Remember my July 10 post, “Tell me about special reading”? Well, you can all stop thinking I’m just another middle class mama boasting about my wonderful offspring. I am and I do, but not today. The purpose of this post is to downplay my kid and up-play, if the term is allowable, the system that taught him to read so quickly. Evidence that this might be a group rather than an individual effect was provided by a little sign posted up on his classroom door at the end of term. It said that 95% of the children in his year were ahead of the national average in literacy, and 54% of them were more than a year ahead. In case you are wondering, the school is an ordinary state school in an area that is mostly middle and respectable working class but includes some children from welfare enclaves.
So what’s this post doing on Samizdata? Early Reading Research (ERR) certainly is not a system designed to appeal to libertarians. The teacher is boss. The kids listen and participate as a group, in unison. Scientific it may be, but in spirit it is a throwback to systems the Victorians would have recognized.
But that doesn’t matter. The libertarian morals to be drawn are (a) it’s taken thirty freaking years or more to overthrow the fraudulent orthodoxy that monolithic state education enthroned, and the job ain’t done yet; (b) that when you next hear statists moan on about how horrifically complicated, interconnected and hard to solve social problems are, mentally add the words “so long as you refuse to admit that you were wrong”; (c) watch the buggers in the educational establishment. Watch them with the eyes of a hawk. Sure, they are by now in their heart of hearts convinced that phonics is the system that works. But a little matter like the interests of actual children won’t override the fact that the last thing the Special Needs “community” want is sudden, clear improvement in children’s literacy. It would make them look bad. Worse, it would make them look unecessary. Expect them to obfuscate, distort and delay reform in every way imaginable. They’ll tell themselves that gradual change and a “mixed approach” are the best thing all round, which is true when the best thing is defined as covering their tails.
One final point. I can talk “mixed approach” too. I’m not saying ERR is the best and only system for all time, just that it knocks the National Literacy Strategy into a cocked hat. I’m not saying that there are no children with real special needs, just that there are much fewer of them than will keep all today’s legion of special needs teachers in their jobs. And I have no idea of what Jonathan Solity’s political opinions are. If he ever reads this and finds himself agreeing with me, I suggest that he keep very, very quiet about it.