is Best Taught by Old Ways
efforts to ease conflict hurt neediest kids.
by Norman Lockman, Delaware Online News Journal, August 27,
For more articles like this
Schools are cranking up again all over America under new federal
mandates for measuring the quality of education and the argument
is still raging over whether it is better to try to drill
reading into kids or to ease them into it with methods that may
leave some children behind but leaves no child resentful.
It's a philosophical tempest that has more to do with adult
conceits than with than with rock bottom fundamentals. Basically
progressive educators believe in teaching "ways to knowledge"
rather than knowledge itself. If their philosophy was reduced to
a cliché it would be, "Don't hand a hungry man a fish, teach him
how to fish."
I side with the traditionalists who argue that it is wiser to
feed the hungry man, by hand if necessary, that to send him up
the river with hook, line and sinker in the hopes of catching
Progressive educators lean toward the theory that it is better
to encourage children to want to read by engaging them in
exercises that draws on their personal experiences. Rather than
teaching phonetics, vocabulary, sentence structure and reading
comprehension through drills, children are urged to create their
own personal stories as an introduction to written language. It
is child-centered rather than teacher-centered learning. No
arm-twisting, no complaints.
This apparently works fine when children arrive at school with
some home-developed basic language skills. What happens, though,
if the child arrives speaking non-traditional English with
little or no exposure to the written word? Not much. This is the
child who needs a direct injection of basic knowledge, not a
nurturing process designed to make learning less painful - and
less subjectively quantifiable.
The problem, of course, is that the progressive reading teaching
methods, while they may make kids "smarter" by empowering them
to learn to teach themselves to read and enjoy it more (with the
teacher acting as "coach,") it leaves them weak on fundamentals.
They get good at expressing themselves imperfectly through
written language before they get good at comprehending perfectly
written language of others. It does not teach reading well.
Teach poor, educationally deprived kids by this method, put them
up against mandatory reading standards in competition with kids
who were already literate by the time they get to school, and
you have the roots of the "achievement gap" that then infects
all other educational endeavors.
I've always thought reading meant being able to pick up a piece
of unfamiliar written material and decipher its contents in
order to understand the thoughts (or instructions) of someone
other than myself. It's the key to learning everything else.
So what is the point of teaching a child to understand his own
scribblings as a means of learning to read? The educational
progressives say it avoids "drill and kill," by which they mean
avoiding the drudgery of learning the basics of written language
by boring repetition.
I think it comes down to hedging bets by teachers who do not
want to be held responsible for the absolutes of achieving full
literacy among children with no personal or parental
understanding of its value and no motivation to acquire it. It's
a pedagogical dodge.
Learning to read is not easy. I've always been baffled by those
who want to make it a breeze. I can still remember struggling
with reading material that was frustrating to comprehend and
resenting the teachers who insisted that I do so. But I also
remember feeling triumphant when it began to make sense. It was
like summiting a mountain.
I'll trade complaining literate kids for uncomplaining
semi-literate kids any day. So will most parents. So should all
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