Reading Education: A Serious Problem YOU Can Help End

This is about an idea so big that small-minded people do not want even to consider it. This is a challenge to you, dear reader: please do not be small-minded — or close-minded. There is a serious illiteracy problem affecting all 1.4 billion English-speaking people around the world — and there is only one proven solution. This article will prove it to anyone willing honestly to mentally engage with the facts presented. Whether you know it or not — whether you believe it or not — the problem explained here has varying degrees of negative effects on every English-speaking person around the world.

To help you understand, I need to use an analogy. I feel like the medical doctor who has a patient with a serious, eventually fatal medical problem for which he has treated the symptoms with an expensive home-remedy for several years. After offering to explain the simple medical solution to his illness, he only wants to know the cost of the cure. I explain the cost of the cure. I explain that his home-remedy fights the symptoms but will never cure the disease – similar to taking cough and pain medicine and decongestants instead of antibiotics to cure pneumonia. He decides that he will continue with his home-remedy because the cost of the cure is almost the cost of three months of his home-remedy.

This is a very close description of what is happening in reading education. We have been fighting the symptoms of the problem in reading education since 1755, and for various reasons only a very tiny proportion of scholars will honestly examine the problem. It is really disturbing to see the enormous amount of time and money and the multiple thousands of teachers, parents, and literacy volunteers fighting the symptoms of reading education in this country — when the solution is so simple, easy, and quick (less than three months for learners). Half-measures may reduce the symptoms suffered by some of the students, one-at-a-time, but they are not doing what is needed to help everyone at once by solving the problem.

The problem:  it is difficult to learn to read English (as explained below).

The symptoms of the problem:

  1. Almost half of English-speaking students in America (and presumably an equally disturbing number of students in other English-speaking countries) never become fluent readers in English. Almost every U.S. adult can read at least a thousand simple words learned in the first three or four years in school, but they cannot read well enough to hold an above-poverty-level-wage job (as proven below). They do not like to read and seldom try to read. Statistics show that almost half of U.S. adults never read an entire book after leaving school.
  2. Most of those who do become fluent readers need at least two years learning to read well enough that they can continue to improve their reading skills after reading instruction in school ends. Most reading instruction in U.S. schools (other than remedial reading) ends after third or fourth grade. As a result, as teachers who are familiar with teaching reading to students in other countries know and as members of some “think tanks” such as The American Enterprise Institute know, American students are about two years behind the students of the same age in other industrialized nations.
  3. Information in following sections proves the seriousness of the symptoms.

 The first step in solving any problem: find what is causing the problem. You can spend an enormous amount of time and money fighting the symptoms of a problem. If you do not solve the problem, however, it continues to occur — undiminished (often increasing) in intensity.

 Proof that Learning to Read English is difficult:

The English spelling system is NOT a logical alphabetic spelling system. English spelling is more like Chinese writing in which specific shapes in specific positions represent a word. English spelling uses a specific combination of letters in a specific order to represent a word. This came about in 1755 with the publication of Dr. Samuel Johnson’s well-received dictionary. Dr. Johnson, in effect, froze the spelling of words instead of freezing the spelling of phonemes (the smallest sound used to distinguish between syllables and words in a language or dialect), as a logical alphabetic spelling system is designed to do. In most cases, Dr. Johnson used the words as they were spelled in their language of origin. Words were added to the original Celtic from the languages of every conqueror who occupied the British Isles: Norse, Icelandic, Latin, Anglo-Saxon, German, Danish, and French. Since 1755, as explained in Henry Hitchings book, The Secret Life of Words, the English language has adopted words (and usually their spelling) from 350 additional languages.

A logical alphabetic spelling system should have a one-to-one correspondence of phonemes and graphemes (a grapheme is a letter or a specific combination of letters used to represent a phoneme). To read English, a student must only learn to spell 38 phonemes and learn how to blend them into words. There are 26 letters in our alphabet, so we could spell our phonemes with 26 single-letter graphemes and 12 two-letter graphemes. Instead, in addition to 26 single-letter graphemes, present English spelling uses at least the following: 184 two-letter graphemes, 131 three-letter graphemes, 22 four-letter graphemes, and four five-letter graphemes, for a total of 367 graphemes — when only 38 are needed! When more graphemes are used than are needed, that means that many of the graphemes represent more than one phoneme each. In fact, only five single-letter graphemes (B, K, P, R, and V) have only one pronunciation each. The other graphemes (of any length) have from one to eight pronunciations each. Adding to the confusion, however, all but six of the single-letter graphemes (H, Q, U, W, X, and Y) are doubled in some words and not in others — with no reliable way of knowing which is which. Also, all 26 of the letters in present spelling are silent in some words (reAd, deBt, sCent, velDt, havE, halFpenny, siGn, rHyme, busIness, riJsttafel, Knot, taLk, Mnemonic, autumN, sophOmore, rasPberry, lacQuer, suRprise, aiSle, depoT, bUilt, savVy, Write, fauX pas, maYor, and rendeZvous) with no reliable way of knowing if a letter is silent or not. Also, some English words do not spell all of the sounds in the spoken word or the graphemes do not show the proper order in which the phonemes are to be pronounced.

 For Reading: The student or writer must know the pronunciation of as many as 367 graphemes — with an average of 2.2 pronunciations each — by memory, for each individual word, because the phoneme that a grapheme represents can (and often does) change from one word to the next. Individual graphemes represent as many as eight different phonemes.

 For Spelling: The student must remember which graphemes — and in which order they occur — for each individual word. This is even more difficult than reading because the spelling of each phoneme varies from only (!) four spellings for two of the phonemes (H as in hat and TH as in then) to sixty or more for the U phoneme as in nut! Professor Julius Nyikos of Washington and Jefferson College in Pennsylvania studied six standard dictionaries and found 1,768 ways of spelling 40 English phonemes — an average of 44 spellings each! Furthermore, no one can learn to read using English spelling rules. There is not even one spelling rule that does not have exceptions – and some of the exceptions even have exceptions! A computer programmed with 203 English spelling rules was able correctly to spell only 49 percent of a list of 17,000 common English words. Most adults cannot do as well.

After reading this you may say, “So what? I learned to read.” Here is the “So what:” hundreds of millions of English-speaking people do not. Does that bother you? It should. Their illiteracy costs you and me money and negatively affects each of us — and our nation — in numerous ways that you have probably never considered.

 Proof That a Phonemic Spelling System Will SOLVE the Problem:

Dr. Frank Laubach spent more than forty years going all around the world teaching thousands of adults in more than 300 alphabetic languages (other than English) to read fluently. He prepared primers for 313 languages and even invented spelling systems for 220 unwritten languages. Here is the proof: His books, Teaching the World to Read and Forty Years With the Silent Billion, never mentions even one student that he was not able to teach to read fluently. Dr. Laubach was able unfailingly to teach students to read fluently in from one to twenty days (!) in 95 percent of the languages and in less than three months in 98 percent of the languages! He was able to do this because the languages in which he taught were almost perfect, phonemically — a one-phoneme-to-one-grapheme correspondence. Confirmation of Dr. Laubach’s findings is given by comparison to the amazing findings of Dr. Rudolph Flesch. He stated on pages 167-168 of his 1981 book, Why Johnny Still Can’t Read, that Russian schoolchildren are taught to read 46 of the 130 national languages of Russia — in first grade! There is no reading instruction, as such, after first grade.

The difficulty of learning to read English is NOT because of the difficulty of the language itself, however. The English language is neither among the easiest nor among the most difficult. Axel Wijk states on pages 56-57 of Alphabets for English, edited by W. Haas, that English is a comparatively easy language to learn for foreigners, “… mainly due to its grammatical structure, which is far simpler that those of most other important languages, particularly so in comparison with French, German, Russian, or Spanish.” Sir James Pitman states on page 264 of his book, Alphabets and Reading, “No other major language possesses such a simple grammar and syntax or combines the following advantages: . . .” The first two of the eight advantages he lists, for example, are: there are no arbitrary genders and agreement between adjectives and nouns is unnecessary. The grammar and syntax of English is easier than that of many European languages, for example. In most European languages, students learn to read fluently in less than three months.

Dr. Laubach stated on page 48 of his book, Forty Years With the Silent Billion, “If we spelled English phonetically, American children could be taught to read in a week.” All those resisting change may insist that we prove it on several thousand American children in a public school. Those objecting to a proven solution are effectively trying to “reinvent the wheel.” Dr. Laubach has quite adequately proven that phonemic spelling systems are easy to learn, and it would be a huge mistake to continue expending enormous amounts of time and money when the solution has already been proven. Education researchers may want to do additional research. The reason is obvious. They will be receiving the work and the money spent on the research. Jonathan Kozol, in his book, Illiterate America, asks the obvious question about ending illiteracy, “Why should we spend additional time and money on research when the researchers will only be confirming what we already know?”

 Proof That English Spelling Causes Serious Problems:

An analysis of the Adult Literacy in America report and a 2006 follow-up report prove the shocking extent * of functional illiteracy in English. (All asterisks in this article refer to the “Read More” pages in a website that has a link in the last paragraph of this article.) The Adult Literacy in America report — from a five-year, $14 million study — is the most statistically accurate and comprehensive study of U.S. adult literacy ever commissioned by the U.S. government. The Adult Literacy in America study involved lengthy interviews of 26,049 adults statistically chosen by age, gender, ethnicity, and location (urban, suburban, and rural locations in twelve states across the U.S. and included 1,100 prisoners from 80 prisons) to represent the entire U.S. population. These documents prove that 48.7 percent of U.S. adults are functionally illiterate (defined as being unable to hold an above-poverty-level-wage job), proves that 31.2 percent of these illiterates are in poverty, and proves that they are more than twice as likely to be in poverty because of their illiteracy as for all other reasons combined. The inability to hold a good job is the most accurate and reliable indicator of illiteracy because employers have a very strong financial interest in accurately determining a person’s ability to read and write to make sure that they will be a profitable employee. All other methods are susceptible to unintentional (or even intentional) inaccuracies because of the size, time period, and subjects of the data base used and because of the data handling, calculation, and verification methods used.

Jonathan Kozol’s shocking book, Illiterate America, proves the seriousness of the problem. Kozol describes the serious physical, mental, emotional, medical, and financial problems that illiterates must endure every day of their lives, problems that we would consider a crisis if we had to endure them. Functional illiterates cannot read well enough to perform many of the simple daily tasks needed to thrive in our present complex, technologically challenging life — tasks that those of us who are literate take for granted. An informative website about ending illiteracy in English summarizes the seriousness * of the problem of illiteracy.

In addition to the seriousness for illiterates, illiteracy costs every U.S. Adult — both reader and non-reader — an average of more than $5,000 each year. This cost is (1) for government programs that illiterates use (for example: job training, unemployment payments, welfare, Medicare, and Medicaid), (2) for truancy, juvenile delinquency, and crime directly related to illiteracy, and (3) for the higher cost of consumer goods (about $2,200 of that $5,000) because of illiterates in the labor pool (necessitating higher recruiting costs) and in the workplace. You and I both know that if the first two items were eliminated, our taxes would not decrease — the government would find somewhere else to spend the money — but at least that particular waste of money would be gone.

This pales in comparison, however, to the cost of at least two years of public education wasted by the additional time required to learn to read. The English Spelling Society on their website claims that our present spelling requires an average of three years longer to learn than if our words were spelled phonemically. The 2008-2009 cost, per pupil, (the latest available figures) for public elementary and secondary education in the U.S. is $12,643. For the millions of U.S. students, this amounts to hundreds of billions of dollars wasted. You and I both know that if our spelling was perfected, that expenditure would not stop. Instead, English-speaking students would attend school the same number of years, but they would finally be able to compete with students of the same age in non-English-speaking industrialized nations.

The (often-unrecognized) illiterates among us adversely affect our entire nation. Illiterates not only cause large expenditures for their needs, but also their inabilities harm the trade balance with other nations, and result in outsourcing and many other causes of American jobs being sent overseas as explained by Thomas Friedman’s book, The Earth is Flat.

 The Solution to Illiteracy in English:

Based upon Dr. Laubach’s experience, what English-speaking people need is English spelled phonemically. A spelling system known as NuEnglish is phonemically perfect: a one-grapheme-to-one-phoneme correspondence. It has ten beneficial characteristics * that correct all the problems in present spelling. No other known spelling system proposed from the late 1800s to the present has all — or even most — of these beneficial characteristics.

Most people want to know the “cost of the cure” as mentioned in the second paragraph of this article. When people learn the cost of the cure is spelling reform, they may think the cost is too high. This is only until they learn these thirteen important, provable facts:

  1. At present, only slightly more than half of the students become fluent readers. Most of those who become fluent need at least two years to learn to read well enough to be able to keep increasing their reading vocabulary until they become fluent readers.
  2. Learning to read a phonemically perfect spelling system will be extremely easy. Present readers can learn the ten simple NuEnglish spelling rules in less than ten minutes and read NuEnglish at almost the same rate as they read present English spelling. Persons attempting to read NuEnglish material — even before learning the spelling system — were able to read aloud with only an occasional two- or three-second stumble over some of the words. Present readers can easily return to present reading rates with a couple of months of experience in reading NuEnglish.
  3. With proper instruction, the better beginning readers will be able to read NuEnglish fluently in a week, as Dr. Laubach stated. All but the most mentally handicapped will certainly be able to become fluent readers of NuEnglish in less than three months. A month or two after becoming fluent in NuEnglish, beginning readers will be able to read at the same rate as readers who are fluent in our present chaotic spelling system — or more likely: somewhat faster.
  4. No overall statistically significant improvement in reading education in English has been made since our ridiculous spelling system was frozen in 1755. All those who object to attacks on our spelling by claiming that “English is a beautiful language” or “We should not attack our ‘mother tongue’ ” need to get serious! How many immigrants or beginning readers would call English a “beautiful language” while struggling to learn to read our present illogical, inconsistent spelling?
  5. A phonemic spelling system has been proven effective by Dr. Laubach’s work in more than 300 alphabetic languages, as explained in the section, “Proof That a Phonemic Spelling System Will SOLVE the Problem,” above.
  6. Although English-speaking nations have tried a multitude of ways to solve the problem since 1755, correcting our spelling by freezing the spelling of the phonemes instead of the words is the only solution that will ever work.
  7. In the long run, correcting our spelling will save money rather than costing! We will not have to replace the reading textbooks every five or six years when the “new and improved” teaching method comes out that addresses the symptoms of the difficulty of reading without solving the problem causing the difficulty. We will only replace textbooks when they physically wear out; and the reading textbooks will be much smaller and easier to prepare. Most of the content can simply be children’s classical literature (much of which has exceeded the copyright date) transposed into English spelled phonemically by use of a computer program.
  8. All reasonable objections * to spelling reform have been thoroughly debunked by reputable, respected scholars.
  9. Numerous benefits of finally correcting our spelling system far overbalance any objections (even the unreasonable ones) that persons resisting change may have.
  10. Dozens of scholars for the last 250 years or more have recommended spelling reform.
  11. Thirty-three nations, both smaller and larger than the U.S., both advanced and developing nations, have simplified their spelling.
  12. The need for a higher literacy rate is greater than ever in our increasingly complex world. Very few of today’s jobs do not require literacy. International trade is making most jobs increasingly competitive.
  13. Appropriate to unlucky thirteen, however, here is the kicker: comprehensive spelling reform has never been attempted in English! There are two significant reasons why this is true: (1) there are several reasons why most people do not know * the seriousness of the problem — as you now know, if you have read the “Proof That English Spelling Causes Serious Problems” section above.  (2) Most people, familiar only with the difficulty of learning present English spelling, have difficulty understanding that students can quickly, easily learn to read * with a perfect phonemic spelling system. For those who may have disbelieved the facts about the seriousness of the problem or the ease of implementing the solution, the website below addresses both of these reasons. Due to the seriousness of the problem of functional illiteracy in English, you are challenged to prove to yourself whether what is presented here is factual or not.

 What Must Be Done to Ensure Success in Ending Illiteracy in English:

No humanitarian project — no matter how worthy — can succeed unless enough people know about it. Publicity is essential for the success of almost any project. There are more than 1.3 billion English-speaking people around the world. An estimated 600 million English-speaking people around the world — more than 93 million in the U.S. alone — are desperately hoping that you and I will help them end their functional illiteracy in English. All that is needed to begin the process of definitely and permanently ending illiteracy in English is to publicize the proven solution to illiteracy. If enough people know about the seriousness of the problem and the ease of solving the problem, the problem will be solved. Otherwise, how can anyone claim to have any compassion whatsoever for the problem?

Bob Cleckler, has been working passionately since 1985 to help end illiteracy in English. A careful, honest evaluation of his ending illiteracy in English website will take only six minutes. The proofs in six of the “Read More” pages mentioned above are as follows. The shocking extent * of functional illiteracy in English (page 2), why we do not know * the extent of the problem (page 3), the seriousness * of the effects of illiteracy (page 4), the characteristics * of NuEnglish (page 8), how to quickly, easily learn to read * NuEnglish (page 10), and objections * to spelling reform (page 11). There is a “Media Page” link on our website, in the left-hand column, with an informative video about our humanitarian project. There are five blogs on ending illiteracy, all of which are available by clicking “IMPORTANT LINKS.” Gary Sprunk, M.S. English Linguistics, prepared the website that has the Respeller, a computer program — with a database of more than 617,000 traditionally spelled English words — that will quickly transpose up to 25 pages of traditional spelling into NuEnglish. Cleckler wrote the latest version of his award-winning book, Let’s End Our Literacy Crisis, in 2012. To allay any suspicions that his passion is only to make money on his book, rather than an earnest desire to help hundreds of millions of people, this second revision is a 265-page e-book in PDF format that is available at no cost or obligation of any kind in the left-hand column of the website. It has 164 pages of text, 8 Appendixes in 46 pages, 178 extensive notes and references, a Glossary, an extensive bibliography, an index, and other features. This book proposes a plan for implementing NuEnglish, and it will answer any of the questions that our website does not answer.

Serious Hidden Problems Often STAY Hidden

What happens when a serious problem is reported? Sometimes, nothing is done! Sometimes the situation has to become so serious that reasonable people cannot continue to ignore the problem. As an example, numerous people can complain for years about a dangerous street intersection where numerous “close calls” occur, but city officials often will not spend the money for a traffic light until a traffic accident occurs in which someone is killed, forcing their hand. Although any honest, informed observer would call our present functional illiteracy rate a crisis, the problem is so well hidden that we continue to ignore it.

No overall statistically significant changes were made in the teaching of reading following the release of the report of the most statistically accurate and comprehensive study of U.S. adult functional illiteracy ever commissioned by the U.S. government. Millions of functional illiterates continue to suffer serious problems and all of us — and our nation — continue to waste money as a result of illiteracy. The costs of illiteracy include (1) the pain and suffering of the functional illiterates enduring — every day of their lives — at least 34 different kinds of serious physical, mental, emotional, medical, and financial problems that we would consider a crisis if the problems were ours, (2) the cost of welfare and other government programs that illiterates use, which are paid from our taxes, (3) the many costs of truancy, juvenile delinquency, and crime directly related to illiteracy, which are paid from our taxes, and (4) the higher cost of consumer goods because of the extensive recruiting and training costs and the cost of preventing and correcting mistakes and inefficiencies of functional illiterates in the workplace. Although, for those of us who are literate, the problems facing the illiterates are unacceptable to any truly compassionate person, the non-monetary costs affect every U.S. adult — reader and non-reader. Illiteracy costs every U.S. adult an average of at least $5,000 each year and is part of the reason that many jobs are out-sourced to overseas companies where the functional literacy rate — and therefore the educational attainment — is higher.

Why is nothing significant done about illiteracy? Almost no one — including few, if any, in the media — knows an effective strategy to permanently end illiteracy. The problem is not publicized because educational and political authorities do not know what to do about our literacy crisis, and the media do not want to incur their wrath by continuing to report on a problem that our leaders do not know how to solve.

Dozens of scholars over the last 250 years have recommended a solution that will succeed, however. You can see an overview of the problem and the simple, proven solution while learning about the serious problem of English functional illiteracy. You can read the homepage of this website in less than six minutes. More significantly, you can see the proof of everything on the homepage in the eleven “Read More” pages (which can also be accessed from the left-hand column), and you can learn how — with just a few minutes of your time — you can help bring a permanent end to our very serious, provable literacy crisis.

The Only Proven Solution to Our Educational Problems

This very important blog concerning ending English functional illiteracy with a very much more efficient method of teaching fluent reading can be accessed with this link. It is not posted here because of Search Engine Optimization downgrade of duplicate posts.

Should We Spend More Money on Education?

The U.S. spends more on education per pupil than any other nation except Switzerland, and yet our students have ranked near the bottom in recent scholastic competitions with other industrialized nations. English functional illiteracy is a much more serious problem than most Americans realize. Although almost everyone involved in education, as well as many politicians, want more money spent on education, spending more money is not the solution. Several of the states in the U.S. which spend the most per pupil have the worst student performance and several of the states which spend the least per pupil have the best student performance. Statistics also do not support the belief that a smaller class size will guarantee improved educational performance. See Chapter 4 of William J. Bennett’s book, The Index of Leading Cultural Indicators, for the details of our literacy crisis.

Educational scholars know that reading is the foundation of all learning; learning to read is needed for success in class-work, home-work, and testing in all, or nearly all, of today’s school subjects. Dr. Frank C. Laubach, who is arguably the world’s foremost authority on teaching reading — he taught adult illiterates around the world in over 300 languages — found that in 98% of the languages in which he taught, his students became fluent readers in less than three months. Laubach’s books, Teaching the World to Read and Forty Years With the Silent Billion, never mention even one student whom Laubach failed to teach to read fluently. About half of U.S. students do not become fluent readers — they can only read a thousand or so simple words learned in the first three grades in school — as shown by the fact proven in the Adult Literacy in America report that 48.7% of U.S. adults are functionally illiterate (defined as being unable to read and write well enough to hold an above-poverty-level-wage job).

Furthermore, most of the slightly more than half of U.S. students who do become fluent reader require more than two years to become fluent readers. In simpler times, there were many manual labor jobs which could be held successfully by functional illiterates; very few, if any, of today’s jobs can be held successfully by functional illiterates. Those who are functionally illiterate have serious physical, mental, emotional, and medical problems as well as financial problems due to their illiteracy and their low-paying jobs.

If most of us had to endure the problems that functional illiterates must constantly endure, we would consider it a crisis. For the sake of an estimated 600 hundred million of English-speaking functional illiterates around the world (over 93 million in the U.S. alone), for the sake of every U.S. adult (both reader and non-reader) who must spend well over $5,000 every year because of illiteracy, and for the sake of our nation in world trade competition, we very badly need to end English functional illiteracy. Those who carefully evaluate this website will want to take the simple, easy action to bring a permanent end to our very real literacy crisis.

An April 2008 Example of Hiding America’s Dirty Little Secret

Fig3ANationAccountable copy

A very damning report on American education was issued in April 2008 by the U.S.Department of Education, titled “A Nation Accountable.” For many years I have read the newspaper and watched TV new every day, and I saw no reference to this report. The report may have circulated in some governmental circles, but the report was apparently never shown to the American public. Unless you carefully examined this report, the seriousness of the problem of American education — particularly the problem of teaching reading — you probably do not know that the twenty-five year follow-up to the 1983 A Nation At Risk report showed no overall statistically significant improvement. This blog will quote some of the highlights of the report so you can better understand our present problems with American education. You are urged to follow this link to see the entire 25 page report.

“Executive Summary: “If we were ‘at risk’ in 1983, we are at even greater risk now. The rising demands of our global economy, together with demographic shifts, require that we educate more students to higher levels than ever before. Yet, our education system is not keeping pace with these growing demands

. . . . We simply cannot return to the “ostrich approach” and stick our heads in the sand while grave problems threaten our education system, our civic society, and our economic prosperity. We must consider structural reforms that go well beyond current efforts, as today’s students require a better education than ever before to be successful.”

Introduction:  In the spring of 1983, the National Commission of Excellence in Education issued A Nation At Risk — its eye-opening report that indicted education officials, school leaders, and the American public for complacency. The university presidents, eminent scientists, policymakers, and educators who made up the Commission refused to paint a happy face on the eroding quality of American education. They said that we had become self-satisfied about our leading position in the world and ‘lost sight of the basic purposes of schooling, and of the high expectation and disciplined effort needed to attain them.’

1. How Far We’ve Come: Curriculum Content: . . . by 2005 almost 65 percent of high school graduates were taking the recommended course work — four times the rate that students took the recommended course work in 1983. Yet, while we have coma a long way, it is a national shame that nearly a third of our high school student still do not take the rigorous program of study recommended in 1983 for all students. . . .

“The Commission was disturbed by the easy courses and ‘curricular smorgasbord’ available to high school students. Unfortunately, this has not changed greatly. Both easy courses and this smorgasbord still remain, with diluted content now hiding behind inflated course names. . . .the reading scores of 20 students born in 1983, who turned 17 in 2000, would have been the same as those of a similar group of students who turned 17 in 1984. . . .

A Nation At Risk anticipated that our secondary schooling deficiencies could eventually threaten the quality of the entire K-12 system, and this [No Child Left Behind] legislation has generated data that, unfortunately, confirm this threat.

1. How Far We’ve Come: Standards and Expectations: {T}eaching materials that are demonstrably effective are still rare.

        “1. How Far We’ve Come: Time: In 1983, the Commission was concerned that American children spent less time in school than children in other countries. . . . However, our children do not spend more days in school than they did in 1983, save for those in some charter schools or in a few state or local pilot programs. . . . Nonetheless we are spending fewer hours per week on academic subjects and have a shorter school year than many other industrialized countries.

“1. How Far We’ve Come: Teacher Quality: While most teachers have taken steps necessary to meet their states’ Highly Qualified Teacher definition, there is little evidence to conclude that his provision has led to notable increases in the requisite subject-matter knowledge of teachers or to increases in measure of individual teacher effectiveness. . . .

        “Progress has . . . been made on recommendations that required real change, if they were supported by powerful political groups in education, especially teachers’ unions. . . . Virtually no progress has been made on recommendations that required real change if they were opposed by the same interest groups. For example, merit pay for teachers remains negligible, and the school year has not lengthened.

“1. How Far We’ve Come: Leadership and Financial Support: [T]he Commission stressed the importance of providing the resources such a system would require. As they noted, ‘Excellence costs. But in the long run mediocrity costs far more.

        “II. What Has Been the Result of These Efforts and, More Importantly, Are We Still At Risk? In 1983, we faced a grave risk of losing our leading position in the world, the Commission warned. We had little idea of how we were doing, and we were happily complacent in assuming that we had, and would continue to have, the best schools money could buy. The report challenged this illusion and forced us to recognize the profound deficiencies in our educational system. In the last two decades, policymakers have worked to develop measurement systems that obviate the need for another such surprising report and that keep the country aware of the challenges we face

“As a result of No Child Left Behind, we now have annual test score data on students in reading and math from the third grade through the eighth grade and one in high school. We are able to see how well each of the approximately 96,000 public schools in our country is performing, not just overall but also for each group of students a school serves, such as minority students, students with disabilities, and English language learners. We have transformed ourselves from a nation at risk of complacency to a nation that is accountable and at work on its education weaknesses. We now know the daunting scope of the problem — and must enlist everyone to address weaknesses if we are to make progress up the mountain. . . .

“American education outcomes on international comparisons have not improved significantly since the 1970s. International tests show that the United States is, at best, runing in place, while other nations are passing us by.. Many countries now match or exceed us, not only in the number of years their children attend school but also in how much those children learn. The United States was the world leader in high schoold completion, but among our 25-34 year olds, it has now slipped to 10th place, falling behind such countries as Canada, Switzerland, and South KOrres. It may fall farther behind yet. The same is true for achievement. On most international tests, the United States is standing still while others are gaining ground. With performance like this, it’s no wonder that most foreign children studying in the United States find our schools easier than the ones they left back home — despite the fact that Americans spend more money per student than almost any other country in the world.

“III. Remaining Challenges: On a strictly domestic level our performance at the high schoollevel is as alarming s it was at the time of A Nation At Risk, if not worse. Of major concern here is the number of students dropping out of school before getting their high school diplomas. States and districts have used a varietyof way to measure graduation rates, pointing to the need for more accuracy and consistencyin these calculations. Some of these methods are misleading, and result in numbers near 90 percent. :However, a more accurate measure is the percentage of student who graduate after starting ninth grade four years earlier — which is only 70 percent for the class of 2006.

        “The situation is even more troubling for minority students in the inner cities. Half of them do not graduate from high school on time — a staggering fact. . . . It is sobering to realize that iin 2006, nearly 60 percent of high school dropouts over the age of 25 were either unemployed or not participating in the workforce at all.

“Educational quality directly affects individual earnings, and dropouts are much more likely than their peers who graduate to be unemployed, living in poverty, receiving public relief, in prison, on death row, unhealthy, or single parents. High school dropouts, on average, earn $8,100 less per year than high school graduates, and about $1 million less over a lifetime than college graduates. On an annual basis, the median income for those with a college degree was over $51,000 in 2007, while for high school dropouts it was only $22,000. [precisely: dropouts: $22,256, high school graduates: $31,408, college graduates: $51,324]

“But the tragedy is not a burden of the individual alone. High dropout rates also affect our communities and the nation because of the loss of productive workers and the higher costs associated with increased incarceration, health care and social services. A report noted, ‘Four out of every 10 young adults (ages 16-24) lacking a high school diploma received some [sort of public relief] in 2001.’ This report also noted, ‘. . . a dropout is more than eight times as likely tob in jal or prison as a person with at least a high school diploma.’

“IV. Looking Ahead: While we are no longer complacent or idle, we continue to face many challenges, several of which did not even exist in 1983. The standards and accountability movement has resulted in new transparency in student achievement — by grade, subgroup, and subject, and by school, district, and state. While we are finally capable of defining our difficulties, the full solutions to some of them have not yet been found. Where solutions have been found,  they have not been put fully in place because not everyone is willing to accept and make the changes that are necessary. . . .

        “Schools today must not only keep pace with rapid advances in technology (which are slowly changing the way students and teachers learn and interact) but also work to address increasing threats to school safety. . . . We know, from emerging research on schools in Illinois and Florida, that students who attend charter middle and high schools have been substantially more likely to graduate with a standard diploma and attend college than their counterparts in traditional public schools. . . .

“Furthermore, the magnitude of our problems in secondary education is becoming increasingly clear. Our high schools have not improved enough since A Nation At Risk. . . .

        “Education makes not only the individual better off but also the society.”


Note that although reading is the foundation of all learning in schools — it is required for class-work, homework, and testing, in almost every subject — the graph above shows that the reading scores of 9-, 13-, and 17-year-olds have been essentially flat from 1984 to 2004 while the cost per pupil has gone from $5,896 to $9,116.

America’s Dirty Little Secret, II

This important link gives a very good introduction to the humanitarian project of Literacy Research Associates, Inc. and NuEnglish, Inc. (two non-profit educational corporations) to permanently end English functional illiteracy. It is not duplicated here for SEO purposes.

The Reformation of the 21st Century?

In the Foreword to the breakthrough new book, Let’s End Our Literacy Crisis, Second Revision, Dr. Robert S. Laubach, President Emeritus of Laubach Literacy International (now joined with Literacy Volunteers of America to form ProLiteracy) said that what this book proposes “may well become the Reformation of the Twenty-First Century.” It can only do so, of course, if enough people learn how serious the problem of English functional illiteracy really is and learn about the simple, proven solution the book proposes.

That is where you come in. For the sake of an estimated 600 million English-speaking people (out of more than 1.3 billion English-speakers) who are functionally illiterate in English — including more than 93 million in the U.S. alone — and for your own sake and the sake of every other U.S. adult (reader and non-reader alike) spending at least $5,000 each year (1) for taxes supporting programs illiterates use, (2) for truancy, juvenile delinquency, and crime directly related to illiteracy, and (3) for the increased cost of consumer goods due to higher recruiting and training costs and for the mistakes and inabilities of functional illiterates in the workplace, you badly need to see an overview of the problem and the solution to English functional illiteracy and see the much more authoritative and comprehensive details of how to end our very real literacy crisis. The “English functional illiteracy” link above has a link in the left-hand column for downloading — at no cost — a .pdf formatted copy of the 265 page E-book, Let’s End Our Literacy Crisis, Second Revision. This breakthrough book has all the facts and figures about the problem and its solution that will convince even the most confirmed skeptic who will carefully, honest read it.

The Business of Illiteracy


The Cost to Business at $4 Billion per Year, The Cost to Canadian Society Has Been Estimated at $10 Billion per Year$60 billion annually in Loss to U.S. Companies, Experts Estimate $225 billion a Year in Loss to the American Economy If these headlines had appeared on the front page of your news outlet, they might have grabbed your attention. The reality, however, is that they appeared under the radar, in what most people would consider dull “White Papers”. The actual abstracts are:

……The cost of illiteracy to Canadian society has been estimated at $10 billion per year, the cost to business at $4 billion — Journal article YLB.

…… And if measured in terms of financial interest, it means literacy problems cost corporate America about $60 billion a year in lost productivity — National Institute for Literacy.

……Experts estimate that low literacy costs the American economy $225 billion a year in lost productivity — Carnevale, Gainer & Meltzer, The American Society for Training and Development, 1988 and The Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills, U.S. Department of Labor, 1991.

North America’s business community is well aware of the implications of this data. It’s been trying to curtail these and future losses for decades with resources that have proved insufficient given the size of the problem.

In 1990, Southwestern Bell received 15,000 job applications; only 800 passed the company’s basic skills test. In Texas, which ranks second behind only California in its quantity of technology workers, an estimated 34,000 skilled technology jobs go unfilled. 500,000 Information Technology jobs in the U.S. went unfilled last year. This number is expected to surpass 1 million in two years.

The state of Massachusetts discovered that more than one-third of its 3.2 million workers are ill-equipped to meet the demands of a rapidly changing economy. Of that one-third, many have high school diplomas but lack the basic math, reading, writing and analytical skills needed to perform adequately in the workplace.
: The Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth

General Motors devotes more than 15% of the $170 million it spends yearly on job training to remedial education. 50% of Fortune 500 companies underwrite remedial training for employees. The cost? $300 million a year. According to labor data, bypassing intelligent, hard working, ambitious applicants due to skills deficiencies risks running out of applicants altogether.

In 1987, Xerox Corporation chairman David Kearns foresaw the necessity of hiring unqualified employees for the sake of company expansion. According to Kearns, businesses throughout the U.S. could be forced to hire one million entry-level employees annually who are unable to read or write. Recent government statistics support Kearns’ prognosis: between 1995 and 1998, the number of companies suffering shortages of skilled labor surged.

Polaroid established the first on-the-job basic skills program in the early 1970s. Other companies followed. Still, 90% of American companies lack job training programs. An exception is Hershey Foods in Pennsylvania, which sends any employee without a high school diploma to GED classes.
Source: “Illiteracy in the Workplace”, Jane A. Malonis, Encyclopedia of Business;, Nov., 2008,

Springfield, MA-based Smith and Wesson has been using the University of Massachusetts since the late 1980s as a source for training in remedial skills and English as a Second Language (ESL). In 1996, with production work diversifying, it expanded its skills training. ”We needed something more formal and aggressive,” said Bob Pion, director of training for Smith and Wesson. “So we turned to a professional organization dedicated to skills issues.” Enter Workplace Education Group (South Hadley, MA), called upon to advise Smith and Wesson on its workforce training needs.

But implementation costs can be preemptive. Start-up costs range from $2,500 to $100,000. Few companies can afford the $35 million on literacy training that Motorola, Inc. had expended by 1993. The training afforded the company the luxury of turning away job applicants whose reading and writing skills fell below the seventh-grade level.

And even though a minimum of an eighth-grade literacy level increasingly disqualifies applicants in today’s workplace, as a starting point for training, it is much more cost effective. Only 13% of American companies offer remedial training to employees in literacy and math, down from a high of 24% in 1993, according to an AMA study released last year. The decrease belies a crucial finding of the study: 38% of applicants lacked the necessary reading, writing and math skills to do the jobs they sought, a 15% increase in the past two years alone.

According to statistics published in 1998 by the National Institute for Literacy, skills deficiencies cost businesses more than $60 billion annually, an amount comparable to Mobil Corporation’s 1997 revenues.
: America’s 60 Billion Problem, Dannah Baynton

The 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) indicated that in 1993, 29% of adults who scored below “basic” on the prose scale of the National Adult Literacy Survey (NALS) were employed full-time. This number rose to 35% in 2003. Translation: 10.8 million adults were working full-time in the United States with the lowest level of literacy skills. An additional 10%, over 3 million, were working part-time at this level, a two percent increase from 1993.

The increase suggests a need to revive the federal government’s National Workplace Literacy Program (NWLP) of the late 1980s through the mid-1990s. The NWLP provided grants for developing and delivering adult literacy, numeracy, and English language educational programs directly in, or in close proximity to, places where low literacy adults work.
: Tom Sticht, International Consultant in Adult Education

Outsourcing to the Top of the List

According to a United Nations survey, the U.S. ranks 49th out of 158 participating nations in adult literacy. Below are the literacy rates of three of the top ten locations where U.S. businesses outsource accounting, IT, services and manufacturing positions:

  • Russia – 98%
  • Philippines – 94%
  • India – 65.38%

Philippines, ranking high at 94%, is home to many bilingual citizens — Filipino and English are widely spoken. A study released from the University of California at Berkeley says the U.S. lost more than 1 million white-collar jobs in the 1990s and “hundreds of thousands more since the turn of the century.” The study also shows that outsourcing is accelerating.

“If you simultaneously read Indian newspapers and U.S. newspapers, you’re going to get a good correlation between layoffs here and jobs being created there,” said Ashok Deo Bardhan, a researcher for the study. He added that as many as 30,000 jobs were lost to India in June alone, and that 14 million U.S. service jobs are vulnerable.
: Hiawatha Bray, The Boston Globe, Nov. 2, 2003

An emerging global economy is shaping economic conditions in the U.S. The phenomenon is profoundly altering the nature of work. Jobs that require repetitive tasks are declining and their pay rates are decreasing. The manufacturing industry is particularly vulnerable. Multi-national corporations can conduct operations anywhere in the world, often choosing locations based on optimum wage levels and productivity. Routine processes are increasingly performed in third world countries at wages inadequate for workers in developed countries.

Living wages in developed countries are earned by jobs that require advanced skills and increased productivity. Service industries, especially those that do not require face-to-face customer interaction, are following manufacturing’s lead.
: Reich, 1992

The National Adult Literacy Survey (Kirsch, Jungeblut, Jenkins & Kolstad, 1993) shows that about 50% of American adults perform at the lower two of five literacy levels reported by the survey. Both are considered functionally illiterate. The 18- to 30-year-old age bracket represents the highest levels of functional illiteracy. Someone from this age group may already be working next to you. Nearly 2 million students graduating from high schools annually are in this group — functionally illiterate — a frustrating reality for American business and industry we are all paying for.

Does literacy really pay off? Companies took it upon themselves to find out. Zircoa, manufacturer of nonclay refractories in Solon, Ohio, measured the productivity and profits of 10 workers in 10 different jobs. After remedial skills training, the total profit from these workers jumped from $14,000 to $75,000.

Marine Mechanical, a Euclid, Ohio-based supplier of propulsion systems, tracked specific machine-related productivity levels during its training programs. A 60% decline in parts deviations resulted.

One company reported improved attendance and decreased worker’s comp claims. Two others reported lower scrap and waste levels. And one boasted that its scrap costs declined from $256,900 to $168,200 after just one year of training.

Over the past two decades, there has been an increase in workplace-based literacy programs. The growth is likely to continue. Workplace technology and organizational restructuring are altering the nature of jobs. Workers are learning new skills or finding employment in different areas. These changes mean more training, producing the collateral effect of improved literacy skills.

True literacy is a necessity to remain employable in an increasingly competitive job market. It gives potential employees an edge. Statistics show that pre-employment literacy training or the use of a “Self Directed” program such as the Literacy Pod,, makes candidates far more desirable and financially successful.

A look at the relationship between national literacy rates and per capita Gross National Product (GNP) suggests a strong correlation between literacy and increased income levels.

  • Literacy Rate GNP per capita below 40%: less than $600
  • Literacy Rate GNP per capita above 98%: more than $12,000

The message, at least in individual economic terms, is that literacy pays off. Illiteracy may also mean income loss for society as a whole. In 1993, according to the National Adult Literacy Survey, adult illiteracy in the U.S. carries an estimated price tag of more than $17 billion per year, including lost income, tax revenue, welfare, unemployment, crime and incarceration, and training costs for business and industry. This suggests that the price of illiteracy for society outweighs the cost of getting people literate.

Stats and More Stats

  • The military spends $70 million per year on remediation for recruits.
  • 50% of the chronically unemployed are not functionally literate.
  • An adult without a high school diploma earns 42% less than an adult with a high school diploma
  • High school dropouts have an unemployment rate 4 times greater than that of high school graduates.
  • 41-44% of adults who scored at Level I on the National Adult Literacy Survey (1992) were in poverty, compared with 4-6% of adults who scored at the highest level.
    : Ohio Literacy Resource Center

Some researchers support the view that literacy skills should be taught in a discrete, carefully sequenced way. This approach is thought to be appropriate for people at an especially low level of skills, some of whom might have learning disabilities that make traditional methods ineffective.
: Shaywitz & Shaywitz, 2001

One study found that with an incremental approach, “… almost 70 % of workers reported math and/or reading improvements. They noted improved work accuracy, more confidence, a greater sense of company loyalty and, in the end, a more efficient workday. Supervisors observed a greater openness to change among employees, a general attitude improvement in teamwork, and identified broader options for promotion.”

Another study concluded the matter most persuasively: ”Experts estimate that low literacy costs the American economy $225 billion a year in lost productivity. Improved workplace literacy can increase employees’ efficiency, effectiveness, and productivity on the job. As a result, employers experience greater customer satisfaction and process improvement, a lower incident of accidents, reduced waste, and fewer errors.” That’s a cost we can live with.

English Spelling: a Case of Psychological Child Abuse


Modification of an article by Abraham F. Citron, Ph.D.
Dept. of Educ. Sociology, Wayne State Univ, Detroit, Mi. (1913-2006)

At the portals of education we have laid, not a highway, but a labyrinth.

Brainwashed as we are, we do not perceive our spelling as difficult, irrational, deceptive, inconsistent, clumsy, frustrating and wasteful; but it is and especially so to children.

Our spelling devours hours of study for years, squanders teachers’ energy, blocks and frustrates children, renders writing more onerous and reading more difficult, strings out our words and inflates every cost of written communication. Our child-defeating spelling is one of the basic sources of academic discouragement and failure, aiding in the transformation of many children into psychological or physical dropouts.

The large majority of elementary and high school students in this country are either very poor, poor or mediocre spellers; the big majority of adults are no better. Millions of student hours are spent on spelling, millions of dollars are spent in teaching time, yet results are quite poor. Most students dislike spelling, many students abhor it.

Make no mistake about it, spelling is inextricably interactive with reading; our inconsistent spelling contributes greatly to reading difficulties.

Our culture is based on words and on power over words; our instructional system is built almost entirely of words. Every other power and expansion in academics comes through mastery of words. Even the artist, mathematician, musician, athlete finds his or her career stunted without power over words. Our system moves on words, runs on words, exists on and in words. At the narrow base of this immense system are 26 letters which we combine into hundreds of thousands of written words.

Much depends, therefore, on how we combine these letters. Note that we are working with an alphabet not at all designed for the sounds of English, but borrowed from the Romans, who had designed it to express the sounds of Latin. At the outset we are stuck with only 26 letters to express 41 (some say 44) phonemes of spoken English.

A second difficulty which has been gathering on our word system over centuries is that letters have been combined into words according to differing schemes at different times, letters have been stuck on just to justify lines of print, spellings have been borrowed from other languages. We have changed the sound of letters, we have changed the way we pronounced words while the spelling has often congealed on the old form. All this and more has evolved over centuries in haphazard ways.

The result is that we have inherited an orthographic system full of inconsistencies, irrationalities, quirks, exceptions and disorganization. And because, by the time we have become adults, we are accustomed to it, we unthinkingly force this “system” on our children.

We double-cross children in hundreds of ways as they struggle to master our unnecessarily difficult word forms.

We teach children a hard ‘c’ as in ‘cat,’ ‘can,’ ‘candy,’ and then double-cross them with words such as ‘certain,’ ‘center,’ ‘cement.’ In a word such as ‘cease,’ the first ‘s’ sound is expressed with a ‘c,’ the second with an ‘s ‘; in ‘civic,’ two different sounds are expressed with ‘c.’ Observe what a complicated mess we make with ‘necessary.’ We teach children to sound ‘k’ as in ‘kick,’ ‘kid,’ ‘klan,’ and then confront them with ‘knee,’ ‘knob,’ ‘knife,’ etc. Further, if hard ‘c’ and ‘k’ are sounded alike, why do we need them both? We teach children ‘p’ as in ‘poor,’ ‘put,’ ‘push,’ then force them to handle ‘photo,’ ‘phrase,’ ‘pneumonia,’ etc.

We cross up children with our miserable ‘ie’ and ‘ei’ combinations as in ‘believe’ and ‘receive’; and the “i before e” rule is little help since the exceptions are nearly as numerous as the examples. With ‘craze’ and ‘haze’ we use a ‘z’, but to express the same sound in ‘please’ and ‘tease’ we use an ‘s.’ We cross up the kids by spelling ‘lease’ with an ‘s’ and then ‘fleece,’ the same sound, with a ‘c.’ In both these words, the vowel has the same sound but in one we express it with a double ‘e’ and in the other with ‘ea.’

We force children to drag along outmoded and useless ‘ough’ forms in words such as ‘through,’ ‘bough,’ ‘plough,’ ‘though,’ ; and useless ‘gh’s in a host of words such as ‘light,’ ‘might,’ ‘bright,’ ‘night,’ etc. Our spelling is literally laced with these inconsistent and meaningless forms outmoded in the long, long ago.

[Professor Julius Nyikos, of Washington and Jefferson College, did a comprehensive study of the spelling of the phonemes in six standard, desk-size dictionaries. He found 1,768 ways of spelling 40 English phonemes! If he had included unabridged dictionaries in his research he would have undoubtedly found several others.] [1] [Furthermore, there 26 single letters and at least 341 combinations of from two to five letters to represent a single phoneme. There is not even one English spelling rule without exceptions — some of the exceptions have exceptions! A computerized attempt to use a set of 203 spelling rules was able to spell correctly only 49% of a list of 17,000 common words.] [2]

What would happen in our educational system with numbers if we told children that a 2 was two except when it had the value of 4 or 7? Or take a more extreme example: what would happen to children if we used red lights for ‘stop’ only some of the time and green lights for ‘stop’ some of the time? Such examples highlight the cruciality of consistency in basic education. Yet we throw orthographic inconsistencies at children all the time and wonder why so many find our written system difficult. [3]

II. Reliability, Reliability, Reliability.
Children learn most of the things they need to know, without formal training. If we look at the way they learn it “naturally” we see that, given motivation, they learn things most quickly and easily if they can rely on an environmental response, if they can discern a pattern that does not fail them.

Learning to walk is a complex matter, but doubtless one reason it is achievable is that the child can depend on the forces of gravity, distribution of weight and balance, which are constant. The child is rewarded every time balance is maintained and taught by a tumble when balance is lost. The child feels balance being maintained or being lost.

Learning to talk is enormously complex, but again surely one reason it is achievable is that certain sounds are always associated with certain objects, actions, ideas. The spoken word ‘mother,’ or ‘mamma,’ or ‘ma’ always means a given person in a given role, as does ‘pa.’ The spoken syllable ‘milk’ always means milk, ‘jump’ means jump and so on. The sounds are reliable hence learnable. We have little trouble teaching children to tell time because we are consistent on the differing jobs of the clock hands, and we are consistent on the numbers and their positions on the clock face. Learning always involves perception of a pattern – the simpler and more reliable the pattern, the quicker the learning.

A basic principle of all learning is that children need a perceived reliable and integrated world as a basis for learning. All aspects of socialization, including necessary skills, are much more readily acquired if the child has the confident feeling of being in a reliable, secure and therefore a trusted world. Such a world is integrated in that one aspect of experience builds into or reinforces another. For example, learning to walk builds into learning to run, which builds into participation in (social interaction) children’s games requiring running. This means that learning to talk will build into learning to write and read. In an integrated world, writing and reading should be as closely and as naturally as possible linked to speaking.

The principle of reliability does not mean that a child [will] never be surprised or shocked or puzzled or discouraged. It does not require a world of monotony. But it does require a regularity of pattern in the skills crucial to the culture.

III. Our Present System Constitutes Psychic Child Abuse.
What is being insisted upon here is nothing other than we have all said repeatedly over the years as a basis for the education of children. We have said, “Don’t lie to children.” The position here put forward is that our spelling is deceptive — it is one lie after another and hence it constitutes, not education, but psychic child abuse. Unnecessarily difficult and confusing word forms, which many children fail, are not helping them to “grow” — it is not “educating” them — it is child abuse.

It is no less abuse because the system is administered in the name of knowledge and culture, or because it is enshrined in tradition. It is no less abuse because the forms come down to us wrapped in the prestige of “English literature:’ It is no less abuse because the system is standard throughout the land or because we all participate in it, nor because it is curricularized and blessed with the authority of every school board of every state. It is no less abuse because children cannot manage the perspective or the courage to cry out specifically against it. It is abuse because it traps children in needless drudgery and frustration, detracts from their feelings of success and of adequacy, defies and negates their sense of logic, robs many of them of love of written forms, and forces them over a course which many fail.

IV. For the children, we should have the courage to change.
Why haven’t we long ago shifted to a consistent phonemic spelling which was and is the intent of our alphabetic system? Despite high-sounding “lexical” and etymological rationalizations, the real reason is that we are used to the forms and do not want to undergo the inconvenience of change. As one graduate student put it, “I’ve learned to operate in one system and I’ll be damned if I’ll learn another.”

But tremendous educational and monetary benefits could be reaped through such a change. Before we opt for costly pie-in-the-sky gimmicks, we should reform our child-defeating spelling. Simplified spelling could be the most fundamental and far-reaching educational innovation since the introduction of the common school.

[1] Nyikos, Julius, “A Linguistic Perspective of Functional Illiteracy,” The Fourteenth LACUS Forum 1987 (Lake Bluff, Illinois: Linguistic Association of Canada and the United States, 1988), pp. 146-163.

[2] Kenneth H. Ives, Written Dialects N SpellingReforms: History N Alternatives (Chicago, Ill.: Prpgressiv Publishr, 1979), pp. 25, 80, 81.
[3] It is well known that experimental psychologists have induced apathy and behavioral breakdown in rats by training them in behavior leading to reward (food) and then switching the reward to punishment.

How Our Spelling Damages the Mind


A slight modification of an article by
Frederick Atherson Fernald, Ph.D.

Learning to read the English language is one of the worst mind-stunting processes that has ever formed a part of the education of any people. Its evil influence arises from the partly phonetic, partly lawless character of English spelling. Altho each letter represents some sound oftener than any other, there is hardly a letter in the alphabet that does not represent more than one sound, and hardly a sound in the language that is not represented in several ways, while many words are written with as many silent letters as significant ones.

Frequently, there is nothing in a word to indicate in which of these ways its component sounds are represented, nothing in the written group of letters to show which sounds they stand for, and which of them, if any, are silent, so that a learner can never be sure of pronouncing rightly an English word that he has not heard spoken, nor of spelling correctly one that he has never seen written. The spelling of almost every word must be learned by sheer force of memory. In this work the pupil’s reasoning powers cannot be utilized, but must be subdued, while his memory is sadly overworked.

In the affairs of the child’s daily life, the logical following of rules is rewarded; in learning to read, it brings him only bewilderment and discomfiture. He is taught that b-o-n-e stands for bohn (not bo-ne), and t-o-n-e for tohn, but also that d-o-n-e stands for dun, that g-o-n-e spells gawn, m-o-v-e spells moov, and b-r-o-n-z-e is bronz. Now when he comes in reading to another similar word, as none, he has no means of telling whether to call it nun, noon, or non; he can only took up at the teacher and wait to be told.

The influence of the spelling class quickly drives him to repress any inclination to reason, and he quickly gives himself up to a blind following of authority. Few children learn English spelling without getting the pernicious notion that cramming is better than thinking, and that common sense is a treacherous guide. The child who can take what he is told without asking why, who can repeat a rule without troubling himself about its meaning, gets along best. On the other hand, the child who has difficulty in learning to spell, may have to suppress his logical faculties. He is constantly trying to spell according to some principle, some rule, and of course, coming to grief.

Thus a boy who had long been at the foot of his spelling class, was one day given the word ghost, and, making a desperate attempt at analogy, (with roast), spelled it goast. Thus bringing shouts of laughter from his fellow students, he said, with clenched fist and tearful eyes, “You needn’t laugh; you all spell homelier ‘n that!” Thus, so much attention is given to spelling that children get false ideas of its importance.

The spelling, or graphic representation, becomes to them the word, while the spoken word is called the pronunciation, and is only thought of as an appendage. They learn to despise the poor speller, a prejudice which is never out-grown, and above all they become so absorbed in the manipulation of words that they have little chance to grasp the significance of the ideas for which the words were intended to stand.

If our notation of numbers were as irregular as our notation of speech, so that the numbers from 40 to 45, for instance, should be written as follows: 40, 741, 420, 43, 414, 225; and if no one could tell at sight whether a number like 7,243,812 contained several figures which were “silent,” or had exceptional values, who can doubt that the study of arithmetic, instead of being a valuable discipline, would be mere enervating drudgery? If it were proposed that children should learn a style of writing music which gave different values to the same characters, similarly placed, in different pieces and added a host of “silent” notes, the evils of learning such a system would be plainly seen. Yet many people who have forgotten their own sufferings in the spelling class cannot see that children are so very much perplexed in learning to spell, or perhaps maintain that the struggle involved “is good for them.”

“I know,” says Max Muller, “there are persons who can defend anything, and who hold that it is due to this very discipline that the English character is what it is; that it retains respect for authority; that it does not require a reason for everything; and that it does not admit that inconceivable is therefore impossible. Even English orthodoxy has been traced back to that hidden source, because a child once accustomed to believe that t-h-o-u-g-h is tho, and that t-h-r-o-u-g-h is thru, would afterwards believe anything. It may be so; still I doubt whether even such objects would justify such means.” Lord Lytton said, “A more lying, roundabout, puzzle-headed delusion than that by which we confuse the clear instincts of truth in our accursed system of spelling was never concocted by the father of falsehood. . . . How can a system of education flourish that begins by so monstrous a falsehood, which the sense of hearing suffices to contradict?”

Here is a chief cause of the incapacity for thinking which college students bring into the science laboratories. This irrational process, taken up when the child enters school, occupying a large share of his time, and continuing for six or eight years, has a powerful influence in shaping his plastic mind. When at last he is allowed to take up the study of nature — at the wrong end of his school career — what wonder that he sits with folded hands, waiting to be told facts to commit to memory, that he cannot realize what a law or rule is, and does not know to use his reason in deducing the answer to a problem?

Rational education will never flourish as it should till a reformation in the teaching of reading and spelling has been accomplished. Furthermore, Mr. J. H. Gladstone, member of the English School Board for London, has computed the number of hours spent by children in learning to read and spell English to be 2,320, while, in gaining an equal knowledge of their native tongue, Italian children spend only 945 hours. The difference amounts to nearly two school years and shows under what a disadvantage English-speaking children labor.

The most striking testimony to the irregularity of our spelling is the adoption by many teachers of a sort of Chinese mode of teaching reading. (Now it is called the whole word method!) The children are not taught that the letters represent constituent sounds of words, but they learn to recognize each group of letters as an arbitrary compound symbol standing for a word. This is more of a dead drag on the memory than even the A-B-C method, and if it could be completely carried out, would be a vastly longer process. The effect on the mind is certainly not good. Minds do have a saturation point.

“But what can be done,” will be asked, “shall our children grow up without learning to spell?” No, but the memorizing of these anomalies and contradictions can be, at least, put off till the pupil’s minds are in little danger of being perverted by it. Enough of the enormous amount of time spent on this drudgery can be saved to make possible the introduction of the study of things into the primary schools, and many of the millions of dollars which we spend each year for public education can be turned to imparting real knowledge instead of the mere tools of knowledge.

These ends may be attained by the use of phonetic spelling as an introduction to the customary spelling. Children can and do learn to read English, spelled phonetically, in a very few lessons, and then learn the traditional spelling so quickly afterward that much less time is required for the whole process than is commonly devoted to memorizing the current spelling alone. Classes taught to read this way, in Massachusetts, so early as 1851, proved the advantage of the method to the satisfaction of that able educator, Dr. Horace Mann, and the method has been successfully employed in many places in this country and in the British Isles.

[Will this information wake us up? So far it is met by the educational and political authorities with complete silence!] Probably due to the scepticism in the closed minds of our hierarchy of education.