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New Architecture Supports Choice

Posted By: Dick Schutz on January 27, 2003
I join you in the concern that the world outside the extended family is increasingly “pushing down” arbitrary and capricious requirements on young children.
However, the new architecture is actually the best bet for reversing this trend. The issue is much broader than whether-and-when to teach preschoolers to read. But I’ll address your specific concern before getting into the more general issue which I’d encourage you to also consider.

You've got lots and lots of company with you on your view of teaching reading to preschoolers. Just as the school community is solidly locked in to the age/grade x subjects matrix, the professional preschool community will have no part of teaching reading to preschoolers. Reading to a child is fine, highly recommended, they say. But having the child read to you? Don't even think about it. That's what preschool professionals are taught, and not unexpectedly, that's what they practice.

It's OK to teach "phonemic awareness." PA is considered the first of the “five critical elements of reading instruction” identified by what the academy/ government now terms “the science of reading” and is OK for preschoolers at the pinnacle of their "reading readiness" instruction. But a few seconds of thought indicate that PA is relevant to neither reading nor readiness: PA deals exclusively with spoken language, requiring the kids have to segment spoken words into unnatural sounds. To do this in “thin air” is more difficult (complex) instructionally than with support of text (real reading of Basic Code lexicon.) And when the child later does have to segment and blend the sounds in reading a given word, the routines earlier taught for doing this in spoken language are as faulty as they are helpful. The scientific justification for including PA as a critical element is that it’s predictive of subsequent reading instructional progress using conventional reading instruction methods and materials. But so are IQ and SES. PA is no more determinative than these other "factors."

Songs, games, and physical activities are also regarded as OK for preschoolers, even though there is reason and also exploratory analysis we've done at 3RsPlus ("Does Exposing Preschoolers to Reader Rabbit...Create a Risk of Developing Dyslexia?" It's a PDF doc. that I couldn't get to link from here, but you can get to it from the Research button on the website if you have any interest.) supports a contention that such experiences can be detrimental by inadvertently teaching kids faulty ways to treat text. Songs, games, physical activities, reading to kids, and a lot of other experiences can be enjoyed in their own right, but they simply do not contribute to enabling a child to read.

Parents tend to have a different view. The farther away parents are from having taken early childhood education courses, the more favorably they look upon the notion of preschoolers learning to read. Although nearly everyone has mixed feelings about our kids "growing up too fast," parents whose kids learn to read "naturally" are typically proud of the accomplishment and view the child as a "smart kid."

And preschoolers, per se, have the most favorable view. With few exceptions, preschoolers say they would like to learn to read--that's what school is about and they want to be "big." However, who cares what preschoolers think? The preschool community is child centered and knows what's best for the child, right?

The foregoing aside, the matter really isn't a question of age. The architecture posits that it’s desirable to teach the rudiments of reading and keyboarding as a foundation for enabling further capability and choice. I do point out that reliable instruction leading to Beginning Reader capability certification is now a shelf item that most preschoolers can handle. Learning to read can and should be as enjoyable an experience for a preschooler as being read to. It's an active rather a passive effort, but only in that sense need it be more difficult. But there is no architectural requirement for initiating the instruction at any particular age.

Anyone who deliberately defers reading instruction (Holds a child back?) will get no argument from me. If it were possible to "freeze" a child from all "readiness" or reading instructional influences until, say age 7, that would be fine. "Childhood", wherever you regard it as ending, provides an ample span of years to instruct a child to certified Qualified Reader status. But "freezing" a child isn't possible, and there is just a lot of inadvertent mis-instruction going on in and out of school. Actuarially, things being what they are, a child who is not well down the road to becoming a Qualified Reader by age 7 runs a severe risk of never becoming one. I’d say eliminate this risk as early as possible. But the choice is yours.

Now for the more general issue. The more closely you examine doctrine and practice within the conventional AGS matrix, the more obvious that current K-12 schooling can be characterized as authoritarian, regimented, restrictive, and so on with very little in the way of choice. Even where there is “school choice” the only choice is where you get it not what you get. That’s K-12. Now the academy/government is acting in a big way to “pushdown” the paraphernalia of “standards” and accountability tests to the preschool level. If the present course of action continues, we’ll wake up some day to the headline, “Preschoolers Flunk Kindergarten Entry Test in Droves.” That’s the way the cards are now stacked.

It seems to me that by providing a means of broad parental choice for solid child enabling, the new architecture is your best bet in guarding against the “pushing down” whether specific or general.

Dick Schutz
Thread Hierarchy
 Remodeling and preschoolers by Denise Pawliuk on January 24, 2003
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