It is very frustrating to live in a world where “experts” call the shots and the general population must abide by their proclamations to the detriment of entire generations. This is the case in many areas today, and in none more vital than the education of our children. How is it that our “primitive” ancestors could produce great thinkers, inventors, philosophers, and statesmen while in the 21st century we produce high school and college graduates who do not know how to express thoughts, beliefs, or opinions with confidence or conviction? We cannot presume that pilgrims and colonists were the uneducated ones. American education is backward. It’s all wrong. it’s been broken apart, mixed up like so many unrelated pieces, and shoved back together into a mandatory schedule of subjects and tests. And while we pay billions to prop up this system, we are stealing that money from the very people the system claims to benefit.
The Downward Spiral
“Stumbling over words and not deciphering their meaning results in muddied comprehension. Dalrymple writes that when asked to “put into their own words what the passage meant that they [the students] had just stumbled through,” their response was “I don’t know; I was only reading it.” As Robert Weissberg documents, “upping the number of diplomas [does not] equate to imparting measurable knowledge” when “lax standards” exist.
The educational establishment banished cursive penmanship from schools. That cursive writing helps improve neural connections, increases writing speed, and improves fine motor skills and eye-hand coordination is casually dismissed with the retort that no one will be writing anymore; they are all using computers. Thus, American students cannot even read U.S. fundamental documents or, for that matter, their grandparents’ letters.
Throwing more money into school districts has not changed the abysmal educational results, either. In his July 2019 article, Max Eden discussed a study from Johns Hopkins University “describing the conditions of public schools in Providence, R.I. The report contained a laundry list of problems … that plague America’s public schools, such as the inability to fire bad teachers and discipline unruly students, and the need for massive reams of bureaucratic paperwork to get anything done at all. Here’s what wasn’t a problem: lack of funding. Providence spends $17,192 per pupil every year.” In fact, “America spends more on education than any other major developed nation.”
In the last 30 years, there has been a surfeit of the “latest” educational pedagogy. Still popular is “whole language,” which results in only fractured language and abysmal reading abilities. There is the flip classroom, where homework is to be accomplished in class and the daily lesson is to be studied by the student at home. Similar is the inverted classroom, because it is claimed “that the traditional lecture format is incompatible with some learning styles.” Thus, “to help ensure student preparation for class, students [are] expected to complete worksheets that [are] periodically but randomly collected and graded.” Of course, this becomes problematic when the students haven’t done the reading altogether, as documented in David Gooblar’s article of 2014.
A computer cannot compensate for a teacher properly schooled in his discipline, who uses textbooks that are not politically skewed; avoids identity politics; and understands that students need to be trained, not coddled. Yet most of the material that passes for “texts” comprises merely articles from left-wing outlets. There is no actual debate on a topic; the point of view is pre-determined.
The humanities have been thoroughly contaminated, and even the field of mathematics has been infected as the social justice Left now maintains that “when paired with issues of fairness, mathematics becomes a social justice tool that empower students to mathematically recognize and address oppression they see in their own world.” In their world, “math education is biased in favor of a Western (read: white) narrative,” and, this is an anathema to the Left.
Friends, these are just the highlights from a lengthy and very informative article by American Thinker. I highly recommend every adult read the entire thing.
Phonics Vs. Whole Language
Does this child look familiar?
The sight reader is in the habit of leaving out words that are there, putting in words that aren’t there, substituting words, guessing words, mutilating words, truncating words, skipping words, etc.
Sadly, this is an apt description of most American students. Why? Because despite the overwhelming evidence in support of phonics instruction, public schools continue to teach children to read with sight words.
Samuel Blumenthal, an education author and proponent of phonics instruction, disputes the benefits of Whole-Language or Look-Say reading instruction in his article “Whole Language Boondoggle.”
In [Why Johnny Can’t Read] Flesch wrote: The teaching of reading — all over the United States, in all the schools, in all the textbooks — is totally wrong and flies in the face of all logic and common sense. Flesch then went on to explain how, in the early 1930s, the professors of education changed the way reading is taught in American schools. They threw out the traditional alphabetic-phonics method, which is the proper way to teach children to read an alphabetic writing system, and put in a new look-say, whole-word or sight method that teaches children to read English as if it were Chinese, an ideographic writing system. Flesch argued that when you impose an ideographic teaching method on an alphabetic writing system you cause reading disability.
Today, the bubbly promoters of whole language will tell you that their programs are different from the Dick and Jane programs of yesteryear. Indeed they are. They are much worse, if that is possible. Why are they worse? Because they not only denigrate the alphabetic nature of our writing system but they even deny the basic nature of reading. For example, in defining reading, the pro-whole language authors of Whole Language: What’s the Difference? write:
From a whole language perspective, reading (and language use in general) is a process of generating hypotheses in a meaning-making transaction in a sociohistorical context. As a transactional process, reading is not a matter of “getting the meaning” from text, as if that meaning were in the text waiting to be decoded by the reader. Rather, reading is a matter of readers using the cues print provide and the knowledge they bring with them (of language subsystems, of the world) to construct a unique interpretation. Moreover, that interpretation is situated: readers’ creations (not retrievals) of meaning with the text vary, depending on their purposes for reading and the expectations of others in the reading event. This view of reading implies that there is no single “correct” meaning for a given text, only plausible meanings.
Note how they call reading a “process of generating hypotheses” or a “transactional process” in which the reader “creates” meaning rather than retrieves it from the text. The process is totally subjective, with the text merely providing some mental stimulus. The reader is free to interpret the text any way he or she wants. And who is to say when the reader has gone too far in his or her interpretation?
And here is a critical point:
If children are taught to invent their own meanings in whatever they read, then what is to stop them from reading the Bible in their own subjective manner, inventing whatever meaning happens to please them?
In my tutoring of children who have previously attended public school, I have seen the following to be true:
Another aspect of whole language that is terribly misguided is the concept of “invented spelling,” in which children are encouraged to write before they have been taught to read. They are not taught how to hold the writing instrument correctly. They are not taught how to form the letters correctly. And they are not taught to spell correctly. They are simply told to write, to express themselves. The theory is that sometime in the future the children will learn to write and spell correctly all by themselves.
Kids are taught the look-say method by memorizing hundreds of words without any phonics rules. And they are taught to write paragraphs when they should still be perfecting their reading. There are numerous problems here. First graders writing paragraphs? Have they even mastered reading yet?? Without spelling and phonics rules, these poor children cannot spell.
One boy I tutor, upon being given instructions to write a paragraph (and how to do it) said, “Yeah, we had to do this every day at public school.” Yet he could not spell, could not form a proper sentence, and didn’t know the first thing about the mechanics of grammar. It is a disservice to our children and a waste of taxpayer money to continue these useless methods, and yet most people dare not question the establishment.
Susan Wise Bauer, in her very popular classical education how-to, The Well Trained Mind, says this: “In the logic and rhetoric stages of classical education (grades 5 through 8 and 9 through 12, respectively) the student will need to use language to reason, argue, express ideas. He can’t do this as long as he’s still struggling with the how-tos of written and verbal expression. Until a student reads without difficulty, he can’t absorb the grammar of history, literature, or science; until a student writes with ease, he can’t express his growing mastery of this material.”
Despite centuries of classical education that produced brilliant thinkers, inventors, and revolutionaries, the modern education brain-trust has decided that there’s a better way.
While in some respects American schools vary tremendously, in nearly all elementary classrooms you will find the same basic structure. The day is divided into a “math block” and a “reading block,” the latter of which consumes anywhere from 90 minutes to three hours.
In perhaps half of all elementary schools, teachers are supposed to use a reading textbook that includes a variety of passages, discussion questions, and a teacher guide. In other schools, teachers are left to their own devices to figure out how to teach reading, and rely on commercially available children’s books. In either case, when it comes to teaching comprehension, the emphasis is on skills. And the overwhelming majority of teachers turn to the internet to supplement these materials, despite not having been trained in curriculum design. One Rand Corporation survey of teachers found that 95 percent of elementary-school teachers resort to Google for materials and lesson plans; 86 percent turn to Pinterest. (Elementary Education Has Gone Terribly Wrong, The Atlantic)
What exactly are we paying for???
In her classic essay The Lost Tools of Learning, Dorothy Sayers addresses the erroneous dividing of education into disconnected subjects: Do “you often come across people for whom, all their lives, a “subject” remains a “subject,” divided by watertight bulkheads from all other “subjects,” so that they experience very great difficulty in making an immediate mental connection between, let us say, algebra and detective fiction, sewage disposal and the price of salmon, or, more generally, between such spheres of knowledge as philosophy and economics, or chemistry and art?”
In The Well Trained Mind, Bauer points out the painfully obvious for anyone who has studied outside the public school system: “History is not a subject. History is the subject. It is the record of human experience, both personal and communal. It is the story of the unfolding of human achievement in every area — science, literature, art, music, and politics. A grasp of historical facts is essential to the rest of the classical curriculum.”
Despite the fact that we spend anywhere from $10-15,000 per student/per year on public education, we have dropped in education rankings around the world. It’s clear that money is not the answer.
“We throw more money at our schools than just about any other country, and what do we get? For our K-12 school system, an honorary membership in the Third World,” writes Professor F. H. Buckley in a Fox News opinion column. Buckley, who teaches at George Mason University, added, “Not long ago, we had a superb public school system, but now we trail most countries. In math, we’re 38thin the world among developed countries in terms of how 15 year-olds perform. And it’s getting worse, not better.” (Source)
High Test Scores Don’t Mean a Thing
If you drive past a public school in your town, you might see a banner proudly proclaiming that this school received an “exemplary rating” or some such honor. I have seen these. And I have spent time with the students from those schools. The benchmark for exemplary is basically test scores. These test scores have nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with the actual education being received.
And yet real estate agents, politicians, and business owners love to boast about their excellent school district without ever actually seeing the schoolwork that takes place. The Atlantic article cited above describes the mess in more detail. Test scores are the end game of school districts and state education agencies; outcome determines funding. Yes, teachers care about their students, but they are held to whatever system the latest government mandate prescribes for their classroom. In the end, money is the goal, not your child’s education, and certainly not the future of our country.
Get out. I won’t tip-toe around this. I don’t care how much you pay in taxes. I don’t care if your child’s teacher is the nicest lady in town. The education at your local public school is still a test-driven, money-focused, and highly politicized system. All the children are being left behind. All the taxpayers are being robbed. All the parents are being lied to.
If you doubt me, read John Holt’s books, or John Taylor Gatto’s. Don’t keep your head in the sand. Don’t pretend it’s not happening at your school. Go ask questions. Observe a day in the classroom. Look at the content and the methods. Don’t let your child’s education be sacrificed for the sake of the good ol’ days.
Anyone can teach their child. That is literally my motto. I say it to everyone who will listen, and I finally wrote the book.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way. And exiting the government system is now the only way to help, one student at a time.
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