Bruce Deitrick Price’s new book is Saving K-12 — What happened to our public schools? How do we fix them?
Price deconstructs educational methods on Improve-Education.org.
Hey, Cleveland! Why do you hate your children?
Written by: Bruce Deitrick Price
March 30, 2021
Part Two: How literacy was slowly undermined.
Everyone studying American K-12 for any amount of time is probably going to run into an awkward moment of doubt and distress when they realize that our schools seem to be crippled by intellectual dishonesty. The people in charge have deliberately selected inferior theories and methods. Failure is locked in. If you look at each of the major theories you will see this for yourself. Finally, there is a strong case for the view that the Progressives running the schools figured out that their ideological goals are best served by keeping the public ignorant and simpleminded.
I urge everyone to reflect on this strange morass. When we talk about Progressivism, Communism, Socialism, Totalitarianism and the reality presented in the novel 1984, we’re dealing with a somewhat distant landscape. But when you imagine professors sitting at a table and concocting instructional material intended to fail, then you know you are looking into the eye of the monster.
For me nothing confirms the presence of far-left ideologues in our society more than the failing schools and in particular the illiteracy crisis. Saying that Cleveland is 67% functionally illiterate means that after 12 years in school, young people cannot sit down with a good book and read it with efficiency and pleasure. The giveaway signal for the victims of our schools is teenage boys who complain, “I hate reading. I don’t like books.” What they mean is they are as illiterate as door knobs but don’t know what went wrong or how to explain it.
Probably the most revealing event in American education occurred in 1928. That’s when Dr. Samuel Orton, a neurologist working with a Rockefeller grant, concluded that Whole Word (often called sight-words) did not work. He got the grant because his sponsors assumed he would endorse Sight-words. Instead, he trashed this method, adding that it would damage children’s minds for a lifetime.But our Education Establishment, convinced by the stock market crash of ’29 that Karl Marx was right after all, moved aggressively to expel phonics from all American schools. This expulsion has been quietly but ruthlessly sustained to this day. Point is, all the top people in the field of education always knew, thanks to Dr. Orton, that they were selling snake oil.
The easiest way for most people to experience what has been called “The biggest crime in American history” is to understand Rudolf Flesch’s famous book published in 1955, Why Johnny Can’t Read. (Chapter One, 22 pages, is all you really need to read.) He was describing what happens when you use Sight-words. Everything was explained 65 years ago and the “experts” knew from the research up to that point, and since, that phonics is essential. But our Education Establishment, already corrupted, managed to mislead school districts into not using phonics. However, if Cleveland wants real readers, parents need to settle on a phonics textbook, the simpler, cheaper and shorter the better. Don Potter, a phonics guru, recommends two proven methods: Hazel Loring’s Blend Phonics, which you can get free on Internet, and Alpha Phonics by Samuel Blumenfeld, which can be obtained cheaply.
Remember that phonics is not a set of rules so much as an idea. When first introduced 5000 years ago it was one of the most unexpected breakthroughs in human history. Symbols on the page stand for sounds, not objects. It turns out that almost all languages need only 25 to 30 letters to represent all the words in that language. This is a remarkable truth.
Now the question becomes ever more pressing. Why don’t our literacy experts figure out the best way to teach reading? Most parents would be amazed to find that research going back a hundred years favors phonics over non-phonics. Why doesn’t Cleveland follow the science?
Siegfried Engelmann, one of our few real educators remarked, “Fundamentally, our education professors believe in magic.” Many years ago, I read in Time that children did not need to be taught grammar, spelling, and so forth. They would absorb it from the air. Magically. You see this fatuous argument used throughout K-12
Typically public school students memorize several hundred common words, street signs, and logos. They know English words as graphic designs, i.e., sight-words, i.e., not phonetic words, just as we might memorize currency symbols, electrical symbols, math symbols, or the symbols on restroom doors for men and women. An average brain can handle hundreds of sight-words but not thousands. And that is the essence of our dilemma, given that English has a vast vocabulary. Skim through any dictionary and imagine having to memorize all those Sight-words.
Everyone confused by discussions about reading needs to focus on a few simple facts. Children must learn the ABC’s (that is, the names of the letters) which is easily done by the age of three. Then you learn the sounds represented by these letters. For example, a b is always a buh-sound. When a child combines a b-sound with an a-sound, you get a third sound bah. There is the essence of phonics, two sounds merge to make a third sound. Like riding a bicycle, it’s a little weird at first, but then it’s easy.
The big question is, what should the Mayor of Cleveland say tomorrow to citizens if he wants next year to be an improvement? “Children can typically learn to read in first grade. Let’s get busy making that happen.”
Sometimes it helps to know if a child can read or not. Here is a simple test. Point to a short paragraph in the newspaper: read this. If the child leaves out words, adds words, pronounces words backwards, or guesses wildly, the child cannot actually read. In other words, they can’t sound out the English language. They can only try to recall the various pieces they’ve memorized.
Reading is only part of the problem. We must have basic arithmetic, no common core nonsense. We must teach with direct instruction, no constructivist nonsense Students need to learn the names of the great rivers, oceans, and mountains. You need to know basic outlines of history. Now we have students graduating from college who can’t find Alaska on a globe. If everyone would agree that such ignorance is not acceptable, we would be halfway to fixing the problem.
Public schools often do a lousy job because the educrats found they can get away with anything. A common refrain is that parents can no longer help their children with homework, because the methods are so obscure. Should parents tolerate such nonsense? Please don’t. Trouble is, the socialist bureaucrats in charge want to separate the generations. They don’t want parents to be involved in education. If you think that attitude is contemptible, you should fight it.
The big problem for more than 50 years is that the schools keep bringing in ever more lightweight or irrelevant content. Less time is left for academics.
Linda Harvey, whose website is https://www.missionamerica.com/, thinks the people running the schools are consumed by a hyper-focus on leftist social engineering projects. She is emphatic that money is not the problem. Many schools are now mandating politically correct programs that try to psychoanalyze children as well as transforming them into progressive “change agents.” The schools need to get back to their real jobs— the beautiful basics, reading, writing, mathematics.
When the schools don’t do a good job, parents and community leaders must step up their game. Oppose the bad stuff. When feasible, create alternatives. Millions of young Americans have been effectively kept from reaching their potential. This is a national scandal. Children don’t under-educate themselves. You need adults to do the dirty work.
BRAVO!! Bruce Deitrick Price unmasks the deliberate and catastrophic illiteracy model in his excellent, concise, powerful two-part explanation of the failure of American education. I invite the reader to look at page 22 of BDP’s extraordinary manual Saving K-12. You will see and understand with your own eyes, what the child experiences when being taught sight words. I promise that you will never again view “sight words” as a legitimate or innocuous teaching method. It is not too late to save K-12, parents and teachers can win the education war with love and phonics.