Broken Promises of Reading Instruction Make Good History Lesson

2 08 2007

Columbia University Teachers College Record
“Reading Against Democracy: The Broken Promises of Reading Instruction” by Patrick Shannon
reviewed by Patricia H. Hinchey — July 2007

Taken as a whole, Shannon’s text does a remarkable job of untangling the complex interplay of forces, allowing the reader to perceive the past not as some incoherent, jagged route to the present but instead as the steady growth of a number of forces consistently pursuing the same set of goals for over a century. . .
No Child Left Behind is not simply George W. Bush’s misguided policy; it is the product of decades of influences pushing in a particular direction—always, always with the guiding hand of business exerting its inexorable influence. . . For Patrick Shannon, the intersections of business, science and government during the last decade or so amount to a “perfect storm,” generating conditions that “keep even the best school in America in continuous triage activities to keep themselves afloat” (p. 165).

That was my whole career in education, folks. Continuous triage activities to keep ourselves afloat —

. . .It is impossible to read the historical material Shannon has compiled and not develop a sense of how intransigent some issues are, or of how long the weather conditions producing today’s perfect storm have been brewing. . .

By Chapter Five, Shannon has reached the 1980s and the gathering winds are becoming increasingly threatening. . . The flow of these years, with public education consistently and increasingly under attack and government taking greater and greater control, is presented as the swelling tide it was, gathering strength and ultimately depositing NCLB, Reading First and other initiatives upon education’s beleaguered shores.

Chapter Six details the role business had to play in these efforts and the many ways it has profited from them. Chapter Seven deals with the perversion of “science” as a means of justifying the unjustifiable pronouncements of government “experts” and policymakers about the best way to teach reading (pouring vast sums of money into corporate coffers while simultaneously pretending that mountains of contradictory research evidence simply don’t exist.) Chapter Eight explains why it is necessary—from the viewpoint of business and anyone else who wants an uncritical and/or uneducated citizenry—to control and de-skill teachers.

Chapter Nine may be especially useful in helping readers to grasp what is at stake in current struggles. Tellingly titled “A Process of Elimination,” it makes clear—in such segments as one titled “Children as Waste”—that the goal of current efforts is in fact to leave behind a certain set of children: those whose languages, customs, backgrounds and values are different from those privileged by the official state version of what school ought to be and do. . .

The stranglehold of conformity and increasing marginalization of the relatively powerless are antithetical to any notion of education for democratic life. Education has become an auxiliary to business, dependent on economics rather than equity for its raison d’être: “Now reading instruction prepares human capital, and not citizens, for a democracy of consumers and consuming” (p. 213).

The final chapter, Chapter Ten, offers a sorely needed glimmer of light at the end of the very dark tunnel. . .a multitude of names and resources that an engaged reader might wisely choose to explore next.



One response

9 08 2007

Introduction and chapter 8 are at:

Now I need a nap.

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