Teachers in Oakland, Calif., have learned a lesson themselves, albeit the hard way and at the expense of thousands of children whose future may have been permanently altered by left-wing activism.
Once the most successful reading program in all of California for inner-city kids for years and years in a row, students in Oakland were taught using the tried-and-true methods of phonics — the sounding out of letters, rather than the memorization of words.
“For seven years in a row, Oakland was the fastest-gaining urban district in California for reading,” Kareem Weaver told Time magazine. “And we hated it.”
The outlet said that teachers complained that the curriculum — despite its resounding success — made them feel like robots.
“This seems dehumanizing, this is colonizing, this is the man telling us what to do,” Weaver said in describing teacher response to the approach. “So we fought tooth and nail as a teacher group to throw that out.”
They got the phonics-based reading instruction replaced in 2015 with “a curriculum that emphasized rich literary experiences,” Time reported.
“Those who wanted to fight for social justice, they figured that this new progressive way of teaching reading was the way,” said Weaver.
So much for that disaster.
Now Weaver is heading up a campaign to get his old school district to reinstate many of the methods that teachers resisted so strongly: specifically, systematic and consistent instruction in phonemic awareness and phonics.
“In Oakland, when you have 19 percent of black kids reading—that can’t be maintained in the society,” says Weaver, who received an early and vivid lesson in the value of literacy in 1984 after his cousin got out of prison and told him the other inmates stopped harassing him when they realized he could read their mail to them. “It has been an unmitigated disaster.”
In January 2021, the local branch of the NAACP filed an administrative petition with the Oakland unified school district (OUSD) to ask it to include “explicit instruction for phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension” in its curriculum.
Time went on to report that traditional left-leaning organizations, realizing what a disaster this ‘equity experiment’ has been, are now pushing for a return to phonics-based reading instruction, and that includes the country’s largest public school district, New York City. There, Mayor Eric Adams announced in May “that elementary schools … would be required to adopt a phonics-based reading program,” Time reported.
Even before the pandemic left children with two years’ worth of learning deficit, reading levels in the U.S. were insanely inadequate. In 2019, just 35 percent of fourth graders could read at a proper level, and that, frankly, is a disgrace.
Instead, the left-wing teacher’s associations and teacher colleges have become too focused on nonsensical and divisive curricula like “gender” and racism when none of that matters if our young people grow into adults who are not smart enough to read, let alone figure out how to deal with complex societal issues.
Weaver gets it.
“There have been choices made where our children were not in the center,” he told Time. “We abandoned what worked because we didn’t like how it felt to us as adults when actually, the social-justice thing to do is to teach them explicitly how to read.”