The founders of whole language (e.g., Kenneth Goodman, Frank Smith) asserted in the late 1960's that their so-called revolutionary approach to reading was a "scientific" alternative to then existing approaches; e.g., instruction stressing essential skills such as decoding words using knowledge of sound-symbol correspondence. However, early papers that laid the groundwork for the whole language cult movement reveal that whole language does not at all rest on a scientific way of thinking.
In fact, the revolutionary whole language conception of reading as a "psycholinguistic guessing game" is a bizarre fantasy--a fantasy that managed to catch on (and make many thousands of children illiterate) because students in schools of education naively trusted their "literacy" professors--who were more interested in getting tenure, making a reputation, and selling themselves as innovators and self-inflating champions of social justice than they were at making sure new teachers (1) are guided by scientific research (which does not support whole language) and (2) know exactly how to teach reading effectively.
In some fields (medicine, law, engineering) this combination of self-aggrandizement, immorality, and ineptitude is called malpractice, fraud, and criminal negligence. In education, it is called "philosophical differences" and "academic freedom." Apparently, school children and new teachers are supposed to pay for the academic freedom of education professors.
Following are quotations from leaders in whole language--along with commentary [in brackets]. Many quotations have been supplied by Dr. Kerry Hempenstall, whose excellent publications can be found at http://www.rmit.edu.au/departments/ps/staffpgs/hempens.htm.
Without exception, the quotations assert ideas that are false, contrary to scientific research, and pernicious in their destructive effects on children. The quotations show a relentless (and a near hysterical) rejection of the commonsense (and research-supported) ideas that
1. Children generally need a lot of help learning hard skills.
2. The job of teachers is to teach.
3. Most children need to be taught systematically and directly which sounds go with which letters, so that children can accurately and easily "decode" words rather than simply guess at them.
Yet, the consistency with which whole languagists reject common sense and decades of experimental research about the importance of explicit and systematic (rather than occasional and poorly designed) "phonics" instruction" is instructive. It reveals the duplicity in recent claims that whole language is "balanced" instruction. In fact, the word "balance" is a rhetorical device used to make it appear as if whole language were consistent with the preponderance of scientific research, is not harmful to children, and is not an insular cult. [See Louisa Cook Moats on "The illusion of balanced reading instruction," at http://www.edexcellence.net/library/wholelang/moats.html.]
I. Learning to Read is as Easy as Learning a Language. There is No Need for Systematic Instruction.
1. "Literacy learning proceeds naturally if the environment supports young children's experimentation with print.'' Schickendanz, J. A. (1986). More than the ABC's: The early stages of reading and writing. Washington, DC: NAEYC.
[This is one of many trite statements that whole languagists try to elevate to the level of grand theory to support a mountain of nonsensical propositions and pernicious "practices." What exactly would experimentation with print look like? Turning books this way and that? Copying letters? Making up letters? Are these examples of literacy learning or are they pre-literacy play that, without instruction, leads straight to illiteracy?]
2. "Children must develop reading strategies by and for themselves." (p.178) Weaver, C. (1988). Reading process and practice. Exeter, NH: Heinemann.
[This is the basic constructivist mantra about "learners" discovering knowledge on their own. Advocates of this notion would never allow physicians to discover brain surgery strategies by operating on advocates' children. They would never dive out of an airplane in order to discover the strategy for opening a parachute. They would never toss their children into a rip current to allow their children to discover the strategy for not drowning. But somehow it is fine to let other people's children discover how to read--which, in the long run, means to discover what life is like when you are illiterate.]
3. "All proficient readers have acquired an implicit knowledge of how to read, but this knowledge has been developed through the practice of reading, not through anything that is taught at school." Smith, F. (1973). Psychology and reading. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
[It is hard to tell if this is to be taken seriously. How exactly does a person (who does not know how to read) learn to read by reading? This would appear to be a logical impossibility. Yet, making instructional claims that are logically absurd is nothing new in whole language. Besides, does anyone suggest that children learn to read by, for example, dancing or by making sock puppets? And how is "the practice of reading" not something taught in school?]
4. "When language (oral or written) is an integral part of functioning of a community and is used around and with neophytes, it is learned 'incidentally.'" Artwergen, B., Edelsky, C. & Flores, B. (1987). Whole language: What's new? Reading Teacher 41, 144-154.
[This is an example of airy whole language twaddle that barely rises to the level of a wish passed off as if it were a universal law of anthropology. Of course it is true for some children. But without systematic instruction, many children remain illiterate. What sort of morality allows writers to make such hyperbolic claims that are akin to sales pitches at medicine shows?]
5. "Learning is continuous, spontaneous, and effortless, requiring no particular attention, conscious motivation, or specific reinforcement." (p. 432) Smith, F. (1992). Learning to read: The never-ending debate. Phi Delta Kappan, 74, 432-441.
[This statement is true if you are talking about sucking a lollipop. But as soon as you try to walk, ride a bike, read, learn a second language, or calculate the second derivative, you find that learning is nothing like Smith's preposterous statement.]
6. "Saying that we are determined to teach every child to read does not mean that we will teach every child to read.'' (p.441) Smith, F. (1992). Learning to read: the never-ending debate. Phi Delta Kappan, 74, 432-441.
[Too bad that this caveat is buried in whole language writing. If it were the first line, any rational teacher would say "No, thanks, I believe I'll pass," and any right-thinking parent would call a lawyer.]
7. "The best we can do ... is ... to ensure that, if not every child lives up to our hopes, there is a minimum of guilt and anguish on the part of teachers, students, and parents." (p.441) Smith, F. (1992). Learning to read: the never-ending debate. Phi Delta Kappan, 74, 432-441.
[Does this even require comment? The best the whole languagist can do is to ensure that he or she does not feel badly about making children illiterate?! Nothing about examining whole language to see how it damages children and then scrapping it. Just ensure that you feel no anguish. Can you imagine this kind of talk in medicine? A doctor says, "Well, I do kill half my patients, but I manage not to feel too much guilt and anguish. You might say I am self-actualizing."]
8. "Methods can never ensure that children learn to read. .... It is the relationships that exist within the classroom that matter. ... Tests are not required to find out whether children are learning." (p.440) Smith, F. (1992). Learning to read: The never-ending debate. Phi Delta Kappan, 74, 432-441.
[This appears to be the basis for the claim that no method is needed to teach reading. And no method is exactly what whole language provides--which is why so many new teachers fresh from schools of education say, "I have no idea how to teach kids to read. I know how to write a literacy philosophy, but not how to teach." ]
9. "The child is already programmed to learn to read." Smith, F. (1973). Psychology and reading. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
[Another bit of sediment from the whole language bilge bucket. This appeal to "naturalism" is apparently supposed to obviate the need to teach children to read because, being programmed to read, they will teach themselves. How then account for illiteracy? It must be the kids' fault--or maybe their parents' fault.]
10. "Children can develop and use an intuitive knowledge of letter-sound correspondences [without] any phonics instruction [or] without deliberate instruction from adults." (p. 86) Weaver, C. (1980). Psycholinguistics and reading. Cambridge, MA: Winthrop.
[What exactly would intuitive knowledge of letter-sound correspondence be? Does m look like it says /m/? How does a person intuit what the words "stupid idiot" sound like? And what does it mean to say that children "can develop and use..."? The question is How many ever do? But whole languagists never answer this question, because it would show that whole language does not work anything like as well as is claimed. In other words, No data, no responsibility, no blame = business (tenure, consulting gigs, publications, control over education schools) as usual.]
11. "We cannot teach another person directly; we can only facilitate his learning." Rogers, C. (1961). On becoming a person. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
[No doubt Rogers had a lot of data to support this delusional statement. Apparently Rogers was not up to the idea that a teacher can facilitate learning by teaching some things directly. As with latter-day whole languagists, Rogers may have been more comfortable with binary oppositions. Either x or y but not both." This is called simpleminded.]
II. Skilled Readers Do Not Decode Words (See and Read the Letters). They Guess, Using Contextual Cues.
12. "Phonics is incompatible with a whole language perspective on reading and therefore is rejected." Watson, D. (1989). Defining & describing whole language. Elementary School Journal, 90, 129-142.
[This is a fine example of whole language dogma. You don't reject something because the data say it does not work. You reject something because is is incompatible with a set of beliefs (impervious to criticism) that are organized into a cult. And yet whole languagists try to call what they do science. So did the architects of the soviet system of economics.]
13. "Reading without guessing is not reading at all." Smith, F. (1973). Psychology and reading. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
[I would ask the reader if he or she is guessing at the words he or she is reading now--or is it feeding how, or bleeding cow, or dreading wow? Smith's arrogant assertion is a ploy designed to bolster the injunction against teaching children to decode words through knowledge of letter-sound correspondence. We wonder just how much guessing is a child supposed to do before it is called reading? "Look at Cherie. She is guessing at every single word. She's a real reader. But look at Debra. No guessing at all. She knows exactly what every words says. That's not reading!" So stupid.]
14. "Proficient readers seem unconsciously to use initial letters plus prior knowledge and context to predict what a word might be, before focusing on more of the word or the following context to confirm or correct." Weaver, C. (Phonics in whole language classrooms) at: http://kidsource.com/kidsource/content2/Phonics.html
[Does Weaver seriously want to construct an approach to reading instruction based on what children "seem" to do? Is the whole languagist really capable of mind-reading as well--somehow knowing whether children focus only on the first letter or rapidly scan the whole word and say it fast? If whole languagists really can read children's minds--which may be true because they say they do not need test data to tell if children can read--then they ought to offer additional services to schools--services such as channeling Carl Rogers. The point is, How does anyone know what other people are doing unconsciously?]
15. “The student: Attends to the meaning of what is read rather than focusing on figuring out words. Uses context, pictures, syntax, and structural analysis clues to predict meaning of unknown words. Uses fix-it strategies (predicts, uses pictorial cues,asks a friend, skips the word, substitutes another meaningful word). Oklahoma State Department of Education (1992). Reading learner outcomes. In the Oklahoma State Competencies,
Grade One, pp.15-22. [Online]. Available: http://www.ourcivilisation.com/dumb/dumb3.htm
[The good people at the Oklahoma State D.O.E. attempt to provide a rational for not teaching students to decode words by using knowledge of sound-symbol correspondence. The glaring logical fault, however--glaring to anyone except the good people at the Oklahoma State D.O.E.--is that the statement applies to poor readers. It is nice to know that the good people at the Oklahoma State D.O.E. want teachers to help children to use the inefficient, error-filled, frustrating, and basically inept methods used by struggling readers; i.e., children who were earlier mistaught by whole language. This is an example of the reproduction of illiteracy from one generation to the next--as the past generation's reading incompetence is reinterpreted as competence, and is then presented to teachers as a model of how to teach. This also helps to ensure a steady supply of struggling first graders for Reading Recovery. Let us recall that Orwell's 1984 referred to the time that whole language--and whole language newspeak--came to power.]
16. "It is easier for a reader to remember the unique appearance and pronunciation of a whole word like 'photograph' than to remember the unique pronunciations of meaningless syllables and spelling units" (p.146) Smith, F. (1985). Reading without nonsense: Making sense of reading. New York: Teachers College Press.
[Smith must be insensitive to irony. Surely he is not referring to his own book when he writes about reading without nonsense. Of course it is easier to remember one word by sight than to learn the sounds that go with each letter. What Smith neglects to tell the reader is that if a child memorizes ten words, the child can read only ten words, but if the child learns the sounds of ten letters, the child will be able to read 350 three-sound words, 4,320 four-sound words, and 21,650 five-sound words. Moreover, if the child merely memorizes (but cannot sound out) "photograph," what is the child likely to "read" when the child bumps into "phosphate," "phonograph," and "phony ass?"]
17. "One word in five can be completely eliminated from most English texts with scarcely any effect on its overall comprehensibility." (p.79) Smith, F. (1973). Psychology and reading. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.
[And the implication is....? Therefore, let's get rid of 20 percent of the words in Shakespeare? Or, let's try that with Smith's own statement and see if it has scarcely any effect on its comprehensibility. "One can be completely eliminated from most with any effect on its overall comprehensibility." Yes, that means the same thing.]
III. Phonics Instruction is Not Needed. In fact, it is Bad.
18. "Sounding out a word is a cumbersome, time-consuming, and unnecessary activity. By using context, we can identify words with only minimal attention to grapho/phonemic cues. The message then seems clear: we should help children learn to use context first." Weaver, C. (1988). Reading process & practice: From socio-psycholinguistics to whole language. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
[Teachers who wish to ensure that most of their students remain illiterate should follow Weaver's orders. By this statement, Weaver shows clearly that the whole language claim of balanced reading is simply a lie. Note that Weaver presents no data to support her bogus claim about sounding out words--there are no such data--but from her groundless and merely dogmatic statement she draws a "message." This nonrational process of finding messages in a mess of verbiage is akin to predicting the future from sheep guts. If it is a message, it is not from this or any other known world. But, again, we see that whole languagists have special powers.]
19. "Matching letters with sounds is a flat-earth view of the world, one that rejects modern science about reading." (p. 371) Goodman, K. S. (1986). What's whole in whole language. Richmond Hill, Ontario: Scholastic.
[Goodman's statement wins the prize for irony and self-delusion--a sort of biathlon. Whole language is to modern science as throwing trash at a wall is to art, as Da Da is to poetry, as pounding a piano with a salami is to music. But let us remember that Goodman was working for a revolution in reading instruction--a revolution (as with other revolutions) that requires followers to become maximally stupid so that they do not detect the essential madness in their leaders' flatulent eructations. "The man must be a prophet! He sounds completely insane!"]
20. "Reading by 'phonics' is demonstrably impossible (ask any computer)." Smith, J. (1986). Essays into literacy. Exeter, NH: Heinemann.
[With this line, Smith clearly demonstrates that he may know as little about computers as he does about reading--a two-for-one deal. What is in fact impossible to demonstrate is anything but sight reading and guessing in kids who know nothing about phonics--i.e., which sounds go with which letters. Throwing in the cute comment about computers may be Smith's way of diverting attention from the fact that good readers rapidly decode words on the basis of phonics knowledge.]
21. "In my view, reading is not a matter of decoding letters to sound but of bringing meaning to print." Smith, J. (1986). Essays into literacy. Exeter, NH: Heinemann.
[This is a common ploy in whole language: create a false dichotomy that makes one "side" look ridiculous (teaching decoding) and therefore the other side (teaching reading for meaning--allegedly whole language) looks like a star. However, what Smith (no doubt accidentally) fails to say is that: (1) Good teachers teach both decoding and reading for meaning; and (2) It is demonstrably impossible to "bring meaning to print" unless you already know how to read what the words say. Mr. Smith, as with so many whole language gurus and their followers, is apparently unaware of the logical absurdities in their "philosophy."]
22. "English is spelled so unpredictably that there is no way of predicting when a particular spelling correspondence applies" (p. 53) Smith, F. (1985). Reading. New York: Cambridge University Press.
[How often do readers predict what words say? What would that even look like? "I predict that w h e n says /when/." And then the reader waits around for the word on the page to start making sounds to see if the prediction is borne out? So stupid it makes your nose run. Readers simply read--correctly (i.e., the way other competent readers read)--or incorrectly. They read incorrectly when they don't know what sounds go with what letters--i.e., when they were mistaught by whole language.]
23. "Phonics, which means teaching a set of spelling to sound correspondence rules that permit the decoding of written language into speech, just does not work." Smith, F. (1985). Reading without nonsense (2nd. Ed). New York: Teachers College Press.
[When you read enough whole language guff, you begin to induce a rule about what they are up to. The rule is something like, "Say the most outrageous things--that are the absolute opposite of obvious fact--and you can be sure that you will mystify your audience."... "He must be in contact with Higher Powers, because he sounds utterly demented." Notice the smug self-confidence that oozes from the phrase, "just does not work," as if there were any data to back it up--and of course there are no data.]
24. "Carefully controlled vocabulary and decontextualised phonics instruction are incompatible with meaningful authentic texts." Goodman, K. S. (1989). Whole language research: Foundations and development. The Elementary School Journal, 90, 208-221.
[This is a type of illogic called "straw man." Obviously, if you teach only letter-sound correspondence it will become pretty meaningless. Just as it would become pretty meaningless if you only taught the atomic weights of the elements and never taught students to use this knowledge in doing experiments. But of course any teacher with a minimum of brain tissue would be using phonics instruction (a little each day) as a means to an end--namely, having students accurately read and understand text. But whole language ideologues have to create a straw man (endless phonics instruction) or else they have no place to stand as self-created revolutionaries and adversaries of explicit phonics instruction..]
25. "To the fluent reader the alphabetic principle is completely irrelevant. He identifies every word (if he identifies words at all) as an ideogram." (p.124) Smith, F. (1973). Psycholinguistics and reading. New York: Holt, Rhinehart, & Winston.
[Apparently, Smith made a typo at an important spot. He must have meant to write, "To the struggling reader mistaught with whole language, the alphabetic principle..." Because besides students who do not know what sounds letters make, the only other readers on this planet who memorize words from the shape of words are readers of Chinese, Japanese, and a few other languages that use pictures for words. But readers of alphabetic writing systems--not yet damaged by whole language nonsense--generally use the alphabet. That's pretty much what it's for.]
26. "We might offer students some phonics hints at an appropriate moment when they are writing and aren't sure how to spell something." Newman, J.M., & Church, S.M. (1991). Myths of whole language. The Reading Teacher, 44, 20-26.
[It's probably a great comfort to struggling readers to know that their "facilitators" are going to give a few hints (so that students can continue to struggle and guess) when their facilitators could just as easily have said, "That sound is sss." But no, to the whole language cult diehard, actual information would thwart the struggling reader's path to developmentally appropriate illiteracy. Moreover, to give sound information, rather than hints, makes the whole language teacher a mere teacher, rather than some kind of Rogerian demi-god therapist and artiste who occasionally deigns to give suffering clients a hint or two. The most highly developed skill of the whole language con artist is disguising his or her essentially immoral "project" behind a curtain of high sounding bunk.]
27. "Carefully controlled vocabulary and decontextualised phonics instruction are incompatible with meaningful authentic texts." Goodman, K. S. (1989). Whole language is whole: A response to Heymsfeld. Educational Leadership, 69-70.
[Apparently, Goodman has difficulty separating instruction from application of skill. Of course if a teacher is working on "phonics" ("This sound is /m/") it would be incompatible with reading authentic texts—or any texts--just as making a sandwich and at the same time eating the sandwich are incompatible. Mr. Goodman cannot admit that instruction (learning to read) is separable from application (reading) because whole language is based on the nutty idea that children learn to read without explicit instruction in elementary reading skills. In whole language fantasy land, children learn to read while they are reading—which makes as much sense (and is about as immoral) as saying that surgeons will learn to do surgery while they are operating on your children.]
28. "The worst readers are those who try to sound out unfamiliar words according to the rules of phonics." (p.438) Smith, F. (1992). Learning to read: the never-ending debate. Phi Delta Kappan, 74, 432-441.
[Note that Mr. Smith presents no data for this absurd statement. In fact, readers who guess at words are the worst readers—indeed, they are not even reading.]
29. "Early in our miscue research, we concluded…That a story is easier to read than a page, a page easier to read than a paragraph, a paragraph easier than a sentence, a sentence easier than a word, and a word easier than a letter. Our research continues to support this conclusion and we believe it to be true…" Goodman, K. & Goodman, Y. (1981). Twenty questions about teaching language. Educational Leadership, 38, 437-442.
[These lines have a nice rhythm--and they make sense if you have lost your mind. The sane person wants to know how a child who cannot easily read a letter is able easily to read a word (which consists entirely of letters); how a child who cannot easily read a word is able easily to read a sentence (which consists entirely of words); how a child who cannot easily read a sentence is able easily to read a paragraph (which consists entirely of sentences); and how a child who cannot easily read a paragraph is able easily to read a story. One wonders what kind of "research" would support the Goodmans' backwards-land belief. Must be from another world.]
IV. Phonemic Awareness and the Alphabetic Principle are Insignificant.
30. “The art of becoming a fluent reader lies in learning to rely less and less on information from the eyes.” Smith, F. (1975). Comprehension & learning: A conceptual framework for teachers. New York: Richard C. Owen.
[One wonders where children with sight get their information when reading, if not from what they see on the page. Maybe—generalizing from Goodman's fantasy about reading being a guessing game—children stare into space and imagine what is on the page. Or maybe they listen real hard to what the letters on the page are saying.]
31. "Accuracy, correctly naming or identifying each word or word part in a graphic sequence, is not necessary for effective reading since the reader can get the meaning without accurate word identification. Furthermore, readers who strive for accuracy are likely to be inefficient" (p.826) Goodman, K. S. (1974, Sept). Effective teachers of reading know language and children. Elementary English, 51, 823-828.
[This is another example of whole languagists concocting utter rubbish in order to sell their failed methods. In fact, readers who are taught—by whole language—to guess at words are inefficient readers—indeed, they are disabled readers--because they are often wrong. They mistake lion and lying, this and these, the and there, car and can, etc. Obviously, accurate reading is necessary for getting the meaning. "The car is fast" does not mean the same thing as "The can is fat." And "Caution. Toxic fumes" does not mean the same thing as "Caution. Toxic tunes." And the error is costly.]
32. "It has become crystal clear to me--and it has taken about ten years to come to this understanding--that children learn phonics best after they can already read. I am convinced that the reason our good readers are good at phonics is that in their being able to read they can intuitively make sense of phonics" (p. 44) Routman, R. (1994). Invitations. Portsmouth, NH : Heinemann.
[Routman makes the same logical error as Goodman and Smith. Students are alleged to learn phonics—that is, which sounds are made by which letters—after they have learned to read. This is logically impossible, because reading means (among other things) saying the sounds made by the letters. What would "reading" look like if a child did not know that m says /m/ and a says /a/? Is that what any sane person calls reading?]
33. “Breaking whole language into bite-size, abstract little pieces, words, syllables, and isolated sounds makes learning to read more difficult.” Goodman, K.S. (1986). What's whole in whole language. Richmond Hill, Ontario: Scholastic.
[This is exactly the opposite of what serious research—for about 100 years—says. It is easier to ride a bike if you first learn how to move your legs and use your hands to hold on. It is easier to learn to swim if you first learn how to kick and paddle and breathe. It is harder to learn to skydive if you do not know the elementary skills. In fact, you will die before you learn--just as many kids who get whole language become illiterate because they don't know the elementary skills of reading.]
V. Scientific (Controlled, Quantitative) Research and Accountability Are Unnecessary.
34. "It seems futile to try to demonstrate superiority of one teaching method over another by empirical research." (p.220) Weaver, C. (1988). Reading: Progress and practice. Portsmouth, NJ: Heinemann.
[It is not at all futile. It has been done many times, and whole language is usually shown to be far inferior to explicit instruction that focuses first on the elements of reading. However, if Weaver had gotten enough people to believe it is futile, then no one would know how bad whole language is.]
35. "Only one kind of research has anything useful to say about literacy, and that is ethnographic or naturalistic research." (p. 356) Smith, K. (1989). Overselling literacy. Phi Delta Kappan, 70, 353-359.
[This is surely a self-serving statement—because ethnographic research (uncontrolled and not subject to reliability checks)—can be made to provide data for any conclusions you want. Only quantitative, experimental research can pit one approach against another, and tell how much children learned and how fast they learned it. But whole languagists do not want these kinds of data available because these data show that whole language is inferior to explicit instruction.]
36. "(Teachers are) wise to the often tortuous attempts of educational, psychological, and cognitive researchers to cloak themselves in the sometimes ill-fitting garb of 'science.'" Zemelman, S., Daniels, H., & Bizar, M. (1999, March). Sixty years of reading research -- But who's listening? Phi Delta Kappan. [Online.] Available: http://www.pdkintl.org/kappan/kzem9903.htm
[In fact, whole languagists are the ones who clothe their nonsensical "theories" and bizarre instructional methods in the garb of science—which, to them, means a few field notes ("ethnographic research"). Of course they don't like serious research—just as new age "healers" don't like experimental research—because it makes it clear to consumers that they are frauds.]
37. "In my inaugural [Convention] address I called for a greater separation between school and state and the emancipation of education from the arbitrariness of political pressures. I advanced the idea that schools, like religion and the press, needed the protection of something like a Constitutional amendment to keep education free of interference in matters of materials, methods, and curriculum from the winds of political change and the passing hysterias of public opinion." (NCTE president, Sheridan Blau) National Council of Teachers of English. (1999). Elementary school practices. [On-Line]. Available at http://ncte.org
[Blau fails to point out that the only reason the "state" got into the education business is to protect the public from fads—such as whole language—that have injured so many children. This is no different from the state protecting citizens from poison passed off as medicine.]
VI. Don't Correct Errors. Don't Ensure Mastery of Fundamentals.
38. "The first alternative and preference is - to skip over the puzzling word. The second alternative is to guess what the unknown word might be. And the final and least preferred alternative is to sound the word out. Phonics, in other words, comes last." Smith, F. (1999). Why systematic phonics and phonemic awareness instruction constitute an educational hazard. Language Arts, 77, 150-155.
[Let's try this in medicine. The first alternative—when you make an error--is to skip over it. The second alternative is to guess at what you should do. And the last and least preferred alternative is to do the procedure carefully step by step. In other words, Smith tells teachers exactly how to ensure that children make the most errors possible; never learn that they are errors (just skip over them); and only as a last resort, do it right—say the sounds of the letters. For whole language, up is down, false is true, and stupidity is wisdom. Note that there was not one shred of evidence—and there is still not one shred of evidence—to support Smith's assertion that sounding out words is the least preferred and should be the last method used. In fact, the research clearly says that sounding out unfamiliar words is the most preferred thing to do. In other words, the founders of whole language simply made the whole thing up.]
39. "Good spelling is merely a convenience. … There are some people like secretaries, who need to be accurate, but usually even they can use a word processor with a good spelling check." Gentry, J.R. (1987). Spel . . . is a four-letter word. Portsmouth: Heinemann.
[Yes, good spelling is merely a convenience if you want society to become dumber and dumber and dumber. Why learn math; calculators can do it? Why read history books; just get the Cliff Notes? It is amazing how far into fantasy land whole languagists go to preserve their idiotic approach.]
VII. In the Absence of Logic, Scientific Evidence, and Moral Responsibility, Attack Your Critics.
40. " … the interlocking directorate of the right-wing back-to-basics movement: John Saxon, Chester Finn, William Bennett, Diane Ravitch, Jeanne Chall, Charles Sykes." Zemelman, S., Daniels, H., & Bizar, M. (1999, March). Sixty years of reading research -- But who's listening? Phi Delta Kappan. [Online.]
[This is a common form of argument in whole language. Simply insult critics—but provide no evidence to support the insult. This is like charlatan "healers" who attack real physicians.]
41. "It (direct instruction) is a scripted pedagogy for producing compliant, conformist, competitive students and adults." Coles, G. (1998, Dec. 2). No end to the reading wars. Education Week. [Online]. Available:
At what point is it mealy-mouthed cowardice to excuse the arrogant, dogmatic, relentless, and self-satisfied stupidity revealed in the above quotations as being merely "misinformed," or "presenting one side," or "passionately committed," or "a bit behind on the literature"?
When do sanity and morality demand that we call this junk nonsense and these wack-job gurus and their disciples in school districts and ed schools depraved, perverse, insane, and raving?
Now would be a good time, I think.
When will parents and community-minded citizens attend school board meetings (or meet with superintendents) and, standing on their hind legs, ask questions such as:
1. "What are the five main reading skills taught in elementary school?"
[If no one can tell you, then what exactly IS their job?]
2. "On the basis of exactly what design features did you select the core beginning reading curriculum?"
3. "What is the research base for the core curriculum?"
[It should be experimental research, with comparison groups, replicated in different settings and with varied samples, and should be longitudinal. If not, it's like giving your kids an untested drug. We demand more testing of hand cream.]
3. "What supplemental and intervention programs do you use across grade levels?"
[A complete curriculum will have core, supplemental, and intervention curricula that have all been tested and that are consistent in how they teach.]
4. "What sorts of assessments are made of children's reading in grade school?"
[There should be four assessments: screening (to see if some kids need supplemental instruction from the start); progress monitoring (every few weeks); diagnostic (to identify specific skill weaknesses that make a child struggle to read); outcome (to determine overall progress each semester and year). The assessments should be standardized and quantitative. Examples of good ones are DIBELS, Texas Primary Reading Inventory, Gray Oral Reading, Woodcock Johnson. If you are told that teachers make them up or that the school uses its own, you've got trouble. This is the same as letting mental patients evaluate themselves.]
5. "What decision rules do you use when kids are struggling in grades 1 to 3?"
[They should FIRST give diagnostic assessments and then interventions for an additional 30 minutes a day. They should NOT use Reading Recovery. They should NOT assign kids to special education. Almost all reading difficulties are the result of poor instruction. The word "dyslexia" simply means a kid has a hard time reading. Dyslexia doesn't imply that the KID has the problem. Don't let anyone excuse their poor program by blaming it on a bogus "disability."]
6. "What methods do teachers use to teach the five main reading skills?"
[The right answer is "systematic and explicit instruction." Also, teachers should NOT be making up these methods or lessons; good programs TELL teachers exactly how to teach. This is NOT about teachers being creative. This is about TECHNICAL PROFICIENCY. You expect as much from your hair cutter. Teachers should be using much the same methods; otherwise, kids will be confused as they move from one grade to another.]
Districts that know what they're doing will answer these questions as precisely and easily as Grandma can tell you how to make biscuits. If neither the school board, the district reading coordinator, nor the school principal can adequately answer your questions, you got trouble. Imagine the director of pediatrics at a hospital not being able to answer similar questions.
You should get other citizens to join you in writing the strongest possible (but respectful) letter to the director of Reading First for your state. Ask why it is that your district can't answer the simplest questions about scientifically based reading, and why it is that the district is NOT in compliance with the mandates of Reading First. All states are receiving MANY millions from Reading First--and they are ACCOUNTABLE for using the money to create reading programs in line with the above questions.
By the way. You know those odd noises you heard while reading this? Those groans, creaks, grindings, crackings, and snappings? That was western civilization coming apart.