As of today I've written about 45 posts reading and cognitive disabilities. Since my wife and I are basically bleeding-heart liberals (for want of a better term), it's particularly sad that the liberal establishment has often been opposed to evidence-based education in reading. Even today, there's a strong remnant of 1960s era approaches to teaching reading in Minnesota's educational establishment.
Today, a local celebrity and certified liberal, Garrison Keillor, writes on the topic as only he can:
... And then there is the grief that old righteous people inflict on the young, such as our public schools. I'm looking at U.S. Department of Education statistics on reading achievement and see that here in Minnesota -- proud, progressive Minnesota -- on a 500-point test (average score: 225), 27 percent of fourth-graders score below basic proficiency, and black and Hispanic kids score 30-some points lower than white on average, and the 30 percent of public schoolkids who come from households in poverty (who qualify for reduced-price school lunches) score 27 points lower than those who don't come from poverty.
Reading is the key to everything. Teaching children to read is a fundamental moral obligation of the society. That 27 percent are at serious risk of crippling illiteracy is an outrageous scandal.
This is a bleak picture for an old Democrat. Face it, the schools are not run by Republican oligarchs in top hats and spats but by perfectly nice, caring, sharing people, with a smattering of yoga/raga/tofu/mojo/mantra folks like my old confreres. Nice people are failing these kids, but when they are called on it, they get very huffy. When the grand poobah Ph.D.s of education stand up and blow, they speak with great confidence about theories of teaching, and considering the test results, the bums ought to be thrown out.
There is much evidence that teaching phonics really works, especially with kids with learning disabilities, a growing constituency. But because phonics is associated with behaviorism and with conservatives, and because the Current Occupant has spoken on the subject, my fellow liberals are opposed.
Liberal dogma says that each child is inherently gifted and will read if only he is read to. This was true of my grandson; it is demonstrably not true of many kids, including my sandy-haired, gap-toothed daughter. The No Child Left Behind initiative has plenty of flaws, but the Democrats who are trashing it should take another look at the Reading First program. It is morally disgusting if Democrats throw out Republican programs that are good for children. Life is not a scrimmage. Grown-ups who stick with dogma even though it condemns children to second-class lives should be put on buses and sent to North Dakota to hoe wheat for a year.
St. Michael, I beg you to send angels to watch over fourth-graders who are struggling to read, because the righteous among us are not doing the job.
For more on this topic see:
- Be the Best You can Be Helping Struggling Readers Explicit phonics instruction
- Be the Best You can Be NICHD (NIH) director lecture on helping children to read (1999)
- Be the Best You can Be Florida school district tries to sort out commercial reading intervention
- Be the Best You can Be Teaching Reading Scientific American March 2002
- Be the Best You can Be Another study on the superiority of phonics
- Be the Best You can Be Overview of trends in reading -- the phonics renaissance
- Be the Best You can Be Teaching reading to special needs children The Parental contribution
- Be the Best You can Be Teaching reading to autistic children whole word approach (for a contrary perspective)
- Be the Best You can Be Teaching reading to autistic children a limited literature
- Be the Best You can Be The curse of special needs reading BORING books