What Australian parents need to know about the reading wars

Filling the pail

Let me tell you a story.

Many years ago, there were two great armies. One army consisted of starry-eyed dreamers who believed in a whole language approach to teaching reading. The other army was made up of drill-em-and-kill-em phonics obsessives who mostly had a commercial interest in selling phonics programmes. These armies battled and skirmished until, one day, academics and bureaucrats negotiated a settlement. “Best practice involves a balance of approaches,” they proclaimed. And thus the sensible, pragmatic, utterly reasonable and measured ‘balanced literacy’ was born. And this is how we teach reading in Australia.

It’s a good story. It’s an uplifting story. But it’s a story nonetheless. And it is a story that has been manufactured quite deliberately.

Systematic synthetic phonics (SSP), the approach championed by those phonics obsessives, is supported by the best scientific evidence available. Despite the alternatives to SSP grabbing hold of words like ‘whole’ and…

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