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Learning to Read and the ‘W Principle’

By Gerald Coles

The Reading First fiction has been driven by political ideology and design that has excluded all viewpoints that are not cheerleading this instruction. A vivid example is the list of speakers who have appeared at hearings of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, the committee that wrote the federal reading legislation and whose members and staff helped move it through Congress.

Shower praise on "scientific" reading instruction and you're welcomed through the hearing room doors. Enter Reid Lyon, described by the Wall Street Journal as Bush's "reading guru." Enter Donald N. Langenberg, chair of the National Reading Panel Report that purportedly mustered the scientific evidence for Reading First. Enter Diane Ravitch, a member of several conservative policy institutes.

With "Reading First" a McCarthyist blacklist has emerged. Applicants for the legislation's funds have quickly learned which blacklisted concepts, terminology, publications, and scholars to avoid. Educators who agree with the blacklist feel compelled to comply because educational funding is scarce.


Much of the adminstration's education policy has been refined by right-wing think tanks such as the Heritage Foundation. The foundation's chief education document is No Excuses: Lessons from 21 High-Performing, High-Poverty Schools. The central ideology in the book is that we need not weep for poor children, only for poor children who aren't doing well in school. The foundation accepts high poverty as a given that need not be addressed; it's what to do educationally within high poverty that is the foundation's sole concern. Naturally, the Heritage Foundation fails to note its own role in formulating policies in the Bush administration that actually maintain high poverty, such as tax reductions that primarily benefit the rich and super- rich, cutbacks in domestic social programs, and opposition to minimum-wage laws.

Here's how the Heritage Foundation discusses poverty in the "Issues" section of its website: "The lack of progress in reducing child poverty since 1965 can be explained in part by the erosion of marriage and the growth of poverty-prone single-parent families," especially out-of-wedlock childbearing. In addition to explaining poverty through a decline (especially for women) in adherence to traditional values, poverty is revealed to be overstated by governmental statistics; in fact, asserts Heritage, it has "dropped substantially." And many of the so-called poor, the Foundation tells us, have jacuzzis, microwaves, and own two cars. Clearly, the foundation insists, spending so much federal money on the poor has not done any good in improving their morals, stopping them from taking advantage of the tax dollars of hard-working Americans, or boosting their self-reliance.

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