Education Letter to the Editor


October 01, 1991 5 min read

When I saw the picture of teacher Mary Kitagawa preparing for a student writers’ workshop [“The Power To Be A Professional,’' August], I knew I should read your special section on whole language immediately. I did, and then ordered The Whole Language Catalog, finished Donald H. Graves’ Build A Literate Classroom, and sent away for his other books. In less than 24 hours, many of the questions I had were answered, and I was convinced that my 25th year in a 4th-5th grade classroom will be even more exciting than the previous 24. Ingrid Edgerton Swansfield Elementary School Columbia, Md.

Thank you for your special section on whole language. I recently joined the staff of a small publishing house dedicated to producing whole child, whole brain, whole language learning materials. It is encouraging that many teachers prefer this approach and are seeing good results. Most of our authors are teachers who are good at helping students and other teachers make the most out of the classroom. We hope that your article will motivate more teachers to nurture their students’ natural curiosity and creativity. Stacy Lynn Editor Zephyr Press Tucson, Ariz.

Not The Whole Story

Whole language, as discussed in your special report, is a success in its comprehensiveness, but the real issue for teachers is one of style, not philosophy. There is always a tension between learning from the parts or from the whole. I learn better from the latter. Neither my students nor my colleagues, however, are all wired the same way. Each of us creates a style of learning that is neither chicken nor egg. Timothy McIntire The Kinkaid School Houston

English is an alphabetic, not an ideographic, language. Decoding the alphabet is only one component of reading, but it is a crucial one. I and countless other teachers have seen children who come from literaturebased homes and classrooms, who speak with vocabularies well above grade level, but who need intensive phonetic instruction because they could not master the “code.’' I have also seen children with limited language proficiency who have mastered the code but never the language, only to fail in the middle grades when the English vocabulary becomes so rich and demanding.

Without question, all children need and deserve great literature and bright, creative teachers. And a good 25 percent or more of those children will need a strong phonetics program, taught with the same energy and creativity given to language instruction (no work sheets!). Only when universities stop jumping on educational bandwagons and start teaching prospective teachers to teach all types of learners will we see a real change in American schools.

Your reporters would have been more objective had they cited research by Jeanne Chall, Marilyn Adams, Priscilla Vail, and the late Isabelle Liberman. Ignoring these scholars, and equating phonics advocates to religious fundamentalist extremists, was biased and a discredit to your magazine’s professionalism. M. Poirer Gilroy Taos Municipal Schools Taos, N.M.

The whole language controversy, as far as I’m concerned, centers not so much on the mechanics of the methods as on the administration of it. In the 26 years I’ve been teaching, I have introduced all the panaceas that were supposed to help Johnny read or do better math, as I was instructed to do by all the other pseudo-, neo-experts who swore that their way was the one-and-only righteous one. And they may well have been, if another kind of monster had not also been introduced along with them--the blizzard of charts and cards that had to be filled out on every child involved in the new method.

I’d have no problem with whole language if the administrators of it didn’t demand that I fill out their sheaf of forms, which I know are at this very moment on someone’s drawing board, ready to be printed up, shrink-wrapped, and shipped off to the thousands of schools who have decided to try it. It would also be nice if you could guarantee me that Teacher Magazine will not be doing another whole magazine next year or the year after on the next approach that guarantees that children will love to read, write, and create whole libraries of books. Arnold Pakula Level Five teacher Highland Oaks Elementary School North Miami Beach, Fla.

I found your issue on whole language very thought-provoking, and I can certainly see its advantages for teaching some subjects. But have you actually read Rudolph Flesch’s Why Johnny Can’t Read? Several of the things you say indicate that you don’t understand true phonics. If a student has been taught all the rules of phonics, the basal reader is not needed. In 1959, I read Flesch’s book and then bought his Teaching Johnny to Read to help my 5-year-old son. The 72 lessons on phonics in that book were very structured. Yes, they used rote learning. And they worked! My son became an enthusiastic reader. If students were taught phonics in the 1st grade, they would be able to read anything. If we combined that reading ability with whole language teaching, we could start producing literate, curious, and interested students again. David Rollins Las Vegas, Nev.

Classroom Grandmother

Elizabeth Kean [“Other People’s Kids,’' August] says she wonders what it will be like to be a teaching grandmother, but that right now the thought of being one “just makes me feel old.’' Well, as a teaching grandmother myself, such a thought does not make me feel old.

She’s right, of course, that we grandmothers have some lessons to learn, too. Her article made me take a step back and look at what this year’s classroom will bring. My goal will be to do exactly what her article aims at: treating my students as I want teachers to treat my own grandchildren. Thank you for reminding me (even after 20 years of teaching) how important that is. Lana Alliot Athol High School Athol, Mass.


I want to send orchids to your reporter for her recent article on encouraging students to think [“Cruel To Be Kind,’' August]. I have read many articles that describe what is not being done. Your article tells how and why students should be taught to think for themselves. Mary Adkins Atlanta

Both Sides, Please

I find it interesting that you proudly report that Carol Pencke has been elected chair of the National Abortion Rights Action League [“People,’' August]. Was it because her efforts to “keep abortion accessible’’ to teenagers appeal to your staff? Please remember that there are two very heated sides to the abortion issue, and many teachers are just as strongly against abortion as Pencke is for it. I hope you will be objective and print stories of teachers active in the prolife movement. Kerry Krause Central Intermediate School Midland, Mich. <

Editor’s Note: We reported on the story (factually, not “proudly’’) because a teacher was elected to head a national organization outside of education.

Teacher Magazine welcomes letters. They must include your address and daytime phone number and may be edited for length and clarity. Mail them to: “Letters,’' Teacher Magazine, 4301 Connecticut Ave., N.W., Suite 250, Washington, DC 20008.

A version of this article appeared in the October 01, 1991 edition of Teacher as Letters