A Soft Terrorism Plagues the Reading Field
“Remember, reading is ‘caught’, not ‘taught’ “— that is the phrase I heard in an audiotape last year. This was part of a training program for volunteers who had offered to help a literacy initiative in a school district in British Columbia. What that small phrase alone tells me is that the method being used to teach reading was of the Whole-Language variety.
In most of the Western world two reading methods continue to compete for dominance — Phonics or Whole-Language. Only in Germany was W-L outlawed for the purely practical reason — it was tried in 80s but after disastrous results was declared bad practice.
The reason I classify this contest as “soft terrorism” is because a general intimidation has settled on the reading issues where most people are now pussy-footing and refusing to use these inflammatory words — “phonics” or “whole-language” !
Marilyn Jager Adams in her forward to Jeanne Chall’s book, The Academic Achievement Challenge (2002 edition) said:
“ . . . reviewing the research on phonics, Chall told me that if I wrote the truth, I would lose old friends and make new enemies. She warned me that I would never again be fully accepted by my academic colleagues . . . Sadly, however, as the evidence in favor of systematic, explicit phonics instruction for beginners increased, so too did the vehemence and nastiness of the backlash. The goal became one of discrediting not just the research, but the integrity and character of those who had conducted it. Chall was treated most shabbily . . . “
This imposed silence needs to be confronted if there is to be headway made in the goal of teaching reading to all children as a right — a goal enunciated by most nations and peoples in statements that echo the belief that life chances depend on the foundation skill of reading. UNESCO and other well-meaning agencies are planning huge efforts to address the illiteracy problems of the “developing” world, yet one document has already recognized a lurking obstacle: “The reading “wars” are alive and well in many low-income countries, often miring ministries of education and teaching centers in seemingly endless debates between the “whole-language” and “phonics-based” approaches.” (pg 4 Early Grade Reading Assessment Toolkit)