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A couple decades ago phonics was a huge issue in the culture wars. For people of a certain age and political bent phonics represents a dumbing-down of early education; a concession to lower-class kids and especially of minorities. As I recall (as an adolescent observer) the debate overlapped with the controversy regarding ebonics, with which phonics might be somewhat conflated in people's minds.

If there's an analog today it's Common Core, or something related to Common Core. It doesn't lend itself as well to us vs them politics, though, as it's mostly a constellation of issues about which everybody has something negative to say. And I think that's true more generally--K-12 education is a quintessential political talking point. Everybody has strong opinions, they're just all largely the same uninformed opinions. It takes effort to keep people split along party lines, so you don't see the same persistent talking points across the years. Take vouchers--briefly a strongly divisive issue along party lines, but now a very muddy topic. People still have strong opinions, there's just no simple narrative for the media to play on.




To me it speaks to this desire people have to have input in a field that they don't know or understand. Somehow, when it comes to education, people feel like they have a right to decide how their kids are taught, even though they know nothing about efficient and non-damaging teaching methods. They don't like change as well, many of them probably say "that's how I learned to read, so it's good enough for everyone".

I used to be naive and think that everything should go to popular vote. Now I realize how infeasible and futile that would be. It would end up being an unmitigated disaster as people fight over everything instead of just a few hot-button issues.




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