It is true that “you don’t always know what you got til it’s gone,” (even if that is improper English), but a lot of misery can be avoided by understanding history and looking at data rather than relying solely on feelings when implementing change.
For example, let us take look at the latest story out of the Oakland Unified School District in California. Oakland once had one of the most successful reading programs in the entire Golden State for inner-city kids. It was based on phonics and utilized tried and true methods of learning to read and sounding out letters, rather than memorizing words.
Then, the teachers worried that they were promoting so-called colonialism — which is another word for white supremacy. They convinced the district to use a whole language approach, and the reading rates plummeted.
The whole language method encourages children to guess at words, memorize words, look at pictures to find hints as to what the word could be, and other poor techniques. It does not prepare students to read new words.
“For seven years in a row, Oakland was the fastest-gaining urban district in California for reading,” Kareem Weaver, a fourth and fifth-grade instructor, told Time Magazine.
“And we hated it,” he lamented.
Time noted that the phonics-based approach “worked for the students, but not so much for the teachers.”
What did work for the teachers? A social justice approach, of course.
“This seems dehumanizing, this is colonizing, this is the man telling us what to do,” Weaver recalled how teachers felt at the time. “So we fought tooth and nail as a teacher group to throw that out.”
“Those who wanted to fight for social justice, they figured that this new progressive way of teaching reading was the way,” the educator claimed.
The phonics approach was eliminated by 2015. Now though, Weaver is part of a nationwide movement fighting to bring back the phonics-based approach.
“In Oakland, when you have 19% of Black kids reading — that can’t be maintained in the society,” Weaver explained. “It has been an unmitigated disaster.”
The problem began in the 1980s when California implemented the whole language approach. Nationwide, schools followed and debate ensued as to what worked best for the children. Phonics or whole language?
As Time explained, the “debate was supposedly settled in 2000, when the National Reading Panel, a big group of literacy experts that examined hundreds of studies on what instruction kids need to read, released a report. It recommended explicit instruction in the things Weaver’s petition asks for: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.”
However, districts across America advocated a “balanced literacy” approach instead which was a hodgepodge of phonics and a whole disaster.
Timothy Shanahan, who was on the NRP board, told Time, “The idea was each group would get some of what they wanted.”
“I’ve got to admit, I always thought that was a bad idea,” Shanahan continued. “It seemed to me that you should just go with the research.”
Indeed, Shanahan is correct.
It is a lesson that Weaver should have known as well.
Had he and his colleagues looked at the data when ditching phonics in the name of social justice, he would have avoided implementing a system that makes children dumber and illiterate.
Better yet, had he listened to conservative icon Phyllis Schlafly, this entire ordeal would have never happened.
In 1994, Schlafly published the best-selling educational book “First Reader.”
As her online store explained, “First Reader exclusively uses the time-tested method of using phonics to learn how to read.” It’s easy for students, teachers, and — perhaps most importantly — parents to use in instructing their children.
The book was created as a direct response to the whole language method.
“It’s been a disaster,” she said bluntly of the whole method approach in a 1995 interview. “Their own reports show it’s a disaster and what that means is the child is taught by a guessing method, and I’ve read these instructions to the first-grade reader. They’ll tell a teacher to tell the child to memorize a couple of dozen frequently used words, have stories that use those words over and over again, teach the child to skip over words he doesn’t know, to substitute another word that seems to fit to guess at the words by looking at the picture on the page.”
“Now this is a fraud, it’s a fraud on everybody and this is why people and children don’t learn how to read,” she explained.
Schlafly in the mid-1990s sounded an awful lot like how Weaver does today.
Regarding his school district’s decisions, Weaver admitted, “There have been choices made where our children were not in the center.”
“We abandoned what worked because we didn’t like how it felt to us as adults, when actually, the social-justice thing to do is to teach them explicitly how to read,” he proclaimed.
It’s great that Weaver learned from his errors, but sadly his comment is a perfect example of leftism in action.
Leftists seek to “dismantle” everything old while arrogantly thinking that new and “progressive” is better.
They do not realize that destroying is a lot easier than building something of value.
Worse, as of late, they put the adults’ feelings over what is truly best for the child, damaging their education and America’s future in the process.
Schlafly’s First Reader interview can be viewed here:
The views expressed in this piece are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent those of The Daily Wire.