The public school establishment adamantly refuses to teach first-graders to read by phonics even though study after study, including one released in June by the National Institute for Early Education Research, shows that phonics is essential to becoming a good reader. Some teachers' colleges even peddle the paranoid theory that phonics is a far right conspiracy.
The public school establishment is digging in its heels against the Bush administration program called Reading First, which offers $5 billion over six years to state and local school districts to help every child read by the end of the third grade. The schools are running to their pals in the liberal media to air opposition to the requirement that a proven, successful reading system be used.
To conceal the public school's abysmal failure to teach reading, education theorists who call themselves "social constructionists" are "departing from traditional notions of reading and writing" and trying to "redefine what it means to be literate." They are spreading the ridiculous notion that literacy does not mean reading the printed text, but is "inherently social" and flows from students developing "ways of thinking from such socially based experiences."
According to academics quoted on the Electronic Classroom Web site, "meaning from text is not 'out there' to be acquired but is something that is constructed by individuals through their interactions with each other and the world." So, students can "construct" their own understanding of the text by interacting with their (probably semi-literate) peers.
The role of reading teachers is supposedly "not to impart universal truths about text but to foster an environment where learners come to construct understanding through interaction." It's more important to engage in "student talk as opposed to teacher talk."
Under this new definition of literacy, you can call yourself literate if you can send a terse e-mail that has been spell-checked, or you can engage in electronic chat sessions. "Being literate ... means being able to communicate in a post-typographic world."
Teaching reading is not rocket science. Parents who care about their children's education should teach their own children to read using a good phonics system, which is what I did with my six children.
Phyllis Schlafly is a national leader of the pro-family movement, a nationally syndicated columnist and author of Feminist Fantasies.
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