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Child Abuse: Sandusky, the Catholic Church, and the Education Establishment

Written by Bruce Deitrick Price

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Everyone sees the parallel between the Jerry Sandusky case and the Catholic Church’s problems with pedophilia over the last several decades. Namely, there are unspeakable crimes well hidden by endless hypocrisy.

A blogger writes: “This Sandusky story reminds of pedophilia among many priests of the Catholic Church, that were also swept under the rug for many, many years by Bishops, Archbishops, Cardinals…and I hate to say it, all the way up to the movers and shakers of Catholicism at the Vatican!”

Cant_ReadA professor of history wrote in a recent column: “For a quarter-century, much of my scholarly research has focused on aspects of child abuse and molestation, particularly within the context of the Roman Catholic Church. For most of that time, I was working at Penn State University, which has now been overwhelmed by the abuse scandal centered on football coach Jerry Sandusky. Many people have noted parallels between the Penn State case and the clergy scandals -- both, for instance, involved powerful, closed institutions.”

Historians of the future may bemoan a third scandal with many of the same features. The United States has enough schools, teachers, and funds to ensure that everyone is educated to whatever level they are capable of.  Shockingly, the country is thought to have more than 40,000,000 functional illiterates, people educated to a level well below what they are capable of. Recent federal tests reveal that only one-third of children read at a “proficient” level. The "academic child abuse," in Siegfried Engelmann's haunting phrase, continues apace.

The United States has been plagued by an epidemic of low literacy for 75 years, ever since phonics was pushed out of the schools. Professor Paul Witty, one of the pushers, mused disingenuously circa 1950: "Is it true that one-third of our high school students can't read at the fifth grade level? That's what one magazine writer estimated in 1946."

Perhaps even more striking, the cause of this problem is well-known, according to many experts. Consider this historic concatenation of books:

Why Johnny Can’t Read by Rudolf Flesch, 1955

Reading: chaos and cure by Sibyl Terman and Charles Walcutt, 1958

The New Illiterates by Samuel Blumenfeld, 1973

Why Johnny Still Can’t Read by Rudolf Flesch, 1981

War Against Schools’ Academic Child Abuse by Siegfried Engelmann 1992

All these books say the same thing. A phonetic language like English must be taught phonetically(i.e., children learn the alphabet, the sounds represented by the letters, then the blends of those sounds).

In sum, the truth is known; but a cover-up seems perpetually in place, to ensure that reality doesn’t interfere with what the Education Establishment has evidently decided to do,which is to limit reading ability in millions of people.

The authors of Reading: chaos and cure state: "It is absurdly easy to teach a child to read with the proper method. Most of the children in America could be taught in a few weeks or months at the age of five [emphasis added]. We shall tell you about various schools, now functioning, where a problem reader is virtually unheard of."

These expert say that if you don’t use phonics and instead make children memorize the visual or graphic shapes of words (an approach known as Whole Word), you guarantee that less than half will become fluent readers. Large numbers will end up classed as “functional illiterates,” people who have memorized several hundred sight-words and read at only a rudimentary level.

Note that these five books were written clearly and candidly for the general public. However, there doesn't seem to be a book written for the general reader that explains how Whole Word can work. Apparently it’s not explainable. The only books written about this theory are by professors of education; their books reek of jargon and obscurity. Their apparent purpose is to indoctrinate young teachers.

There are few institutions so “powerful” and “closed” as this country’s Education Establishment. They have produced atrocious results; but go right on spinning excuses, crafting sophistries, rebranding their bad products, and getting away with it. (Their key product has been labeled Look-say, Whole Word, Whole Language, and now Balanced Literacy, to name the most well-known. Balanced Literacy permits some phonics, but insists on sight-works at the beginning when they can do the most damage.)

It’s common to see stories in the media about exciting new initiatives in education, and bold new ways of administering schools. But there’s rarely any mention of what our experts will do to solve the problems that two-thirds of the children are less than literate. The authorities look the other way just as the Catholic Church did, and just as the officials at Penn State did. Without more sensible reading instruction, our schools will continue to be mediocre.

If the Education Establishment were serious about making sure that all children learn to read, they would have systematically tested the theory presented by Flesch, Blumenfeld, Engelmann, and others. This would be easy to do: pit one school district against another for a few years. Case settled.

Anecdotal evidence suggests there is, in fact, nothing to settle. Marva Collins, with 40 year of experience, claims on herwebsite that she taught ALL children, no matter their age, to read by Christmas of their first year in school!

Meanwhile, our Education Establishment is not able to teach children to read even by the sixth grade, if ever. When Whole Word was king, the most optimistic predictions had children reading 1,000 words by middle school. That’s not reading. In fact, however, very few children have the nearly photographic memory required to master even 1,000 sight-words, never mind the vast bulk of words in the English language. In the present construct, children are expected to master a few hundred “high-frequency” sight-words; but even this task can take years and many children never can do it, effectively ending their education.

There is actually little question about these issues. Almost no children can learn to read using sight-words. Just as clearly, the Education Establishment is obsessed with keeping this destructive method in the schools. Such an obsession would seem to be indefensible, and criminal.

What saves our experts from the wrath of the public? The same factor, presumably, that saved Catholic priests all those years, and that saved Sandusky for the past decade. People don’t like to think the worst of their authority figures.

Sexual abuse is much the more serious crime; but educational abuse reaches and wrecks vastly greater numbers. From pre-k to 12, there are almost 4 million students in each grade. Judging by all the National Assessment of Educational Progress testing, about 3 million of these students are being shortchanged, some grotesquely so, with subsequent reduction in job and career possibilities.

A person of good conscience cannot support the Education Establishment as long as it tries to enforce its abusive dogma.

Bruce Deitrick Price is an author, artist, and education reformer. He founded Improve-Education.org in 2005; his site explains theories and methods.

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