Saturday, March 21, 2009

Smearing the Evidence on Reading Instruction -- And Admitting It

Robert Pondiscio has a Mar. 20 post on the Core Knowledge blog about the controversy surrounding Australian whole-language proponent Brian Cambourne's candid effort to smear phonics-based reading instruction -- by associating it (wrongly) with hating to read.

Professor Cambourne sent a mass e-mail to reading teachers, Pondiscio writes:

suggesting they flood an education minister’s office with emails linking phonics to “readicide”, which Professor Cambourne describes as ”the systematic killing of the love of reading, often exacerbated by the inane, mind-numbing practices found in schools,” The Australian [newspaper] reports.

Professor Cambourne’s suggestion was in response to the official’s announcement of the nation’s “[upcoming] first direct comparison of phonics-based reading methods with other techniques.”

When The Australian newspaper asked Professor Cambourne why he didn't present evidence for whole language and against phonics, he invoked "framing theory," as related by the newspaper:

When the email was quoted back to him, Professor Cambourne said he and his colleagues had to rely on cognitive science’s framing theory. “It’s a way of making ideas change based on new theories rather than just denying or trying to argue with people you can’t argue with,” Professor Cambourne said.

“When you rely on evidence, it’s twisted. We can also present evidence, but we never get a fair hearing. We rely on the cognitive science framing theory, to frame things the way you want the reader to understand them to be true - framing things that you’re passionate about in ways that reveal your passion.”

“We have to use the same kind of tactics that have been used to demean and demonise whole language,” Pondiscio reports that Prof. Cambourne said before adding that, if The Australian reported his words: “I will deny I ever said this.”

I would supplement Pondiscio's post as follows: Sad to say, but Professor Cambourne has been reading too much of George Lakoff's foolish advice to liberals that they should lie in order to win. Instead of Lakoff, Professor Cambourne should have been reading Steven Pinker's disemboweling of Lakoff's cognitive relativism in the Oct. 9, 2006 issue of The New Republic. I can only give a brief excerpt here, which does not in the least do justice to Pinker's wonderful article (you should read the whole thing):

Lakoff tells progressives not to engage conservatives on their own terms, not to present facts or appeal to the truth....Instead they should try to pound new frames and metaphors into voters' brains. Don't worry that this is just spin or propaganda, he writes: it is part of the "higher rationality" that cognitive science is substituting for the old-fashioned kind based on universal disembodied reason....

I would not advise any politician to abandon traditional reason and logic for Lakoff's "higher rationality."

Not just to lie in an obvious fashion, but to admit that you are doing so. Please, Professor Cambourne.


  1. Colleges of education have done a wonderful job of brainwashing and developing mush head that are now failing to teach children to read. This will never change considering the worst of the mush heads are African-American and Hispanic teachers. These folks are sucker-punch in believing reading is natural and a development issues. The urban kids are taking a beating daily in the classroom. Considering half drop-out is not surprising. Just more kids in poverty to continue the trend

    As for myself I am in schools all the time advocating for children in special education that haven't been taught to read. Take it person who sees the madness of a daily basis.

    Jimmy Kilpatrick

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