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42: Reading Resources

Reading Resources:
FIRST, a good short article that explains
why reading in the US is such a mess

SECOND, links and other information that might be helpful 


Who Ruined Reading??

For 75 years, our Education Establishment has pushed an unworkable reading pedagogy based on the myth that children can learn to read by memorizing thousands of English words as SHAPES. This method--usually called Whole Word, Sight Words, or the Memory Method--produces widespread educational failure (specifically, fifty million functional illiterates and more than a million dyslexics).

Such an approach cannot possibly work, as this short article will show:

Most people can memorize a few hundred sight-ANYTHING (flags, logos, currency symbols, paintings, or words); however, 500 is already a major undertaking. English words, because they appear in multiple forms (e.g., brighter, BRIGHTER) are especially difficult for the memory. Mastering 2,000 sight-words is a Herculean task requiring MANY years and probably as well a near-photographic memory. But English has 1,000,000 words; college-level literacy requires 100,000 words. Clearly, the whole scheme is prima facie impossible. Why do educators take children down this dead-end road?

Schools all over America continue to force five- and six-year olds to start their education by memorizing 200+ sight-words. Once the brain gets trained this way (the wrong way), it’s hard to learn to read properly. Next stop: “Sorry. Your child is dyslexic.”

This scandal was already huge by 1955 when Rudolf Flesch wrote “Why Johnny Can’t Read.” But the scandal doubled and quadrupled as elite educators kept pushing-pushing-pushing what they should have seen was impractical and harmful. Children can't read; they lose self-confidence; they become anxious and defiant. At this point, ritalin is often prescribed. 

Some people believe that only ruthless ideologues could engineer something so destructive. Others say, no, the top educators are just hopelessly incompetent. Either way, these people deserve our condemnation. But let’s focus on the essential point, which is to eliminate this lunacy from the schools.

Virtually nobody can learn to read using Sight Words. Conversely, virtually everyone is damaged by trying. Years are wasted. Kids lose self-esteem and fall behind in all subjects. Whole Word is wholly stupid.

Here is another way of grasping the essential flaw. Naming a word-design is NOT the same mental process as reading a word. The first process uses brute memory; the second process uses clues and reminders contained inside the printed word. All of this is easy to demonstrate: assemble 100 photographs of famous people and a printed list of their names. Everyone can read the 100 names faster than they can identify the 100 photographs. Memory is fickle. Invariably there will be lapses when you say, “Oh, I’ve seen every movie he was in. I just can’t think of his name... ” More commonly, there will be telltale hesitations. “...oh, that is...uh....” (This paragraph explains why real readers don’t hesitate, but sight-word readers routinely hesitate.)

To rescue reading, we have to face this unpleasant fact. The Education Establishment perversely favors a method that, ACCORDING TO ITS OWN CLAIMS, progresses very slowly and takes 5-10 years, if then. On the other side, phonics advocates state that most of their students learn to read in first grade. What kind of people would recommend the agonizingly slow method?

Our Education Establishment has been able to keep this strange scam in play by constantly changing its name, and by wrapping the essential defects in lies and alibis. Please, imagine yourself in first grade trying to memorize the English language ONE WORD AT A TIME, a few hundred this year, a few hundred next year, a few hundred more in third grade, a few hundred more in fourth grade....well, you’ll probably imagine yourself screaming, “No blankety-blank way!!”

Please, let’s fight and win the Reading Wars. Let’s get rid of every Sight Word, every Whole Word, every Word Wall, every Dolch Word. Then we can go on to win the Education Wars.




Other Articles About Reading On This Site:

30: The War Against Reading

37: Whole Word versus Phonics

40: Sight Words -- The Big Stupid
44: The Myth of Automaticity
50: Books For Boys
54: Preemptive Reading--Teach Your Child Early  
33: How To Help A Non-Reader To Read*** 

***in the same spirit, an article by Samuel Blumenfeld 
(a pdf file)


Videos About Reading On YouTube:



The Search for the Perfect Phonics Program:
--Rudolf Flesch included a phonics program in his "Why Johnny Can't Read"
--Samuel Blumenfeld includes a phonics program in his "The New Illiterates"
and offers "Alpha-Phonics" on the web
--Mona McNee, author of "The Great Reading Disaster,"
created a program called "Step by Step"
--Siegfried Engelmann wrote
"Teach Your Child To Read in 100 Easy Lessons"
and also created the interactive Funnix Beginning Reading
--Wanda Sanseri developed the popular
"Spell to Write and Read" program (SWR) 
--Dolores Hiskes' "Phonics Pathways"
is highly regarded
--Carol Kay created the fun, inexpensive
--Sue Dickson's "Sing, Spell, Read, and Write"
is very popular among homeschoolers.  
--Here are two more I've just learned about;
both seem aimed at the youngest readers.
“An Ant--Learning To Read” (;
and “Ready Reading” ( 
These can support “54: Preemptive Reading--Teach Your Child Early.” 
--I gather there are almost a dozen outstanding programs
but Don Potter, who studies all things phonics on his site,
seems to feel that Hazel Loring's "Blend Phonics" is the simplest way to go.
the common theme in all these programs is that children
learn the smallest bits and pieces of language first.
They study phonics about 30 minutes each day,
for about four months, at which point they can read.
Mona McNee states that by age seven,
children should be choosing their own books. 
Adults often think the little details and rules would be a problem,
but all these experts repeat the same refrain:
children like solving the mystery of language and they enjoy
gaining control over this powerful tool.  
The most striking thing to me is that phonics experts
generally say they'll teach children to read in first grade...
but Whole Word experts say they'll teach children to read
by middle school...or maybe later...
My impression is that highly verbal children will learn to read
no matter what you do.
It's the average children who need direct systematic phonics instruction.
Whole Word is especially brutal on average children,
because they don't have the near-photographic memory
required by Whole Word.





--an anonymous comment left on an article of mine but on another site--

"I agree with this theory. I happened upon this article and Mr. Price's videos as I was frustratingly trying to find tools to teach my son his Kindergarten sight words. My husband and I have been drilling the poor child all week to memorize the 8 words for his assessment tomorrow. He remembers one minute and forgets the next. He mixes words up because if he's learning them in order, he can't remember them unless they're in order. He guesses. It's frustrating for him and angering for my husband and I. I've started to wonder -- will it get easier for him to memorize these words? And I realize that the more words he gets, the more he'll have to memorize into perpetuity!!!! The frustrating, agonizing process never ends! Plus, as he forgets words he thought he knew, he loses more and more confidence. I can see how he would eventually grow to abhor school. Conversely, when I actuallly have him sound out the word using phonetics, he's empowered to read other words that use similar phonetics and grows more confident! No more sight words -- I'm sticking with phonics!"



 M U S E U M  O F  R E A D I N G  H O R R O R S

defending the indefensible has resulted in many bizarre claims

Professor Paul Witty in 1950: "Learning to pay attention to individual letters will only slow up the child's progress later....After noting the total word form, details can be observed, such as capital letters or endings. For example, 'suddenly' and 'suitcase' have the same length and the same beginning letter, but their shapes are different...." And what about swerving, sinister, SUDDENLY, strategy, STRANGER, etc.? Easy. Note the total word form. Observe details. Their shapes are different!

Professor Frank Smith: “The importance of being able to distinguish b from d is grossly overrated.” In real life, one doesn't need to tell bib from did, etc.

Professor Kenneth Goodman, one of the founders of Whole Language, claimed: "A story is easier to read than a page, a page easier than a paragraph, a paragraph easier than a sentence, a sentence easier than a word, and a word easier than a letter." This always gives me a good laugh. 

Professor Fred Schonell, mainly in UK after World War II, was actually able to push a particularly idiotic form of Whole Word. He said that kids could know words by their overall shapes, their outlines, their silhouetttes, so to speak. The differences between outlines are quite small; and no child could learn many words this way. Schonell was hugely influential, which tells me that illiteracy was the goal, and how they got there didn't much matter. (Actually, I realized somewhat belatedly that Witty's "total word form" and Schonell's "silhouette" are the same gimmick with different lingo. Schonell traced a word's outside shape, and claimed kids could read the word that way. I don't think any Americans used the word "silhouette" but "total word form" is close.)

Exhibit A for Asinine: Word-Calling
A child learning to read is soon able to “sound out” words, even large, unfamiliar words, for example, “in-tock-i-fi-ca-tion.” At that instant, the child (just like the adult many years later) thinks, “Oh, intoxification. I know what that means.” Or the child goes to a dictionary and looks up the word. Exactly the development that you want to see. Exactly what we all do throughout our lives!
Well, if you understand "literacy professionals," you know they had to put a stop to this. So they concocted a sophistry which allowed them to demonize everything that was normal, natural and desirable. The sophistry -- known as “word-calling” or “word-barking” -- claimed that the child (exactly like a dog) was merely making sounds but not understanding them and thus NOT reading. Wikipedia has an entry on this topic which notes that word-calling is bad because “it does not involve the use of meaning.”

More nuttiness on the web asserts: “Reading implies understanding. Many students in our schools today do not read. They simply have learned to say the sounds of the words without really understanding the meanings of the words.” They simply have learned to say the sounds, as if this is nothing.

Sophistry at this level is deliciously creepy. Recall that kids arrive in the first grade already knowing how to pronounce and use more than 10,000 words, words they’ve heard their parents say, on TV, in the movies, etc., etc. When they sound out a word, the brain typically recognizes the sound as a known quantity. "I know that!" And the children keep reading. Or a few seconds might pass as the brain searches for a match. (You know exactly what this feels like -- it happened the last time you read a word you weren’t familiar with.) If that search doesn’t find a match, you know immediately that this is a word that you have never heard spoken in your life; and that therefore you must look it up. Or ask someone. That's exactly how the process is SUPPOSED to work....The idea that you don’t know what a word means but you just keep reading, and you do this word after word after word, is preposterous. But these so-called educators needed this sophistry if they were to discredit phonics and support their pet scam, Whole Word.



Dyslexia and Sight Words

Here is a wonderfully stark summation by phonics guru Don Potter:

“The situation across  the nation is dramatically worse that anyone can possibly imagine. When I ask the teachers why they teach sight-words, they inevitably  
tell me because their students are going to be assessed on them. They are totally unaware that sight-words are positively harmful. They consider sight-words part of a good reading program that includes some phonics, not realizing that sight-words create a reflex that interferes with phonics instruction. Sight-words are an obstacle to reading, not an aid.”

"Any attempt to educate American children that neglects the direct development of fluent handwriting is doomed to fail. I have upgraded my tutoring by teaching all reading skills via cursive handwriting. I find it interesting that Mildred McGinnis' Association Method taught reading with phonics and cursive handwriting before  
having students read printed words, stories, or books....The little dribble of handwriting done with the typical phonics programs is FAR below optimal. The handwriting and phonics should be taught together from the chalkboard or overhead. Each of my tutoring students has a Wide Lined Spiral Notebook in which they write all the words and sentences in our phonics program. This becomes a permanent record of their successful journey to literacy -- and their proudest possession."


The U.S. Has Fifty Million Functional Illiterates

From my Amazon review of And Madly Teach: "I believe that two things have sheltered our educators in their subversive mischief. One, we want to assume our experts are acting in good faith. Unfortunately, we cannot make that assumption. Second, we want to be polite. Otherwise, we would more often use such terms as flimflam, quackery, claptrap, balderdash, baloney, drivel, bunk, hooey, malarkey, hokum, twaddle, not to mention flapdoodle."


[YouTube video]

  © Bruce Deitrick Price 2011-2013

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