SL 735

pyramid.jpgI’m going to try to get tickets for King Kong when it’s in preview.

Worst professor award goes to….

My in-laws are near ground zero – near Morehead City — for Hurricane Florence. I’m glad that they finally agreed to go inland, but I suspect there are a whole lot of people who are refusing to go. It’s going to suck.

Why aren’t kids being taught to read?

The teachers’ strikes are going to be a factor in upcoming elections. I’m going to come back to teacher pay sometime soon.

I’ve had lox on a raisin bagel before. It’s delish.

(Credit: Image)



50 thoughts on “SL 735

  1. Wow that is a really long diatribe against Ronell. It’s interesting how much power she appears to have wielded in her micro fiefdom (independent of the specifics of any he said she said). I guess, when I think about it, that this is generally true in academia (though I do wonder where else). I guess objective measures of success (i.e. sales figures or code that works or ad campaigns that succeed) might help avoid the centralized power. Unions, bargaining agreements, laws can help, too (though they have their own adverse consequences).


      1. No, conservatives love phonics. They also love genetics and evolutionary psychology. Each side has its own science.


      2. No, conservatives love phonics.

        Conservatives love phonics, but not because they are all about good science. More that the (mostly liberal) academics pushed the whole reading thing, which in all fairness is completely messed up. So, the conservatives push phonics because of a mix of “tradition” and raising a middle finger to the left.

        Their love of phonics is mostly rooted in anti-intellectualism, but in this case they happen to be right. A stopped clock is right twice a day…


      3. Jay said:

        “So, the conservatives push phonics because of a mix of “tradition” and raising a middle finger to the left.”

        …and because they have actual kids that they want to read.

        Phonics tend to be popular with people who want their kids to read.

        (I do occasionally hear anecdotes of individuals who do better with a whole word approach, though. But on the whole, YAY, PHONICS!)

        “Their love of phonics is mostly rooted in anti-intellectualism, but in this case they happen to be right.”

        Why would it be anti-intellectualism (rather than basic common sense and having some sort of grounding in reality) to believe in using phonics?

        Does not compute!

        Maybe the word you’re looking for is antiestablishmentarianism? (And you’d definitely want phonics to tackle that word!)


      4. Why would it be anti-intellectualism (rather than basic common sense and having some sort of grounding in reality) to believe in using phonics?

        Because they don’t actually understand what they are advocating for. They are for it because the leftist intellectuals are against it. They just happen to be correct here, but that is blind luck. If phonics didn’t work they would still be for it because the lefty are against it. Just like they are with climate science and evolutionary biology. For instance.

        A stopped clock is right twice a day.


    1. I’m an “and” kinda person rather than “either/or” like most liberals. 😉

      Phonics AND whole word (I tutor early readers), drilling in math facts AND new math. You need both. Kinda like learning your scales before you can improvise.


      1. That is not what the APM article indicates. Can you point to some studies validating your approach? Clinical evidence doesn’t mean much: most children don’t get individual tutoring, so the question is what works in a classroom.

        Let me add that, if personal experience were a guide, I didn’t learn to read by learning phonics. I learned to read in about a week at the end of kindergarten. It was like I knew all the words (except “shrubbery” which I encountered in “The Secret Garden.”) The whole thing was very strange, not least for my first grade teacher. But that’s not how most people learn.


      2. I also didn’t learn to read using phonics. And, I also learned to read in Kindergarten, in a language I didn’t speak. My kids learned that way, too.

        The science has no quick fix answers, which is what people (especially conservatives, who don’t want to spend money especially on teachers) want.


      3. Science has no total answers, but that’s like saying that imposing limits on smoking (which is mostly kind of a liberal cause) won’t eliminate cancer. Obviously it won’t, but reducing smoking has improved public health and will continue to do so. The fact that my grandfather smoked, lived to be 87, and didn’t die of cancer is kind of irrelevant to the scientific analysis. Implementing phonics-based instruction across the board would dramatically improve the reading abilities of American children. It’s mostly liberal academics who are preventing that. No rational person can disagree with the last two sentences, although many supposedly educated people will respond with insult rather than an admission that those two sentences are correct.


      4. If that was for me, I’ll explain further. I volunteer tutor struggling early readers at a local public school. We use a variety of strategies depending upon the child and his/her needs. I can’t provide the academic back up since that’s not my area of expertise. The teachers who train/coach us have that info.

        My point was that you need an array of approaches. No one strategy works for all.

        Most kids will read by grade 3. A few outliers will be early readers and a few will struggle. Some have learning challenges. Some just aren’t ready developmentally in grade 1. Some just need more practice. All benefit from a year long one-on-one relationship with an adult working with them. I (and the several hundred other volunteers in my city) do what would have been done by paid staff in the old days of healthy education budgets.


      5. I also worked as a reading tutor in an elementary school for several years. I’ll take your word for it that the evidence shows that in a large classroom with no tutors phonics is the best route, but there are quite a few schools that bring in parents or college students or other adults for slow readers. If you’ve done individual work with these kids – and I’m guessing both us crazy liberals tutors and crazy conservative tutors have this experience – you’ll see that different methods work for different kids with different backgrounds at different stages, or at least that mixing up the approaches is often helpful.


    1. Lox on any bagel would make me leave the room, but I believe fish are friends, not food.

      There are many more types of sweet bagels out there, including the absolutely delicious French Toast bagels offered at the bagel place near my mom’s.


    1. Hey! A friend (a former academic) is moving to Pittsburgh. He’s looking for daycare and a good, affordable neighborhood. Any suggestions?


      1. He should live in Squirrel Hill with all the other former and current academics. It’s very affordable compared to New York/New Jersey housing. Feel free to forward him my email if he has any questions.

        I don’t really know much about day care anymore.


      2. Obviously, where he will work matters. If not Oakland (or downtown), there are other options that are probably more affordable and as convenient.


  2. I think early childhood learning depends on personal human connections. That’s the evolutionary imperative. We need good teachers, supported in multiple methods, who have the time and energy to get to know the individual child and use all the methods in the toolkit to teach them. There is no liberal conspiracy to prevent children from learning to read.

    I always roll my eyes when people say “We never looked at brain research. We had never, ever looked at it. Never.” as though that was going to be a solution. The link to the Guinevere Eden’s interview reveals fairly stable results (indeed, the psychology and brain imaging and neurophysiology support the idea that b’s and d’s will be conflated). The area of the brain used in object recognition (my actual field of study) is probably used to read because it is the part of the brain that can learn to discriminate among objects and, yes, the brain must change when we learn to read, because the brain must change whenever we learn. None of that gives us any simple answers for teaching a complex behavior like reading.

    Usually simple solutions fall apart (in the Bethlehem case cited in the article, the reading instruction was combined with full day kindergarten!). There have been other studies, citing a role for eye movements (which is gaining a snake oil resurgence), citing a role for temporal processing (suggesting that auditory training will improve reading). Computerized phonics instruction, phonetic programs that use pseudowords are also cure-all interventions.

    My first research project ever, was on the role of eye movements in dyslexia. A British scientist/optometrist had found that kids who couldn’t read well moved their eyes funny, and published multiple papers on the same study and then started selling the snake oil treatments. With further research, I think most people found that the faulty eye movements were a result and not a cause of poor reading. My take home lesson from that research was that people will exaggerate the usability of research and that children are complicated.

    (and yes, I do understand that anecdotes, even multiple ones, do not make for evidence based approaches to learning)


    1. I think its interesting how phonics, hand writing, and grammar became an issue of political polarization. There’s really nothing about those things that would necessarily tie them to political parties. Is it because the teachers don’t want to teach those things or they aren’t being good at those things themselves or they are very time-intensive? And since the teachers unions are tied to the Democratic Party, conservatives embraced them? Or is it because someone decided that those lessons were anti-progressive?

      I started some research on grammar today, because parents have been complaining about it at local school board meetings. It isn’t taught in the schools, so parents are hiring tutors to teach kids about adjectives and adverbs so they can pass their ACTs and SATs. The private schools around here still teach those things.

      I’m also super interested in reading comprehension, since my kid is hyperlexic. A genius at decoding and all the things that dyslexics are bad at, but has a lot of trouble understanding the text. The schools have no idea what to do with him, so I’m spending ungodly amounts on tutors right now.


      1. I don’t think it’s a political thing. Certainly, all sorts of very liberal fellow parents in our kids’ public school system were complaining about the lack of grammar instruction during the time my husband and I were pleading with administrators for grammar instruction. Which-as a side note–were at that time required by the state Frameworks, and which they promised would get taught. Hah! One quiz on a one page list of the parts of speech is not grammar instruction.

        This article has interesting observations:

        Our child who changed from public to private school had to work very hard catching up to her peers who had been in private school from the start. Contrary to some opinions expressed in the article above, you certainly can explicitly teach grammar rules. The problem is, to teach the rules, you have to yourself have mastered those rules. If you don’t know it, you can’t teach it.

        It’s not a political thing, it’s a class thing. I suspect the upper class students learn proper speech through family members jumping down their throats when they say, “Me and John are going to the park,” rather than “John and I…,” or say “less students” rather than “fewer students,” etc. Certainly all the adults in our family, whether in-laws or out-laws, are willing to correct young relatives on points of grammar at any time.

        It would be interesting to find out (if you could) how much knowledge in “good” school districts is imparted by tutors.


      2. I think it’s partly what Laura said, about teachers not liking these types of lessons, teachers being mostly Democrats, etc. But also there’s some kind of deep affiliation between things that liberals believe in, and conservatives, an affiliation which is intellectual in some way but not rational. Somehow the people who believe in “whole language” reading are also apt to believe in “holistic” medicine and are also apt to believe in “inclusive” immigration policies, even though there’s no real logical connection among those things.


      3. Further: Belle Waring–I think, it might have been someone else at Crooked Timber–wrote an intellectually transforming (for me) piece some years ago noting how certain generally conservative intellectuals are drawn to reductionist theories, from selfish genes to efficient markets to “realism” in foreign policy, even though there’s no logical connection among those things and they are, at some level, inconsistent: selfish genes wouldn’t combine to produce rational utility-maximizing individuals who wouldn’t combine to produce monadic self-aggrandizing nation-states.


      4. When my kids went to school, they already knew how to read. Why? We read to them a lot. We did not do phonics. We just read to them, and they learned. That’s also the way I learned (I was reading at 3 years old). I don’t know what to make of that. It’s not science. It’s just anecdotal experience.


      5. In response to Cranberry: When our kids used to start sentences with “Me and …,” my husband and I would always interrupt and say – who is Mein? They found that SUPER annoying, so “Me and …” has dropped out of their usage entirely


      6. Cranberry said,

        “It’s not a political thing, it’s a class thing. I suspect the upper class students learn proper speech through family members jumping down their throats when they say, “Me and John are going to the park,” rather than “John and I…,” or say “less students” rather than “fewer students,” etc. Certainly all the adults in our family, whether in-laws or out-laws, are willing to correct young relatives on points of grammar at any time.”

        That reminds me of a bit from St. Augustine that I remember reading in Peter Brown’s biography. Augustine thought that one goes about learning good Latin by just immersing oneself in good Latin.

        For obvious reasons, this advice became less and less useful as time went by…

        People who don’t grow up surrounded by standard English (or good Latin) need more systematic instruction in order to help them to learn the “rules” so they aren’t disadvantaged or treated with prejudice.

        (I believe at least one Apt 11d-er would go ballistic if somebody said nuc-u-lar when they meant nuc-le-ar.)


      7. To slnoonanj: OMG, that reminds me that when I was in preschool, I apparently had a habit of saying “Hey [person’s name].” Miss Ann, my preschool teacher, would correct me by saying “Hay is for horses.” Obviously, 49 years later, this still is stuck in my brain.

        To AmyP: “I believe at least one Apt 11d-er would go ballistic if somebody said nuc-u-lar when they meant nuc-le-ar.”
        I am pretty sure you don’t mean me, but as an aside, as a result of the way I think and/or learned to read, I tend to have poor pronunciation. (The family joke is that I would pronounce Albany as “Al Banny.” Since I see words rather than hear them, to me Al was like, well, Al instead of like “all” and “ban” was like the word “ban.”) So I would probably pronounce nuclear as “new clear.” Possibly “nuck leer.” 😀

        Actually, I think this is relevant to phonics and teaching grammar. I have found that some students hear words and hear sentence structure, and they have to be taught differently than people like me who see words and structure. Having more students read (visually, as opposed to hearing books read to them) can help with written grammar. Vocabulary can be taught through being read to/spoken to and not just through reading.

        An example is the sentence “You are supposed to do X.” If you are a reader and your visual processing is stronger than your auditory processing, then “supposed to” looks normal. But if you are a strong auditory processor, then you can’t hear that d on “supposed to,” and you will spell it wrong a lot until you train yourself to look for it and correct it.


      8. Wendy, you see a lot of that sort of thing in comments on newspaper articles. Common figures of speech seem particularly prone to misunderstandings. “Would of” instead of “would have,” for example.

        People to whom reading comes easily will read more text than people who have difficulty decoding text. Reading does not come easily to everyone; it is unjust to suppose that a child who is having difficulty reading is just not trying hard enough. Or to suppose that the family just isn’t reading enough to their children.

        I know no one on 11D has said that, but it is an attitude you will encounter.

        (By the way, if you learned to read through Dr. Seuss, you received much more phonics training than you realize.

        Teaching phonics is more time and labor intensive than parceling out early readers to the class. However, some children will not learn to read without phonics. Estimates of rates of dyslexia generally run to about 10% of the population.


      9. “Certainly all the adults in our family, whether in-laws or out-laws, are willing to correct young relatives on points of grammar at any time.”

        Gee, in my family all the adults are more than willing to correct the other adults on points of grammar. Also misquotations from Shakespeare, mistakes in Latin grammar, misuse of legal terminology, etc.


    2. I am not impressed with that article at all. It makes the arguments only on political grounds, citing mostly to teachers who aren’t teaching children how to read. Searching on the web, the Bethlehem school district appears to be using the McGraw hill “Wonder” program, which as far as I can tell, would appear to be a “balanced literacy” program that uses phonics in conjunction with words and text understanding (they advertise being aligned with California learning standards).

      “At first, some of the teachers recoiled a bit at the scripted nature of the lessons; the curriculum is explicit and systematic, with every teacher on the same page each day. If the curriculum says today’s the day for kindergarteners to learn words that begin with the sounds “wuh” and “guh,” you can walk into any kindergarten classroom in the district and see the teacher doing that lesson.”

      I can imagine that teachers would recoil at the idea that every K class would be doing the same thing on the same day. I recoil. I cannot imagine that each class and individual trajectory could justy being on the same lesson in every class. It would have made my head explode as a Kindergartner, when I came to the country, started learning to read English, and was moved into 1st grade after half the year.


  3. Florence is giving me flashbacks to Hugo in 1989. I was living in Durham then, and I remember going to sleep petrified of what would happen overnight. The damn thing moved south of us and hit Charleston then Charlotte full-on.


    1. Florence has been downgraded to a Category 2, which is good news. Unfortunately, the weather service is still predicting up to 40 (40!!) inches of rain. I can’t imagine that much rain.


      1. Another advantage of Squirrel Hill is how far from the ocean it is and how far above the river is even though it isn’t far from it.


  4. I haven’t read the thread yet (sorry), but I’m going to add that “worst professor” is a VERY competitive field.


    1. Everything I have read about Ronell (and Jarrar) makes me ever more grateful to my major professor, an absolute prince who wanted only the best for us.


  5. Back to the phonics:

    My teen did some tutoring last year at one of our poorest local schools. It started out as math tutoring, but it turned out they needed reading tutoring more.

    My teen came back with extremely painful stories of how her tutoree would register the first couple letters and then guess wildly (for example, whatever word in the text that had previously had those two letters). I had the sinking feeling listening to that story that my teen (who learned to read at 4) was not well-equipped to help this kid.

    I have no idea how that kid managed to wind up like that. Missing a lot of school? Learning disability? Both?


    1. Here’s another thing that I gathered from listening to my teen talk about her reading tutoring experiences: even if the kid could decode (which he couldn’t), he wouldn’t know the meaning of many of the key words he was supposed to be decoding–which is a pretty big impediment to reading comprehension.

      It’s just like how even if we got a 5 minute lesson in Spanish pronunciation (which my high school French teacher once gave me) we wouldn’t be able to read in Spanish if we didn’t know the meaning of half the words. Decoding is necessary (you need to know how a double-ll or a j is usually pronounced or you are not going anywhere), but it’s just a first step in being able to read Spanish.

      I believe E.D. Hirsch talks about this at length in his classic Cultural Literacy (1987). If I handed you an article about cricket finals or Korean grammar and then started to quiz you about the article, it would be a huge leg up to you with regard to reading comprehension if you actually were familiar with the terminology for those fields, and (this is the next step up) had some familiarity with the subject. See also (from the left) the famous and much-maligned “regatta” SAT question. So vocabulary and content knowledge are essential for reading comprehension.

      It beats me what’s reductive about this conversation…


  6. Again, this is not a political issue.

    It’s been burning for oh, at least 60 years.

    _Why Johnny Can’t Read_ was published in 1955.

    If anything, the ongoing lack of coherent reading instruction in US schools is due to education schools not teaching new teachers the skills, and a lack of administrators who make the issue a priority.

    Last year when I visited a school in Nevada, fifth-grade teachers I talked to sounded a lot like Rudolf Flesch in the 1950s. They’d been shocked to discover their students couldn’t decipher simple words like pipe. The fifth-graders had always scored low on reading tests, but this was the first time they’d taken one that specifically checked their ability to decode.

    The teachers assured me the school now required systematic phonics instruction at lower grade levels. But I’d just been talking with a kindergarten teacher who blithely told me she favored an unsystematic “mish-mosh” approach to decoding. She thought it was working beautifully.

    In the early grades, it may look like a mish-mosh is working, because the books are so simple. But when kids encounter more complex books at upper grade levels, they hit a wall—as Johnny did.


    1. Cranberry,


      I’d also add that in the lower grades, they may be guessing effectively based on illustrations or context.


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