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The unrepentant destructiveness of some Australian literacy educators

By Chris Nugent - posted Monday, 3 November 2014

Australia's Literacy Educators' Coalition (!) has this week attacked the recent Australian Curriculum Review on the grounds of … wait for it … the unrepentant 'racism' of one of the 15 subject specialists who helped (along with 1,600 others) to advise the Review. To my way of thinking, the Coalition needs first to clear its own backyard of extremely serious basic literacy problems before fishing over the fence for scarcely relevant red herrings.

The website of the 400 member strong Literacy Educator's Coalition promotes some extraordinary doctrines in its fundamental "What We Believe" statement for teachers. This statement is 495 words long . . . yet it doesn't even once mention the words spell or spelling. Someone has apparently forgotten to teach these educators that competent English literacy education without competent English spelling education too, simply cannot exist.

However, the now antiquely inspired collegiate seems determined to remain blind: it elaborates with sloganized doctrines on what it still believes should be the guidelines for competent teachers of reading and writing. Five of these slogans from the website indicate a clear lack of commonsense if not also of qualification. We'll take each slogan in turn and answer it.


1. Learning to read begins at birth: Breathing, crying, sucking, peeing and pooing begin at birth. Actually, the child's reading begins much later when you as mum or dad or teacher start to show the young child about books, words, letters and sounds.

2. The only reason for reading is to construct meaning: This is blatantly false: whenever you are reading, the meaning in every case has already been constructed for you by the writer. And the first reason for reading is to actually reconstruct the meaning that the writer originally intended.

To do this, you simply must be able to accurately perceive every word that the writer had to write … one letter at a time… with every last letter in its conventional and correct place. Correct English writing, often referred to simply as 'spelling' … just never permits the random allocation of letters.

3. Readers use a range of strategies to construct meaning: Actually, on most occasions, readers initially use their so called strategies not so much to "construct meaning" but more to visually and cognitively organize words, letters and groups of letters into recognizable segments: and this well before the intended meaning of the writer is able to be reconstructed.

4. Without meaning the associations between letters and sounds cannot be known:It is sad indeed that the literacy theorists who wrote and edited this fantasy must have actually believed their own deceptions:

Please read these words: taeao : limpio : andare . These words have been taken from Samoan, Spanish, and Italian respectively. I can read them all perfectly but I had to actually know "all the associations between the letters and sounds" well before I was able to read them and find out about their meanings.


5. Reading requires an understanding that no text is neutral in its opinions:Even I, at the age of 74, can clearly recall being able to read to my teacher, my mum and my older brother well before I had "acquired an understanding that no text is neutral in its opinions."

These publicly espoused doctrines of Australia's Literacy Educators' Coalition on the subject of reading theory but not also of spelling theory, speak very poorly indeed of the university training of the group's membership.

Basic literacy amounts to nothing more than the ability to accurately read words out loud and then spell them correctly. This is the good old fashioned foundation literacy that has existed since at least the time of Moses and his contemporaries in the Hebrew, Arabic, Ancient Greek and Roman civilizations of some 3,200 years ago. This is also the type of literacy which all Australian parents do want for their children but which all Australian governments have failed to test systematically for at least 77 years.

To quite efficiently teach this type of basic literacy, you really only need 2 things: the will to do it, and the very simple and even very primitive materials to do it with. Moses and his contemporaries did prove this some 3,200 years ago. Today's world has access to basic literacy only because these ancient cultures succeeded in doing, with the most primitive of resources, what all our modern Australian education 'coalitions' have been unable to do with their massive amounts of money and modern technology. The ancients had it right. We've got it wrong.

For the last 30 years, all whole language literacy teaching agendas have ignored the obligation to consistently test or teach accurate spelling at all levels between and including our kindergartens and workplaces. This nation wide destructiveness simply had to be condemned by the Australian Curriculum Review.

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About the Author

Chris Nugent is a retired specialist teacher. He is the author of Planned Illiteracy in Australia : The Very Clear Evidence.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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