The Atlantic published a must-read piece by Robert Pondiscio, vice president of the Core Knowledge Foundation and a former 5th grade teacher. Pondiscio writes,
We have become accustomed to thinking of educational failure as a function of a teacher’s lack of effort, talent, or training. But sometimes the problem lies specifically in what we train teachers to do. Nowhere is this more evident than in the way we teach reading and writing to some of our most vulnerable students.
Every day, for two hours a day, I led my young students through Reader’s and Writer’s Workshop. I was trained not to address my kids as “students” or “class” but as “authors” and “readers.” We gathered “seed ideas” in our Writer’s Notebooks. We crafted “small moment” stories, personal narratives, and memoirs. We peer edited. We “shared out.” Gathered with them on the rug, I explained to my 10-year-olds that “good writers find ideas from things that happened in their lives.” That stories have “big ideas.” That good writers “add detail,” “stretch their words,” and “spell the best they can.”
Teach grammar, sentence structure, and mechanics? I barely even taught. I “modeled” the habits of good readers and “coached” my students. What I called “teaching,” my staff developer from Teacher’s College dismissed as merely “giving directions.” My job was to demonstrate what good readers and writers do and encourage my students to imitate and adopt those behaviors.
In short, I presided over the reading and writing equivalent of a Cargo Cult.
In other words, he bought into the kind of half-baked theories that are accepted as gospel truth in schools of education. Pondiscio adopted the “critical literacy” approach. The goal of critical literacy is to use reading and writing to “liberate” students from their oppressors, that is, capitalists, conservatives, and apparently grammarians.
Pondiscio still believes that it is important for children to develop their “voice” but not at the expense of learning how language works. He concludes, “For every kid who has had his creative spark dimmed by “paint-by-numbers” writing instruction, there are almost certainly 10 more who never developed that creative spark because they grew up believing they can’t write and never learned to adequately express themselves.”