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Nowhere is the child told to "sound it out."

by Charles J. Sykes

The child is actually taught to "look at the pictures" to understand the story. What happens later when he tries to read books without pictures? Obviously, he fails at reading. The students are encouraged to ask other students for "help" because "learning" is a "group experience". Again, how does this actually improve his reading skills? It doesn't, but the teacher rewards the student with effusive compliments for being "responsible and asking other students for help" and the student "feels good" - he's had a "positive learning experience", but he still can't read! Part of the whole-language approach involves happily going by words one doesn't understand, and trying to "figure the words out" by noticing the context from the earlier and later part of the sentence and story.

The simply solution, and the best skill to teach any student is "look up the word in a dictionary". Words have exact "meanings", but not to the modern "professional educators". To them, "meaning is different for everybody" and it's quite okay for a student to think of the word "horse" to mean "mule", a picture of a car to be a "truck" and so on. Since the student's experience is defined by how they feel about their "learning process", there is no care or attention placed on "objective meaning" of words. Education Alive, a group concerned with improving study skills, has prepared a great book on how to learn to use a dictionary. Any student would benefit greatly by using this book to learn study skills which help them develop an ever-expanding vocabulary.

Words relate to the world of things, and life itself. If a student is robbed of the chance to have a good understanding of a large quantity of words he will be at a disadvantage in anything he does - plus he won't have any skills to learn additional words in the future. The goal of public education never was to educate people. See the actual goal of public education in the words of their own founders.

Oklahoma's educrats took a similar approach in setting out their reading "outcomes" for second graders. The statewide guidelines called on second graders to "use fix-it strategies in order to continue reading." What exactly did the educationists have in mind for kids who are unable to figure out a word? Their suggestions included: "ask a friend, skip the word, substitute another meaningful word."" (Ask a teacher? Sound it out? Apparently not.)

A publication of the Wisconsin Public Department of Public Instruction warns parents explicitly not to tell their children to "sound out" unfamiliar words, "because sounding is only part of the game." ("Reading is not just sounding out words,"' the educrats explained with the usual mix of the obvious and the jargonesque. "Reading is the process of constructing meaning through the dynamic interaction between the reader, the book, and the reading/leaming situation." [more "situation" = experience nonsense from Dewey] Look at the pictures. Skip the word. Ask a friend. Is this reading? Wittig and Jankowski found that in their children's schools, "repetitious and predictable" books were used in reading classes. "Children memorize the text as they 'read' the story over and over with the teacher." "It is our experience that they cannot read new books until the text has been memorized."

But is memorization the same as reading? [Again, to the modern educator it is more important that the student learn to conform to group rules and procedures, than actually learn to read - and conforming to group goals takes precedence over all aspects of what most of us think of as valid learning] When they pressed the teachers about this, the two mothers said, "We are told that reading should be a pleasant experience, not distressful." [The goal is for the student to be rewarded for operating well within a group, y receiving "positive experiences". Every common sense educational idea is thrown overboard if it blocks the way for the student from having "meaningful, positive and rewarding classroom experiences. This is crazy! Welcome to modern education!]