by Charles J. Sykes
At first blush, the arguments for "whole language" seem self-evident, which accounts, in part, for their widespread acceptance. Advocates argue that teachers should emphasize comprehension and immerse children in high-quality literature. They insist they are teaching literacy by reading interesting and stimulating stories and undertaking projects that interest and involve children and reduce their anxieties about reading and writing. But in its purer forms, "whole language" is not merely an instructional technique, it is an overarching philosophy of education. its advocates believe that children learn "naturally, " that children learn best when "learning is kept whole, meaningful, interesting and functional," and that this is more likely to happen when children make their own choices as part of a "community of learners" in a noncompetitive environment. "Whole language" advocates describe "optimal literacy environments," which they say "promote risk taking and trust." These classrooms are "child-centered," and children learn at their own pace.
Very few students have "anxiety" or "stress" about reading if they are simply properly taught how to read. Due to the incredible failure of modern education to teach basic reading skills, numerous students are labeled "learning disabled" or "dyslexic", and then to add injury to insult, are forced to take strong psychotropic drugs to "cure" their supposed "mental disorders". The psych industry first creates many of the problems by failing to teach simple basic reading skills, then falsely diagnoses these study problems as "mental disorders", and then the psych industry profits more by drugging the poor child. This is an extreme betrayal to the children of America (and anywhere else where this is occurring).
Not surprisingly, this is not a place where drills in phonics or an emphasis on the mechanics of reading is likely to be stressed. Nor is there much room for stressing that there are right and wrong ways of spelling or writing in this brave new world in which children monitor themselves, take chances, express their feelings, and look at pictures in books. Whole language, riffs one enthusiast, is "child-centered, experiential, reflective, authentic, holistic, social, collaborative, democratic, cognitive, developmental, constructivist, and challenging." The more zealous advocates of this learner-centered, child-centered approach seem to believe that teaching basic skills is not only unnecessary, but could be positively harmful to the blooming creativity and self-esteem of young children. Putting too much pressure on children to learn the phonetic rules might get in the way of the child's enthusiasm, his wonder, exploration and his eagerness to sing beautiful songs from his unsullied soul. Rather than seeing such basic skills as providing children a key to unlock the secrets of literacy, they see such skills as anchors preventing children from continuing to trail clouds of glory.
Educationists, of course, insist that this romantic view of learning has a solid basis in "science." The history of this movement can, in part, be traced to the attempts of fledgling educationists to win some legitimacy for their field.