Conditions of Lying…I Mean Learning!

by Robert Pondiscio
March 20th, 2009

Australian whole language guru Brian Cambourne has found himself in a minor dust-up Down Under for suggesting a “subliminal campaign” to undermine phonics as an approach to teaching reading by subconsciously linking it with the idea of failure.

Cambourne, best known in the U.S. for his “Conditions of Learning” theory, sent a mass email to literacy educators suggesting they flood an education minister’s office with emails linking phonics to “readicide”, which Cambourne describes as ”the systematic killing of the love of reading, often exacerbated by the inane, mind-numbing practices found in schools,” the Australian reports.  Cambourne’s suggestion was in response to the official’s announcement of the nation’s “first direct comparison of phonics-based reading methods with other techniques.”

Asked why he had to resort to a subliminal campaign instead of relying on evidence, Professor Cambourne first said: “You don’t really believe we can influence the minister’s subconscious?”  Cambourne tells the Australian:

When the email was quoted back to him, Professor Cambourne said he and his colleagues had to rely on cognitive science’s framing theory. “It’s a way of making ideas change based on new theories rather than just denying or trying to argue with people you can’t argue with,” Professor Cambourne said. “When you rely on evidence, it’s twisted. We can also present evidence but we never get a fair hearing. We rely on the cognitive science framing theory, to frame things the way you want the reader to understand them to be true – framing things that you’re passionate about in ways that reveal your passion.”

Framing things the way you want the reader to understand them to be true?  Forgive me, but isn’t that a fancy definition of lying?

“We have to use the same kind of tactics that have been used to demean and demonise whole language,” he said before adding that, if The Australian reported his comments: “I will deny I ever said this.”

Oops.