<Whole Language> as signifier: Considering the semantic field of school literacy

Mark Dressman, Laurie McCarty, Jonathan Benson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article examines the use of the term 〈whole language〉 within the educational and national media and by the newspaper and interested parties in 1 college town. Data collected include articles in literacy journals; a search of 5 daily newspapers in the us and other periodicals and TV news; a search of 1 local newspaper; and interviews with 70 teachers, administrators, university faculty, and "concerned citizens" in a mid-sized city in the Southwestern us with a major public university. Using the "discourse-centered approach to culture" proposed by Sherzer (1987) as a revision of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, our interpretive analysis of the data argues that the disputes surrounding the term 〈whole language〉 have as much to do with cultural, political, and economic issues confronting the us, and in particular the Southwest, as they do with any philosophical or professional conversation about the "best way" to teach children to read. The implication is that if literacy research is to retain both its legitimacy and its relevance within discussions about literacy, researchers need to become more open about their own cultural and political biases in the stands they take, and more aware of how those positions might be perceived and used by others and by the national media.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)9-52
Number of pages44
JournalJournal of Literacy Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1998
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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