Australian Literacy Educators’ Association issues retraction and apology

On the 12 August 2020, Dr Rachel Cunneen of the University of Canberra took part in a Zoom webcast presentation that I believe was hosted by the Australian Literacy Educators’ Association (ALEA). The reason for my slight uncertainty is that I cannot now find a record of the original event. However, the Zoom session was clearly broadcast to members of ALEA as acknowledged in a statement released by the organisation.

According to this statement, Dr Cunneen made a number of ‘defamatory statements’ in the webcast:

Those statements include that Dr Buckingham has conflicts of interest in using her access to the media and her involvement in a federal government commission of inquiry to nefariously promote her private commercial interests, and fosters a culture war in respect of teacher education, and that Professor Wheldall, Dr Wheldall and Dr Buckingham improperly seek to further their commercial interests in support of a class agenda aligned to extreme political views

To their credit, ALEA have issued a retraction and an apology for these statements, recognising that:

…the Statements were not accurate, and were damaging and hurtful to Multilit Pty Ltd, Professor Wheldall, Dr Wheldall and Dr Buckingham. ALEA does not endorse the Statements and they do not express the views of ALEA. ALEA apologises to Multilit  Pty Ltd, Dr Buckingham, Professor Wheldall and Dr Wheldall for any hurt or damage caused by the publication of the Statements

I am generally an advocate of free speech and robust debate, but free speech always has its limits. Just as we should not use our freedom of speech to shout ‘fire’ in a packed theatre or incite violence, we should also not make defamatory comments about others – comments that are likely to harm their reputations and livelihoods.

I do wonder why we cannot debate reading methods without resorting to this kind of ad hominem. It is such a common trope among phonics sceptics that proponents of systematic phonics are only in it for the money that I have satirised this stance on my blog.

There are lots of people who make money out of education, both pro and anti phonics and not least the big publishers who sell supposedly ‘balanced literacy’ programs.

It is time for this discussion to mature and focus on the facts and evidence.


3 thoughts on “Australian Literacy Educators’ Association issues retraction and apology

  1. Replace “make money” with “make a living”. Most teaching is done in return for payment. Nothing wrong with that at all.

    What is wrong is attempting to prevent others from doing so on illegitimate grounds.

  2. I would ask – at this point, what do the evidence and facts say? Regardless of theory, approach or program be it phonics, balanced literacy, whole language, or something else, are there longitudinal data to suggest that any of these produce reading gains across populations regardless of other variables, and does it do so via internal benchmarking (ongoing assessment) and external performance evaluations (independent student production of skills) through state or national testing? In the US, we are still searching for this answer as state reading scores are somewhat variable (mostly by income and race) and national reading scores have been flat for over 30 years. Nothing has yet proved viable.

  3. There is a broader issue of conflict of interest in Educational policy. For example, a number of New Zealand Education Unions and Principal groups funded an investigation, headed by Prof John O’Neill in 2016, “Charities, Philanthropists, Policy Entrepreneurs, International Companies and State Schooling in Aotearoa New Zealand”. This is a detailed analysis of the issue, and while thorough and long, is worth reading.

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