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Wednesday, June 14, 2017

52. The Pedagogy Of Literacy: The Underground HIstory of American Education by John Taylor Gatto from archive.org

The Pedagogy Of Literacy 

Between Mann's death and the great waves of Italian immigration after the 1870s, the 
country seemed content with McGuffey readers, Webster Spelling Books, Pilgrim 's 
Progress, the Bible, and the familiar alphabet method for breaking the sound code. But 
beginning about the year 1880 with the publication of Francis W. Parker's Supplementary 
Reading for Primary Schools (and his Talks on Pedagogics, 1883), a new attack on 
reading was mounted. 

Parker was a loud, affable, flamboyant teacher with little academic training himself, a 
man forced to resign as principal of a Chicago teachers college in 1 899 for reasons not 
completely honorable. Shortly thereafter, at the age of sixty-two, he was suddenly 
selected to head the School of Education at Rockefeller's new University of Chicago, 1 a 
university patterned after great German research establishments like Heidelberg, Berlin, 
and Leipzig. 

As supervisor of schools in Boston in a former incarnation, Parker had asserted boldly 
that learning to read was learning a vocabulary which can be instantly recalled as ideas 
when certain symbolic signposts are encountered. Words are learned, he said, by repeated 
acts of association of the word with the idea it represents. 

Parker originated the famous Quincy Movement, the most recognizable starting point for 
progressive schooling. Its reputation rested on four ideas: 1) group activities in which the 
individual is submerged for the good of the collective; 2) emphasis on the miracles of 



science (as opposed to traditional classical studies of history, philosophy, literature); 3) 
informal instruction in which teacher and student dress casually, call each other by first 
names, treat all priorities as very flexible, etc; 4) the elimination of harsh discipline as 
psychologically damaging to children. Reading was not stressed in Parker schools. 

Parker's work and that of other activists antagonistic to reading received a giant forward 
push in 1885 from one of the growing core of America's new "psychologists" who had 
studied with Wilhelm Wundt at Leipzig. James McKeen Cattell boldly announced he had 
proven, using the tachistoscope, that we read whole words and not letters. Cattell's lusty 
ambition resounds in his cry of triumph: 

These results are important enough to prove those to be wrong who hold with Kant that 
psychology can never become an exact science. 

Until 1965 no one bothered to check Cattell's famous experiment with the tachistoscope. 
When they did, it was found Cattell had been dead wrong. People read letters, not words. 

It was out of the cauldron of Columbia Teachers College that the most ferocious advocate 
of whole-word therapy came: Edward Burke Huey was his name, his mentor, G. Stanley 
Hall. In 1908 they published an influential book, The Psychology and Pedagogy of 
Reading, which laid out the revolution in a way that sent a message of bonanzas to come 
to the new educational book publishing industry. Publishing was a business just 
beginning to reap fantastic profits from contracts with the new factory schools. 
Centralized management was proving a pot of gold for lucky book contractors in big 
cities. The message was this: "Children should be taught to read English as if it were 
Chinese: ideographically." 

Huey was even more explicit: he said children learned to read too well and too early and 
that was bad for them: 

He must not, by reading adult grammatical and logical forms, begin exercises in mental 
habits which will violate his childhood. 

As Blumenfeld (to whom I owe much of the research cited here) explains, Huey 
concocted a novel justification based on Darwinian evolution for jettisoning the alphabet 
system: 

The history of the language in which picture-writing was long the main means of written 
communication has here a wealth of suggestions for the framers of the new primary 
course. It is not from mere perversity that the boy chalks or carves his records on a book 
and desk.... There is here a correspondence with, if not a direct recapitulation of the life 
of the race; and we owe it to the child to encourage his living through the best there is in 
this pictography stage.... 



'Mrs. Anita McCormick Blaine, daughter of the inventor of the harvesting machine, became his patron, 
purchasing the College of Education for him with a contribution of $1 million. 



Dick And Jane 

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