The DeHavilland Blog

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Let's Kill Dick and Jane

There's a review in today's Wall Street Journal of a new book called "Let's Kill Dick and Jane: How the Open Court Publishing Company Fought the Culture of American Education." You can read the review here (if you have a WSJOnline subscription), and you can find it on Amazon here.

The review focuses on something I've written about many times: how the education establishment ignores evidence in favor of ideology or routine. The review captures them both:

But the most vigorous objections came from progressive advocates of Whole Language. This theory rejected specific skill instruction in favor of "meaningful contexts" for reading. Some of its practitioners believed that reading could be learned as easily as talking; others feared that a systematic focus on skills was somehow akin to cultural and economic oppression. Dismissing these chimeras, Open Court argued that depriving children of such skills was the true act of oppression in a society where the boundaries of opportunity were drawn mostly by ignorance.

A recurring theme of "Let's Kill Dick and Jane" is the anti-intellectual rigidity of the educational establishment, which continually resisted the research-based methods that Open Court employed. The effectiveness of Open Court's pedagogy, to the extent that it was measured, indicated that Blouke and Marianne Carus knew what they were doing. The overt resistance of professional educators lessened somewhat over time, only to take on more subtle forms.


For all of the challenges the company faced, perhaps the most insurmountable was securing the commitment of teachers: They were often too deeply attached to their established routines, which were much less demanding than what Open Court was asking of them.

Their resistance, Mr. Henderson stresses, was caused more by inertia than ideology: "They have all the spirit and excitement of baked halibut," complained one Open Court consultant on a school visit. Contrast this dull conformity with the passion of consultants and creators of Open Court, one of whom says simply: "If you teach a child to read, you never have to do another right thing in your life."

The reviewer ends with:

The American education culture, Mr. Henderson concludes, "can assume a veneer of progressivism or traditionalism as the times dictate, but its routines lie deeper than ideology." The founders of Open Court, and education reformers before and since, can testify to the truth of those words.

Sounds like there's a lot to be learned from this book - if so, I'll write more once I've had the chance to read it.


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