Nate Meyvis

Listening notes: Sold a Story

I enjoyed and recommend the series, but not without qualification:

  1. It is way too long. The subject deserves a long treatment, but there is simply not enough information communicated per minute. Happily, the production is so good that it remains easy and pleasant to listen to despite this.
  2. This has to be one of the most important issues in the country right now. Let's hope Emily Hanford is right that there is an awakening underway.
  3. I am convinced that the science supports phonics instruction (and Hanford's views more broadly), but the listener would benefit from a thorough, reasonably complete overview of the research, early and at once. Instead, we get scattered descriptions of research and many claims (not immediately justified) that a certain view is right or wrong. Hanford is credible when she makes these claims, but it would be more rewarding and intelligible for the listener to get a good summary of the evidence up front.
  4. I couldn't stop thinking about how a priori implausible cueing theories are. The series did not emphasize this, perhaps because appeals to intuition, to other domains (e.g., philosophy and linguistics) seem out-of-bounds; perhaps because it would be viewed as a cheap shot; and perhaps because other people don't have the same instincts I do. Nonetheless, I think a full epistemic treatment of this issue has to address the fact that phonics, as a theory of attaining literacy, makes a lot more sense than cueing.
  5. The notes about privilege felt tacked-on and incomplete. I wasn't sure whether the claim was that rich people can afford to hire tutors, so are less sensitive to the quality of school instruction, or that cueing theories are a(nother?) manifestation of fashionable pseudoscience-as-science among American elites.

Published 2023-03-23.