Thursday, December 2, 2004
Ignorance Is Not Forever
There are some things that I just take too personally. For instance, I recently heard about a woman whose now-adult son had been diagnosed as "Learning Disabled" all through his public school education. Despite her protests, despite her insistence on closer examination of the problem, he was dumped into LD classes and left there.
The root of the problem was that, as a boy, he had never learned to read. No teacher had ever taken the time to investigate why he had difficulty in class. Teachers repeatedly tested him year after year, always with the same result: he was at grade level and should be moved on to the next grade. When Mom's persistence succeeded in inquiring as to how he was being tested (since the results strongly contradicted his at-home behavior), the current teacher confessed that her tests had been given to him orally. "He has so much trouble... it's just easier to read it to him... reading it to him keeps him from becoming frustrated... "
Now the boy is an adult, and the scene is being repeated with his child. The mom/grandmother is concerned that this time will have the same undesirable result. She was inquiring about homeschooling, probably wondering if it could rescue her grandchild, and whether it is too late for her son. As a former student of poor teachers myself and as the parent of a student whose early education was similarly neglected, I know first-hand some of the frustration these people are going through. Therefore, I tend to take these stories personally, flashing back to my own bad experiences. I find myself offended when students are purposely neglected, parents are intentionally ignored or pacified, and we are all expected to believe that this public education system is something sacred that should not be questioned. As Dorothy was instructed by The Great and Powerful Oz, we also are advised to "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain."
If I were to purchase a car and drive it until it ran out of gas, would anyone think I was justified in calling the junkyard to come and get it because it no longer ran? Hardly! I would be laughed at as the new village idiot. Even a child could tell me I only need to buy more gasoline to make my car work. Yet, here we have a car (student) which has used up its supply of fuel (knowledge) and cannot proceed without more. However, rather than simply adding more fuel (knowledge) to the car (student), the chosen method of propulsion is to push the car manually to the next block (grade level) instead of enabling it to move under its own power.
Is it so difficult to teach a child to read? I did not think it was when I taught my children to read. Millions of children throughout history have been successfully taught to read, whether by "professional educators" or by their very own parents. Yet, we have here the unfortunate account of professionals too baffled by their own system to diagnose (correctly) a child who had not learned to read. This problem is easily remedied through homeschooling -- avoid the "professionals" altogether and do it yourself, one on one. It is not too late for the man in the story above -- he can still learn to read with an intensive phonics program and the assistance of a caring friend or family member, and he will probably learn this much more quickly as an adult than he would have as a child. Illiterate adults have conquered reading in as little as 3 weeks. His child should also be taught intensive phonics to avoid a repeat of his tragic scenario.
I once tried to discuss phonics-based reading programs with some local professional elementary educators, only to discover that we had words in common, but meant different things by them. They sincerely believed that using a few starting-letter sounds and contextual hints made their program "phonics." Buzzwords, such as "decoding," were used to lull curious parents into thinking their children were learning to break down words into syllables and letter patterns. Creative writing exercises were required of students who had not even conquered handwriting, again to persuade the unsuspecting parents that their children had a reasonable grasp of the reading-writing connection.
The evidence that reading has not been learned phonetically will show itself in the inability to spell. A person who understands how to break down a word into syllables will repeat those syllable-patterns when trying to spell a word. Fluent reading ability will also prove itself in composition: elegant sentence structure is easily mimicked. If you are reading good sentences, you will be able to write good sentences. A person who cannot read will not be able to spell consistently. A person who does not consume quality reading material will not be able to write well.
Perhaps I should pity the educational system that is pawning off such methods to future generations of teachers. I see it as a prime example of "the blind leading the blind" -- those who do not understand are trying to give understanding to others. The contemporary axiom, "Ignorance can be fixed; stupid is forever," has been altered: ignorance is no longer seen by them as being fixable. I am here to testify that ignorance is not a life sentence: ignorance is simply a lack of knowledge. Once a person has been taught the skill of reading, a world full of knowledge is there for the taking.
Posted by Carolyn M @ 10:11 AM |