Skip to comments.America, You've Been Punked
Posted on 09/26/2013 1:23:55 PM PDT by BruceDeitrickPrice
The Reading Wars were always chaotic and confusing. Heres the gist:
----On the one side, you had earnest, sincere people warning the country about the dangers of non-phonetic approaches (these were called Look-say, Whole Word, sight-words, and other jargon). The warning was always the same. Nobody can learn to read that way. Its a hoax. Dont do it! Youre being punked.
On the other side, you had patronizing professors of education saying the exact opposite. Phonics is old-fashioned. Dull and dreary. Weve got the fun new way to learn to read. Kids think of words as graphic designs and memorize them. Easy. No problem.
Dr. Celia Stengler, one such professor, panned a phonics text this way: One wonders whether the authors have ever had the thrill of seeing a group of children learn to read by the use of modern methods. The zest with which these children approach reading and the zeal with which they read will almost certainly be lost if we turn the clock back [to phonics]. Thrill, zest, zeal-thats what the professors promised in order to have their way with us.
Modern methods in this case means memorizing hieroglyphics just as the early Egyptians did. Easy? No problem? Its a huge problem. Try to memorize even a hundred hieroglyphics and see how easy it is.
The condescending professors smugly claim that ordinary kids can memorize tens of thousands of graphic designs or even thousands of them. In fact, some children cant memorize a few hundred. Many years later, the best you can say about millions of children is that they are semi-literate. The entire claim is a joke. America, you were punked.
So how could the professors pull off this charade? There were lots of faux-experts, thousands apparently. They were well organized. All the big names were making buckets of money selling useless books to children. Probably the main thing is that they were a cult and knew exactly what they wanted, namely, to pursue John Deweys dream of turning the US into a socialist country.
Some permissive souls give the Deweyites the alibi of incompetence. But the scam has gone on for more than 75 years. Generations of students have come and gone. But somehow the brilliant high-level PhDs cannot deduce that their theories are false. One suspects they had figured it out from the beginning, which brings us back to our central tragedy: America, you were punked.
Starting around 1930 the professors forced Whole Word into classrooms. When Rudolf Flesch wrote his famous book in 1955 explaining Why Johnny Cant Read, the professors counterattacked by forming the International Reading Association (IRA). Its whole purpose was to ridicule phonics and persuade Americans that they should use a reading method that did not work. America, stand still and be punked.
Frank Smith, a brilliant man and IRA hero, wrote a book called Reading Without Nonsense (1973) which was entirely devoted to convincing people they could read with nonsense. In his book he said a most remarkable thing: ordinary humans can easily memorize 50,000 sight-words. Completely absurd but they made it stick. Punk you very much.
Ken Goodman, the other brilliant man in this game, alleged that there are four "cueing systems" for reading: graphophonemic; semantic: syntactic: pragmatic. A theoretical edifice always in the process of toppling. But ed schools taught it; young teachers believed in it; students were victims of it. This edifice should perhaps have been called punking systems.
As Dr. Samuel Blumenfeld has mordantly noted in The Victims of Dick and Jane, The International Reading Association...is perhaps the only organization of such size in which a form of educational malpractice has been enshrined as the highest pedagogical good and its practitioners awarded prizes for their achievements....The vast majority of American children are trapped within a system that is turning their brains into macaroni."
This theme-the utter disaster of using sight-words to learn to read-has been emphasized over and over by phonics advocates. Siegfried Engelmann stated in 1992: "The system panders and plays games because it is thoroughly incompetent at the top....At present, there are strong advocacy groups for the spotted owl, the killer whale, the Alaska fur seal, and hundreds of other endangered species.' Paradoxically, millions of our kids are endangered. They will fail in school. They will suffer a very real form of child abuse. Yet these kids have far less real advocacy than the spotted owl does." (War Against the Schools' Academic Child Abuse, 1992)
Blumenfeld and Engelmann are singing the same song: America, youve been thoroughly punked
But these few smart sincere critics were no match for the organized horde of the International Reading Association and this countrys Education Establishment. These commissars wanted you to believe that ordinary children could memorize sight-words with automaticity. Thats a technical term for instant recall and pronunciation. Reading speed is fast--three or four words a second. Almost nobody can name sight-words at that pace. But these alleged experts pushed this fantasy with total ferocity; and they still do.
Here is a wonderfully stark summation of the current situation by reading guru Don Potter: The situation across the nation is dramatically worse that anyone can possibly imagine. When I ask the teachers why they teach sight-words, they inevitably tell me because their students are going to be assessed on them. They are totally unaware that sight-words are positively harmful. They consider sight-words part of a good reading program that includes some phonics, not realizing that sight-words create a reflex that interferes with phonics instruction. Sight-words are an obstacle to reading, not an aid.
America, youve been punked. Youre still being punked.
(For more on the Reading Wars, see "42: Reading Resources."/Improve-Education.org)
In the antebellum South, it was illegal to teach slaves to to read lest they get “dangerous ideas.”
In the the liberal plantation that the USA is rapidly becoming, organized education will prevent everyone from learning to read lest they get “dangerous ideas.”
I agree with much of the article but all of us use some “sight word” methods. There, their, and they’re are all sounded out about the same but we use a whole word approach to ID the meaning.
Agree. But the issue is more complex than stated here.
A large number of children, probably a considerable majority, will learn to read with ease regardless of what method is used. I personally don’t remember how I learned, since I cannot remember not knowing how to read. Mom took a picture of me when I’d just turned 3 absorbed in a “real” book. So the method used in schools was just irrelevant to me. The other second graders were reading Dick and Jane. I was reading Lord of the Rings.
The problem is that there is a considerable subset of children that can learn to read well if given appropriate instruction via phonics, as people have learned to read for thousands of years, but not if forced to learn via “modern” methods.
But, as the article says, phonics isn’t modern, or sexy, or innovative, or something. So large numbers of children must be sacrificed so these evil idiots can pat each other on the back.
So, instead of learning ABC’s and learning how words are constructed of sounds; the kids have to learn the entire word by sight?
Untrue. Large numbers do.
Acceptable as hyperbole, though.
I clearly remember learning to read in 1st grade with Dick and Jane in 1956-57. (First word on the first page of the book was "Look!")
Of course, we also had a phonics workbook as part of the instruction.
I will be the first to admit that I have many flaws, but being unable to read is certainly not one of them.
I have talked to several college presidents about this.
Better tools, better results.
No darn Ebonics.
Why make learning to read so troublesome? With the aid of a colorful alphabet book, a grandfather who helped me learn the associated sounds, and access to books plus an occasional prompt from that grandfather, I became a competent reader before entering first grade, and then was introduced to Dick and Jane and Spot, at 5 yrs, 9 mos. And I am just an ordinary schmoe.
My three children likewise became competent readers before entering first grade, because their mother (and occasionally moi) regularly read to them, colorful word/picture books were readily available to them, and they could practice their skill by reading the sides of cereal boxes at breakfast. And they were not distracted by TV cartoon junk.
This article is SPOT ON!
I’m not totally sure how I learned to read myself. My parents said when I was little I used to “read” the children’s books they read to me and they just figured I had memorized them - until one day I read one of my cousin’s comic books. I was about four at the time.
What I do know is that I was about the only one in my kindergarten class who already knew how to read.
Yer a racist and a homophobe. /S
I beg to differ. "Sight words" do not build a proper foundation for understanding new words. They also hinder development of speed reading or even just proficiently fast reading.
(I know that last bit sounds counter-intuitive because speed readers read entire words or even sentences at once. However, I am one, and a good foundation regarding how words are formed from letters is critical to developing speed reading skills.)
JMHO, of course.
Me, too. Before first grade, my parents had taught me how to read, add, subtract, multiply, divide, and understand basic science. Didn't you find school incredibly boring until at least high school? Maybe college? I sure did.
BTW, they used a technique a lot like phonics (but without the workbooks) to teach me to read...
How silly - it’s no harder than learning to read Chinese.
Used Bob Books with my kids. Absolutely the best phonics based reading program. The "books" are pamphlets that initially focus on one vowel pronunciation and a few consonants. They have funny plots and are so short attention span is not a problem. They gradually ramp up the complexity so it's easy for the kids to advance.
So, even if you are trapped with a teacher who insists on using "modern" methods and your kid is falling behind, a few minutes with Bob each night is the cure.
My son was reading before he went to kindergarten. They tried to teach him to read with phonics. Didn't work because he already knew how to read.
If you want your child to read, and read well, before he/she starts school here is what needs to be done.
Read to your child every night before bedtime. There are books available that have stories for every day of the year.
If you do that, I guarantee that your child will be reading to you before he/she starts school.
I and my wife did that, and it works. Plus, an unbreakable bond is developed between you and your child.
“Probably the main thing is that they were a cult ....”
Read Feynmann’s commencement speech at Cal Tech.
Cargo Cult Science. He discussed the fakery and dishonesty that he observed in education.
It’s a good read.
Large numbers of function illiterates, that is.
A thorough grounding in phonics produces great readers, excellent spellers and good writers in far greater numbers, even at the low end of the bell curve or when parents are indifferent.
Illiterates yutes become feral yutes because they have no way to access civilization except through their peers.
They tried to pull this crap on my child in the late eighties, we noticed something about her reading as we had begun phonics before grammar school and her grades started to plummet, we told them phonics or we’d pull her from school. They caved and the whole program was scraped the following year!
Since apparently nobody ever took us through “phonics,” I suspect we learned to read by “sight.”
My kindergarten teacher was so offended by my being able to read, in actuality better than she did, that she called my mom in to complain. Apparently it was against the rules or something to not learn via the designated system. Mom thought it was hilarious.
Agreed. But teaching (or learning) phonics requires discipline and drill, which I believe are not high on the priority list of the groups you reference.
So if “see-say” were outlawed tomorrow, I don’t know that it would of itself make much difference.
Read to your child every night before bedtime. There are books available that have stories for every day of the year.
If you do that, I guarantee that your child will be reading to you before he/she starts school.
My mom (the brand new English teacher) waited until I was 2 before teaching me phonics approach..........compulsive to this day.
Well I don’t know which phonics you are using, but it requires much less drill than any sight method since there are 70 phonograms and 30 spelling rules. Pretty much anyone can memorize 100 facts better and faster than thousands of words by sight.
You don’t need expensive textbooks or workbooks either. People forget that millions are spent in every school district on these, which is another prime motivator in persisting with whole word methods. It’s always about the moolah.
Look-say, Whole-Word, and whatever other name they give it is a giant step up to converting the writing system to Hieroglyphics which promotes politically beneficial Illiteracy. Eventually it is hoped that the profession of Scribe will be resurrected for the Priests of the New Utopia so that information is more easily filtered and controlled.
I remember getting in trouble in kindergarten for doing the worksheets too quickly. They would have instructions like "circle the cat in each picture" that were meant for the teacher to read to the students. I had circled all my cats before the teacher was done explaining what should be done.
Schools really can't handle the intelligent kids. If I was in school today, I guess I would be pumped full for ritalin to keep me from reading ahead.
It was a system that worked not because of the texts, but because the method was effective and the people involved were motivated.
I also knew how to read when I went into the 1st grade. I was 9 years and about 9 months, at that time you didn’t have to be 6 to start school. I learned to read by asking my mother how to pronounce words I would see in the news papers. I knew what the meant when I heard her say the words, such as the, wind, sky, etc. After a time I could read the paper by myself with out her help(except for really large words). She didn’t think it was remarkable. I believe I could read just before age 5. I was going to the library and checking out books(I really got into science fiction)by the age of 5. Jane and Dick bored the heck out of me. See, see, see. See Jane run. See Dick throw the ball, see spot catch the ball. Didn’t win me any awards with the teacher by bad mouthing the book!
No, America punked itself. In 2008 and 2012. And now they are on the verge of getting what they voted for.
I tutor kids. Last year I had a little girl, first-grader, who told me, “I am not the smartest kid in my class.” Broke my heart!! Why? Because she was not reading fluently yet! She had to memorize lists of sight words the entire year - rows and rows of words! By sight! It was guaranteed to kill any delight that kid would ever have in reading.
I am a strong believer in phonics, and I taught her to sound out the words, much as we could. Granted, English is not very phonetic, compared to Spanish, for instance. But still, letters have sounds, and giving kids the tools to sound out words opens the entire world of reading to them. Why oh why do they make them memorize pages and pages of sight words?
She rose to the challenge and got every word right on the end-of-year ALL sight-words test, by the way. And I spent a lot of time helping her to see the joy of reading. But what a waste of time.
Exactly. Make them only literate enough to fill out a food stamp application.
The reason why the book had such a limited number of words, is because it was designed for the "look/say" or "whole word" method of reading instruction. The method is appropriate for pictographic languages like Chinese, but not phonetical languages like English.
The method was known to be counterproductive in teaching children to read English, but that is why John Dewey promoted it. He wanted to diminish children's ability to read, and interest in reading.
Dewey wanted to prevent individual learning. Rather, he wanted children to work together, guessing at the meaning of words. Dewey was a socialist who signed the first Humanist Manifesto.
RE: “we told them phonics or wed pull her from school.”
A wonderful story, and exactly what everyone should do.
Crap!Correction to my #33 post. I was FIVE years and 9 months, not 9 years, when I started 1st grade.
I have three sons like you, and three sons who had to be taught to read with phonics at age 5-6. The instant-readers don't miss out on learning to read in public school, but they miss out on everything they could have learned with their ability, because they're held back to the level of the "other" kids in their grade, who didn't learn to read because they weren't taught.
So far, three daughters have had to be taught to read. The 4th isn't 2 yet, so I don't know how she'll turn out.
What you are doing is "after-schooling", and a lot of folks who can't afford the time off work to homeschool their young children do this all the time.
SO very true!! It also opens up the whole world for them, because being able to read means they can teach themselves anything they want to learn.
We continued reading to the kids well into their early middle school years. Hubby read "The Hobbit" and "The Lord of the Rings" to the older boys. Both of them got and stayed interested in the fantasy genre for years.
When the younger two came along, and got to be that same age, I read the "Redwall" series to them. It was a fun time, reading to them each night, and they enjoyed it because I would take on the varied British accents in the book; the moles and voles spoke in a Cockney accent and the hares had a British military, 'what? what?' pattern of speech. Both of them turned out to be voracious readers, as well.
My youngest is now in a wonderful charter where we don't have to do this drill. They teach the subject in class and give out their cell numbers to call for homework help. They check every day that homework is done and if it isn't the kid stays late to do it. No more finding out at parent-teacher night that your kid has a bunch of missing homework that it is too late to make it up. They test every six weeks and adjust to focus on where the kids need extra attention. It's great to have teachers who teach so we don't have to.
Nahh—There will be plenty of Ivy League-educated Navigators for that.
Exactly the same story. My parents read to me and I made the associations. When I asked a question, I received a phonics answer. I read above grade level (by a lot) from kindergarten onward.
Unless I’ve lost my ability to add, you’ve got 10 kids!
Thanks, Bruce, for another well-researched article on reading. And just in time for school starting this fall.
How does a parent know if their first grader may be developing a reading problem based on lack of phonics? Here’s a checklist:
He guesses constantly.
He confuses a and the.
He can usually sound out the first letter and the last letter but the middle of the word is a mystery.
He looks at the pictures first and does a lot of his guesswork based on the pictures.
A word list to memorize appears in his homework, sometimes with instructions for him to call out the words as quickly as possible. (Speed is stressed rather than accuracy.)
If readers come home, they contain a high volume of irregular words that are difficult to sound out.
(Phonetic readers have very few irregular words.)
If you suspect your child is failing to learn to read, research the Internet and find a compatible phonics program to help you teach him.
Or hire someone to tutor him.
Reading is the most important thing he will ever learn in school and his future depends on it.
You are correct, and thank you. They range from Gunner Anoreth, USCG, age 22, to Kathleen, the Pink Pet, age 1-1/2. The first two boys are in their late teens, and then there’s the pack of “byos,” who are 11, 9, 7, and 4.
I’ve learned a lot about education the hard way. Tom (16), Pat (11), and Vlad (7) are the instant-readers, while Bill (19), James (9), and Frank (4), are the ones who had to be taught. Frank can’t read yet, and he’s hit-or-miss on recognizing letters and numbers. We were looking at flash cards this afternoon, and he’s quite unclear about 6, 8, and 9!
When I was in lower elementary school, our library had a *Bookworm* program each summer. We were allowed 10 books a week. I always checked out the maximum, read them and was able to give an oral report on each one. By the end of June, the librarian just gave me the weekly sticker, saying:”We know you read them and we know you understand them.”
By 5th grade, I was totally bored with the kids section. My father gave me his library card and I began a lifelong love of science fiction. At first, the librarian would call my father to check that I was allowed to use his card. He told her I could read anything in the library. I think that happened twice. My mother was afraid I was reading *inappropriate* things, but I was able to convince her that I had already finished all the children’s series, the teenaged series and the biographies and if she stopped me from reading adult books, I wouldn’t have anything to read at all except romance novels begged from the babysitter. She relented.
I’m no genius. I suck at math. I understand scientific concepts, but not the equations that support them. I learned to use a dictionary on my own and an encyclopedia. Reading is a gateway to knowledge and understanding of the world. I do not understand illiteracy being sanctioned anywhere.