YOU CAN'T teach what you don't know.
And if you've ever sat through a class with a teacher who doesn't know anything about reading instruction, you know how painful it can be for both instructor and student. Ill-equipped reading teachers will talk about "immersing the kids in language" and grasp at the wispy, illogical tenets of whole language.
But they don't know the fundamentals. They can't give kids the rock-solid reading foundation that's only constructed through a methodical, phonics-based approach to instruction.
Three years ago, Maryland school officials vowed to ensure that all state colleges imbued new teachers with the phonics bug -- the ability and predilection to teach reading the right way.
But as Sun reporters Mike Bowler and Carl Schoettler have reported yesterday and today, it never happened.
Colleges and universities have been slow -- and in some cases downright obstinate -- about adopting curricula that stress phonics-based instruction for all prospective teachers.
What an excuseless tragedy.
Every time a teacher graduates from a Maryland college without knowing how to teach phonics, he or she goes on to curse hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Maryland youngsters with an inadequate education.
No doubt, many of those kids learn to read anyway. But what of the others? The kids who come from impoverished homes where books are scarce and parents, perhaps, can't read? The children who have learning disabilities that can only be overcome with explicit, phonics-based instruction?
State schools Superintendent Nancy S. Grasmick must continue to do her part to save them. She should not back off her insistence that all public school teachers know how to teach phonics.
But all of the responsibility here is not hers.
The state's college presidents -- who have more sway than anyone about what happens on their campuses -- must also get on board and push for more reform, faster.
It wouldn't hurt to hear Gov. Parris N. Glendening's voice championing better reading instruction, either. His keen interest in education and control over the state's purse strings give him credibility that may be needed.
The time for all of these parties to act is now -- before Maryland turns out another generation of teachers who can't give our children the education they deserve.