Mandating A Return to Phonics in 2024: Recovering Our Nation’s Children

A note from OCPAC Foundation President Bob Linn:

Legislation to cure the inability of Oklahomans to read could not get a hearing last year. That has now changed and this spring, the Senate’s phonics bills, SB1905 and SB1906, are projected to make it to the Governor’s desk.

The bills replace the term phonics with scientifically based and researched methodology, also known by its advocates as the Science of Reading.

Research has demonstrated the superior success of phonics, while dropping scores in public school reading demonstrates that Oklahoma’s current method known as Three Cuing or Whole Language does not work.

A return to phonics will restore the once common ability of Americans to read. Thirty-one states now mandate some form of phonics in the classroom.

Oklahoma’s scores have dropped with the passing of every year because of the use of Whole Language which is taught in Oklahoma’s colleges of education.

In 2022, 76% of Oklahoma’s fourth grade students scored below the NAEP Proficient level in reading. Find the report here.

Ten years ago (2014), Samuel Blumenfeld and Alex Newman published Crimes of the Educators. Blumenfeld is a prolific writer who spent forty years discovering why US public schools have produced millions of functional illiterates. To aid in the research for this book, he partnered with international journalist and educator, Alex Newman.

Writing about how children learn to read, the authors write:

While we know how children learn to read phonetically, no one seems to know how children learn a sight vocabulary. Indeed, teaching children to read in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries by a method preceding the invention of the alphabet does not make sense.

Essentially, the sight method works as follows: The child is given a sight vocabulary to memorize. He or she is taught to look at and say the words without knowing that the letters stand for sounds. As far as the learner is concerned, the letters are a bunch of arbitrary squiggles arranged in some arbitrary, haphazard order. The learner’s task is to see a picture in the configuration of the whole word – to make the word horse look like a horse.

Of course, the word horse does not look like a horse. So how does a child remember that the word is a horse? Any way he can. There isn’t a professor of education anywhere in the world who can tell you how a child learns a sight vocabulary. 

The only research we found that addresses that question was done by Josephine H. Bowden at the elementary school of the University of Chicago around 1912.

A description of the studies was given by Harvard Professor Walter F. Dearborn.

Quoting from the 1914 research of Dr. Dearborn:

In the first study the pupils, who had no instruction in reading, were taught by a word method without the use of phonics and the problem was to determine by what means the children actually recognized and differentiated words when left to their own devices.

The children learned by trial-and-error methods. It may be the length of the word, the initial letter, the final letter, a characteristic letter, or the position of the word in the sentence. 

There is no evidence in any of the cases studied that the child works out a system by which he learns to recognize words.

~Walter Dearborn, The Psychological Research of James McKeen Cattle: A Review of Some of His Pupils, Archives of Psychology

Below is a quote from the website of a far-left organization called the Association for Curriculum Development. They promote the pro-Marx ideas of Paulo Freire and are advocates of the whole language methodology.

They explain the reading method they advocate as follows:

Invented spellings are the crude, approximate spellings that young children devise, such as “lrn” for “learn” or “misef” for “myself.” Supporters of whole language believe that teachers should allow young children to use invented spelling, so as not to inhibit their nascent desire to write.

Current promoters of these failed ideas are Carole Adelsky, Bess Altwerger, and Barbara Flores. They wrote in their book Whole Language: What’s the Difference?:

Whole language represents a major shift in thinking about the reading process. Rather than viewing reading as ‘getting the words,’ whole language educators view reading as essentially a process of creating meanings . . . It is a transaction, not an extraction of meaning from print, in the sense that the reader-created meanings are a fusion of what the reader brings and what the text offers.

Whole Language advocate Julia Palmer, then President of the American Reading Council, wrote in a November 28, 1986 article in The Washington Post that it is acceptable if a young child reads the word “house” for “home,” or substitutes “pony” for a “horse.”

She said:

It’s not very serious because she understands the meaning. Accuracy is not the name of the game.

Donald Potter, an educator in Odessa, Texas wrote to Blumenfeld and Newman to let them know of the disaster the whole language method has brought to the classroom. He said:

One of the cardinal signs of whole-language instruction is the confusion of “a” and “the.” I know they look totally different, but the kids continually confuse them. The sentence will always make sense, even though they have read the wrong word.

Those who engineered this shift promised an educational boon. What we received was a cultural dark age. Just as the leftists promise a Marxist utopia but deliver, every time, a Hell on earth!

The legislature appears poised to return Oklahoma to the robust education our forefathers knew.

The McGuffey Readers were exceptionally popular in America and sold about 120 million copies between 1836 and 1960. This placed the readers sales in the same category as the Bible.

Since 1961, they have continued to sell 30,000 copies a year! The McGuffey Rider was a phonics-based reading system.

The Readers produced the first mass-educated mass-literate generation in the modern world. It so popularized the writings of Shakespeare that American’s reverence for the writer was second only to the Bible.

Industrialist Henry Ford loved them. He republished the entire 1867 edition and donated them to schools across America.

Let’s hope for such a resurgence of literacy in Oklahoma!

Originally published by the OCPAC Foundation.

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