Why children fail
By Dr. Samuel L. Blumenfeld
Last week, the people of Massachusetts were given the results of the MCAS tests,
and they were pretty dismal. The fourth and eighth graders showed a little improvement
over last year, but the tenth graders did worse. MCAS, the Massachusetts Comprehensive
Assessment System, is supposed to measure the educational performance of students
in the fourth, eighth and tenth grades. Needless to say, the results were disappointing.
Of course, those of us who have been watching the deliberate dumbing down of American
schoolchildren for the last 30 years were not surprised. What the results of the
tests will call for is more "reform."
All of this comes at the heels of the mammoth reform that was legislated in Massachusetts
six years ago. Although that reform resulted in the expenditure of millions more
for education, the results prove, as has been proven time and again, that throwing
money at education doesn't give us better education. More often than not, it results
in worse education. Why? Because educational malpractice is much more expensive
than old-fashioned traditional education, and schools today now specialize in educational
What sort of malpractice? Let's take whole-language reading instruction for example.
Whole-language practice de-emphasizes phonics in favor of a holistic approach, in
which children are taught to look at each word holistically, as if it were a Chinese
character. The child is taught to look for picture clues, configuration clues, context
clues, syntactic clues, and as a last resort, phonetic clues. The result is that
children do a lot of guessing, misreading, substituting words, mutilating words,
leaving out words, putting in words that aren't there -- in general, making a mess
of the text.
That then creates a large number of children who need remediation by a cadre
of trained professionals, or reading specialists, whose salaries are higher than
the normal classroom teacher's. Thus the teaching of reading becomes far more expensive
than if the schools used the ancient, time-tested way of teaching reading: intensive,
systematic phonics. That's the way reading was taught in America until the 1930s,
when the professors of education threw out the alphabetic phonics method and put
in a new whole-word approach, better known as the Dick and Jane method.
Back in the old days, when Dick and Jane and their imitators were put in the
schools, there were still a lot of older teachers who knew how essential phonics
was in learning to read. And so they used the Dick and Jane books, but also taught
their young charges how to read phonetically. But when the older teachers retired,
the new young teachers, fresh out of the progressive colleges of education, simply
did not know how to teach phonics. The professors of education had made sure of
None of the education reforms in Massachusetts, or elsewhere in the United States
for that matter, have called for a return to alphabetic phonics as the approved
method of teaching reading. And therefore, none of the reforms can possibly result
in an improvement in student performance. In fact, there is not a college of education
that I know of in the entire country that teaches its students how to teach intensive,
systematic phonics. These miseducated teachers enter primary classrooms imbued with
the false knowledge that whole-language is the best way to teach reading. After
all, would their professors lie to them?
Joan Vennochi, in a Boston Globe column entitled, "Confused by the MCAS tests,"
wrote, "The real issue is how to design a public school system that gives students
the basic building blocks and still gets them to that next great stage of learning.
The experts don't know the answer, and neither do I."
Hey, Ms. Vennochi, I know the answer. John Taylor Gatto knows the answer. Charlotte
Iserbyt knows the answer. Marva Collins knows the answer. The trouble with you,
Ms. Vennochi, is that you've been listening to the wrong experts. You've been listening
to the experts in the education establishment, the very experts who have caused
the education problem.
The answer is fairly simple: return to the ways and practices that created success
before the progressives took over. I was educated under that old system, and I was
taught to read by phonics, write in cursive, and do basic arithmetic. That system
produced what Tom Brokaw calls America's greatest generation, the generation that
won World War II. That doesn't mean that the system in those days was perfect. Far
from it. But it certainly provided the kind of basic academic foundation on which
one could build a creative intellect, something quite lacking in today's younger
But the children who are suffering most under our present progressive system
come from the minorities. According to the Nov. 12 Boston Globe, "83 percent of
Latinos and 80 percent of blacks failed the 10th-grade math exam last year, providing
the first glimpse of the huge disparity dividing students among racial and ethnic
lines. ... Latinos fared the worst in every category -- English, math, and science
-- and in each of the three test grades. In most of the tests, blacks fared slightly
better. In a couple of tests, they failed in equal numbers."
All of this horrendous failure comes after years of forced busing and six years
of educational reform. The fear now is that most of these failing students will
drop out of the system. And who can blame them? Why should they stay in schools
that have failed them so miserably? These were the very people that free public
education was supposed to help. Yet, they suffer most under the present system.
It is said that only about 20 percent of all Americans can be considered truly
literate, in the sense that they can deal with the written word at any level. This
was more or less confirmed by the U.S. Department of Education's own survey of adult
literacy in America, published in 1993, in which it was revealed that half the adult
population of this country can barely read or write. This prompted Secretary of
Education Richard W. Riley to comment: "This should be a wake-up call for all Americans
to consider going back to school and getting a tune-up." The man obviously is a
retard. It was the school's educational malpractice that caused the problem to begin
with. You don't go back to the mechanics that ruined your car for a tune-up!
The only solution available to parents at this time is simply home education
or private schools that know how to teach the basics. But since most parents cannot
home educate or afford private schools, they will have to suffer victimization.
It's horrible to have to admit this, but it is our present unpleasant reality.