Why Reading Instruction Must Be
Education Main Page
The title of this book tells it all...Retarding America: The Imprisonment of Potential. This study on juvenile facilities finds that the most common denominator among all those incarcerated is poor reading skills ... not single family homes or any other socioeconomic factor. Proficient readers perform well in school. This builds true self-esteem which cannot be taught in a "course." Success in school leads to success in life.
Reading is the most basic component of education. Yet, reading instruction has fallen victim to Progressive Education that replaced Traditional Education in the 1960s. With the social tumult of the 60s, the Department of Education was founded and peopled with educators intent upon succeeding in bringing about a social revolution. As the result, social justice took a first while actual education took a back seat. Unfortunately, as the result of using our schools as cultural laboratories, those children this ideology intended to help have been those most harmed.
It has been about ten years since I "gave up" trying to "fix" education in my hometown. The effort was sadly defeating and depressing. I retreated to my garden and cried thinking of all of those bright eager children I had taught who came to me in the 7th and 8th grades unable to read regardless of the fact that their elementary records showed As and Bs. Their schools had failed to teach the most basic educational skill. I thought of all the children who would continue to fail who were bright, eager children who deserved better than the destiny that awaited them because of their poor basic skills. Why had this happened?
Progressive Education found acceptance in the social turmoil of the late sixties. It was "kind." It was "fun." It was "child-centered." All of this was a form of jargon of the time which meant that it was condescending, assuming that the Black children in those classrooms were unable to achieve the same standard as the white students in the class. The result was that Black children were even more adversely affected than the white children (also adversely affected). Ten years ago 49% of 17 year old black males were functionally illiterate and there was a 30% drop out rate. It is worse now. (Those who "had a heart" for education were elected to our School Board over those who had A Plan. Marva Collins succeeds in her inner city Chicago schools because she sees potential excellence in every child and takes "learning disabled," "hyperactive," "ADD", et. al. and actually teaches them. Check out her reading list.)
I discovered that reading instruction was political. Amazing! I thought that what my parents paid for in my university classes in education was based on what empirical research shows works to teach children to read, write, compute, and understand the world around them through history and science. No. In 1967 Ken Goodman wrote an article entitled "Reading, a Psycholinguistic Guessing Game" and a whole "movement" evolved. Meetings to rival Jonathan Edwards religious revivals brought newly "empowered" teachers out of their closets to hail the "new" classroom in which the child would be "empowered" with the teacher being the "guide on the side." They opted to follow the path of child development expert, Rousseau. Rousseau's novel Emile relates the tale of a boy whose tutor followed him around "teaching" as he was asked. Eventually, Emile was ready to read and, of course, at that point his tutor stepped up. Rousseau is touted as a WL (Whole Language) hero in Ken and Yetta Goodman's Whole Language Catalog, the bible of the WL Movement. The fact that Rousseau's only credentials at being an expert on child development was writing Emile and siring five children that he required his mistress to leave at foundling homes is disregarded. Paulo Frere is also one of the Goodmans' inspirations. This defrocked Jesuit priest was famous in Nicaragua for being a "liberation theologian" and is now highly regarded for his "liberation pedagogy." Michael Apple another of the Goodman's favorite WL philosophers sees the alphabet as the province of white children. Vygotsky sees schools as cultural laboratories. Of course, all of this was to occur in a values free environment, because religion has no place in a classroom.
Teachers who had been instructed by those professors in the colleges of education who had bought this philosophy of education with a "born again" fervor formed a coalition and controlled the dissemination of information. They were "inside," experts with taxpayer dollars to promote their agenda. Those who voiced concerns got labeled "flat earthers" against progress who unfortunately had no money to fight the establishment that circled their wagons and resisted any honest debate. These "experts" controlled/control the "grassroots" efforts to "fix" the schools. Their solution? Always. More money. Think happy thoughts and just believe. Unfortunately, the think system didn't work in the Music Man and it hasn't worked since the man that "had a heart for education" got elected to the School Board in 1992. Time passes with poor results and they simply repackage the old methods and pull a guilt trip on the public for not being "supportive" and continue on with the same failure.
I will relate one incident off the reading topic that exemplifies how education can/has profited individuals in the education establishment in my community. When I heard of block scheduling coming to the high school our daughter would be attending, I researched the topic and found a study by Dr. David Bateson done on a group of over 20,000 students who had used the block scheduling method for about 20 years. His conclusion: Block Scheduling is "detrimental to academic achievement" too much material in (too little time for repetition and reinforcement). We contacted the professor personally and got his study which we then presented to our administration. The result was that at the parents meeting held to present and perhaps adopt this "innovation" the information was withheld from the public. The parents group revved up by cheerleaders (those supervisors who visited a school that had just adopted block scheduling) approved the "innovation." Eventually, the academic supervisor used our children as the subject of her dissertation. She went on to become Superintendent of another school district. Another supervisor published articles enhancing his career in professional journals. Glossy brochures were printed at taxpayer cost to promote the agenda throughout the Southeast. Teachers who had used the method only a couple of weeks became experts overnight and traveled to promote the concept, leaving their own classrooms to substitute teachers. It is now universally accepted that block scheduling is "detrimental to academic achievement." And my community, funded by my tax dollars, is the "expert" that helped spread the contagion.
Saddened by the state of our schools and the lack of openness in debate, I retreated to my garden, pulling weeds and planting seeds that would actually show results. Today I see little green signs popping up throughout my neighborhood promoting a new thrust toward improving our schools. I cringe with every one I see remembering the demonization that came with stepping up to offer programs that have proven effective. I remember "friends" walking on the other side of the street so they would not have to speak. I recall the letter to the editor that accused me of being a member of the Ku Klux Klan.
(Now in 2010 I must note they have abandoned block scheduling...after spending lots of money with the "innovation" and its promotion. Who befitted? The administrators that promoted it.)
And then I remember those children who motivated me to get involved. My students (Black and White) with eager faces and trusting eyes who wanted to learn, but could not read their 7th grade textbooks.
I knew their future. I tried to do something about it.
So sad. I understand this "new reform" movement is more of the same Outcome Based Education I fought long ago, repackaged with a brand spanking new name.
And so I write this article and add this Education section to my website. With little hope that anything will change.
Sharman Burson Ramsey