For years I have been telling parents and educators that the kind of
reading difficulties afflicting perfectly normal children in our schools
today are being caused by the teaching methods and not by any defect in
the children themselves. The educators have been telling us for years
now that the reason why so many children are having problems learning to
read is because of a learning disability they've been born with. In
fact, the official position of the federal government on this issue is
summed up in the 1987 Report to the Congress of the Interagency
Committee on Learning Disabilities which defined "Learning Disabilities"
as follows (p. 222):
Learning disabilities is a generic term that refers to a heterogeneous
group of disorders manifested by significant difficulties in the
acquisition and use of listening, speaking, reading, writing, reasoning,
or mathematical abilities, or of social skills. These disorders are
intrinsic to the individual and presumed to be due to central nervous
system dysfunction. [Our emphasis.] Even though a learning disability
may occur concomitantly with other handicapping conditions (e.g.,
sensory impairment, mental retardation, social and emotional
disturbance), with socioenvironmental influences (e.g., cultural
differences, insufficient or inappropriate instruction, psychogenic
factors), and especially with attention deficit disorder, all of which
may cause learning problems, a learning disability is not the direct
result of those conditions or influences.
In other words, according to government researchers, all learning
disabilities are due to "central nervous system dysfunction," regardless
of all other factors, including teaching methods. In fact, the federal
government is pumping millions of dollars into research on the genetic
causes of dyslexia.
But what if we are able to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that
dyslexia is caused by the teaching methods? Would that alter the course
of government research? Probably not, for there is a private researcher
in North Carolina by the name of Edward Miller who has already offered
such proof to the government, only to be rebuffed by officialdom. After
all, if what Miller says is true, then millions of dollars of research
money will have been wasted.
Are there people who are born dyslexic? Yes, but they are afflicted with
so many other problems that their inability to learn to read is simply
only one of them. There are children born with all sorts of handicaps
and defects that are recognized at birth or soon after. Some of these
handicaps reflect neurological problems. But many of these children are
quite educable. However, the dyslexia we are talking about is the kind
that afflicts children who have come to school with perfectly good
speech, hearing, eyesight, equilibrium, etc. In fact, some of these
so-called dyslexics are some of the brightest and physically healthiest
students in their classes. Miller calls their reading problem
"educational dyslexia," that is, dyslexia, or reading disability, caused
by the teaching method.
How "Early Reader" Books Can Cause Dyslexia
Some parents will ask: how is it that my Johnny began to show signs of
dyslexia in the first grade, before he had had any formal reading
instruction? Miller has found the answer to that question. It all starts
at home with preschool readers. Miller discovered that when preschoolers
memorize as sight words the entire texts of such popular books as Dr.
Seuss's The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham, they develop a block
against seeing the words phonetically and thus become "dyslexic." They
become sight readers with a holistic reflex rather than phonetic readers
with a phonetic reflex. A holistic reader looks at each word as a little
picture, a configuration, much like a Chinese ideograph, and tries to
think of the word it represents. A phonetic reader associates letters
with sounds and sounds out the syllabic units which blend into an
What this means is that parents should teach their children to read
phonetically before giving them the Dr. Seuss books to read. They should
avoid having their children memorize words by their configurations
alone, because once that mode of viewing words becomes an automatic
reflex, it will create a block against phonics.
In other words, failure to teach a child to read phonetically, but
requiring the child to memorize hundreds of sight words produces
educational dyslexia. Incidentally, a sight word, by definition, is a
word learned without reference to the sounds the letters stand for.
Nowadays, publishers are selling books for preschoolers with audio tapes
so that the child can learn to read by the sight method without the help
of his or her parents. Thus, the child will develop a reading handicap
without the slightest idea that what he or she is doing is harmful.
The Sight Word "Time Bomb"
How do we know it's harmful? By what happens when the child enters
school and proceeds upwards to the third grade. In kindergarten and the
first grade, all will seem satisfactory, for most schools now use the
sight method, and a child who enters school having already memorized a
large number of sight words will be ahead of those students who haven't.
Everybody will be pleased by the child's performance. But as the child
moves into the third grade where the reading demands are much greater,
involving many new words which the child's overburdened memory cannot
handle, the child will experience a learning breakdown.
But the problem, as we have indicated, can also show up in the first
grade where the teaching method is phonics-based. This is often the case
in many private and religious schools where reading is taught
phonetically. If a child enters the first grade in such a school after
having already memorized several hundred sight words from preschool
readers, that child will most likely have already developed a block
against learning to look at words phonetically. That's why we see
"dyslexia" among some first graders.
In other words, there are two ways of looking at our printed or written
words: holistically or phonetically. If you are taught to read
phonetically from the start, you will never become dyslexic, for
dyslexia by definition is a block against viewing words phonetically.
Phonetic readers become good, independent readers because they have
developed a phonetic reflex. To them literacy is as natural and
effortless as breathing. A holistic, sight reader, on the other hand,
must rely on memorization of individual word forms and use all sorts of
contextual strategies to get the word right.
Simple Test Uncovers Dyslexic Reading Methods
Edward Miller has devised a very simple word-recognition test that
dramatically illustrates the difference between a holistic and a
phonetic reader. The test consists of two sets of words: the first set
consists of 260 sight words drawn from Dr. Seuss's two books, The Cat in
the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham, and the second set consists of 260
equally simple words taken from Rudolf Flesch's phonetically regular
word lists in Why Johnny Can't Read. Both sets of words are at a
A child who is already a phonetic reader will sail through both sets of
words without any problem. But a holistic reader might sail through the
sight words at high speed with no errors, but then slow down
considerably and make many errors in the phonetic section even though
these are simple first-grade words.
Dr. Seuss Speaks Out
That the words in the two Dr. Seuss books were to be read and learned as
sight words was confirmed by Dr. Seuss himself in an interview published
in Arizona magazine in June 1981. He said:
They think I did it in twenty minutes. That d -- ned Cat in the Hat took
nine months until I was satisfied. I did it for a textbook house and
they sent me a word list. That was due to the Dewey revolt in the
Twenties in which they threw out phonic reading and went to word
recognition, as if you're reading Chinese pictographs instead of
blending sounds of different letters. I think killing phonics was one of
the greatest causes of illiteracy in the country. Anyway, they had it
all worked out that a healthy child at the age of four can learn so many
words in a week and that's all. So there were two hundred and
twenty-three words to use in this book. I read the list three times and
I almost went out of my head. I said, I'll read it once more and if I
can find two words that rhyme that'll be the title of my book. (That's
genius at work.) I found "cat" and "hat" and I said, "The title will be
The Cat in the Hat."
Thus, even Dr. Seuss knew that "killing phonics" was a cause of
illiteracy in America. But somehow that insight, made by America's most
famous writer of children's books, has escaped our educators.
Holistic readers are indeed handicapped by the way they are taught to
read. They are taught to look at words as whole pictures, which means
that they are not bound to look at a word from left to right. They
simply look for something in the word-picture that will remind them of
what the word is. Thus they may actually look at a word from right to
left, which accounts for the tendency of dyslexics to reverse letters
and read words backwards. Also, holistic readers are encouraged by their
teachers to substitute words, as explained by a whole-language advocate
quoted in the Washington Post of Nov. 29, 1986. The headline reads,
"Reading Method Lets Pupils Guess; Whole-Language Approach Riles
Advocates of Phonics." The article states:
The most controversial aspect of whole language is the de-emphasis on
accuracy. American Reading Council President Juli a Palmer, an advocate
of the approach, said it is acceptable if a young child reads the word
house for home, or subtitutes the word pony for horse. "It's not very
serious because she understands the meaning," said Palmer. "Accuracy is
not the name of the game."
When does accuracy become the name of the game in Ms. Palmer's system of
education? Probably, never, for if you teach children in primary school,
through invented spelling and word substitutions, that accuracy is not
at all important, they may never acquire a sense of accuracy, unless
forced to do so by the demands of the workplace.
What we do know is that when you impose an inaccurate, subjective
ideographic teaching technique on a phonetic-alphabetic writing system
which demands accurate decoding, you create symbolic confusion,
cognitive conflict, frustration and a learning breakdown. In addition, I
strongly suspect that attention deficit disorder, otherwise known as
ADD, is a form of behavioral disorganization created by a teaching
disorganization. It is the symbolic confusion, cognitive conflict,
learning blocks and frustration caused by holistic teaching methods that
literally force children to react physically to what they instinctively
know is harming them. They may not know exactly what it is the teacher
is doing that is harming them. But they certainly know that they are
being harmed. How? By the simple circumstances of their position.
When they entered school at the age of 5 or 6, these children felt very
confident, very intelligent. After all, they had all taught themselves
to speak their own language very nicely without the aid of teachers or
school. And when they enter school, they expect to be able to learn to
read with the same competence. And, normally, this is what happens when
they are taught to read phonetically and begin to master our alphabetic
If children they are taught to read holistically, mastering our
alphabetically written words becomes a superhuman task. And because the
teaching method seems to defy all logic and common sense, their minds
react against such teaching just as their stomachs would if some sort of
poison were eaten. The stomach throws up, rejecting the poison, and I
suspect that ADD is a form of mental rejection of pedagogical poison.
What other defense does the child have against pedagogical poisoning?
What Ritalin does is lower the defense against such poisoning. The child
becomes a docile, defenseless victim of whatever nonsense the teacher is
inflicting on the child. And the child is usually dumped into Special
Education for the rest of his or her academic career.
According to Lori and Bill Granger, authors of The Magic
Feather: The Truth About "Special Education":
Parents of children in Special Education classes have noticed that their
kids become more and more passive and dependent the longer they are in
Special Education. . . . Special Education teaches kids how to be
failures and to live with being failures. It segregates kids from
"normal" kids by putting special labels on them, putting them in
separate classrooms, putting them in separate schools, and making
certain that not too much is ever asked of them or expected of them. . .
Evidence for a "neurological" basis for LD is vague at best. . . . Some
of the more revered books in this field, which purport to convey "facts"
on the "neurological" basis of learning disabilities, are nothing more
than wishful thinking. . . . Education trade journals are full of
debates about learning disabilities that would shock parents of children
who have been routinely labeled LD.
Fortunately, homeschoolers are in the best position to guard their
children against the kind of pedagogical poisoning that is turning
millions of normal children into LDs. They can begin teaching their
children to read phonetically as early as the child wishes. Above all,
they must avoid having their preschoolers memorize words holistically
without any knowledge of the letter sounds. If you tell children that
letters stand for sounds, they will begin to understand what our
alphabetic system is all about.
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