"The Reading Wars"

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Steve Piazza

Jun 8, 2009, 4:50:29 PM6/8/09
to Parents for Quality Math Education
I'm not trying to expand the focus of this discussion forum, but do I
want to post a link to this excellent Atlantic article by Nicholas
Lemann on the "whole language" versus "phonics" approaches to teaching


I was struck by how many similarities there are between the math and
reading debates - same differences in philosophy, same people on
either side of the issue, etc. Here is the final paragraph that
Lemann wrote in 1997, with predictions that have been pretty much
right on, perhaps more with reference to math than to reading:

"With apologies for being another national reporter who has gone to
California and seen America's future, I'd like to offer three
predictions arising from the California curriculum wars. First,
efforts to establish greater quality control in public education,
which will almost inevitably mean trying to impose more central
authority over the advanced countries' most decentralized system of
schooling, will go on constantly over the next few decades. Second,
given that the traditional side is now winning the ongoing battle
between traditional and progressive education, schools all over the
country will be pressed hard by parents and politicians to move toward
imparting skills and away from simply inculcating the joy of learning.
Third, the longer the United States remains in its current peaceful
and relatively prosperous condition, the more issues like school
curricula, which politicians and the press aren't used to considering
at any length, will come to the fore in American politics. Politics
can be contentious and consequential without being about the
adjudication of world affairs. Great clashes of ideas and interests
can take place on the battleground of everyday life."

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