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05/27/2002

ZIGLER CRITICIZES NARROW VIEW OF LITERACY


ZIGLER CRITICIZES NARROW VIEW OF LITERACY

Edward Zigler, Ph.D. from Yale, one of the founders of Head Start, recently (February 12, 2002) testified in the United States Senate about moves to turn Head Start into a reading program:

"Of late there have been criticisms that Head Start is not doing a very good job teaching literacy to its young students. I will offer my suggestions on that point in a moment. First, let me state that I concur that the ability to read is absolutely essential for an individual to have a successful life. I therefore applaud President and Mrs. Bush for the impetus they have provided to assure that every child in America will be a successful reader. However, as someone who has studied the growth and development of children for some 45 years, it is my responsibility to point out that reading is just one aspect of cognitive development, and that cognitive development is just one aspect of human development. Cognitive skills are of course very important, but they are so intertwined with the physical, social, and emotional systems that it is myopic, if not futile, to dwell on the intellect and exclude its partners.

"Think about what goes into literacy. Yes, it involves mastery of the alphabet, phonemes, and other basic word skills. But a prerequisite to achieving mastery is good physical health. The child who is frequently absent from school because of illness, or who has vision or hearing problems, will have a difficult time learning to read. So will children who suffer emotional troubles such as depression, attention deficits, or post traumatic stress disorder. And think about motivation. A child's curiosity and belief that he or she can succeed are just as important to reading as knowing the alphabet. Phonemic instruction by the most qualified teacher will do little for a child who suffers from hunger, abuse, or a sense of inferiority.

"I am urging that we broaden our approach to literacy by focusing on the whole child. We must also broaden our understanding of when and where literacy begins. I've heard a lot of preschool-teacher bashing lately, but in reality, literacy begins much earlier than the age of four. It begins with the thousands of loving interactions with parents after an infant is born. It begins as a child develops a sense of self-worth by realizing that his or her accomplishments, whether they be learning to roll over or to recite the alphabet, are important to significant others. It begins with sitting in a safe lap, hearing a familiar bedtime story. Eventually a child will want to emulate the parent and read, too. Reading, then, begins with meeting the child's physical, social, and emotional needs, followed by exposure to more formal literacy skills."



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