In my last post, I noted how around a third of primary schools in New South Wales had signed-up for the Australian government’s free phonics screening check and I pointed out that a number of educationalists had complained about this.
Rather disappointingly, the New South Wales Secondary Principals’ Council decided to cast doubt upon the judgement on a third of their primary colleagues by sharing an article by Dr Paul Gardner that is critical of the check.
Gardner’s article mutters darkly about the ‘vested interests’ and ‘agent provocateurs’ behind phonics and trots out the doublethink argument that phonics currently receives ‘universal acceptance’ while, at the same time, ‘English is not a phonetic language’. That’s a bit strange, don’t you think? If English was not a phonetic language then why would teaching it phonetically be universally accepted? That would be silly.
Of course, English is a phonetic language, albeit one with a deep orthography.
Nevertheless, Gardner seems more interested in deconstructing the supposedly dark forces behind the push for a phonics check.
“The ‘drivers’ behind the promotion of synthetic phonics in Australia, as in England, include a small band of people that have commercial interests in the whole-scale adoption of synthetic phonics, and an accompanying scheme of leveled, decodable readers.
These ‘synphonpreneurs’* are the proprietors of early reading programs, costing thousands of dollars, who view schools as lucrative marketplaces.”
As I have pointed out before, the argument that proponents of phonics are only in it for the money is absurd. It is not as if everyone else involved in education is giving away their stuff for free. Many of those who have been involved in writing systematic synthetic phonics programs have been pushed out of the education system because of their views and so they need to make a living somehow. The popular balanced literacy program by Fountas and Pinnell – an alternative to systematic synthetic phonics – is really quite expensive. And anyway, isn’t the objection here meant to be to a free screening check?
The New South Wales Secondary Principals’ Council obviously felt so strongly about what their primary colleagues were doing that they tagged in a range of other people, including Jane Caro, a well-known campaigner for public education in Australia. Caro also seemed to think some sort of profit-seeking was afoot.
Although, when challenged by rather a lot of people who are familiar with the field, Caro’s views appeared to shift a little:
I guess that gives us hope. It is very easy to adopt the well-rehearsed tropes of phonics sceptics, especially if you think there are bigger issues at stake such as the creeping advance of market forces, but when enough people push back and explain what is really going on, these arguments begin to dissolve.
Keep pushing back, folks. The truth will out.
*As a number of people have pointed out, try pronouncing this pseudoword without an understanding of phonics