Thank You Whole Language
A satirical story of the elimination of teaching the mechanics of reading
Thank you Whole Language. Thank you for your many pearls of wisdom. Thank you for Context Clues. Thank you for Prior Knowledge. Thank you for the Initial Consonant. Thank you for Picture Clues. Thank you for Miscues.
But most of all, thank you for my wife. The other day she and I were riding along the highway and saw a sign for a town called Verona, so my wife read "Veronica". It's very simple, you see. First she applied Context Clues (she knew we were looking for a name). Then she applied the Initial Consonant ("V"). Then she applied Prior Knowledge (she already knew of a name "Veronica"). She put these Whole Language strategies together and ... success! At least, as much success as we can expect, I suppose.
Thank you William S. Gray for inventing "Look-Say" and the "Dick and Jane" series of basal readers. Thank you A. Sterl Artley for helping Mr. Gray and for your phonics-bashing diatribes of the1950s and 1960s. Thanks to the National Education Association for giving Mr. Gray and his friends two years of free promotion in the NEA Journal in 1930 and 1931. Together you all had managed to essentially eradicate phonics from America's public schools by the 1950s and early 60s, when my wife went to school.
But more importantly, thank you for my wife. Awhile back she was reading a pamphlet about something that was described as "venerable". Now that's a word you don't see every day, so what did she do but cleverly pull out her Whole Language skills? Context Clues, you see, told her that she was looking for an adjective. Next was the Initial Consonant "V". Then out came the Prior Knowledge -- she simply thought of an adjective she already knew that was about the right length and started with "V". And voila ... success again ... she came up with "vulnerable". Perfect! Well, at least as perfect as things get in publik ejukayshun, right?
Thanks Kenneth Goodman for reviving the floundering Look-Say, adding a few New Age twists and renaming it Whole Language back in the early 80s. Just like the Whole Earth Catalog and Whole Grains and everything else that was Whole ... what else could it be but wonderful? Without you, Kenneth, the evils of phonics might have returned, and then where would we have been?
Thank you Dorothy Strickland for "Emerging Literacy" the idea that kids are naturally inclined to read if only we will surround them with literature. Thanks to all the other Whole Language textbook authors who cranked out textbook after textbook that either omitted phonics entirely or disparaged phonics openly. Thank you Teachers College, Columbia for promoting Whole Language to teachers' colleges worldwide. Can you even imagine how effective you were in eradicating phonics instruction throughout the English-speaking world?
Thank you International Reading Association (IRA) and National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE). For decades you appointed people like William S. Gray and Kenneth Goodman to lead your entire organizations in the fight against phonics. Somehow you raised hundreds of thousands or perhaps millions of dollars to pay PR firms to get their opinions so heavily quoted in the press that the public is now completely confused in its ideas about what works and what doesn't work in reading instruction.
But once again thank you for my wife. Awhile back she was reading about some Congregational Church. And do you know, even with the Context Clues and the Prior Knowledge (about what names churches might have, presumably) and the Initial Consonant, she still managed to come up with "Congressional Church". Even though this was years ago, I remember it like it was yesterday.
Thank you Elfie Kohn and Dennis Baron and Mike Ford and Gerald Coles and Harvey Daniels and Regie Routman and Susan Ohanian and Stephen Krashen and Jim Trelease and all the other propagandists who lash out continuously against successful practice in general and phonics in particular. Through your tireless efforts, the public is continually misinformed. Without the public's perpetual state of confusion and misinformation, Whole Language would not have survived a single day. Thank you for keeping Look-Say and Whole Language and Balanced Literacy alive to create yet another generation of people who can read as well as my wife does.
Speaking of my wife, last night she was reading a brochure aloud about a museum with an "eclectic" collection, and what do you suppose she said? You guessed it (and so did she): "electric". Maybe the absence of the Initial Consonant threw her off.
Thank you Marie Clay for inventing the phenomenally expensive Reading Recovery, a program installed in virtually every public school, it seems, and designed to treat the educational effects of Whole Language by applying yet more Whole Language. Thank you for giving my school district more stuff like this to spend my tax money on. How is it that I am not clever enough to imagine things like this?
Thank you Richard Allington, current (2005) president of the International Reading Association, for your campaign of misinformation against Direct InstructionÂ (a successful phonics-based program). The cleverness of your propaganda puts the Soviets, the Chinese Communists, and all the other tyrants of the 20th century to shame. You know of course that Direct Instruction (DI) participated in a huge study (Project Follow Through) in which all the participants except DI failed, and in which DI succeeded brilliantly. And so you twist this around to say that by virtue of its association in this study with the constructivist-favored instructional styles that failed so miserably, we should all conclude that DI must necessarily also have been a failure. Your logic, so typical of that of the IRA, the NCTE, and the rest of the Constructivist Cabal, is irrefutable.Â
But once again thank you all for my wife. Hardly a day goes by when she does not demonstrate the success of Look-Say, or Whole Language, or Balanced Literacy or whatever you all call it now. Really, it's so amusing I really can't even quantify it. I never know what she'll read next ... and neither does she! Just imagine all her Miscues!
The sheer unpredictability of listening to her read is astounding and unpredictability is the essence of entertainment, right? I mean, she might read "deleterious" as "delicious" or perhaps "injurious" a "injustice" or "parabola" as "parachute" or maybe "quintessence" as "quintuplet"or"signify" as "signature". I could go on and on almost endlessly. The laughs just never stop here.
And all thanks to you. All of you.
So thank you, Whole Language. Where would we be without you? The possibilities just boggle the mind.
[Note: This author normally signs his work, but in this case declines because he doesn't want his wife identified in this manner.]