So Julia Gillard has been kissed by the phonics fairy. This is bad news for literacy teaching and worse news for Australia’s economic future.

The last important political figure to be kissed by the phonics fairy was George W. Bush who knew as much about the way children learn to read as he did about helping survivors of Hurricane Katrina. He’d been lobbied successfully by those who stood to make billions out of a reading scheme based on phonics which they claimed was the most successful ‘evidence-based’ method of teaching reading.

George Bush is not known for his skills in interpreting the evidence of research. He never discovered that the evidence in a huge piece of research had been either ignored or skewed, for financial reasons, in favour of the phonics method.

The result today is such a horrifying 10-year slide in literacy standards in the USA that the state of New York now employs hundreds of our best primary teachers to teach reading properly and successfully, and to teach teachers how to do it our way.

Our way is to teach phonics also—surprisingly!—and to teach phonics well. It’s the way we do it that’s different and it’s made all the difference to literacy learning in Australia. Our literacy levels are among the four highest in the world consistently, which feeds into our economic well-being—there’s nothing like a well-educated workforce to boost the country’s economy.

So to throw out what we’ve been doing so well and thereby sink to the current levels of literacy in the USA based on ‘evidence-based’ research is more than this particular fairy can stand. It must not happen. I couldn’t bear the divine Julia to turn into an education frog.

And by the way, there wouldn’t be anyone in this country who’d be able to make a mint out of a universal phonics program would there? Just asking.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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