Henderson tries to persuade the reader that the books should have been congenial to whole-language teachers because of their superior literature selections and should have been embraced by progressive educators because they blended the best of both approaches, including workshop activities, so-called reciprocal teaching (where the teacher and the students take turns as teacher), and other practices that were embraced by progressives. He never adequately explains why progressives did not see the obvious virtues of the Open Court readers (my guess is that any reader that paid any attention to explicit phonics was doomed in the eyes of progressives, at that period in history).
Henderson even buys the canard that the Caruses’ efforts to promote “high culture” were doomed by mass enrollments, as though it were an obvious truth that the children of the poor could never appreciate classic fairy tales and myths, a rather questionable assumption. Even so, Let’s Kill Dick & Jane is a fascinating and rather depressing read, explicating for all the world to see how an ambitious textbook series with rich content and beautiful illustrations died the death of a thousand cuts, administered by ideologues, bureaucrats, and the dumbed-down culture of American education.
Ultimately, the life and death of the original Open Court readers demonstrate that American education is a challenging environment for the industry that supplies its needs. Ralph Waldo Emerson said that if you build a better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door. Blouke and Marianne Carus learned that this is not true, that the market is shaped more by fads and ideology than by evidence about what works best for children.
Saturday, February 10, 2007
A better mousetrap
In the latest issue of Education Next, Diane Ravitch reviews a book on the sad story of how Open Court died the death of a thousand cuts: