Stories & Grievances
Thank You Whole Language For Misinformation Leading To Total Ignorance of Ignorance
Thank you Whole Language. Thank you for your many pearls of wisdom. Thank you for Context Clues. Thank you for Prior Knowledge. Thank you for the Initial Consonant. Thank you for Picture Clues. Thank you for Miscues.
But most of all, thank you for my wife. The other day she and I were riding along the highway and saw a sign for a town called Verona, so my wife read "Veronica". It's very simple, you see. First she applied Context Clues (she knew we were looking for a name). Then she applied the Initial Consonant ("V"). Then she applied Prior Knowledge (she already knew of a name "Veronica"). She put these Whole Language strategies together and ... success! At least, as much success as we can expect, I suppose.
Thank you William S. Gray for inventing "Look-Say" and the "Dick and Jane" series of basal readers. Thank you A. Sterl Artley for helping Mr. Gray and for your phonics-bashing diatribes of the 1950s and 1960s. Thanks to the National Education Association for giving Mr. Gray and his friends two years of free promotion in the NEA Journal in 1930 and 1931. Together you all had managed to essentially eradicate phonics from America's public schools by the 1950s and early 60s, when my wife went to school.
But more importantly, thank you for my wife. Awhile back she was reading a pamphlet about something that was described as "venerable". Now that's a word you don't see every day, so what did she do but cleverly pull out her Whole Language skills? Context Clues, you see, told her that she was looking for an adjective. Next was the Initial Consonant "V". Then out came the Prior Knowledge -- she simply thought of an adjective she already knew that was about the right length and started with "V". And voila ... success again ... she came up with "vulnerable". Perfect! Well, at least as perfect as things get in publik ejukayshun, right?
Thanks Kenneth Goodman for reviving the floundering Look-Say, adding a few New Age twists and renaming it Whole Language back in the early 80s. Just like the Whole Earth Catalog and Whole Grains and everything else that was Whole ... what else could it be but wonderful? Without you, Kenneth, the evils of phonics might have returned, and then where would we have been?
Thank you Dorothy Strickland for "Emerging Literacy" -- the idea that kids are naturally inclined to read if only we will surround them with literature. Thanks to all the other Whole Language textbook authors who cranked out textbook after textbook that either omitted phonics entirely or disparaged phonics openly. Thank you Teachers College, Columbia for promoting Whole Language to teachers' colleges worldwide. Can you even imagine how effective you were in eradicating phonics instruction throughout the English-speaking world?
Thank you International Reading Association (IRA) and National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). For decades you appointed people like William S. Gray and Kenneth Goodman to lead your entire organizations in the fight against phonics. Somehow you raised hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions of dollars to pay PR firms to get their opinions so heavily quoted in the press that the public is now completely confused in its ideas about what works and what doesn't work in reading instruction.
But once again thank you for my wife. Awhile back she was reading about some Congregational Church. And do you know, even with the Context Clues and the Prior Knowledge (about what names churches might have, presumably) and the Initial Consonant, she still managed to come up with "Congressional Church". Even though this was years ago, I remember it like it was yesterday.
Thank you Alfie Kohn and Dennis Baron and Mike Ford and Gerald Coles and Harvey Daniels and Gerald Bracey and Susan Ohanian and Stephen Krashen and Jim Trelease and all the other propagandists who lash out continuously against successful practice in general and phonics in particular. Through your tireless efforts, the public is continually misinformed. Without the public's perpetual state of confusion and misinformation, Whole Language would not have survived a single day. Thank you for keeping Look-Say and Whole Language and Balanced Literacy alive to create yet another generation of people who can read as well as my wife does.
Speaking of my wife, last night she was reading a brochure aloud about a museum with an "eclectic" collection, and what do you suppose she said? You guessed it (and so did she): "electric"! Maybe the absence of the Initial Consonant threw her off.
Thank you Marie Clay for inventing the phenomenally expensive Reading Recovery, a program installed in virtually every public school, it seems, and designed to treat the educational effects of Whole Language by applying yet more Whole Language. Thank you for giving my school district more stuff like this to spend my tax money on. How is it that I am not clever enough to imagine things like this?
Thank you Richard Allington, current (2005) president of the International Reading Association, for your campaign of misinformation against Direct Instruction (a successful phonics-based program). The cleverness of your propaganda puts the Soviets, the Chinese Communists, and all the other tyrants of the 20th century to shame. You know of course that Direct Instruction (DI) participated in a huge study (Project Follow Through) in which all the participants except DI failed, and in which DI succeeded brilliantly. And so you twist this around to say that by virtue of its association in this study with the constructivist-favored instructional styles that failed so miserably, we should all conclude that DI must necessarily also have been a failure. Your logic, so typical of that of the IRA, the NCTE, and the rest of the Constructivist Cabal, is irrefutable.
But once again thank you all for my wife. Hardly a day goes by when she does not demonstrate the success of Look-Say, or Whole Language, or Balanced Literacy or whatever you all call it now. Really, it's so amusing I really can't even quantify it. I never know what she'll read next ... and neither does she! Just imagine all her Miscues!
The sheer unpredictability of listening to her read is astounding ... and unpredictability is the essence of entertainment, right? I mean, she might read "deleterious" as "delicious" or perhaps "injurious" as "injustice" or "parabola" as "parachute" or maybe "quintessence" as "quintuplet", or "signify" as "signature". I could go on and on almost endlessly. The laughs just never stop here. And all thanks to you. All of you.
So thank you, Whole Language. Where would we be without you? The possibilities just boggle the mind.
Grade 'em high in self-esteem, low in realism
By Marlene Zuk
"Is this one right?" The student points to a line on a test paper and peers anxiously at me. The exam is two days away, and I have given the class a version from a previous year so that the students can see what kinds of questions to expect.
"No," I say gently, "that's not right," and proceed to explain what is wrong with the answer she wrote. Questions 2, 3, 4 and 5 suffer the same fate, but No. 6 is, in fact, correct, and I tell her so. She beams. "Oh, great, I feel better. I'm really getting it!"
That the course -- animal behavior -- is one in which quantitative reasoning is important only makes her unfounded optimism more alarming.
Her reaction is not unusual. In the face of all evidence to the contrary, my students exhibit an unswerving confidence in their own abilities. They earnestly assure me that despite test scores in the single digits and an inability to answer questions posed by their teaching assistant, they really know the material: "It just doesn't show in my grades." The implied fault, no doubt, is mine, for giving such unfair and inappropriate exams, but it is never clear just why they do think they understand the material.
They readily confess to me that they have not consulted the text and do not remember my lecture. They have nothing to say about the concepts we've covered. Yet somehow, a kernel of faith stays resolutely sheltered in each undergraduate bosom -- they believe honestly and with conviction that they get it, and therefore deserve a high grade.
Don't get me wrong. I hardly expect all students to understand the material immediately, or even ever, and I also realize that my teaching could be confusing or badly organized. Wrong answers are part of the
game. What I find troubling is the lack of concern about their ignorance or poor performance, the epidemic of what a colleague of mine calls unwarranted self-regard.
On that same practice test, another student came to me with a problem she had tried to solve; it required comparing two lines on a graph, each of which represented the number of eggs laid by a different group of individuals (female blackbirds nesting in male territories either with or without additional females).
The question asked where a point on one of the lines satisfied a particular condition, and only one answer was correct. The student for some reason had redrawn the lines, as if rewriting the birds' reproductive history, with the two lines suddenly veering off into a fantasy of communal egg-laying. It was as if she had taken a graph of the exports of China and France and merged them into a new country with
a single product.
Once again, I explained how to answer the question, and once again the student was pleased. The error was just a trivial difference of opinion. "Yeah, I get it," she said. "I was just thinking of it differently." You
say tomayto, I say tomahto.
No, I wanted to say, you weren't thinking of it differently, you had it completely wrong; you didn't understand it at all. But like her many compatriots, she was unlikely to acknowledge that, or admit to a mistake even when she created a version of reality never seen on a map, or in the actions of a blackbird.
Students have always deluded themselves, of course, and hope has always sprung eternal, or at least until final grades appear. And at least some in my classes really do eventually master the material. But confident placidity in the face of error seems to be on the rise.
Maybe it's all that self-esteem this generation of students was inculcated with as youngsters, or maybe it's the emphasis on respecting everyone else's opinion, to the point where no answer, even a
mathematical one, can be truly wrong because that might offend the one who gave it. Maybe they think they should never let me see them sweat.
These explanations all seem too facile as I gaze into their smiling faces and feel like an academic Cassandra, predicting doom and disaster where they see only cheer. As graduation nears, I wonder whether they will become surgeons happily removing the wrong organs or just sales clerks unconcernedly giving incorrect change.
Be worried, I want to tell them. Then I realize they don't know the meaning of the word.
Marlene Zuk, a biology professor at the University of California,
Riverside, wrote this article for the Los Angeles Times.
Minneapolis Star Tribune on May 29, 2005
Rocky Mountain News
Fork in road facing DPS chief
Academic success at stake
July 16, 2005
Michael Bennet, newly appointed superintendent of Denver Public Schools, has a momentous choice to make as he starts work. As he's already discovered, there are two major educational philosophies competing for the hearts and minds of non-traditional superintendents like Bennet. For the sake of Denver's children, it is imperative that he choose the right one.
And then he has to hire as his chief academic officer someone who supports and will implement that philosophy throughout the district. But that choice is easy in comparison.
The two camps can - to greatly oversimplify a subject on which shelves of books have been written - be called progressive and traditional.
Traditionalists adhere to the common-sense notion that if you want children to learn something, teach it to them. Teach them the correspondence between sounds and letters in English. Teach them how to multiply whole numbers and add fractions. Don't turn them loose to reinvent the alphabet and the wheel for themselves; far too many won't succeed.
Teach them a structured and logical curriculum, in an orderly classroom environment. That's especially important for children whose home lives are stressful and even chaotic, or who arrive at school already far behind academically.
Progressive educators tend to subscribe to idealized notions about how children learn. That leads them to adopt fads like "whole language" reading instruction or what critics have called "fuzzy math," which downplays the importance of mastering computation and other traditional skills. They talk a lot about child-centered classrooms, self-esteem, multiple intelligences and discovery learning. Some disdain what they call "mere facts," as well as the idea of practice to make perfect, which they deride as "drill and kill."
We count ourselves in the traditionalist camp, because we believe most of the evidence shows it achieves superior results on average - especially with poor and minority students at higher-than-average risk of failure. We hope Bennet will agree, and choose accordingly - in full awareness that progressive camp-followers are hugely dominant in schools of education.
When he was being considered for the job, Bennet mentioned that he wasn't familiar with the Core Knowledge program, but now would be a good time for him to learn about it. Colorado has a number of successful Core Knowledge schools, including five that the Core Knowledge Foundation has designated as models. We're not saying every elementary school in Denver should switch, but a chief academic officer who doesn't appreciate why this model is successful is a bad choice. Direct instruction is another successful research-based model that is scarcely mentioned in most teacher-preparation programs. It is particularly effective with at-risk students.
Bennet's entire legacy may depend on this critical decision. He should take his time and get it right.
Copyright 2005, Rocky Mountain News. All Rights Reserved.
MATH MANUAL DOESN'T ADD UP
By ANDREA PEYSER, NY POST, July 19, 2005
STRUGGLING public-school students are facing a new threat to their education - math teachers are using a summer-school manual riddled with laughable errors.
The brand-new education tome - purchased with your tax dollars - is meant to help failing second-and third-grade students avoid getting left back. Instead, the kids face a book in which answers to simple questions are completely wrong.
It's a "disaster waiting to happen," said one concerned education source.
Take this sample test problem: Students are shown drawings of two clocks. The first is set at 3 o'clock. In the second diagram, the clock reads 3:30. "How much time has elapsed?"
Possible answers are, F: 15 minutes; G: 20 minutes; H: 30 minutes; and J: 25 minutes.
Even a numerical moron like me knows the correct answers is H. Right?
Er, no. According to the book, the answer is J: 25 minutes.
Before you start probing the intricacies of time-telling on distant planets, get a load of another question: "Which fraction is less than 1/2?"
Possible answers are: F: 7/10; G: 4/10; H: 4/5; and J: 1/4. The book gives the answer as G: 4/10, which is correct - 4/10 is less than 1/2. But what about J: 1/4?
"What happens to the kid who gives a correct answer, but is told it's wrong?" my source asked.
The book, called "Exploring Math: An Intervention & Reinforcement Resource," is a "teacher resource guide," featuring lesson plans and sample tests that are designed to be photocopied and distributed. The fear is, they'd be graded by teachers operating on autopilot, using the answers in the book.
A copy was provided to me by a teacher at PS 184 in Queens - complete with four glaring errors on the answer key, plus a "practice" test missing so much information, it was incomprehensible.
The book was published by Teacher Created Materials of Huntington Beach, Calif., which has a $90,000 contract to provide materials to New York City schools.
Department of Education spokeswoman Margie Feinberg named four schools other than PS 184 using the book: PS 92 and PS 152 in Brooklyn, and PS 99 and PS 121 in Queens. She acknowledged that other schools could also be using it.
"We didn't endorse or review [the book] at all," said Feinberg, who said the schools chose the book independently of the Department of Ed. "We will . . . make sure the book is no longer available."
Sharon Coan, editor-in-chief of Teachers Created Materials, told me that math "is a fairly new program" for the 25-year-old company, which specializes in English and social-studies books.
While normally the texts go through "proofreading and proofreading," Coan said the error-riddled volume "was kind of rushed."
"Sometimes a wrong version gets sent to the printer - this has happened on occasion."
Unfortunately, failing third-graders have little room for "oops." If they don't improve their grades, they get left back.
It's not the first time. In March, the Department of Ed sent out test-prep guides littered with errors. Our at-risk students don't need another reason to feel discouraged. If no one in authority is reading our books, we're in big trouble.