Simplistic View of Reading Fails Children, Reading, and Science

In 1967, I entered formal schooling as a first grader reading well above so-called grade level. I am 62, and I can vividly recall the books that my mother read to me and my sister—Hop on Pop, One fish two fish red fish blue fish, Green Eggs and Ham, and Go, Dog. Go!

And when I say “recall,” I mean I can see the books, the colors and images decades and decades later.

I fell in love with these books, and reading, well before I could navigate letters and words; in fact, my journey to navigating text began with falling in love with the physical books and the images.

There is a very solid line from those days in early childhood before school and my adolescent fascination with comic books that remains to this day. I continue to read whole issues of comics without ever noticing a word.

So I was filled with a particular sadness and even anger when I saw the following on Twitter:

This is maddeningly untrue about how and why children fall in love with reading, but it serves one of the central agendas of the “science of reading” movement—perpetuating a simplistic sequential view of reading that is skills-based and serves a systematic program of reading.

The SOR movement stands on a reductive claim that the science of reading is both simple and settled.

Neither is true.

More and more, elected officials are banning reading instruction practices and mandating a limited pool of reading programs schools can adopt and implement.

These natural consequences of media claiming reading science is simple and settled do not serve the needs of children or the goal of reading, but do serve political and marketing agendas.

Looking back, I am well aware that I often overcame my working-class roots because my household had plentiful picture books, a routine of reading aloud, and a culture of storytelling (my very not literary father loved to tell stories over and over).

Most of this for my sister and me fostered a love for reading and was not text-based. Our desire to read text was fueled by our love for our parents and reading—as is likely common among many children fortunate enough to have the advantages of our household.

Yes, the letter-sound-meaning dynamic is a key part of reading, but that is not primary to reading and certainly is not necessary seed of learning.

The SOR movement has evolved from misrepresenting reading science as simple and settled to reducing reading to simplistic platitudes about reading that are in no way supported by science or experience.

The cultural and ideological demonizing of whole language has also erased a key element of the holistic understanding of reading, and allowed a mechanical view of reading (and children) to feed a market for scripted programs and efficient ways to systematically assure that children will learn to hate reading and hate the schooling that ruined books for them.