Many years ago in a discussion with a well educated woman I mentioned that I was teaching the alphabet to my young children, and making sure they knew it in order. She had a Master’s in Education, had taught school for many years, and had also worked in the private sector in a field of employment requiring competence in the English language. In spite of that, she had accepted without question some nonsense then being tossed around in some educational circles, and so she actually said to me, “Why bother teaching your children the alphabet in any sort of order? When are they ever going to need to know the ABCs in perfect order again?”
And I replied, “Oh, never, unless they want to use the phone book, which is in alphabetical order, or a dictionary, or the encyclopedia, or they want to teach school and list their students in an orderly fashion, or they work in an office and want things filed in such a way that they can find their files again, or they want to use the index of a book, or they want to find books at the library….”
“Okay, already,” she laughed. “That was silly of me. I guess I didn’t think that through.”
I wonder sometimes how many fads have come and gone in educationist circles because somebody didn’t think that through.
Whole Language is certainly one of them. People who read well and often generally leave behind the sounding out of words and learn to sight-read. The more they read, the more they memorize the way words look. They may apply phonics when confronted with a word they have never seen before, but they may also just sight read the syllables and then put them together. Somebody, somewhere, sometime (you can find our more about the guilty parties by reading some books I’ll list at the end of this post) decided that since adults who read well were often sight reading, we could achieve that same end by skipping the beginning steps of teaching reading by teaching children the building blocks of reading the English Language, or phonics, and go straight to sight reading.
But this only works well for readers who have already internalized the basic rules, and done it so well that it’s automatic, they don’t even know when they’ve done it. It’s a great method for teaching hieroglyphics. But English is not a pictorial writing system. It’s more phonetic than we realize. For those who think that English is too irregular for phonics, I suggest The ABCs and All Their Tricks.
This blogger wants to know if it was malice or incompetence. I suspect some of each, depending on the players.. She says:
My son happened to be loitering in my office (they do this a lot) when I read that headline and I said “I’m not exactly shocked, and I’d be surprised if it were much different across the country, because I sent you and your brother to the school reading, and then spent the next three years screaming at you to sound out words and stop guessing them. So they took kids who COULD read and would have made them illiterate, if I hadn’t stayed on top of it and made you re-learn.”
At which point my son said “Oh, you have no idea. Let me tell you what happened in Title One.”
Here we break to explain that Title One is – afaik – a Colorado program for children with learning disabilities. To my knowledge, neither of the kids had been in it.
However, as I’ve learned over the years, my knowledge is often far from complete, and what happens OFFICIALLY is also not what happens in truth. (For instance, if I’d known both the kids were sent to the school psychologist once a week through elementary, to fish for stuff that might be considered “abuse” – probably because Dan and I were troublesome – they would have been out of there so fast that the school’s head would spin. Unfortunately both kids assumed this was “normal” and didn’t tell me till high school. On paper, it never happened.)
I’d love to link the whole thing, but you really need to head over there and read it for yourselves. They sent a kid who could read, write and do fractions to school and were told he was a badly learning disabled who would probably never learn to read and write. You won’t believe the school’s ‘evidence.’
I can understand how a teacher could innocently believe what she is told in her teacher training school. In college you’re still young, naive, and you’ve come out of 12 years of government institutionalized schooling, or rather, brainwashing. So you believe what you’re told about whole language vs phonics. After college? How much harm can you cause out of ignorance and for how long? At best it shows a deplorable lack of curiosity never to investigate why your school’s reading program isn’t resulting in kids who all know how to read, although I understand why blaming the mom and dad is so much easier. Does it really make sense, though? With phonics, almost anybody could teach a kid to read in a year with just a couple hours a day, and teachers have them for far longer than 2 hours a day. I’m not saying mom or dad are doing their job, lots of times they definitely are not. I’m just saying that schools do allegedly exist to counteract the parents who don’t do their job, so why aren’t they counteracting? As a nation we had lower rates of illiteracy *before* national mandatory schooling than we do now.
We keep thinking that this debate about phonics was settled years ago, and it was, everywhere but in educationist circles, and the schools that train the teachers of tomorrow. Whole Language just gets rebaptised with a new name. After all, if you teach a kid to read in a few months, then there is no need for all those extra workbooks, readers, and extra reading teachers and all the stuff they need to buy for their classrooms. Just last month in one of the HM’s education classes they were talking about this as though it was still subject to debate. Whole Language is, IMO, akin to malpractice.
Enter Exhibit B:
The connection between whole language induced illiteracy and our national incarceration rates.
Illiteracy and education. The more we read, the more we can read. Knowledge is like a chain, built link by connecting link. Whole Language gives children a chain forged of broken links.
Books for further reading (these are books I have read. There may be newer, better books out there, but I don’t like to recommend a title I’ve not read myself):
NEA: Trojan HOrse in AMerican Education, by Samuel Blumenfield
Dumbing Us Down, by John Taylor Gatto (we’ve linked to online sources of his work before)
Why Johnny Can’t Read, by Rudolf Flesch
This is actually Why Johnny Can’t Read And What You Can Do About It, and includes a straight forward approach to teaching phonics to your own children.
Why Johnny Still Can’t Read, by Rudolf Flesch
Vision of the Anointed, by Thomas Sowell
More titles and some free links to them here.
(there’s a difference between educationists and educators. Good teachers are educators, and I admire them and could not do what they are doing.)