Eat chocolate! It’s good for you! The latest claims will make you feel that this sweet indulgence actually has health benefits. I really want to believe this is true…. Every night I have a piece of dark chocolate after dinner, thinking I will live longer, prevent heart disease, and improve my memory by eating my delectable dessert. But I just read that my daily fix might just be expanding my waistline without contributing to my health. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, “The Bitter Truth About Chocolate,” the findings on chocolate are no more than sweet nothings. The claims are exaggerated, and chocolate is really not much different from other sugary treats. How can this be? All the medical research seems to point out the many positive attributes of chocolate, so what exactly does all of this mean?
Dr. Marion Nestle (the article states that the doctor is not connected to the chocolate manufacturer), a nutrition and foods professor at New York University, states that “most chocolate research has been funded, at least in part, by chocolate companies. In general, they get overwhelmingly positive results, whereas studies that are independently funded have mixed results.” She continues, “Bias can creep in with the research question that they ask, or how they interpret the results.” Interestingly enough, “all the studies in this article have received some of their funding from chocolate manufacturers or analyzed research that did,” said Richard Schiffman, the newspaper columnist. Medical researchers who promote the benefits of cocoa are looking at concentrated extracts and flavanol-enhanced cocoa drinks. What most people eat is not pure cocoa; they are having a mixture of a little of the beneficial compounds in cocoa with lots of sugar. Commercial chocolate does not have enough cocoa to be of much help.
Balanced Literacy is the “Dark Chocolate M&M’s” of reading instruction, a little bit of healthy and a whole lot of junk. Just like a mixed blend makes chocolate very appealing to the masses, Balanced Literacy was designed to end the Reading Wars and satisfy phonics proponents and whole language proponents. And just like chocolate has been touted as a health food, the evidence for Balanced Literacy has been misleading, even if the word “balanced” is more appealing. Unfortunately, this balance is quite uneven and can lull administrators, teachers, and parents into thinking that a mixed method approach to teaching reading is beneficial for children, just like a balanced diet.
To be educated consumers, we must read the ingredients carefully. A food label will show the main ingredients in descending order, beginning with the largest component. If the components of reading instruction were listed in order, direct instruction of phonics would be at the end of the list, perhaps dead last in many classrooms, while the main component would be reading for meaning, well before many children are actually able to read the words independently. This type of instruction encourages children to reach for any cues in a passage that might help them get through it. Children have been trained to think that the English language is unreliable, and it is unnecessary to try to sound out words. So, the small amount of phonics taught will not make a difference, and it is merely there to be part of a well-balanced program. When leveled books are used with a little bit of phonics thrown in, we might as well not even bother. Rather than actual “reading,” many children, especially the ones who need explicit, structured phonics, will not know how to apply these skills and just use shortcuts such as using the pictures and context to guess at words that give the illusion of reading.
When illiteracy continues to be a problem, we cannot possibly believe that this balance is actually working. Let’s not kid ourselves; just eat the original milk chocolate M&M’s and stop pretending it is a health food.
Faith Borkowsky, Founder and Lead Educational Consultant of High Five Literacy and Academic Coaching, is a Certified Wilson Dyslexia Practitioner, is Orton-Gillingham trained, and has extensive training and experience in a number of other research-based, peer-reviewed programs that have produced positive gains for students with dyslexia, auditory processing disorder, ADD/ADHD, and a host of learning difficulties. Her book, Reading Intervention Behind School Walls: Why Your Child Continues to Struggle, is available on Amazon. See information on her book and an interview with Ms. Borkowsky: https://highfiveliteracy.com/book/