at an school Open House in Becker, MN acknowledging that proper spelling is actually important. It is a delight to have recognition of the importance of correct spelling, something that has fallen out of favor in "progressive" education. The Becker school deserves credit for that. However, the "high standard for real-world use" put out by the school is astonishing to behold. Sixth graders are being asked to master what should be covered four and five years earlier. The letter itself frequently violates proper grammar usage, reflecting an absence of standards in normal English usage.
The second item here quotes whole language leaders describing proponents of phonics as being part of something akin to a right-wing conspiracy, another astonishing piece. Is it possible that education activists really are just parents who expect their children to be competent to read, write, compute and know their history and geography to prepare them for a lifetime of success? Looking carefully, one will recognize education activists as parents and teachers from all political persuasions and all parts of the political spectrum. Education excellence truly transcends all boundaries.
Item #1, First Page (Letter will be faxed upon request.)Open House 1999
Item #1, Second PageBecker Middle School
1 the 35 when 69 time
2 of 36 we 70 could
3 and 37 there 71 no
4 a 38 can 72 make
5 to 39 an 73 than
6 in 40 your 74 first
7 is 41 which 75 been
8 you 42 their 76 its
9 that 43 said 77 who
10 it 44 if 78 now
11 he 45 do 79 people
12 for 46 will 80 my
13 was 47 each 81 made
14 on 48 about 82 over
15 are 49 how 83 did
16 as 50 up 84 down
17 with 51 out 85 only
18 his 52 them 86 way
19 they 53 then 87 find
20 at 54 she 88 use
21 be 55 many 89 may
22 this 56 some 90 water
23 from 57 so 91 long
24 I 58 these 92 little
25 have 59 would 93 very
26 or 60 other 94 after
27 by 61 into 95 words
28 one 62 has 96 called
29 had 63 more 97 just
30 not 64 her 98 where
31 but 65 two 99 most
32 what 66like 100 know
33 all 67 him
34 were 68 see
Please put me on the refrigerator
From: "J. E. Stone" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Patrick Groff: The Economic and Political
The Economics and Politics of the Whole Language Movement
By Patrick Groff
Professor of Education Emeritus
San Diego State University
As the ranks of young nonreaders swelled in the early 90's I came across a well respected special education journal article, critically analyzing why whole language had gained such popularity even though not supported by empirical research. (Learning Disabilities, Research and Practice, Volume 9, Number 3 1994 published by the Council for Exceptional Children. This article written by Michalek Pressley and Joan Rankin is called "More About Whole Language Methods of Reading Instruction for Students At Risk For Early Reading Failure" page 157-168)
Reading this credible article on the philosophical and political roots of the Whole Language movement propelled me to thoroughly investigate whether the authors' charges were accurate. I found myself immersed in an "Alice in Wonderland" atmosphere in the NIU Library archives reading papers presented a decade earlier at the major Whole Language Conferences. No wonder the Whole Language educators' theorists ignored criticisms of any empirical research support! The issue just wasn't important. Although teachers in the trenches adopted Whole Language without a commitment or understanding of the radical underpinnings, the major proponents in Arizona and Champaign, Illinois were seeking nothing less than massive societal change.
The article I read in "Learning Disabilities" described the philosophical underpinnings of some current prominent whole language theorists:
Some critical theorists advocating whole language oppose traditional reading instruction, asserting that it is a tool of the ruling classes to oppress the underclasses, a mechanism for assuring the continuation of the class structure that now exists in America. Phonics, basal reading programs, and explicit forms of teaching in general are presented as instruments of capitalists that are used to fill the minds of the disenfranchised with the ideas traditionally supported by the favored groups in American society"
Patrick Shannon, a professor of education at Pennsylvania State University whose comments inspired this commentary, influenced reading instruction throughout the United States as an author of nine books, as an active participant on the Teacher As Researcher Committee of the International Reading Association, and as director of the National Council of Teachers of English Commission on Reading. In a revealing article, Phonics and Dialects of English, Shannon describes how individuals who speak lower class dialects or are regionally transplanted are discriminated against when expected to learn phonics. The pretense of a single set of phonics rules is not only confusing; it damages people's chances for school success. Most standardized reading tests have a section on phonics that asks students to match rhyming words or to identify words with similar sounds. The problem is that what rhymes in one dialect doesn't in another . . . Even if children were not tested with biased phonemic items however, it would still be damaging to subject children to instruction based on a single set of phonics rules."
Harvey Daniels, another popular whole language theorist who is from Illinois, and author of the best selling book "Best Practices," publicly assailed reading programs in which teachers choose what students read. He charged that such authoritarian control had the same roots as the control which keeps the kitchen help and indentured servants from making it to the Thanksgiving Dinner table.
Only after repeated media reports about declining state reading scores did some whole language educators begin reintroducing salt and pepper phonics instruction. School curriculum directors began providing phonics worksheets or short ten minute lessons which teachers could introduce into the school day. School officials around the country told the confused public, We never eliminated the phonics. We always combined it with the whole language. If a child comes across a word he/she doesnt know, phonics is one of the strategies that the child might elect to use. Everyday the children receive phonics instruction.
Meanwhile whole language advocates, such as Daniels, were advising teachers on a deceptive new public relations tactic: ..the name whole language may be finished . . . What classroom teacher would want to publicly affiliate with whole language in this climate - when virtually every school has at least one implacable right-wing parent, incited through newsletters and trained in church-based workshops to undermine, humiliate, and root out educators who espouse the approach? Indeed, it seems easier to just drop the terminology-to simply be a holistic teacher, rather than talk about it. Why not just quietly attend the meetings of your local TAWL group (soon to be picketed just like abortion clinics, no doubt), and rename your classroom program integrated . . . Make no mistake: the opponents of whole language want schools to teach submission and obedience. They want graduates who are just smart enough to throw the correct switch and just fearful enough to do it quickly.