Until the last few paragraphs, Phyllis Schlafly's latest Townhall column is a fairly typical right-wing assault on education spending, filled with angry denunciations of "the notoriously useless program called Head Start." Again: Fairly typical stuff -- for some reason, conservatives hate spending money to help kids learn. But then things take an interesting twist -- Schlafly comes up with something worth spending money on:
Children should be taught to read in the first grade by an authentic phonics system in which they learn the sounds and syllables of the English language and how to put them together to read words of more than one syllable. There is nothing expensive or mysterious about this basic task.
Instead of wasting more federal money on grant-writers and grant-readers, tell local districts to award a bonus to first-grade teachers based on how many kids they actually teach to read. Let the teacher select the phonics system she thinks will help her win the bonus.
And then this note:
Phyllis Schlafly is the author of a phonics system for first-graders called "First Reader," which sells for only $29.95 with an accompanying Workbook for $9.95 (free shipping).
Well, that certainly works out nicely.
According to Schlafly's Eagle Forum website, the "First Reader" workbook has been around since 1994. So I couldn't help wondering if Schlafly has used her various columns to tout the efficacy of phonics systems without disclosing her financial interest in doing so. And, as it turns out, she has.
Last September, Creators Syndicate distributed a Schlafly column that denounced "non-phonics in reading instruction" as an approach that "parents find offensive." That column did not include a disclaimer noting Schlafly's authorship of a phonics program. But that's only the most recent of several examples of Schlafly touting phonics without disclosing her interest in doing so, which include a July 2003 Schlafly column and another from August 27, 2007:
Public schools should teach all first-graders to read by the time-tested phonics system, and teach all schoolchildren to know and use the fundamentals of arithmetic by the end of the third grade. This would end the shocking epidemic of illiteracy that now permits students to get into high school and even graduate without being able to read, write or calculate change at the grocery store.
And in October of 1999, Schlafly wrote an entire column denouncing a textbook that criticized phonics, somehow managing to write "The textbook includes a chapter warning teachers against a 'Far Right' conspiracy of 'laypersons' to teach phonics … The textbook identifies yours truly as a co-conspirator" without ever getting around to mentioning that she sells a phonics system.
Remember: If it seems like conservative media figures are trying to sell you something, they probably are.