Lilian Katz, of the University of Illinois, is arguing that children should not be taught to read before the age of five-and-a-half.
Children are too young to learn to read when they first start school in the UK, an academic claims. She said: “The evidence we have so far is that if you start formal teaching of reading very early the children do well in tests but when you follow them up to the age of 11 or 12 they don’t do better than those who have had a more informal approach.” Dr Katz, who was addressing an international conference on foundation-stage learning at the University of Oxford, said there was a danger that the British model could put children off reading for life if pupils were forced to learn before they were ready.
But, she says, it’s especially bad for boys:
The evidence also suggests starting formal instruction early is more damaging for boys than girls.”Boys are expected to be active and assertive but during formal instruction they are being passive not active. In most cultures, girls learn to put up with passivity earlier and better than boys.”
OK, let’s try to reconstruct this argument, as charitably as possible.
(1) Boys are taught to be active and girls are taught to be passive. (2) Formal instruction requires passivity. (3) Reading is taught formally. (4) Learning to read early is difficult. So (C1) Boys won’t be very good at formal instruction, which will make learning reading harder for them than it would otherwise be. (5) Boys will get discouraged by early efforts at reading, and this will put them off reading for life. (C2) Boys shouldn’t be taught to read early.
One problem with this argument is that the very passage quoted indicates that early readers do well on early tests and then, when older, *no better* than late readers. This doesn’t look like they’re getting discouraged at all. (Though maybe the article is poorly excerpting her work: perhaps overall the early readers do just as well, but the boy early readers do less well.) But further problems include the total lack of reflection on premises (1) and (2 and 3). Re (1): Why on earth should Katz treat active and passive gender roles as if they’re unchangeable? (She doesn’t seem committed to the thought that they’re biologically fixed.) Re (2 and 3): Why not teach in such a way that students learn less passively? In sum, WTF? But just in case she’s right I’m off to burn all of my 2-year-old son’s books. Wouldn’t want to risk putting him off reading. (Thanks, Jender-Parents!)