Father runs for delegate on reading Advocate: He may have lost the election, but Republican candidate Hans K. Meeder says phonics issue didn't cause his defeat.


November 08, 1998|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

PUBLIC OFFICE ELUDED the reading candidate in Tuesday's election.

Hans K. Meeder finished fourth and last in the race for House of Delegates in Howard County's District 13A. Though he still got 10,007 votes, 20 percent of the total, he couldn't overcome a Democratic majority.

Meeder doesn't call himself the reading candidate. There was more to his candidacy than that. Nor did the race, in which he and fellow Republican Michael Grasso tried unsuccessfully to unseat Shane Pendergrass and Frank S. Turner, turn exclusively on reading. Few elections turn on a single issue.

But Meeder, 37, lives and breathes the first R. He got involved in part because he thought his daughter, Carrie, then 4, wasn't getting enough phonics in kindergarten at Atholton Elementary School two years ago. He organized a parents' meeting, wrote letters to the editor, and kept the pressure on the school bureaucrats in Ellicott City.

Moreover, Meeder earns his bread on reading. Well, that, too, is an exaggeration. Meeder is a self-employed educational policy consultant and former Capitol Hill staff member who did some of the initial work on what became the Reading Excellence Act. That bipartisan legislation will pour $260 million this year into reading programs across America.

Such benign, even exemplary, activity would put Meeder on the top of anyone's list -- except in the vicious world of reading politics. Meeder is on the side of phonics, and he believes that the most effective reading instruction must follow a clear sequence and the phonetic rules of English.

"Some children can figure out the phonetic code by themselves, and some children can advance through phonics instruction very quickly," he says. "But still, a clear systematic instructional approach makes sense for all children, and parents should be reinforcing, not filling in the gaps."

Many other candidates -- election winners and losers alike -- have made reading a campaign priority. Ellen R. Sauerbrey, who lost in the race for governor, called for a return to phonics in Maryland schools. So did Anne Arundel's Republican Del. Janet Greenip, who won.

Meeder says the reading issue didn't become heated this fall in District 13A beyond suggestions by his opponents that the candidate run for the Howard school board if he wants to have influence. Meeder won't commit himself to another run.

"Right now I'm enjoying being a regular guy again," he said.

As for the voters, Meeder says he couldn't afford pollsters, but "people seemed to respond favorably to my putting a focus on reading. I never felt negative reaction. I don't think that issue turned the campaign one way or the other."

And as for Carrie, now a second-grader, Meeder has good news: "She's learned to read pretty well. She's reading Bible stories and books to her little brother [Hans Jr.]."

Meeder adds, "There's definitely more emphasis on reinforcing phonics rules in Howard County. There's a little more systematic approach. It might not be my personal preference, it might not be enough, but it's an improvement."

Another reading revolt

Catherine C. Froggatt's first-grader, Sarah, came home from Pot Spring Elementary School in Timonium one day in 1993 with homework that didn't make sense. She was expected to read such words as "anemone" but hadn't yet been taught the basic rules of phonics.

That was the beginning of a revolt that led to a new reading curriculum at Pot Spring and helped prompt the reform of reading instruction in Baltimore County.

Today, Sarah's a sixth-grader in Asheville, N.C., where her mother still fights the reading wars. A couple of days a week, she mans the 800 line of the National Right to Read Foundation (800-468-8911), a conservative pro-phonics organization.

Froggatt says her daughter, now in a private school in Asheville, "has finally caught up in reading. She's fluent now, I would say proficient, and she likes to read, though she's still not a great speller. It took a concerted effort on my part to get her caught up, and I'd say it's taken all of these six years."

Pub Date: 11/08/98

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