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Bogus reading instruction is the 800-pound quack in many classrooms
Edarticle ^ | June 8, 2013 | Bruce Deitrick Price

Posted on 04/07/2014 5:14:33 PM PDT by BruceDeitrickPrice

The single most important aspect of education is reading.  

If children are not reading, their entire education comes to a halt. That’s what has happened in millions of lives. 

All the statistics for many decades reveal a curious surprise: our public schools don’t actually know how to teach reading or, more likely, they pretend not to know. 

This is a bizarre scandal, especially given that children have been learning to read for thousands of years, and 100 years ago this country was thought to be moving toward universal literacy.  

An odd thing happened circa 1931. The Education Establishment pushed look-say (or Whole Word) into the schools. This method produced bad results, so much so that in 1955 Rudolf Flesch wrote a famous book explaining why Johnny wasn’t learning to read. Mainly, Flesch explained, children need phonetics to learn to read a phonetic language. Imagine that. 

Then a second odd thing happened. The Education Establishment refused to acknowledge a blunder. Instead, they concocted catchy new jargon (e.g., “Whole Language”), cherry-picked research to prove their method worked even though it clearly didn’t, and heaped abuse on Flesch.

The result is that the educational landscape became and remains a swamp of sophistry and outright lies. Even well-intentioned people can hardly have an intelligent conversation about reading. Unfortunately, this confusion serves as protective cover for the perpetuation of bad theory.    Still, phonics did regain favor; and Whole Word, in its pure form, started losing credibility. Circa 1999 the Education Establishment had to stage an abrupt strategic retreat. They conceded minor points so they could hang on to the most harmful feature, that being the exaltation of memorizing Whole Words. The elite educators basically declared: okay, phonics isn’t so bad after all but kids still have to start by memorizing 200+ sight-words.  

Note the absurd contradiction. Phonics is important but not right away. So now we hear endless chatter favoring Balanced Literacy and “no one method suits every child.” All of this is propaganda which allows the Education Establishment to make children begin reading instruction just as they did 20, 40 and 60 years ago, in the darkest days of Whole Word. 

Children are no longer subjected to Whole Word in its pure form but they are subjected to a muddled, deceitful version of Whole Word that is almost as harmful. Many children are learning two methods at once, and if they become good at whole-word-reading, their brains are less likely to become good at phonetic reading. Collateral damage includes ADHD and dyslexia. 

The common denominator running through every bad idea from 1931 to now is the notion that you can lean to read by memorizing English words as graphic designs or configurations. Suppose a teacher shows you this design, &+; and tells you to pronounce it “car.” You have to stare at that design, preferably write it many times, and keep telling your memory, that’s “car.” The human brain doesn’t have much trouble with a few dozen designs. But in a typical first-grade, children are told to memorize 100 designs, with another hundred or so the next year, and another hundred the  year after that. Most children simply give up, overwhelmed and defeated. 

This design “&+” is an example of what is typically called a sight-word. This is the essential idiocy in all the bad teaching methods. English words are presented to children as a sight-word, something they memorize on sight. There are no letters, no sounds, no blends, no phonics, nothing that is actually necessary if someone wants to learn to read. 

For the reader of this article to fully understand the nightmare that was created in our public schools, you have to think of something that you have tried to memorize in your own life, for example, electrical symbols, weather symbols, currency symbols, flags, phone numbers, license plates, something that you were supposed to memorize “on sight.” 

Or perhaps you studied art history in college and had to memorize scores of paintings. It wasn’t easy but perhaps doable. Remember, however, that naming a painting is successful if you can do it in a few seconds. But reading speed would be to name three or four paintings per second. Virtually no one can do this. 

My goal here is to have everyone feel the frustration and hopelessness of trying to memorize hundreds of sight-words with instant recall. It just can’t be done unless someone has a nearly photographic memory. But memorizing hundreds of sight-words is precisely what most of American education is based on. Wherever we look around the country (or the world) and find children struggling to read English, you can be sure that Whole Word or Whole Language poisons the air. 

Note that the Education Establishment, when they embraced Balanced Literacy in 1999, basically confessed that everything they had been claiming for the previous 70 years was a mistake. Remember, they had declared phonics evil, wrong, a waste of time. Suddenly they said: never mind! Why would anyone trust these people? They had created 50,000,000 functional illiterates by demonizing a method they now declared essential. Now they’ve been creating more functional illiterates by insisting on sight-words in the early grades. 

This dogma is still peddled on hundreds of sites: “Sight words consist of 220 of the most frequently used words in printed English, excluding nouns. Learning to recognize these words instantly by sight is essential to developing reading fluency and comprehension.“ Essential, it says. Destructive is what it should say. 

Visit a forum concerned with elementary education or reading, and you’ll hear one wobbly little alibi after another for hanging on to this Frankenstein’s monster that has done so much to hurt American culture.  Further confusion comes because some people say sight-word but they’re really thinking of vocabulary words. Of course, everyone needs to learn vocabulary words. But these words are learned in multiple ways: meaning, spelling, phonetics, similarity with other words, rhymes, personal associations, etc. The memory can seize on many factors. But “sight word” is a technical term for words memorized in only one way--shapes the eye can see.  

Sight-word, both the linguistic term and the instructional concept, is a mistake. We don’t need it at all. Everything flows more smoothly if children learn the letters of the alphabet so they can say them and write them. Then they learn the sounds that letters represent; then they learn the blends of those sounds. Very quickly children know how to read. It all happens in 4-8 months. No sight-words required. 

TOPICS: Conspiracy; Education; History; Miscellaneous
KEYWORDS: illiteracy; phonics; publiceducation; reading; sightword; wholeword

1 posted on 04/07/2014 5:14:33 PM PDT by BruceDeitrickPrice
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To: BruceDeitrickPrice

Thanks for posting.


2 posted on 04/07/2014 5:18:49 PM PDT by pax_et_bonum (Never Forget the Seals of Extortion 17 - and God Bless America)
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I agree that whole word sucks donkey dong, but I do have a serious question. How do chinese kids learn to read chinese?

3 posted on 04/07/2014 5:19:27 PM PDT by dsrtsage (One half of all people have below average IQ. In the US the number is 54%)
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To: BruceDeitrickPrice

Funny how they want kids to remember words, but not multiplication tables because to do that would be cheating.???

4 posted on 04/07/2014 5:21:41 PM PDT by This I Wonder32460
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To: BruceDeitrickPrice

The pen is mightier than the sword.

So Big Ed has devised a way to neutralize the pen.

5 posted on 04/07/2014 5:23:59 PM PDT by LearsFool ("Thou shouldst not have been old, till thou hadst been wise.")
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To: BruceDeitrickPrice
These are letters. Each one has a name, but more importantly, it has a sound. If you put the sounds together, just as the letters are put together, it will make a word...

But Papa, I can't read!

But you do read, child, you read to me every day.

"But I can't!"

Why do you say that? Because there are words you don't know?


Child, you run across new words all the time. I even run across new words and I have been reading for a long long time.

"You do?"

Yes, but we have the tools to sound them out, and once we understand what they mean they are ours.

6 posted on 04/07/2014 5:25:01 PM PDT by Smokin' Joe (How often God must weep at humans' folly. Stand fast. God knows what He is doing.)
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To: BruceDeitrickPrice
yep. Began to learn reading in 1952. I can still hear the teacher telling a student having trouble with a word--"sound it out."

Near as I can recall, every single kid learned to read at a functional level.

7 posted on 04/07/2014 5:25:33 PM PDT by hinckley buzzard
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To: BruceDeitrickPrice
Collateral damage includes ADHD and dyslexia.


8 posted on 04/07/2014 5:29:03 PM PDT by workerbee (The President of the United States is DOMESTIC ENEMY #1!)
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To: BruceDeitrickPrice


9 posted on 04/07/2014 5:29:34 PM PDT by Ruy Dias de Bivar (Sometimes you need 7+ more ammo. LOTS MORE.)
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To: BruceDeitrickPrice

Where I live, the schools teach phonetics.

10 posted on 04/07/2014 5:36:45 PM PDT by Mr Rogers (I sooooo miss America!)
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To: BruceDeitrickPrice

Public education can’t teach johnny to read, but at least it costs a fortune.

11 posted on 04/07/2014 5:37:21 PM PDT by Jacquerie ( Article V.)
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To: BruceDeitrickPrice

Basically they took away the tools that enable one to be learned. The sounds, the math tables etc. When my kids were in school, they didn’t want them to memorize their multiplication tables because that would be rote instead of learning. It would be like cheating. Instead they wanted the kids to make equations and figure out how 3x3 became 9??? So they had to do something like 3x3=3+3+3=2+1+2+1+2+1 etc. I kept telling my kids memorizing the multiplication tables was learning how to use a tool that would make math easier for them. Fortunately, learning to read was a combination of methods at their school with me doing a lot of reading with them so I could teach them phonetics more strongly then the school was doing. I learned phonetics in first grade and I remember when it clicked in my brain that letters represented sounds. The first word that made sense was Tag, the name of the dog in the McMillan series. See Tag run. Run Tag run. Wow! God bless the teacher who taught me that. It opened a whole new world for me.

12 posted on 04/07/2014 5:39:41 PM PDT by This I Wonder32460
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To: BruceDeitrickPrice

Nothing is more important than for a child to come from a family that reads.

13 posted on 04/07/2014 5:42:50 PM PDT by cripplecreek (REMEMBER THE RIVER RAISIN!)
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To: dsrtsage

Exactly what I was thinking. Maybe we don’t understand the Chinese pictograms or whatever they are or how they are taught or something, because it seems like a pretty obvious question.

I never understood why they didn’t teach some sort of universal shorthand instead of cursive. Cursive is faster than printing, but if that’s the point why not teach something that’s waaay faster than both? Instead of learning two very similar styles of writing the language you speak. Maybe this is the reason, short hand uses symbology of some sort for many common words and takes more time to learn?


14 posted on 04/07/2014 5:43:49 PM PDT by Ransomed
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To: BruceDeitrickPrice

Only using sight words makes no sense. As soon as you come across an unknown and ‘teacher’ isn’t there to help, how do you figure it out? Phonetics gives you the tool to sounding out new words.

15 posted on 04/07/2014 5:51:33 PM PDT by twyn1
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To: BruceDeitrickPrice
I learned phonics before the publik skools got hold of me.

Too bad, so sad, evil dumbing-down people!

16 posted on 04/07/2014 5:51:36 PM PDT by kiryandil (turning Americans into felons, one obnoxious drunk at a time (Zero Tolerance!!!))
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To: dsrtsage

“How do chinese kids learn to read chinese?”

Every Chinese character has an elaborate story associated with it, including substories for various strokes in the character. Some of these stories are historical in nature, but many are based on fables and fairy tales that go back hundreds of years.

So, they don’t actually memorize whole words, but have an elaborate array of associations on which to pin the words.

One of the most basic and simplest words in Chinese is a squarish like symbol with a vertical line through it, with that word being the name of the Chinese country itself, and it symbolizes the fact that the Chinese have historically considered their country to be the center of the world.

17 posted on 04/07/2014 6:44:08 PM PDT by catnipman (Cat Nipman: Vote Republican in 2012 and only be called racist one more time!)
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To: BruceDeitrickPrice

We taught our kids phonetics before they started school. They are both excellent readers today. There is nothing in education (including math) that can be mastered if you do not read well.

I recently applied to tutor kids for the ACT / SAT (at one of the big name tutoring companies) - it seems like a good way to make a few extra bucks. Anyway, I had to take the ACT math and science exams (and get an acceptable score on them) to qualify to tutor. I have been out of school durn near 40 years and was able to pass - not because of subject knowledge (much of which is long gone) but because I am capable of reading and comprehending quickly and accurately. You will not score well on these exams if you cannot read well - and since college admissions and scholarship levels rely on how well you score (unless you are non-white or excel at sports), poor reading skills severely cramp your college prospects.

18 posted on 04/07/2014 6:50:57 PM PDT by Some Fat Guy in L.A. (Still bitterly clinging to rational thought despite it's unfashionability)
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To: hinckley buzzard

I hit early elementary school in the early 50s also. We learned phonics. This was in suburban New Jersey, just outside of Camden. And yes, we all learned to read, some better than others, but we all were reading by second grade.

19 posted on 04/07/2014 6:52:07 PM PDT by Bob
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To: hinckley buzzard; All

I learned phonics in the first grade (1948 or 9). I loved phonics, as it was such a neat decoding trick. I loved the worksheets, too.

When my four children were little - in the 60s, I taught them all phonics (in a casual way, at the supermarket, reading children’s books, etc. as soon as they showed an interest in deciphering, long before they went to school.

All of them knew how to read before kindergarten, and all of them hated the “reading systems” that were being taught. They found them tedious as entrapping.

All are still avid readers, and figured out that self-learning was much more fun than “school learning”.

20 posted on 04/07/2014 6:55:55 PM PDT by jacquej ("It is the peculiar quality of a fool to perceive the faults of others and to forget his own.")
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To: BruceDeitrickPrice

Here’s the proof the “experts” know that phonics works. Most school districts receive considerable money from Uncle Sam for remedial reading programs. Kids who have difficulty with reading end up in those classes, where they are taught PHONICS.

Follow the money.

21 posted on 04/07/2014 7:00:48 PM PDT by Liberty Wins ( The average lefty is synapse challenged)
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To: BruceDeitrickPrice


22 posted on 04/07/2014 7:33:57 PM PDT by ntnychik
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To: dsrtsage
"How do chinese kids learn to read Chinese?"

Not very easily.
Repetition is the main thing used in teaching Chinese language (writing and speaking are taught separately).
There is also a "sound-like" techniques used called "Bo Po Mo Fo" which uses "sound-like" pictograms to learn how the combinations of pictograms should work together.
It is very hard. But it is mostly repetition.

My Son just came into my office and I asked him. He is 18 and a recent high school graduate.
He basically said the same thing as above - but added "It's no that hard. We used Bo Po Mo Fo and learned the sounds and then learned to put them together. It's only 3 pictograms, at most, for most words and then an accent mark. Tone rising, tone falling, or tone remaining flat, per word."

Trust's hard...very very hard.
23 posted on 04/07/2014 7:50:53 PM PDT by Tainan (Cogito, ergo conservatus sum -- "The Taliban is inside the building")
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To: Ruy Dias de Bivar


Sointenly, Two Bucks!

24 posted on 04/07/2014 7:52:58 PM PDT by dfwgator
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To: catnipman, Zhōngguó
"china" in Chinese
25 posted on 04/07/2014 8:00:56 PM PDT by Tainan (Cogito, ergo conservatus sum -- "The Taliban is inside the building")
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To: dfwgator
And does eat oats and mares eat oats and little lambs eat ivy.
Kids eat ivy too...wouldn't you?
26 posted on 04/07/2014 8:02:58 PM PDT by Tainan (Cogito, ergo conservatus sum -- "The Taliban is inside the building")
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To: catnipman
Although, what I presented is "Simplified Chinese"( and not "Traditional Chinese."

Which gets us into a whole other can of worms lingo-wise.

A good read on this is one by Wally Guo at:
What are the differences between Chinese Simplified and Chinese Traditional.
27 posted on 04/07/2014 8:12:09 PM PDT by Tainan (Cogito, ergo conservatus sum -- "The Taliban is inside the building")
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To: BruceDeitrickPrice

don’t people like the Chinese and Japanese learn by sight..they certainly can’t use phonics.

28 posted on 04/07/2014 8:16:42 PM PDT by terycarl (common sense prevails over all else)
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To: BruceDeitrickPrice

Back in the early 90’s I had to take my child out of public school because at the age of 12 and after years of intensive effort by reading specialists he couldn’t even read a kindergarten book. They told me I would just have to accept my child would never really read.

After major arguments with district social workers and such I pulled out a library phonics book by Nancy Stevenson for dyslexic children and had taught him to read in a matter of a few weeks. They still chased me down and actually came to my house and tried to stop me from using phonics!

It was at that point I realize how clueless professional educators can be. It’s not that they didn’t care; they did. But they just “knew the best way to do it” and that was that.

29 posted on 04/07/2014 11:23:57 PM PDT by I still care (I miss my friends, bagels, and the NYC skyline - but not the taxes. I love the South.)
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To: terycarl

Actually the japanese use both traditional chinese characters (kanji in Japanese) and a syllabary system that is phoenitic (hiragana). They found that the Chinese wasn sufficient to cover all aspects of the Japanese language so they combined them. They did it again in the 1900s when they created a romanization syllabary specifically to be used for foreign words transliterated into Japanese...the new syllabary was called katakana. Katakana has the exact same pronunciation as hiragana but a slightly different set of characters. So while the Kanji has an idea behind it’s origin, the hiragana and katakana has phoenitics. Oh and if they use western letters then it is called romanji.

Interestingly I was worried about my younger daughter reading at one point because she was a bit slower than her sister who devoured books by age 5. The school was using sight words to a limited degree and I was driving phoenetics at home when I read to them prior to bed time. One day I walked into her room and she looked up at me from a book with eyes as big as saucers. “Dad,” she said, “it’s like a movie in my head.” My reply was a big grin and “Well I don’t need to be concerned about that anymore do I.” Ever since she’s been reading like crazy but does tend to be a bit more selective in what she will invest her time in compared to her sister.

30 posted on 04/08/2014 4:55:24 AM PDT by reed13k (For evil to triumph it is only necessary for good men to do nothings)
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To: BruceDeitrickPrice
Then, there is this:

Scrambled Words

It seems that it doesn't matter what order the letters of a word are in; as long as the first and last letters are in the proper place, your brain can unscramble the rest of the word and make it readable.
31 posted on 04/08/2014 5:28:32 AM PDT by TomGuy
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To: TomGuy
Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it deosn't mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer be at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey lteter by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe.

How the heck are you able to look at my Word documents?

32 posted on 04/08/2014 5:31:58 AM PDT by Cincinatus (Omnia relinquit servare Rempublicam)
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To: BruceDeitrickPrice
Most kids can learn to read simply by watching along as they are being read to. WHole word, phonics, it just doesn't matter for most of us. In my own family, we have a bunch of early readers - most of my own children and grandchildren were able to read before 4 years of age, and several of them were able to read before age 2. If they received any phonics instruction, it was limited to Dr. Seuss' "Big A, Little A, what begins with A?" Some people just pick up reading and it doesn't matter what the school does as these kids will read anyway.

HOWEVER, there are some people who really need phonics. We have a grandson who struggled mightily learning to read. In March of second grade he could barely get through Go Dog Go! without assistance. He began receiving instruction in the Wilson Method that same March. Wilson has been described to me as "phonics on steroids." By September of that same year, a mere 6 months later, he could struggle through the Ready Freddy series with some help. I am happy to report that by March of this year - so one year after beginning the Wilson method - the boy can read the Magic Treehouse series completely on his own. In other words, he's reading at grade level. I'm actually tearing up as I'm typing that.

Unfortunately, Wilson is a one on one method and it's not currently possible for schools to spend that kind of money. However, most kids don't need it. I think schools should spend less money trying to teach everyone to read. Let the bulk of the kids learn organically and focus efforts and funding on those kids who can't read. The Wilson Method is costing my daughter $110 per week - most families don't have that. Thank God they do. Yet, without the Wilson Method, I have no doubt my grandson would be struggling along and his self esteem would be suffering mightily.

33 posted on 04/08/2014 5:56:15 AM PDT by old and tired
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To: dsrtsage

Here’s a short response to your good question about how kids learn Chinese.

The English language has 100,000 up to 1 million words. Chinese has maybe 5- or 10,000 words for ordinary people. They achieve this minimalism by getting rid of all the small words. “No pain, no gain” is a typical Chinese sentence.

Second, all the Chinese ideograms, just like Egyptian hieroglyphics, start from a pictorial basis. So each ideogram has some clues in there, some reminders of the word’s past. And note that the ideograms do not have upper and lower case or any other variations. They are designed to be read visually and each character has distinctive features that make this easy.

Third, the Chinese do what you have to do if you have a symbol language, which is to make the students practice all the time, drawing the symbols, over and over and over. Learning Chinese means endless calligraphy.

This was one of the giveaways going back to 1931 that the education establishment was engaged in a hoax. They actually said that the children just have to be shown the word, and they will know it, almost like waving a magic line. But English words look a lot alike. There’s so many of them. And if you have any hope of remembering even a simple word like house, you have to draw it over and over and over again. But this was never required in our public schools.

And really, from what I can tell, if you frankly admitted you were trying to prepare people that you could control, then you would just eliminate English vocabulary until you had perhaps 800 essential words, and you printed and presented these words the same way all the time (e.g., uppercase), and you made the children draw them over and over, then you could perhaps create a whole population that was reading via whole word. They would probably be hesitant, plotting readers. The amount of material they can read would be very limited and simple..... And in fact this weird extreme fantasy seems to be what was behind whole word all along. The commissars would create a semi-literate population, incapable of much abstract thought, without ever admitting that’s what they were doing. Remember, that was the whole point of Orwell’s Newspeak.

This little video tries to explain sight-words versus phonics in a few minutes:

34 posted on 04/08/2014 12:38:18 PM PDT by BruceDeitrickPrice (education reform)
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To: potlatch


35 posted on 04/08/2014 6:41:12 PM PDT by ntnychik
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