Literacy kudzu chokes learning

Educrat professors and psychologists are pushing “guidelines, parameters, checklists, techniques, processes and the like” in place of getting teens to read books and write analytically, complains Will Fitzhugh on the Concord Review. This literacy kudzu is spreading, fertilized by foundation funding and federal grants.

E.D. Hirsch has called this “technique” philosophy of literacy instruction, “How-To-Ism” and says that it quite uselessly tries to substitute methods and skills for the knowledge that students must have in order to read well and often, and to write on academic subjects in school.

Fitzhugh believes students must read complete books — not just carefully selected snippets — and write research papers — not just personal reflections.

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  1. Obsession with prepackaged techniques has done a lot of harm in all areas of American life. Here’s Henry Mintzberg in his book Managers not MBAs:
    MBA programs tend to attract pragmatic people in a hurry: they want the means to leap past others with experience. Techniques–so-called tools–seem to offer that, so this is what many such students demand, and what many of the courses offer; whether portfolio models for financial resources, competitive analyses for strategic resources, or empowerment techniques for human resources. Offer enough of this, and you end up with schools of business technology.


    Technique aplied with nuance by people immersed in a situation can be very powerful. But technique taught generically, out of context, encourages that “rule of the tool”: Give a little boy a hammer and everything looks like a nail. MBA programs have given their graduates so many hammers that many organizations now look like smashed-up beds of nails.


    Managers can certainly use a toolbox full of useful techniques–but only if they appreciate when to use each. As the chief executive of a pharmaceutical company told a group of MBA students, “My problem is that when I face a problem, I don’t know what class I’m in.”
    At least in business, the technique obsession is somewhat self-limiting…you have to produce actual results at some point, or go broke. But throughout most of the education system, there is no such test or limit to prevent the techniqueophiliacs from achieving total dominance.

  2. Richard Aubrey says:

    It does no good for a kid to read a book with words he does not know, unless there’s a facility for looking them up. This used to be called a dictionary.
    Reading skill is enhanced by general knowledge, which is enhanced by reading.
    I agree that personal reflections are not much good, but research papers take time. A book report (booooo)is a useful substitute as long as the teacher grades on whether the kid grasped the subject of the book, or at least could tell what it was.

  3. Ponderosa says:

    I agree with Fitzhugh and Foster. We have lost our way.