Beware of gurus

3rd December 2004 at 00:00
Like many people, I was very puzzled by the recent trumpeting of the success of the "new" phonics system for teaching youngsters to read in Clackmannanshire.

What's new about a system that I learnt to read by and who was the idiot who stopped the use of this highly effective method? Then, reading through The TES Scotland (November 19), I came across the answer.

Apparently it was one Professor Frank Smith, a charismatic educationist who persuaded teachers in the 1970s that teaching reading by phonics was somehow part of right wing ideology and therefore should be dropped in favour of laissez- faire.

Strangely, Frank Smith believed that learning to read was a natural human activity akin to learning how to speak, and that children would just pick it up without being taught. I suppose the literacy levels prior to the introduction of compulsory education gave him cause to believe this.

This is a very instructive story because the real message in this is: beware of gurus because they can seriously damage your education system; beware of educational research that is often based on no more than opinion; and dinosaurs are sometimes right.

Judith Gillespie Development manager Scottish Parent Teacher Council

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