January 30, 2008

Garrison Keillor: Mugged by Reality

This Garrison Keillor article is making the rounds in the edusphere, thanks to Alexander Russo.

Keillor, the good Democrat that he is, has finally noticed that our public schools aren't exactly doing such a swell job educating students, especially the poor, brown, and black ones. And, what caused this sudden realization? The money quote:

Liberal dogma says that each child is inherently gifted and will read if only he is read to. This was true of my grandson; it is demonstrably not true of many kids, including my sandy-haired, gap-toothed daughter.

All bets are off when the effects of that "liberal dogma" start hitting too close to home.


Kathy said...

DeRosa states:

"All bets are off when the effects of that "liberal dogma" start hitting too close to home. "

I say all bets are off when anything hits close to home. This is not just a liberal, Democratic thing. All people experience this.

I am liberal Democrat and I have managed to see through the fog and figure out that our reading instruction is defective. I don't think this understanding has anything to do with politics.

In my opinion the International Reading Association and all the college profs are the ones promoting " each child is inherently gifted and will read if only he is read to." I have no idea if they are Democrats or Republicans or Independents and really, who cares.

Let's figure out how to solve this problem.

KDeRosa said...

Kathy, liberal dogma comes from Keillor, not me. But, I am of the opinion that liberal dogma is generally responsible for all sorts of unintended (though not unforeseen) consequences which tend to hurt those it seeks to help. That's why I'm not a liberal Democrat which is not to say that the Republicans are much better.

Anonymous said...


While some liberals are certainly able to see through the garbage that passes for instruction these days, those who promote it are almost uniformly liberal in their politics...doggedly so in the ed schools. The genesis of many education problems arises from such liberal dogma.

Stephen Downes said...

> Liberal dogma says that each child is inherently gifted and will read if only he is read to.

I don't know where Garrison Keillor is getting 'liberal dogma' - this certainly isn't part of any liberal dogma I adhere to (much less have heard of).

This sort of straw man may be useful for setting up a Salon article - but it would be foolish to compare it to the serious thought hat genuine liberals have put into the subject of education.

KDeRosa said...

Perhaps Keillor is confused by the fact that all the toxic eduction ideas come from self-described liberals.

I'd also caution against believing the rhetoric given by educators and the actual practice of their ideas which rarely match-up to the rosey rhetoric.

Arguing over the ideological foundation of balanced literacy is a fool's errand anyway.

EdWonk said...

The Lake Wobegon effect striking a little too close to home?

CrypticLife said...

Personally, I liked:

"It is morally disgusting if Democrats throw out Republican programs that are good for children. "

The same can be said in reverse, of course. I think behaviorism and phonics are linked to conservatives more through chance than any inherent link to Republican values.

Anonymous said...


The teaching of reading is controversial. We’ve had the language wars in this country over how to best teach kids to read. There have been the proponents of the look-say method in which children are supposed to pick up on the shape of an entire word. That was the idea behind those dreadfully boring Dick and Jane readers that I grew up with. There’s the whole language method in which children are immersed in a text rich environment and are spontaneously supposed to pick up on the ability to read the way they spontaneously learn to speak. There’s the method of phonics, in which children are drilled on correspondences between sounds and letters of the alphabet.

I think that any successful reading technique has to begin with an understanding of the logic of our alphabet, and also has to recognize that learning to read is not like learning to speak.

-Steven Pinker, Johnstone Family Professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University.

"We need to push harder for an education system that teaches evidence-based decision making while we hold our public leaders to a higher standard and less partisan behavior as we attempt to tackle some of the historically most difficult challenges facing the future of humanity."

Human Genome Decoder; Director, The J. Craig Venter Institute

Anonymous said...

Some people think I'm rather liberal (since it turns out a majority of people agree with my "progressive" ideas, I prefer to think of myself as populistor "true centrist"). But you know what? "Reading to kids makes them learn to read" is an oversimplification right up there with "You have to spend money to make money" and -- my favorite -- "Eating fat makes you fat."

Sure, reading to kids will show them that there is value to reading ("Hey, I could read this story to myself any time I wanted!"), but it is no substitute for pointing out the sounds the letters make and other pre-literacy activities.

If I may paraphrase the movie "The Incredibles", "Everyone is gifted is another way of saying nobody is gifted."

Anonymous said...

"I don't think this understanding has anything to do with politics."

Well, I certainly agree that it shouldn't have anything to do with politics. And I'm glad that Pinker has, after all these years, finally figured out that reading is not natural language. I've been saying that for well over twenty years now.

Barry Garelick said...

I have been involved in the issue of math education for many years, including when I did a brief stint on the Hill working for a Senator. The Senator's senior staffers did not think it advisable to brief the Senator on the issues I had uncovered (i.e., the attrocious math programs funded by NSF, and the educational dogma about how to teach math that passed for valid techniques)because at the time Lynne Cheney was quite vocal in her opposition to "fuzzy math". The Senator was a Democrat and the staffers felt there was a danger in the Senator becoming involved in an issue that was identified with her. I wrote about this (among other issues in math education) in Education Next

Anonymous said...

"And I'm glad that Pinker has, after all these years, finally figured out that reading is not natural language."

He's written about it(in books at least) since 1994's The Language Instinct...


The Edge Annual Question — 2008

When thinking changes your mind, that's philosophy.

When God changes your mind, that's faith.

When facts change your mind, that's science.


Science is based on evidence. What happens when the data change? How
have scientific findings or arguments changed your mind?"