Letter: Reading skills hurt by education experiment

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To the editor:

We watched, incredulously, a segment on the nightly mainstream television news a couple of nights ago that managed to deflect responsibility of those involved in the generations-long crisis of extremely low scale reading scores of our children. It appeared rather staged and effectively placed the blame of abysmally low reading scores in public schools on those children who suffer from dyslexia. The numbers seemed to be a greatly exaggerated percentage of children who actually suffer from dyslexia and have difficulty reading as a result, as opposed to those children who don't read because they aren't given basic reading tools — not mentioned in the news segment. And children with properly diagnosed dyslexia, normally extremely high-functioning otherwise, actually benefit from a uniquely tailored method by skilled professionals to learn to read comfortably.

The problem lies elsewhere: with an obviously unsuccessful and unac knowledged theory called Whole Word Recognition. Our children have been the guinea pigs in its widespread distribution in the U.S. Phonics, the sounding out of the letters of the alphabet, was largely put aside after its memorization — in effect, with the removal of the basics, putting the cart before the horse that can't move. Obviously, ever since the alphabet's invention, phonics has been the method by which people universally learned to read. However, for the past few generations of American schoolchildren it was largely put aside in favor of Whole Word Recognition. Motivated children are hardly a positive example of this method as they often learn to read in spite of their educators. Today, tragically, perfectly average children cannot sound out the simplest words. And, beyond third grade they generally fall behind and can't catch up.

Not to minimize real problems, but I, as a volunteer reading tutor both in and out of public schools, and others far more qualified, have done their best over many years, to bring this deplorable and sad state of affairs to teachers, educators, school administrators and even parents, to little avail. It doesn't need a rocket scientist or money to teach most children to read, but that doesn't stop school budgets automatically rising year after year in the pursuit and justification of elusive and questionable goals.

Ruth Heuberger,

Great Barrington

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