i heart reading
yesterday, while surfing the inter-net ("series of tubes"), I found an article in some conservative magazine--which I can't find now--about the debate between phonics-based reading instruction and "whole language learning." this was particularly interesting to me, because: a) I like to read, and I'm sort of intrinsically fascinated about how people become literate; b) my mom teaches kindergarten, and has taught lots of kids to read; and c) JD volunteers once every other week to help one particular girl (a fourth-grader) with remedial reading, and some of the stories are really disspiriting.
Advocates of whole-language learning favor a sort of immersion approach - basically, leave kids in a room with a lot of books, and they'll teach themselves. They are opposed to phonics-based reading (those fabled "Dick and Jane"/Houghton Mifflin primers which stress word-repetition and sounding things out--parenthetically, try sounding out 'Houghton'--that's a toughie!) claiming that such education is the most surefire way to kill kids' burgeoning love of reading and to stifle their young imaginations. According to the article I read (but can't seem to find), educational academics, perhaps unsurprisingly, overwhelmingly favor the whole-language approach, but this gets awfully problematic when whole-language learning is mandated from on-high in bureaucratic fashion. Children from higher socioeconomic brackets are less likely to slip through the cracks, no matter which method is taught; someone is going to make sure they know how to read by an acceptable age. The problem comes disproportionately for poor kids, who, whether they lack an English-speaking parent, have little or no reading material in their homes, or just have parents that don't value education very much, often do get lost in the system. When they aren't given the building blocks of language--the sounds that letters make, for instance--they can sometimes manage to memorize singular small books and pass on to the next grade without ever learning to read. This, apparently, is the case with JD's fourth-grader, who can't seem to sound out "baby books"--the words of her taunting classmates.
If I had just heard the two categories juxtaposed, I surely would have unreflectingly supported "whole language learning" just based on the sound of it; isn't "whole" so much more comprehensive than its alternative? And who wants to kill kids' love of reading? But as I think about it, I suspect that a few people with advanced degrees--those that have had a passing acquaintance with Saussure and Derrida, have bastardized the concepts of linguistic structuralism, and are now passing them off as public school policy, shunning (and even forbidding) some crucial building blocks of learning. Language and literacy are undoubtedly complex, and one certainly wouldn't want to watch kids huffing and puffing to sound things out all day, without connecting their utterance to the meaning of the text (Golden Book) or to imaginative flights of fancy. Nevertheless, it doesn't make good sense to disallow an important component of reading in the interest of "academic correctness." Shouldn't learning to read, in all its manifestations, be empowering?
Out of curiosity, do you remember learning to read? Which components were hardest/most intuitive for you?