Tuesday, February 20, 2007

2000+ years of Hooked on Phonics

One of the many issues that divide conservatives and liberals is the teaching of reading to young children. Take this discussion with Ronald Kessler at the National Review Online for example (bold font in original):
NRO: What was the most surprising thing you learned about President Bush in the course of writing the book?

Kessler: Besides the diversity of his friends, I was amazed at how deeply Bush personally researched why kids can't read. Nationally, 40 percent of fourth graders cannot read a simple children's book. Among blacks and Hispanics, the proportion is as high as 65 percent. The reason is that in the 1970's, liberal educators decided that teaching kids to read with phonics — sounding out words — was dull. Instead, they said kids should simply be given books to read. Somehow, they will become excited by the books and guess what the words mean. In other words, under this approach, called whole language, kids are not taught to read at all.
Of course, it's always been something of a mystery to conservatives why liberals hate phonics so much. But I noticed something in a different context that may shed some light on the subject. As Anthony Everitt writes of late Roman Republic teaching in his book "Augustus: The Life of Rome's First Emperor":
Pupils had to learn the names of the letters of the alphabet before being shown what they looked like; they chanted the letters all in order forward and backward. Then they graduated to groups of two or three letters, and finally to syllables and words.
In other words, the ancient Romans used phonics! No wonder liberals hate phonics then: phonics teaching is traditional in Western Civilization, and we all know how liberals feel about that.


Blogger William said...

As some one who was taguht phonics thru primary school, I hate phonics. To the students it is boring.

4:44 PM  

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