Written by Bruce Deitrick Price
Fake reading theory is the slave trade of our era. Conscience demands that it be opposed.
A hundred books, perhaps two hundred, have been written on the reading wars. Finally those millions of words come down to a few dozen. English is a phonetic language and must be learned phonetically. Whole Word, the opposing theory, is a mirage, without merit.
The great sophistry of the 20th century was to create the illusion that Whole Word could actually work or, one step lower, that there was a legitimate choice between the two approaches to reading, as there is between fahrenheit and centigrade temperatures. The sophists urge even today: let’s use both.
Please don’t. In truth, there’s no debate, no choice. Whole Word is a lie.
One architect of Whole Word casually stated that most people could memorize “fifty to a hundred thousand” sight-words. Not true. In fact, only people with photographic memories could memorize even 20,000 sight-words. Ordinary people have trouble reaching 1,000. Many children cannot reach 100 sight-words. Virtually no one actually reads with sight-words.
Fortunately, most students finally see the phonics inside the sight-words and learn to read in a normal phonetic way. Unfortunately, the students who don’t see the phonics usually remain illiterate. They also become damaged and deeply unhappy. Many end up on Ritalin.
It’s important to say decisively that Whole Word is a fake, a scam, a hoax, I would even say a crime. The people promoting it are too smart not to know what they’re doing. That is my reluctant conclusion. (The only way you can let these people off the hook is to suppose they got lost for decades in theoryland.)
And so, today, we have in this country 50,000,000 functional illiterates. That’s a vast wasteland, where human intelligence should have thrived but was not allowed to.
The fakery here, the relentless lies decade after decade, is what makes this thing so reprehensible. Finally, I realized that the only way to express the magnitude of this evil project is to say that fake reading theory is the slave trade of our age. The evil is almost on that scale--so many tens of millions of victims, over so many decades.
But across the country our liberal newspapers pretend not to notice the damage still being done in the schools. Universities have nothing to say. Television stations ignore the subject. Go to your local paper’s website and search the archives for articles that explain why 65% of eight-graders are “below proficient” (i.e., not literate). You will probably find that your newspaper sees no evil.
In the middle 1800’s, when there were many people defending slavery, there were abolitionists saying no, slavery is evil, we must abolish it. Similarly in reading, abolition is what we need.
Sight-words, Whole Word, Whole Language, Balanced Literacy--these make up a huge edifice of lies and nonsense that blot out the sun. The only way to restore sense to American elementary education is to knock this edifice down, scatter the ruins, and plow them under. That’s what I mean by abolition.
As long as you have sight-words in schools, you will have young brains muddled and confused. They will learn to process some words one way, and another group of words another way. Imagine the confusion, the tension, the mental schizophrenia.
Fluent reading requires a continuous flow left to right, like water flowing across a flat surface. You don’t skip ahead, you don’t go back, your eyes don’t dart about among the letters. Sight-words introduce a distracted condition--you backtrack and make unnecessary movements, much like having a lazy eye. Sight-words make reading disorderly and exhausting.
Sight-words also turn reading into a never-ending series of puzzles. The architects of Whole Word said that kids, if they don’t know a word, should figure it out from context and prior knowledge. Kids should guess or skip ahead. Surely, these four gimmicks are pernicious advice. None of them is reading.
All of them are what people always do if they cannot actually read. These are the ploys and expedients used by illiterates throughout all of history.
Think about the chutzpah. You say that illiteracy is reading. You package learning not to read as learning to read. By your evil schemes, you churn out another million functional illiterates each year. You will end up in a special ring of Hell, called Literacy Manor. The Devil likes irony; and he likes you.
QED: Children should be reading by the end of first grade. Anything less suggests that school officials are incompetent.-----
(Improve-Education.org, this writer’s site, has many articles on problems in reading. Start with “42: Reading Resources.”)