An overly negative view of literacy and reluctance to take account of history has limited research and led indirectly to the advancement of some unproductive ideas about literacy, according to this review of research on literacy education by the Australian Council for Educational Research.
The review argues that a false dichotomy has developed in literacy theory between 'code' and 'meaning-emphasis', a dichotomy sometimes wrongly equated with the debate between 'phonics' and 'whole language' approaches to teaching. This leads teachers of early literacy to believe that they must choose between the two methods, when in fact effective teachers use elements from both, as well as additional strategies.
Professor Freebody is concerned that the idea of literacy is sometimes simply used as a form of punishment, saying 'The effects of research are less productive when the primary function is to cut "underperforming" teachers, students or target demographic groups out from the herd for naming, branding or punishment.'
He argues that future research into literacy education must include a focus on observational study of teaching in actual classrooms.