The Three ‘R’s

My mom originally found out about homeschooling through Christian radio in the early ’80’s.  A guest on one of the talk shows was promoting a program called Play ‘N’ Talk, which was a phonics curriculum that was very popular in the young but growing homeschooling community (and from what I can gather, is still something of a nostalgic darling).

By 1983 the whole language approach to reading had completely won the day in schools of education.  It comported with progressive/romantic ideas about the nature of the child and of education itself.  The groupthink on phonics is/was that basically, it’s a rote approach to learning that kills a child’s “natural” love of reading.

Apparently, according to cognitive scientist Mark Seidenberg, this is still the stance of schools of education, in the face of a mountain of scientific evidence to the contrary.

So, homeschooling was a way to get around the establishment dogma in favor of whole language reading instruction.  Here’s my mom’s record of my kindergarten curriculum:

1984-85 Curriculum.  Content by Keri Davis.  Photo by Erin Valdez

Because my parents are two of the most generous and kind people on the planet, I’ll take the hit and simply say on their behalf, they told you so.

The young, idealistic, counter-cultural Jesus Freaks were right about reading.  And the experts, backed by the full respectability of universities and coercive power of the government, were wrong.

How many other things are obviously best practice as far as experts are concerned, and are obviously wrong to parents?  They embody a source of wisdom that comes from a vast amount of experience.  If they are pushing back, en masse, against new math standards (and the curriculum/methods that flow down from them), that ought to be a red flag.

Incredibles 2.  Directed by Brad Bird.  Pixar, 2018.

And here’s the deal –math scores are not rising to meet the sales pitch made by Common Core advocates ten and fifteen years ago.  Parents who say that the Common Core-influened math homework they are seeing makes simple concepts too difficult while simultaneously failing to teach kids “higher math skills”… well, they might have a really good point.

Just because a practice is old-fasioned doesn’t make it wrong or right.  One of my favorite public intellectuals, Jonah Goldberg, loves to cite a principle from the eternally-quotable G.K. Chesterton, known as Chesterton’s Fence:

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.”




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