Most political messages today are geared toward an 8th grade reading level, according to Elvin Lim of Wesleyan University in an article by Dave Broder, with a sharp decline in content—especially of logical argument.
While simplification has its advantages, it comes with a huge risk: The complexity of real-world choices can be, and often is, lost. Politicians offer an easily digestible vacuous menu devoid of argument and infused with platitudes, punch lines, and emotional human-interest appeals.
Lim found that all of the presidents through Woodrow Wilson appealed to “common sense” just 11 times in their recorded papers, presidents since Wilson have done so more than 1,600 times!
The urgency and complexity of nuanced real-world choices
often is lost, while the issues themselves become increasingly more urgent.
Boiling the Frog
Paul Krugman wrote about the proverbial frog that, when placed in a pot of cold water that is gradually heated, never realizes it is in danger and is slowly boiled alive.
So it is with education today. While the debate of how to best raise reading and math scores rages on and on, the United States continues to lag near the bottom when compared to most civilized countries today. Increasingly we can see the effects of this all around us, from pharmacists who misread prescriptions to clerks who cannot add. We are in danger of being slowly boiled alive because of our creeping illiteracy.
In 1950 no European country enrolled 30% of its older teens in full-time secondary school. In the U.S., 70% of older teens were in school, and America’s edge boosted productivity and growth. We became the world’s leading nation largely because of our emphasis on mass education at a time when other countries educated only elites.
That happy era ended around 1970 when America’s educational progress slowed to a crawl, and stagnated completely between 1975 and 1990. Today in the District of Columbia only 8% of eighth graders meet expectations in math. America’s lead over its economic rivals has been entirely forfeited, with many nations surging ahead in school attainment.
The Missing Link
Decodable text is the missing link between teaching letter sounds and reading books, and is the thing most lacking in reading programs today.
Open Court, for example, is considered one of the best phonics programs available today. But today’s revamped version of this wonderful old program teaches 130 high-frequency words in first grade alone in order to move quickly into reading good literature.
When whole sight words are taught along with phonics when learning the mechanics of reading it throws a monkey wrench into the learning process.
In The Mind and the Brain Schwartz and Begley point out that the left brain acquires knowledge by small, sequential parts (learning math, letter sounds) and the right brain acquires knowledge by seeing the whole picture (viewing illustrations, learning sight words).
They found that activity in one hemisphere actually suppresses the activity of the mirror-image region on the other side!
Not only that, but MRI imaging confirms that the neurobiological basis of reading disability changes to normal after children are taught to read with explicit phonics and gradually progressive decodable practice reading!
When we learn how to play the piano we learn one note at a time, and then practice scales until this knowledge is automatic. After that we combine notes into very simple melodies, and begin to use simple chords as well. Gradually, as our skills advance, we move on to more complex pieces of music, finally playing complicated melodies with great nuance and feeling.
We would never attempt to play a complex sonata when we first learn the keyboard, and yet this is exactly what children are expected to do when learning how to read. Once they are taught the alphabet, they are expected to begin reading good literature.
Marilyn Adams wrote “Human attention is limited. To understand text our attention cannot be directed to the identities of individual words and letters.”
Practice reading with progressive decodable text is the missing link in most phonics reading programs today!
Two Inspiring Stories
A mom sent me a video of her three-year old boy, who was
reading fluently from the back of Phonics Pathways with
great emotion and emphasis on meaning in all the right places.
Another mom wrote a note about her mentally retarded 18
year old who was told he would never learn how to read—
but now has almost finished Phonics Pathways. She wrote, “Nathan is doing fantastic with your book. He is in the room right now working with contractions. We are flabbergasted!”
It’s thrilling to me to hear about these success stories at all levels of ability! I’m going to turn 85 the day after Christmas, but it’s wonderful stories like these that keep me young and frisky! (Well, er…almost…)
Happy Holidays to All!
In any case, have a joyful and blessed Holiday Season.
It’s a meaningful time of year for so many faiths, and I just love it! I’m humbly grateful for my wonderful family and friends, for the many years I’ve shared with my husband and best friend Johnny, and for still being able to write these newsletters. See you next year!
Love, peace and joy to all of you,