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THE READING WARS

11/4/99

For some years, a so-called reading war has been raging in the United States, a war between competing instructional orthodoxies - believers in a whole language approach to reading versus the believers in the sanctity of phonics. It would be hard to find a subject about which more abject stupidity has been published. So much so, that it is with considerable trepidation that I venture into this area.

I do so because here in Plainview-Old Bethpage we appear to be at a crossroads. For several years there has been a mindless drive to make the instruction at all of our schools uniform on grade level. This has proven to be difficult in the area of reading in that there is little unanimity among the staffs of our elementary schools as to what the best methods of reading instruction are. In fact, there is no unanimity among the administrations of our buildings as to how reading is best taught. While the official voice of the district says that we are all one happy and unanimous family when it come to reading instruction, in reality we have never had a serious district-wide discussion. This would not necessarily be bad were it not for the recent drive to uniformity. Therefore, we must ask, on what principles shall we unify reading instruction in our school district?

The central administration of our district is pushing an approach which they refer to as Balanced Literacy. I have attended numerous meetings at which Balanced Literacy has been discussed. I have talked to teachers who are required to teach reading through this method. I have questioned those who push the hardest to implement it. Astonishingly, no one has been able to explain to me exactly what it is. As recently as the October 13th meeting of the Plainview-Old Bethpage Board of Education, a presentation was made on Balanced Literacy to an audience of citizens who were as confused as I was as to what Balanced Literacy means.

I have made a modest proposal to the central administration of our district. To the extent that we need a unifying idea for reading instruction in our district let it be that we will do whatever we can, through whatever methods we know, to ensure that all of our children read to the maximum of their intellectual potential. Thus, if we need phonics books to teach some students, lets get them and get them now. If some students could profit from workbook drills, lets get them now. If some concepts are more efficiently taught through a series of reading texts, lets get them now. Lets stop fighting a senseless war begun by education professors who may never have taught anyone to read. As a teacher, I am frankly saddened by meeting more and more students who cannot sound out a word that they don't recognize, even though it is often in their speaking vocabulary.

 

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