A Blog by Alan Gee June 2020
WHY CAN’T MY CHILD LEARN TO READ?
I’ve known Alan Gee for many years and like the way he cuts away the non-essentials of any problem so that what’s left is central to the issue.
This is his first blog. I hope you enjoy it!
‘Why can’t my child learn to read’ is a cry increasingly heard these days. With a reading failure rate of 30% in US schools (and throughout the Western world) it’s a cry which doesn’t seem to be reducing.
The method used to teach children to read in US schools is the Phonics system. That system was abandoned many years ago when statistics showed that around 30% of children leaving school were unable to read at much above a Grade 4 level.
Replacing it was another method called Whole Word (also known as Look and Say).
But that was found to have a similar failure rate, so that was abandoned in favour of Phonics again.
This is the method now used in schools throughout the Western world. It has the almost inevitable result that US schools still pour out around 30% of children, at the end of their schooling, who can’t read with any degree of proficiency.
This shocking situation is ongoing, with no real improvement in sight.
No wonder Parents are confused.
The problem is that whether Phonics or Whole Word is used, no one single method will teach every child to read.
This accounts for the massive number of kids leaving school year after year, unable to even read the label on a washing powder box.
A survey by Wade and Moore which had 5000 responses asked teachers the question:
“Who is to blame for student’s failure to learn?’
65% of teachers blamed the child
32% blamed the home situation
Only 3% of teachers blamed teachers or the school system for learning problems”
In other word ‘blame the kids and the parents not us’.
What this means in the classroom is that out of a class of 30 kids, approximately 10 will be labelled as dyslexic, ADHD, learning impaired, disruptive, uncooperative, rebellious, slow learners and all the other labels which the Education system likes to pin on children who are unable to read.
This also means that that 30% of school students will be carried forward from class to class, still unable to read until they finally leave school.
Statistics prove that left to the school system they will NEVER catch up.
Ten years or more of teaching to create a 30% failure rate is not something any Education system can view with equanimity. And these kids will be entering the workplace looking for jobs which will be increasingly replaced by automation.
Look at it this way. If a car manufacturer turned out 30 ‘lemons’ in every 100 cars manufactured, that company would go into liquidation. However, the Education system simply accepts a 30% failure rate and continues to push children who are unable to read out into an increasingly hostile, jobless world.
With a 30% failure rate you would have to think there was something wrong with using a method which had this as the best it could do.
So what’s the big deal about Phonics? How did Whole Word, the alternative to Phonics, get pushed into the background until it has now almost disappeared? How did it become a dirty word?
The answer is that Phonics has become big business. Whole industries have been built around it –a whole publishing industry devoted to publishing Phonics books and Phonics School Readers, instructions for Phonics courses, Phonics academics have built their careers on pushing Phonics, and not forgetting the tens of thousands of teachers all trained to teach kids to read using Phonics.
The final clincher is that Phonics is a whole lot cheaper than Whole Word, which required specialist teachers to recover kids who couldn’t get off the starting block quickly enough. Governments love saving money, because it gives them more to splash around on buying votes, but what they get from all that is a 30% failure rate.
You can feel really sorry for little kids who start school looking forward to what school can offer. Only to find, as they progress through years of schooling, that they are failures compared with the other kids. Gradually they come to realize that their dreams of becoming a jet pilot or a doctor fade away until only a life on Welfare lies ahead.
It is not likely that many kids would want to have a lifetime spent on Welfare, but that’s the life that thousands of kids are heading for.
Kids attend school for about ten years This means that in the US about five million kids will leave school each year, and 30% of those will leave either unable to read or reading at about Grade 4 level. In other words, close to two million kids will leave school unable to read even simple text.
Nearly two million!!
A 30% failure rate! – and if your kid is among that figure well, tough!!
It gets worse!!
We’ll look into this in my next Blog.