I have always been a great fan of the Look and Say or Whole Word method of teaching children to read. It is what I used on my own child successfully and I have also used it with many other children. Not everybody approves though. Here is Samuel Blumenfeld, a well know American educationist, on this way of teaching children:
It is known that by imposing Look and say (or whole word) teaching techniques on an alphabetic writing system, one can artificially induce dyslexia, thereby creating a learning block or reading neurosis. Reading disability is induced by the Look and Say method.....
Other writers have blamed the Look and Say method for an epidemic of illiteracy. Dear me, I seem to have made a terrible error. Fancy being responsible for all that dyslexia and illiteracy! Of course, none of this bothers me unduly, it is just that some people prefer to use phonics to teach reading, while others would rather use autonomous methods or Look and Say. The great difference is that when an advocate of synthetic phonics reads an article advocating Look and Say and criticising phonics or vice versa, he does not become furiously angry and take it as a personal attack. How different, how very different from the reaction of those who prefer autonomous methods!
When I wrote an article for a newspaper last year in which I said such things as that I believed that autonomous methods caused incalculable harm to the education of the children upon whom they were used, the reaction was interesting. I have read many similar statements about the methods I follow myself, without being at all concerned about it. My own methods of home education, after all, apparently cause dyslexia and illiteracy. Even a few days ago, someone commented here that I had 'defamed' autonomous educators in my articles. This is so strange that I am at a loss to know how to deal with it. I wonder what readers think I do when I read articles by people like Samuel Blumenfeld which say horrible things about my educational techniques? Well, to start with I don't contact those planning to publish his books and urge them not to publish any more of them. Nor do I contact the editors of magazines for which he writes in order to denounce him. I do not write to Congressmen and tell them that he is a dishonest fool. Nor do I invent stories about him and spread them across the Internet. The reason I don't do all these things is not because I am a pleasant and forgiving sort of person; I am nothing of the sort. It is because I realise that he is discussing an idea, not launching a personal attack on me. Do any readers honestly think that he has 'defamed' me in his books? Would I be justified in being angry and upset because he believes that children should be taught in a different way from that which I have myself chosen?
Debates on education often become quite heated. The late Ted Wragg for instance, referred to those who favoured the teaching of reading by phonics as 'phobics'! However nobody takes any of this personally. If I read that my own methods have done incalculable harm to the education of children, and I have actually read this in the Times Educational Supplement, then I am more likely to laugh at the hyperbole than begin a vicious campaign of character assassination against the author.
There is something profoundly odd about this. One can freely discuss all sorts of educational techniques with all types of people. One can exaggerate the virtues of one's own methods and lampoon the systems which others choose. This happens all the time in magazines, journals, newspapers, television and conferences. Those who espouse synthetic phonics demonstrate that people like me are responsible for all the dyslexia and illiteracy in the country. Those who agree with me show that the phonics merchants are idiots who are putting children off reading for pleasure. There is no animosity in any of this; if I meet somebody devoted to phonics, I am not going to snub him or tell others that he has 'defamed' me. It is only when one criticises or questions the efficacy of autonomous education that the venom and spite begin to flow. Some of the reactions which I have observed have honestly caused me to question the mental stability of those who are so bitterly angry about criticism of their educational methods. I mean, why would anybody get so worked up if somebody said she was hopelessly wrong in her approach? It happens as I say, to me, quite regularly and I don't even feel a slight irritation.
I am curious to know whether anybody can shed light on this curious phenomenon. It is certainly not all autonomous educators, but definitely enough to make it a feature of this type of education. At any rate, one never observes such behaviour in even the most fanatical supporter of synthetic phonics. In short, what is it with these people?