|By: Samuel Blumenfeld; ©2001|
|Author Samuel Blumenfeld suggests that poor reading skills are to blame for many of the problems that young people today are experiencing. Can our educational system really have that much of an effect of a child’s life? Can anything be done to correct the problem?|
You see them everywhere. These young people without brains who congregate in parking lots, haunt shopping malls, drive around aimlessly on Saturday night, partying, drinking, smoking, having sex, experimenting with drugs, getting into fights. They complain so often about be bored, bored in school, bored with themselves, bored with life. Of course, the reason why they are bored is because they themselves are so utterly boring. They haven’t read a good book in their entire lives, they have no intellectual interests or curiosity. It’s as if the entire world of the mind is closed to them, and the only activities that make them feel alive are sex, drugs, and violence—all of which are so self-destructive.
Jay Leno often interviews these vapid individuals on the avenues of Los Angeles so that we can get a good laugh from their ignorance, but their ignorance is nothing to laugh about. It’s a great American tragedy. We compel these kids to spend twelve years in school at a cost of billions of dollars to be “educated,” and what we get is appalling ignorance. It’s as if all of these kids have undergone lobotomies, so that they no longer have minds that can analyze, or think, or be creative. What we have are teenage consumers, easily stimulated by highly emotional ads, whose interests are limited to what they can touch in a department store or see in the movies or on television or hear on a rap music station.
Back in the 1930s and ‘40s, when I was going to school, I was never bored. I could read, and therefore the library was a tremendous source of stimulating ideas and stories. The world was a tremendously interesting place. I was taught music appreciation in the third grade by a teacher who played short classics on a portable Victrola. That short once-a-week class opened the whole world of classical music for me. I can still remember some of the pieces she played: The Swan by Saint-Saens, March Slav by Tchaikovsky, The William Tell Overture by Rossini.
We read good poetry written by the great poets, not the cute greeting-card type of poems that kids now read, devoid of insight or wisdom or true beauty of language and thought. And, it isn't that today’s kids are not capable of learning to enjoy such great literature. It’s that their limited ability to read makes it impossible for them to even venture into that ever fascinating and expansive world of the written word.
Some months ago, a father brought his 15-year-old, ninth-grade son to me to be tested. This very intelligent boy had a reading problem, which was preventing him from advancing in his education. He was tested by the school which determined that the boy should sit closer to the teacher, be given extra time to “process information,” have his assignments cut into smaller segments for easier handling, listen to books on tapes, use Cliff notes when reading novels, and stay after school to make up for missed work. There was no attempt whatever to deal with the boy’s reading problem. Which is why his father brought him to me. I cure dyslexics.
This youngster was no different from so many others I have worked with over the last 30 years. He was a typical sight-reader who had been given a sight vocabulary to memorize in the first grade and thereby acquired a holistic reflex, which would handicap him for the rest of his life. In other words, he had been taught to look at each word as if it were a Chinese character and was required to remember it holistically by its configuration or association with a picture. When a child is taught to read holistically and develops a holistic reflex, the reflex becomes an obstacle to seeing the word in its phonetic structure, especially if the child has been taught little or no phonics.
All alphabetically written words have a phonetic structure, but you must learn the letter sounds and be drilled in consonant-vowel combinations in order to develop the needed phonetic reflex or automaticity, so that reading becomes easy and enjoyable, and the phonetic structure of a word is perfectly transparent. If you have not been taught intensive phonics, and made to look at each word as a picture, you will never become a fluent reader.
When I asked this boy, who is now in high school, what was a short a, he had no idea, but he did understand the concept that letters stand for sounds. This kind of phonetic knowledge in and of itself does not create a phonetic reflex. It simply provides information, which the child may or may not use. Because it requires conscious effort to use this information, reading becomes a difficult and painful chore which must be avoided. In fact, I once tutored an adult, a highly successful entrepreneur, who told he that he would rather be beaten than have to read.
This could easily have become the case with this youngster. When I had him read paragraphs from a variety of books, it was easy to see that he was a holistic reader and made all of the misreadings typical of this kind of sight-reader. The only way he could read multisyllabic words was to find smaller sight words within the big words. He made so many crucial errors in his reading that his comprehension had to suffer.
That the schools permit these learning problems to persist and can offer no hope of meaningful remediation means that every child who has developed a holistic reflex is condemned to a life with a very limited use of mind. It is true that some individuals have the inner resources to overcome their reading disability, but apparently these empty headed kids with the lobotomized look, do not have that inner resource. They will go through life believing that they are stupid, pursue careers that require a minimum of reading, and lead lives of illiteracy. They will suffer, their children will suffer, and America will suffer.
Some months ago, Frontline of the Public Broadcasting System, did a documentary program on the Lost Children of Conyers, Georgia, where an outbreak of syphilis among high school students brought attention to the dissolute life style of many of the teenagers in that town. The social life of these kids revolved around their peer groups at school. They were bored. They had nothing to do, so they indulged in sex, drinking, drugs, cigarettes and obscene rap music. What was missing was the life of the mind, the ability to think, to analyze, to understand that life meant more than just abusing oneself. Everybody tended to blame the parents because the parents gave these kids every material good available.
Nobody blamed the school and the fact that these kids had been lobotomized in the first grade by their loving teachers. These kids could not use their minds because they no longer had them. Thus, their lives would revolve around emotional and sensual activities that resembled a roller coaster ride. They would be reduced to primitive pre-civilized behavior. True, they had all of the paraphernalia of our high-tech civilization, but their emotional lives would be lived on the level of pre-literate, prehistoric society.
That’s what public education has given us, and the vast majority of Americans have no idea why it is the way it is. That’s why they keep supporting the system with billions of tax dollars.
Fortunately, there are a growing number of parents who have seen the light and have turned to home schooling. In general, home schoolers teach their children to read by phonics so that their children can eventually educate themselves by reading history, biographies, novels, poetry, and the Bible.
Recently, I received an e-mail from a parent I had met years ago. He wrote: “About 14 years ago I met you at the Center for Market Alternatives in Caldwell, Idaho at a talk you gave there. I purchased an Alpha-Phonics book at that time for my son John who was 4 years old. You autographed it. I still have it and used it with his sister who is 5 years younger. I taught John 10 minutes a day about 3 days a week and in about 8 months he could read just about anything. … He was reading post high-school level in the 5th grade. He will graduate this June, 2001, with straight A’s at the top of his class. … His mother and I have always been thankful that God put us in contact with you and your wonderful book.”
This is the kind of letter authors love to receive because it confirms the value of one’s work. And it proves that parents can make a big difference—provided they have the right tools.
Meanwhile, George W. Bush has been elected President and we can expect him to attempt to reform our socialized education system, which has resisted sensible reform for decades. Had Gore won, he would have been entirely beholden to the National Education Association, which strongly opposes vouchers and is quite hostile to home schooling. In fact, the Democrat Party platform reflected the NEA’s hostility toward home schooling. Bush, on the other hand, favors vouchers, speaks highly of phonics, and is sympathetic toward home schooling. Despite whatever good plan Bush puts forth, however, we can expect a lot more money to be thrown at education because that’s the way politicians think they can “fix” it. What this means is that we ought not to expect the federal government to solve our education problems. They will have to be solved by parents willing to make the necessary sacrifices to send their children to decent private schools or educate them at home, for the only true reform of education will take place when the government gets out of the education business.
[Samuel L. Blumenfeld has written eight books on education, including “NEA: Trojan Horse in American Education,” “Homeschooling: A Parents Guide to Teaching Children,” “How to Tutor,” and “Alpha-Phonics: A Primer for Beginning Readers.” These books and others are available on Amazon.com. This article first appeared on WorldNetDaily.com. It is reprinted with the permission of the author.]