Written by Bruce Deitrick Price
This country, for the last 80 years, has been living through what future historians might call the Great American Reading Swindle. The experts claimed to believe in a method that didn’t work. In order to protect it, and to shield themselves from charges of educational malpractice, they generated endless shock waves of intellectual disorientation.
Here is jargon concocted by our elite experts during this long national nightmare: psycholinguistics, miscue analysis, reading strategies, comprehension strategies, whole word, guessing, picture reading, whole language, sight words, balanced literacy, reading readiness, word walls, active learning practices, closed instructional activities, high-frequency words, thinking and learning about print, invented spelling, reading recovery, emergent literacy, creative curriculum approach, functional systemic linguistic theory, rich literacy activities, authoring cycle, capability beliefs, post-reading, lifelong reader, cognitive flexibility theory, independent reading, kid watching.
The drift of all this malarkey is that reading is a very difficult thing to do. The Education Establishment needed to keep this self-serving idea in play because they couldn’t seem to teach kids to read. After all, the experts would insist, it’s so hard to do! Don’t blame us!
In fact, reading is easy to do, and to teach. Consider what these famous reading experts have to say:
Grace Fernald (Remedial Techniques in Basic School Subjects, 1943): “Since no abilities are required for the mastery of reading, writing, and arithmetic which are not already possessed by the ordinary, normal individual, it seems obvious that there is no such thing as a person of normal intelligence who cannot learn these basic skills.”
Rudolf Flesch (Why Johnny Can’t Read, 1955): “We could have perfect readers in all schools in the second grade if we taught our children [correctly]... It’s very simple. Reading means getting meaning from certain combinations of letters. Teach a child what each letter stands for and he can read. I know, you say, it can’t be that simple. But it is.”
Sibyl Terman and Charles Walcutt (Reading: chaos and cure, 1958): “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. We shall tell you about various schools, now functioning, where a problem reader is virtually unheard of."
Samuel Blumenfeld (ca. 1990): “All children, except the very seriously impaired, develop their innate language faculty extremely rapidly from ages 2 to 6. In fact, by the time they are six they have developed speaking vocabularies in the thousands of words, and can speak with clarity and grammatical correctness without having had a single day of formal education. In other words, children are dynamos of language learning and can easily be taught to read between ages 5 and 7, provided they are taught in the proper alphabetic-phonics way.”
Sigfried Engelmann (War against the schools’ academic child abuse, 1992): “I have never seen a kid with an IQ of over 80 that could not be taught to read in a timely manner (one school year), and I’ve worked directly or indirectly (as a trainer) with thousands of them. I’ve never seen a kid that could not be taught arithmetic and language skills.”
Marva Collins (ca. 2000): “Children as young as 3-1/2 and 4 years of age are admitted to my school, at the beginning of every school year in September. I guarantee that they will ALL be reading by Christmas, three months later. That has been the results since I started my school in 1975.”
Don Potter (2012): “The secret of making learning to read easy for children is not to confuse them at the very beginning. Children who learn the alphabet letter names and are taught to read from the sounds represented by the letters will have a very easy time learning to read. (To mention just a few of the very fine programs that are available, I would put Blumenfeld's Alpha-Phonics near the head of list, Dolores Hiskes' Phonics Pathways is an exemplary phonics program, Rudolf Flesch's Exercises in his Johnny work for me every time, and Hazel Loring's Reading Made Easy with Blend Phonics for First Grade makes teaching reading a snap for any age student.)”
In order to make reading difficult, our Education Establishment embraced every wrongheaded theory they could find. They dwelled obsessively on problems, and on creating roadblocks. They concocted an array of alibis and sophistries to excuse their failure. Instead of emphasizing that English is at least 97% phonetic, they constantly lied that English is hardly phonetic at all.
Basically, phonetic reading is a vast mnemonic device, that is, there are many easy-to-remember rules to help you read. When you see a b-word (beach, bread, etc.), you know for sure it stats buh-. That eliminates about 99% of the possibilities. Each subsequent letter eliminates more options, until you know the word exactly.
Conversely, suppose you’re memorizing sight-words; and the next day you see a sight-word you’re not sure you know. Naturally, you worry that you misremembered in some way. How can you be certain? Your only sure recourse is to find somebody who can read.
Whole Word is quite a crime and a joke. All those diagrams can look more or less alike. Here’s an easy way to experience what kids endure. Hold a book upside down in front of a mirror and try to read, in a normal left-to-right way, what you see in the mirror. Focus on smaller designs. Try to memorize one of them; then try to find that same design again. You’ll probably see this process as annoyingly difficult. You’ll probably feel dyslexia creep into your brain.
That’s the essence of the Great American Reading Swindle.
One obvious deduction: people who would lie to you about reading, the one essential skill, would hardly hesitate to lie about the rest of the curriculum.
Bruce Deitrick Price explains theories and methods on his site Improve-Education.org <http://www.improve-education.org>