The
national literacy report by Dr Ken Rowe on the teaching of reading in
Australia was released today. It recommends that schools across the
country embrace “systematic, direct phonics instruction.” Since every
teacher of literacy teaches phonics, we modernists define this
back-to-the-40’s nonsense as “extreme phonics.”

What is phonics
anyway? It’s often confused with phonetics, a way of describing in
symbols the various sounds of language, such as the broad Australian loyt for light. Phonics is the ability to break up a word like cat into its individual sounds: kuh-a-tuh.
“Extreme phonics” perpetrators believe that sounding out is the be-all
and end-all of reading. It’s a belief that was beloved of Noah in the
Ark.

Making the right sounds is indeed phonics, but phonics is not reading. Reading is making sense from the page, not sounds. That’s how and why we all manage to read in silence.

Like
diphtheria, smallpox and “extreme phonics,” illiteracy was rife in the
good old days, but through research and the excellent results arising
from it, we’ve now reduced illiteracy to such an extent that
Australia’s literacy rate is annually among the top three or four
nations in the world.

So why would anyone plump for “extreme phonics”?

Might
it be that someone has a vested interest in denying the evidenced-based
truths of submissions from hundreds of teachers and academics in this
stunningly clever country? Is it at all possible that influential
groups involved in this literacy review have expensive “extreme
phonics” programs to sell? Might they be aiming to make a packet out of
“extreme phonics” by taking this brilliant country back to the Ark in a
flood of misinformation? Surely not.

I only raise this question
since that’s exactly what happened to the National Reading Report in
the USA. For reasons of vested interest scientific results were twisted
to “prove” that phonics was the best method of teaching reading. The
opposite was the case, and look what happened to their
literacy: 300 Aussie teachers are currently employed in 536 New York
schools to lift the literacy of that city and I have just returned from
my 91st visit to the USA for similar reasons.

Investigative reporting on the Australian Literacy Report might clarify some muddy waters.