National Catholic Register


Education Notebook

BY Jim Cosgrove

August 15-21, 1999 Issue | Posted 8/15/99 at 1:00 PM


Phonics — A Tool of Religious Right?

THE WEEKLY STANDARD, Aug. 8-Former cabinet member Lynne Cheny wrote a review of textbooks that refuse to admit that phonics has been proven better than “whole language.”

His treatment claims the teaching of reading has become highly politicized, with entrenched interests defending the whole language system, which relies on the notion that children don't need rules and drills and will naturally evolve into readers and spellers. He makes three points.

First, whole language fits into a 1960s mentality that favors innovation and doing one's own thing. She points to Invitations: Changing as Teachers and Learners by Regie Routman which includes the tale of Maria, a teacher who evolves away from traditional education to becomes one who “can offer children choices in decision making about their own learning,” writes Routman.

Her classroom, freed from focusing on dull matters like capitalization is a “joyful, collaborative community.” As with other authors who promote similar ideas, “choice” is encouraged so long as it is modern and agrees with whole language. Routman includes tips on how to handle youngster who, for example, wants to spell properly.

Second, the notion of research — and truth — is questioned. One textbook says there is no such thing as objective fact, only different “perspectives.”

Finally, no educator would want to keep company with those who have taken up the cause of phonics in recent years.

Western Michigan University professor Constance Weaver in Reading Process and Practice (Heinemann, 1994) paints a picture of the distasteful types teachers would be aligning themselves with: members of the “far right,” driven not by the wish to teach children to read, but by “the desire to promote a religious agenda and/or to maintain the socioeconomic status quo.” According to Weaver, who directed the Commission on Reading for the National Council of Teachers of English in the late 1980s, right-wing extremists believe that kids who study phonics will get “the words ‘right’” and thus read what the Bible actually says rather than approximate its meaning.”

Colleges Crowding Up

THE WASHINGTON POST,July 25-“All over the country this summer, incoming college freshmen are wrestling with unconventional offers in the aftermath of what many educators say was the most competitive college admissions season ever,” reported education writer Jay Mathews.

A combination of rising high school enrollment and teenagers' increased interest in college has led to a crush of applications, and more students than ever were stranded on waiting lists this spring

“That has prompted many colleges to find creative ways to squeeze in more freshmen, which makes applicants happy and increases school revenue,” said Mathews.

Many schools have offered students admission next spring — when spaces will open up due to attrition. Others accepted students for the term that began this summer, “seeing it as a way to enlarge their freshman class while mitigating crowding problems in the fall,” said Mathews. Still other colleges are trying to make more room by inviting older students to move off campus, and by cutting back on transfer students.

A record 14.8 million students are registered to attend four-year institutions this fall, and that number will keep increasing as high school enrollments climb before reaching an expected peak a decade from now.

“Also fueling the trend are modern computer systems that allow universities to keep better track of semester-by-semester fluctuations in enrollment and dormitory space,” said Mathews. It's Hip to Be With God

FRANCISCAN UNIVERSITY, July 27-Life in the fast lane is no life at all if it is not grounded in God. That was the testimony of featured speakers at the 12th Young Adults Conference at Franciscan University of Steubenville, Ohio, July 23 – 25.

Some 700 participants were treated to “A Really Boring Testimony” by comedian-actor Tom Wilson that was anything but boring. Wilson is best known for the character Biff, a high school bully in the movie Back to the Future.

In addition to drawing big laughs, Wilson spoke about the challenge to live out his faith in Hollywood and the need to love those who are looking for their identity in the wrong places: “Hollywood isn't a monolith. It is many individuals. Many come searching for love, for a sense of identity, and end up lost. There are many hurting people. I seek to love them one on one.”

Former beauty queen Carolyn Kollegger also recounted her experiences as a Christian in a secular world.

Kollegger described her life — from being crowned Miss Ohio to becoming a New York model and film actress, married to a world-class skier from Switzerland. After living a jet-set lifestyle focused on their own enjoyments, she and her husband found genuine happiness through recommitment to Christ and the Church.

“When you are doing God's will, you are happiest,” she said. The couple now holds retreats for families.