Cowards, Censorship, and Collateral Damage: The Other Reading War

My partner and I took two of my grandchildren — Brees, 6, a kindergartener, and Skylar, 8, a third-grader — to a local high school football game where their father is an assistant coach.

As we were leaving, Brees said “Dorman” as we passed a sign for the school. My partner asked if he read the word, he explained he remembered “Dorman” starts with a “D” and ends with an “N” so he made a contextualized, and correct guess.

We praised him, and then he proceeded to spell “Dorman” with brief hesitations — ”D,” “O,” “R,” “M,” “E,” “N.” My partner told him he did a great job and that he was nearly perfect, but the final vowel is “A,” although the “E” was a reasonable choice considering how the word is pronounced (especially here in the South).

I think about these children, beginning and emerging readers both, often as I continue to challenge the reductive current reading war driven by the “science of reading” movement. I have written about Skylar, an eager reader, and included both children on the cover of the second edition of my book about that reading war:

How to End the Reading War and Serve the Literacy Needs of All Students (2nd Ed)

Brees demonstrated the value of having a wide and deep toolbox for reading for meaning, and represents, I think, the real-world value of seeking context and clues beyond simple decoding and reliance on phonics (although both are, of course, part of that toolbox). Ultimately, the key to his reading “Dorman” was experiential — having visited the school and having seen the word on clothes, etc., with his father.

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P. L. Thomas, Professor of Education Furman University, taught high school English before moving to teacher education. https://radicalscholarship.wordpress.com/

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Paul Thomas

P. L. Thomas, Professor of Education Furman University, taught high school English before moving to teacher education. https://radicalscholarship.wordpress.com/