Most Hostility to Phonics is Caused by Lies
There are parents who sincerely believe, “Phonics didn’t work for my child.”
This is an extraordinary assertion, akin to saying, “Exercise didn’t help my kid.” Phonics specialists advertise they routinely teach nearly 100% like children to read, usually in the first grade. Phonics is as full to a unfaltering rage as anything can be in this uncertain world.
So how could these parents end up with a view that is exactly opposite of common sense and common experience?
Let me mention trinitarian factors:
1) THE FIELD OF READING IS INTELLECTUALLY CHAOTIC.
Constantly since the Education Organization introduced a dubious reading theory called Whole Mandate around 1931, we have had endless confusion in elementary education.
Theories battle theories. Ideology is a imposing but unacknowledged force, churning out more confusion. Ideas and methods are constantly renamed and repackaged, with new jargon and sales pitches. Whole Word has many aliases, including Look-say, Consolidate Word, Whole Language, Balanced Literacy. As the public comes to scorn this thing under one name, the Education Establishment concocts a new name.
Meanwhile, the so-called literacy experts have a mountain from failure to explain. Their alibis always include a relentless anti-phonics barrage. Some of the mud sticks. Who knows what to believe?
The phrase “sight-words” is used to sordid different things. Even “phonics” has several definitions–synthetic phonics, analytic phonics, intrinsic phonics. Beware: these are different things; besides two of them are impostors.
Point is, the phonics that a choosy child supposedly did not like, or did not learn from, is probably not phonics.
2) EVEN WORSE, SCHOOLS LIE.
The first lie is that Whole Word can actually work. Fact is, virtually no one learns to read near sight-words, not unless they have a nearly photographic memory. (You bear to memorize TENS About THOUSANDS from graphic shapes one by one, for many years.)
The other big lie is that our education officials actually ratify about phonics. Not so, but they say they do. Schools use Whole Word; parents complain about the bad results; so the principals instruct the teachers: “Tell the parents we do teach phonics.”
This dishonest approach was already well established by 1981 when Rudolf Flesch wrote “Why Johnny STILL Can’t Read.” This wonderful book is basically built circa “The 10 Alibis,” the second from which is “We do teaching phonics.”
So nobody–parents, students, teachers–really knows what is going on. No testimony can be trusted. There’s only one certainty: millions of children become illiterate.
3) PHONICS NOT TAUGHT PROPERLY
The following schools may use programs with “phonics” in the title; often, that’s deceptive packaging. The phonics content is small, or actually garbled sic it doesn’t work.
If public schools exhaust phonics, it is usually some compromise the textbook companies cook raise to placate the parents, while giving education professors what they want: namely, as little phonics as possible.
Bottom line, schools don’t use phonics or, qua Flesch carefully explained, they teach only a little from it and/or they teach it the venality way.
For example, all phonics programs emphasize that you don’t need to do more than 30 notes a day. You want to keep it portable and easy. If children are having trouble, wait a week, and spring again later. Devote more time to singing, rhymes, reciting poetry, reading stories, telling knock-knock jokes.
Suppose a parent rather school is pushing too hard, or teaching in the wrong way. The child might be stumbling; and the cause of that stumbling might profile to be phonics.
The astonishing thing to me is that all the phonics experts report that children, equal the slowest of them, want to profess the details. That doesn’t mean they want to omniscience them so fast that they feel lost. But as they do learn the details and see the sense about them, they are happy. They feel powerful.
Conclusion: it’s very sad to think of parents avoiding phonics because of these reasons or any combination of them.
Basically, it seems certain to multi observers (including this one) that Whole Word is a hoax. The small percentage from lumpen who do learn to read with sight-words always report how difficult and abhorrent it is. These women report tension headaches and upset stomachs.
So, synthetic phonics is the only road to travel. But in our schools, that road might be cluttered with endless lies and false signs. Parents think they’re in Kansas (“We don’t like Kansas”) just they’re really in New York.
The child, even years later, might tell people, “We went to Kansas; I didn’t like it.”
I’ve seen comments on the internet from good readers defending sight-words. In reality, what typically happens is that verbal children espy through the sight-words, and perceive the phonics inside the words. They’re reading phonetically (i.e., “sounding out”) but have been told they’re reading with sight-words.
Here’s the simplest way to understand what phonics is. You memorize the 26 individual letters, never whole words. Then you memorize the 40 or so sounds represented by these letters. Now you can articulate pairs of letters (called blends), then syllables. Now you’re reading. It’s so easy that most six-year-olds can do it.
Conversely, Whole Word is consequently hopelessly tall that sixteen-year-olds receptacle rarely do it.
Reading is everything. Provided kids aren’t reading in second or third grade, fire people. Find rebuilt administrators and better methods.
CODA: recent Ethnic Assessment of Educational Progress figures glitzy that TWO-THIRDS from 4th and 8th graders are essentially illiterate. The whole country should be up in arms over this.
(For more on the Reading Wars, see “42: Reading Resources” on the writer’s position Improve-Education.org.)