On the first day of this course I was met with the seemingly simple question “Where and how did you learn to read”? I thought this question was easy enough to answer. I vaguely remember in Kindergarten how we were taught the basics of reading through a system of phonics. We would spend maybe an hour or two of the day sounding out words and connecting these sounds for meaning. I always believed this method to be the best, partially because I never knew that a different system existed. Looking back at my days in Kindergarten I can say with confidence, I was never actually hooked on phonics.
Just for background information I was, for lack of better words, blessed. I grew up in an affluent suburb outside of Washington D.C. where most of the parents were working professionals, including my own. What this really entails is that every night my sister and I were read two or three books and soon enough, by the age of four, I was able to read on my own. When I entered Kindergarten, I was already able to read chapter books. When I think about the way I was taught to read, I conveniently forget that I actually never did learn phonics in a classroom. Soon after the first day of school I was pulled out of the regular classroom during reading instruction, and my teacher and I would spend time one-on-one reading chapter books because I was ahead of my peers. By reflecting on my Kindergarten experiences I can say that I never actually learned how to read in a classroom.
Looking back at my own experiences, I am able to acknowledge my privilege and the idea that students do not always start on the same rung of the ladder of educational attainment. In a study conducted by Betty Hart and Todd Risley entitled “The Early Catastrophe: The 30 Million Word Gap by Age 3”, they concluded that students who were born to professional class parents, versus parents who were on welfare were more likely to have experience with 30 million more words than the latter child by age three. They also concluded that there was a high correlation between vocabulary use and reading comprehension. Although this is only one of many studies that identify the role of middle class cultural capital in early education, it is clear that students are not going into the classroom learning how to read at the same level. There are real disparities present in the classroom that, due to other outside factors, cannot be changed by simple legislation.
So what are the next steps? To give an honest answer: I am not too sure. Because of the complex issues that surround education and reading, such as race and socioeconomic status, it is incredibly difficult to create policy that addresses every single disparity that affects a student in a classroom. Looking at this small bit of information it is evident that the purpose of this course is clear. What exactly goes into teaching students how to read? What are the best methods for teaching reading to young students? How do we ensure that instruction is fair to students of all different backgrounds? The answer is unquestionably unclear, which I suppose is why this course is entitled The Politics of Reading.