Our lobotomized children
By Dr. Samuel L. Blumenfeld
You see them everywhere. These young people without brains who congregate in
parking lots, haunt shopping malls, drive around aimlessly on Saturday night, partying,
drinking, smoking, having sex, experimenting with drugs, getting into fights. They
complain so often about being bored, bored in school, bored with themselves, bored
with life. Of course, the reason why they are bored is because they themselves are
so utterly boring. They haven't read a good book in their entire lives; they have
no intellectual interests or curiosity. It's as if the entire world of the mind
is closed to them, and the only activities that make them feel alive are uncontrolled
sex, drugs and violence -- all of which are so self-destructive.
Jay Leno often interviews these vapid individuals on the avenues of Los Angeles
so that we can get a good laugh from their ignorance. But their ignorance is nothing
to laugh about. It's a great American tragedy. We compel these kids to spend 12
years in school at a cost of billions of dollars to be "educated," and what we get
is appalling ignorance. It's as if all of these kids have undergone lobotomies,
so that they no longer have minds that can analyze, or think, or be creative. What
we have are teen-age consumers, easily stimulated by highly emotional ads, whose
interests are limited to what they can touch in a department store or see in the
movies or on television or hear on a rap music station.
Back in the 1930s and '40s, when I was going to school, I was never bored. I
could read, and therefore the library was a tremendous source of stimulating ideas
and stories. The world was a tremendously interesting place. I was taught music
appreciation in the third grade by a teacher who played short classics on a portable
Victrola. That short once-a-week class opened the whole world of classical music
for me. I can still remember some of the pieces she played: "The Swan" by Saint-Saens,
"March Slav" by Tchaikovsky, "The William Tell Overture" by Rossini.
We read good poetry written by the great poets, not the cute greeting-card type
of poems that kids now read, devoid of insight or wisdom or true beauty of language
and thought. And it isn't that today's kids are not capable of learning to enjoy
such great literature. It's that their limited ability to read makes it impossible
for them to even venture into that ever fascinating and expansive world of the written
Some months ago, a father brought his 15-year-old, ninth-grade son to me to be
tested. This very intelligent boy had a reading problem which was preventing him
from advancing in his education. He was tested by the school which determined that
the boy should sit closer to the teacher, be given extra time to "process information,"
have his assignments cut into smaller segments for easier handling, listen to books
on tapes, use Cliff notes when reading novels, and stay after school to make up
for missed work. There was no attempt whatever to deal with the boy's reading problem.
Which is why his father brought him to me. I cure dyslexics.
This youngster was no different from so many others I have worked with over the
last 30 years. He was a typical sight-reader who had been given a sight vocabulary
to memorize in the first grade and thereby acquired a holistic reflex, which would
handicap him for the rest of his life. In other words, he had been taught to look
at each word as if it were a Chinese character and was required to remember it holistically
by its configuration or association with a picture. When a child is taught to read
holistically and develops a holistic reflex, the reflex becomes an obstacle to seeing
the word in its phonetic structure, especially if the child has been taught little
or no phonics.
All alphabetically written words have a phonetic structure. But you must learn
the letter sounds and be drilled in consonant-vowel combinations in order to develop
the needed phonetic reflex or automaticity, so that reading becomes easy and enjoyable,
and the phonetic structure of a word is perfectly transparent. But if you have not
been taught intensive phonics, and made to look at each word as a picture, you will
never become a fluent reader.
When I asked this boy, who is now in high school, what was a short a,
he had no idea. He did understand the concept that letters stand for sounds. But
this kind of phonetic knowledge in and of itself does not create a phonetic reflex;
it simply provides information, which the child may or may not use. And because
it requires conscious effort to use this information, reading becomes a difficult
and painful chore which must be avoided. In fact, I once tutored an adult, a highly
successful entrepreneur, who told he that he would rather be beaten than have to
And this could easily have become the case with this youngster. When I had him
read paragraphs from a variety of books, it was easy to see that he was a holistic
reader and made all of the misreadings typical of this kind of sight-reader. The
only way he could read multisyllabic words was to find smaller sight words within
the big words. But he made so many crucial errors in his reading, that his comprehension
had to suffer.
That the schools permit these learning problems to persist and can offer no hope
of meaningful remediation means that every child who has developed a holistic reflex
is condemned to a life with a very limited use of mind. It is true that some individuals
have the inner resources to overcome their reading disability, but apparently these
empty headed kids with the lobotomized look, do not have that inner resource. They
will go through life believing that they are stupid, pursue careers that require
a minimum of reading, and lead lives of illiteracy. They will suffer, their children
will suffer, and America will suffer.
Some months ago, Frontline of the Public Broadcasting System, did a documentary
program on the "Lost Children of Conyers, Georgia," where an outbreak of syphilis
among high school students brought attention to the dissolute life style of many
of the teen-agers in that town. The social life of these kids revolved around their
peer groups at school. They were bored. They had nothing to do, so they indulged
in sex, drinking, drugs, cigarettes and obscene rap music. What was missing was
the life of the mind, the ability to think, to analyze, to understand that life
meant more than just abusing oneself. Everybody tended to blame the parents because
the parents gave these kids every material good available.
Nobody blamed the school and the fact that these kids had been lobotomized in
the first grade by their loving teachers. These kids could not use their minds because
they no longer had them. Thus, their lives would revolve around emotional and sensual
activities that resembled a roller coaster ride. They would be reduced to primitive
pre-civilized behavior. True, they had all of the paraphernalia of our high-tech
civilization, but their emotional lives would be lived on the level of pre-literate,
That's what public education has given us, and the vast majority of Americans
have no idea why it is the way it is. And that's why they keep supporting the system
with billions of tax dollars.
Fortunately, there are a growing number of parents who have seen the light and
have turned to home schooling. In general, home-schoolers teach their children to
read by phonics so that their children can eventually educate themselves by reading
history, biographies, novels, poetry, and the Bible.
Meanwhile, the two major candidates for the Presidency offer different approaches
to our ongoing educational problems. Gore, the obedient child of the National Education
Association, strongly opposes vouchers and is not at all friendly toward home-schoolers.
In fact the Democratic Party platform reflects the NEA's hostility toward home schooling.
Bush, on the other hand, favors vouchers, speaks highly of phonics, and is sympathetic
toward home schooling. Both, of course, intend to spend lots more money on public
education. What this means is that we ought not to expect politicians to solve our
education problems. They will have to be solved by parents willing to make the necessary
sacrifices to send their children to decent private schools or educate them at home,
for the only true reform of education will take place when the government gets out
of the education business.