Hacking at Branches

by Robert Pondiscio
July 11th, 2011

“There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.”  — Henry David Thoreau

As of Friday, your humble blogger completed a travel jag that had him on the road for all but one week since Memorial Day.  I was pleased to attend the 2011 National Charter Schools Conference in Atlanta, the TEAM CFA conference, and the annual Education Commission of the States Forum in Denver along the way. 

The blogging has been light to non-existent during this stretch, which I regret on the one hand.  But on the other, I’m happy to have had an excuse to sit on the sidelines during the ongoing rhetorical summer heat wave.  Like another July battle 150 years ago, lines have been drawn, and the big guns come out to boom and blast at each other from fixed positions, losing sight now as they did then, that what unites us ought to be more important than what divides us.  All wars end eventually, and common purpose, one hopes, will one day be restored to the combatants in the ”education wars” — a dispiriting term being tossed about with greater frequency of late.

Speaking at the ECS conference was a particular privilege.  I was pinch-hitting for E.D. Hirsch on the topic “What is holding back reading achievement?” and addressed the need for state-level education and elected officials to understand the problems embedded in the skills-driven, how-to approach to teaching reading comprehension that dominates elementary education.  The main message:  reading comprehension is not a skill (despite how we typically teach it and test it), and a vision of education reform that does not account for the absolute necessity to build student knowledge and vocabulary as a means of enhancing reading comprehension tacitly encourages poor classroom practice.

Hack, hack, hack…