After 40 years of teaching a patently stupid, illogical, and scientifically unsound method of reading instruction that condemned millions of Americans to functional illiteracy, the “whole language” movement has given up the ghost as Columbia University shutters the ” Teachers College Reading and Writing Project ” and sends its founder, Lucy Calkins, off on “permanent sabbatical.”
“Moving forward, TC wants to foster more conversations and collaboration among different evidence-based approaches to literacy, and ensure our programs are aligned with the needs of teachers and school districts looking to partner,” the statement read.
Dr. Calkins, 71, remains a tenured professor, on sabbatical. Last week, she announced the formation of a new company, the Mossflower Reading and Writing Project, to continue her work consulting with schools. A number of her staff members from Teachers College are joining the new independent entity.
The rupture in the relationship between Teachers College and Dr. Calkins comes amid intense political pressure on schools of education to better align teacher training with research.
Calkins’ idea was that “whole language” idiocy could be disguised and remarketed as “balanced literacy.”
Whole Language was based on the insane presumption that elementary-age children could learn to read by essentially guessing at the pronunciation and meaning of words.
Gregory Shafer, a professor of English at Mott Community College, has claimed that “the seeds” of the whole language movement were “firmly rooted” in the theories of linguist Noam Chomsky. In 1967, Ken Goodman had an idea about reading that he considered similar to Chomsky’s, and he wrote a widely cited article called “Reading: A psycholinguistic guessing game”. Goodman set out to determine whether the views of Chomsky could serve as psychological models of the reading process. He chided educators for attempting to apply what he saw as unnecessary orthographic order to a process that relied on holistic examination of words. Whether Goodman was indeed inspired by Chomsky, neither Chomsky himself nor his followers have ever accepted Goodman’s views.
Goodman thought that there are four “cueing systems” for reading, four things that readers have to guess what word comes next:
- graphophonemic: the shapes of the letters and the sounds that they evoke (see phonetics).
- semantic: what word one would expect to occur based on the meaning of the sentence so far (see semantics).
- syntactic: what part of speech or word would make sense based on the grammar of the language (see syntax).
- pragmatic: what is the function of the text
The “graph” part of the word “graphophonemic” means the shape or symbol of the graphic input, i.e., the text. According to Goodman, these systems work together to help readers guess the right word. He emphasized that pronouncing individual words will involve the use of all three systems (letter clues, meaning clues from context, and syntactical structure of the sentence).
This system went on to become a major educational fad and eventually the standard of practice despite a dearth of empirical evidence showing that it worked. The damage wrought by this travesty, as well as by “Common Core” math, will never be accurately tallied.
There’s an old joke about a British cavalry officer who was so stupid that even the horses had begun to notice. In this case, “balanced literacy,” when subjected to academic rigor, was so bad that even the founder had to admit it was awful, and the flagship program at Columbia moved on to teaching phonics.
In an interview, Dana Goldstein, national correspondent for The New York Times, reports how Professor Lucy Calkins, a founder of the balanced literacy movement, admitted to ignoring cognitive science for four decades. Calkins stated: “The last two or three years, what I’ve learned from the science of reading work has been transformational.” (Goldstein, 2022) The new administration at Teachers College apparently found ignoring the science for decades unforgivable, and over the summer of 2023 moved to dissolve Professor Calkins’ standard bearer for Balanced Literacy, namely Teachers College Reading and Writing Project, which over the decades influenced millions of children worldwide. According to a statement put out by the new Provost of the College, KerryAnn O’Meara, “TC [Teachers College] will ensure that its professional development programs are informed by the latest research and evidence and that the College continually finds new ways to translate faculty scholarship into timely assessments, interventions, and research-based practices”
Of course, the great thing about academia is that no matter how much damage you inflict, you never have to say you’re sorry (see Author of Fraudulent 1619 Project Declines Tenure At University of North Carolina Moves Her Grift To More Fertile Ground).
One can hope that the massive restructuring of Boston University’s “antiracism” research center (Race Hustler Ibram X. Kendi’s Grift Center Fires Half Its Staff Amid Claims of Exploitation) along with Columbia’s decision to stop pushing a fraud upon the nation’s kids may indicate that academia is returning to its senses. But I’m not holding my breath.