Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Campaigns Against the Western Manner of Learning to Read and Applying English Grammar

Crucial Revision - The author of the American Thinker article linked below makes an strong argument that the "sight words/Dolch system had its roots with Leftist thinkers. He notes that, to a prominent Socialist behind this movement, illiteracy was no big deal. This is also included in the follow-up post just above the link to the American Thinker post.


A common (probably all-too-common) theme of posts on this blog are of those which describe modern-day deconstructions (Wrecking ball work - both overt and covert) of methods, ways of thought/living, beliefs, and practices of Western culture.

Before I proceed further, perhaps I should clarify my general outlook on innovation. I enthusiastically embrace new ways to doing things, especially when the functions of work, daily, life, etc. can be improved by new material, technology, and even thought if any of those can truly provide us with a better way to accomplish tasks and help others. At the risk of appearing to be a chest-thumper, I will also make it clear that I not only happily took to new things like digital photography, readers, software, etc, but had, early on, predicted, against the protests of those who detest any change, that things like E-readers (I of course did not call it that by name at the time) and wall-mounted digital photo albums would be commonly employed a short while down the road. 

The only reason that I felt the need to state these is to possibly head off any possible accusations of being "resistant to change".

That is, unfortunately, often the charge leveled against one who refuses to simply drop a way of living, learning, and thought that has not only been hallowed by time but has proven itself to be an extremely effective tool in teaching each new generation. Many of the Left (or they  who are influenced by it), very likely as a result of a desire to remove all traces of a cultural/linguistic foundation of a society, will delight in tearing apart many of the basic means of  teaching, learning, and applying grammatical disciplines that brought us to point where we are now. These people, who in their desire to create a cultureless and by extension completely malleable society, aggressively promote “multiculturalism” but will also need to utterly excise methods, practices, and  types of learning which provided a connection to one’s past. Two examples will be cited here; the continuous attack on the use of the alphabet* to teach reading, and the wholesale dropping of the proper use of prepositions in sentences.

(*This refers to the attacks in academia on the utilization of phonics to teach reading and writing)

Firstly, to treat the whole subject fairly, a short-as-possible history:

It is universally recognized that writing was a massive leap forward in the beginnings of civilizations. The rate and by which notes, events, observations, conclusions, etc, could be recorded, learned, passed on, and used along with other recorded documents to improve upon earlier knowledge was without a doubt multiplied immeasurably. The history of writing is inextricably tied in with the history of civilization and is itself the only true foundation of any real historical works. Verbally recorded traditions, while still valuable, cannot compete with the probable accuracy and lack of revisions of the written word. Even when, for example, Herodotus writes of gold-digging ants in faraway nations, he himself was most likely relying on verbal accounts that had been run through the rumor mill several times over. The vast majority of his notes, though, have proven to be extremely valuable for their accuracy and substantial effort put into his research.

We of course are aware of pictorial-based systems of writing such as Hieroglyphics. There is a reason that the very name for this system means “priestly writing”. They are, while accurate and valuable, so heavily-reliant on thousands of characters to represent words, ideas, etc. as to be the exclusive domain of the upper classes. Systems like those of ancient Egypt, the Mayan, Indus valley, early pre-cuneiform Sumerian, (All extinct) and even Chinese are extraordinarily difficult to teach to people in a reasonable period of time. For the vast majority of history, these systems of writing were relegated solely to the educated classes. Many hold that the Egyptian script goes back five thousand years.

By the time the second millennium BC rolled around, the Sumerians had long been using a vastly improved version of writing called cuneiform. This utilized impression impressed into clay tablets with a stylus. The number of characters was reduced to around a thousand and later by the Hittites of Anatolia to around 400. This was clearly an improvement but we had still not yet reached a point where the lower-class individual could be taught how to read and write with the amount of free time available to him.

Syllabaries or Open Syllabaries were another improvement in writing. These had come into place by the beginning of the sixteenth century and shortly after had been adopted by the Hittites, Minoans, and on Cyprus. The Achaean Greeks utilized an open syllabary (Linear B) adopted from the Minoan writing (Linear A). Syllabaries were a major step towards an effective system of writing that could be taught to those for whom the classroom (or desk) was a part of one’s life, not the whole thing. These could reduce the number or characters to around 80; Modern Korean is in fact a Syllabary. It utilizes signs for syllables such as the “ing’, “er”, “en” “tion” etc. in English (I know that I restricted it to suffixes, but you get the point). It is very effective and can put a young student on an equal footing with his older peers and, most importantly, provide him with the tools to decipher more complicated words as he grows older.

A word of warning – be very diplomatic when referring to the Korean system of writing as a syllabary when speaking with a Korean; they very much want to refer to their system as an alphabet and can become easily hurt.

The next big leap, and the one that most directly affects us, is the consonantal alphabet. It was the work of the Syro-Phoenecians and of course was utilized by their close relatives, the Hebrews. This alphabet, which as implied by its name does not have vowels, utilizes a single symbol for each individual sound. Depending on the amount of sounds in a language, we can now reduce the amount of symbols to, say, 25-40.

This is a major event. The student can be taught the sounds associated with each symbol, be given simple, one-syllable words to start, followed by two-syllable words and so on until he can “sound out” any word no matter how long it is or how many syllables it contains. It is difficult for us to appreciate how big a moment this was.

There is, though, a factor in these Semitic languages that could cause problems when applied to other languages. Semitic and Hamitic languages have vowel-type sounds that, in the words of Colin McEvedy, “occur in regular relation to the consonants”. In other words, in their languages vowel sounds follow certain consonants and those do not change. Vowel symbols are therefore not needed. Where in English, utilizing a consonantal alphabet would cause a problem with “hs” and we could not be sure if it meant “his”, "house", “has”, "hose", etc., this problem would not occur in the former languages.

The problem was resolved, of course, by the Greeks*, who removed from the consonantal alphabet a few symbols they would not need for their consonantal sounds and applied those to their vowel sounds. Voila!, we now have an alphabet, one that can be taught in a very brief period of time, allows one to read and write in an effective, clear manner very quickly, be utilized even to write most foreign words, and again provides the student with the ability to be able to read things like …”

Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”. Sorry, I couldn’t resist – but I did cheat and cut-and pasted that one.

Those who were taught the use the “Phonics” method probably have good memories of learning how to read. The first book that I read on my own was “We Feed the Deer. Learning to “sound out” words enabled me to tackle words with greater complexity. In time, I of course learned to pick up common words in a flash-recognition manner, thereby enabling me to, like most of us, read at a very rapid pace. I still, though, regularly apply the sounding-out phonics method when encountering words with which I am not familiar or foreign words written in our alphabet. While flash-recognition of words of course lets me rip through common, familiar words, no amount of flash-reading will enable me to actually be able to read.

Now we can slowly begin to approach the actual topic:

Modern English, contrary what many will say, is not a Germanic language. Old English was in fact a Germanic language, being very close to Friesian and also close to Dutch. These are two examples of Low German. Old English was the spoken language of England/Britain during the time of the Anglo-Saxon Kingdom(s). This language, along with pickups from the old Welsh/Briton (Brythonic Celtic), Scandinavian from the Danish and Norwegian Norsemen, (Vikings), some Latin, and some other bits and pieces continued in use among most people even after the Norman Conquest – the upper classes speaking Medieval French.

This situation – Germanic being spoken by some and a Romance (Latin-derived) by others, was not going to last forever. Slowly the languages began to mix. By the time period depicted in Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, one of the characters is described as speaking “The mixed language” This refers the Middle English. We remember it from Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. Whan that Aprille with his shourers soote The droghte of Marche hath perced to the roote”.

The language had reached a form mostly recognizable to us by the time of the Elizabethan era. Modern English actually has more words of Medieval French origin than of Old English (Germanic) origin. I believe the percentage here is around 27% French, 24% Old English. The rest is mage up by Welsh/Briton, Scandinavian, Greek, Latin (Direct absorption of Latin - not indirectly through French), and words/phrases incorporated from languages such as French in the modern era, like Lassez-fair.

The hybridization of the languages, along with a general failure to address the need to revise/overhaul the spelling of words, left us with a hodgepodge of different spellings
This fact is the primary cause of the difficulty that can be encountered in pronouncing certain words like cough, plough, etc. This in turn became the primary ammunition of the revisionists.

I will freely admit that, later in the US,  Noah Webster may have dropped the ball when he completed the American dictionary in which he successfully standardized much of our English spellings. (Note that English was far from standardized at the time of the foundation of the American Republic). “While he was there”, it would have been helpful had he overhauled the spellings of the rest of our words. Maybe he felt that he had pushed the enveloped far enough already.

Spanish, for example has an alphabet+ (I don’t know when it was revised nor does it matter for the purposes of this subject) that enables one to read every Spanish word with little likelihood of mispronouncing it.

+ [I don't like my choice of words in that case. I should have written "spelling" or "writing system"]

Since that event never occurred in English, Academia, predictably, came up with a false conclusion – since phonics-type reading does not work with every English word, then it must not work any English word. From there the regression into abandoning the teaching of reading to children was rapid. Teaching “reading” came to be viewed by many to be the act of repeatedly showing children flash cards in an effort to get them to recognize words by rote memorization as opposed to actually reading the words.

Fortunately for my eldest, this system had not been adopted the elementary schools [In our area] by the mid-90s and she was taught how to read and write. My youngest, though, was met with this like a freight train and the results were comparable with a train wreck. My youngest was a hard-working student, a pretty bright kid, and had no disabilities such as dyslexia+, but having him memorize pictures and calling that "reading" was clearly not working. When I saw what was going on, I approached the teacher, who clearly had been taken in by the smoke and mirrors of this system and was a strong advocate of effectively skipping steps one and two (Learning symbols for sounds (1) and having students apply that knowledge to letters placed together and have them learn to “sound them out”(2) ). She was, sadly, a very nice and clearly bright individual. In fact, I was more disappointed that this person, who was clearly no dolt, could not have seen that this flash-recognition system not only has no place in the teaching of reading to our youth but that it essentially and utterly ignores the very system that we have and utilize for reading and writing in the first place! Her response was that, with this system, “He will learn how to read like that “(Snaps her fingers) Well, my kid is in first grade and I don’t want him reading in a snap; I want him to learn how to read.

I performed the necessary repairs by teaching him phonics and encouraging the extensive writing of notes to me from him that forced him to imagine how the word should be spelled with the knowledge that he had at the moment. It was as observed from the old “Our Gang/Little Rascals Series” and had been encouraged by my eldest’s teacher in her first grade class.

Another parent in town who faced a similar situation related to me the teacher’s reaction to the mentioning by the parents that they were planning to purchase reading tutorials/workbooks for their child who was not progressing (shocking) at the expected pace. The teacher, without a pause, stated. “OK, but make sure you stay away from anything that uses phonics”. That was how far the assault had gone – not only was she not planning to teach phonics, but she had been so brainwashed that she could not bring herself to think, even for a second , that it may be possible that her handlers in academia got it wrongly.

When the word “went” is shown on a flash card, it is no different than showing a child a Chinese character and asking him to remember it, along with “what” and “where” and every other word that occurs in any language. The teacher, again a nice woman, was the product of a society that unfortunately does not teach or encourage one to actually think. Had she been so, there would at least have been the chance that she would have applied critical thinking to this system and consequently saw it for what it is – a mixture of false logic to solve a very minor problem of exceptions to the rules like silent “H’s”, “gh’s sounding like ‘F’s’, long and short vowels,”etc. and an outright effort to detach our children from one of the foundations of our Western culture.

While I admit that some advocates of this system who work at the college level may have truly had good intentions in creating flash-card reading, they too were born of a culture of studies that removed critical thinking from the equation. Ignored so completely was the history of Western culture, and by extension the very reasons for the development of alphabets in the first place, that they could not see the inherent weaknesses of what was being advanced as a “new and better way” to teach children to read and write.

I tend to lean towards a more cynical take on the situation. As a student progresses through more years of school, he begins to notice that certain things start to come together. He learns about the old forms of writing, how the alphabets came to be, and beings to realize that what he is doing at that very moment is exactly what some Phoenician kid in Sidon or an Athenian student was doing at a similar age in their times He notices and feels a connection with the past.

The Left has no intention of allowing this to continue, so as they do with parental authority, admiration for his parents and his nation’s and culture’s founders, and all other people, things, and events worthy of emulation and respect, they remove it entirely. In this case this is accomplished by teaching American kids to recognize words Chinese-style under the pretext of being unable to teach them any other way. Of course they conveniently ignore the fact that phonics-type systems worked flawlessly for years.

The second subject mentioned early in this post, namely the abandonment of teaching students to avoid leaving a preposition at the end of a sentence, is admittedly not nearly as much of a problem but is still another means of removing parts of our culture/language from our collective memory.

Since English is, again a mixed Medieval French/Old English language, our English came to have the French (From Latin) grammatical rules applied to it. That is why “To whom”, “of which”, “about which”, etc, are the most proper means to express oneself while generally avoiding leaving the preposition at the end of the sentence. To be fair, it is clearly less awkward to occasionally apply common usage with certain phrases such as “What are you talking about?” This was famously treated; possibly somewhat tongue in cheek, by Winston Churchill when he wrote that “This is something up with which I will not put.”

Again, Academia has collectively dismissed this part of our grammar, with grammar handbooks such as Harbrace, without mentioning anything about the general and time-honored ways of utilizing prepositions as derived from French grammar, stating simply that they “can be used at the end of a sentence”. That’s it – no mention of the purpose or the most proper means of employing those words or any explanation that many modern phrases are easier to communicate when leaving the preposition at the end of the sentence. All the new reader sees is that they can be used at the end of a sentence. When explanations like that are encountered, I find that they tend to communicate a desire to completely ignore the question.

The grossest example in treating this subject, and one devoid of any common sense whatsoever, was an instance where the answer was provided in a Q&A format. The answer was extremely brief, again with no explanation of the actual question. It started with “English isn't Latin” in bold print followed by a line that sought to, again dismiss the entire question outright.

"English isn't Latin" is just another mindless example of how we are taught to ignore much of makes us what we are. No one ever said that English was Latin; the facts are that French is in fact directly derived/adapted from Latin, that Modern English is the product of mixing two languages, and that the French rules are applied in this case. No, the re-educator simply decides that noting that English Isn’t Latin is supposed to put the whole issue to rest.

The Western world is literally being torn at from all angles. I hold that it is the obligation of the individual to ensure that our children learn to read in a proper manner and one consistent with our actual method of writing sounds. One must also stand his ground when grammatical rules, which were adopted purposefully and provide some character to our language, are ignored by the very people who write the handbooks that are designed to teach English grammar. Note that George Orwell’s 1984 featured "Newspeak," which was designed to remove any real thinking, feelings, or abstract thought from communication.

* After writing this, I continued to have a nagging thought that I had once read that there had been archaeological discoveries of Phrygian alphabetic inscriptions that were found to be as old as the earliest known Greek examples. I came up with the citation a few days later. (Again, Colin McEvedy) If the dating is accurate, then we of course have to allow that the Greeks could have learned the use of vowel-signs from the Phrygians of Anatolia. (Modern-day Turkey). Note that the Phrygians, although like the Greeks an Indo-European-descended group, have their origin among the Thraco-Cimmerian peoples of which the only surviving spoken language is Armenian. (This or course being heavily Iranian-influenced - referring to the main Iranian group, not Persian specifically)

+ One of course may point out that those who do in fact have Dyslexia or other disabilities have an easier time with flash-memory rote-learning of words. If that is the case, then we have yet another example where the intellectual abilities of able students are knowingly being suppressed. Having difficulty keeping up with the other students in reading is no different from being below-average in being able to hit a baseball or any other activity. Those students are to be provided with the alternative methods just like I spent time teaching less-skilled nine year-old boys how to hit a ball. Alternate methods of teaching are just that – alternate methods. They are not to be used to replace a system of teaching/learning lock, stock and barrel. Doing so is terribly unfair to students and the parents who pay for this education with their taxes.


  1. As I was reading this, I was thinking, what a great deal of valuable erudition the writer has collected.

    My other main thought was more in the nature of a bet. I'll bet that if we went through the schools of education in this country, we would not find a single person there who knew this stuff. The odds are probably 100 to 1 in my favor if we're talking about the students. But even if we're talking about the professors, the odds are probably still 5 to 1.

    The point is, these so-called educators could not support all their flawed theories and methods if they were themselves educated, if they knew how phonetic languages have involved.

    I recently had a professor from a school of education send me a letter explaining why children needed to learn the 300 most common words as sight-words. It used to be such professors wanted the kids to memorize ALL the words that way, which was quite insane. Now they've backed down to 300, which is quite sly. They seem to be making a concession to phonics; but the kids will still be messed up. These professors certify as true whatever pseudo-science they need to support their methods.

    Bruce Deitrick Price

    1. Thanks very much.
      I do fear that you are probably right though. We have been purposely deprived of so much valuable information about Western Civilization that few have any idea of how our writing system came to be. Shortly after writing this post, I came across yet another teacher who had been raised on memorization. He was an intelligent, athletic guy and was also an avid hunter. When I brought up the topic, I sensed that he felt that his background was being slighted. Though he clearly was not trying to come across as a jerk, he nevertheless, in manner that I could only describe as both defensive and hurried, responded "Well you have to teach memorization". Since I had just met him that day, I opted to be as gentle as possible and replied that we should recall that for generations people learned to read without memorization. I added that traditionally, what we would now call sight words were taught after we were able to actually read. As an example, I cited what my first-grade teacher did with the word "one". She wrote the word on the board and asked if anyone knew what it was. I responded by reading it as "own". She stated that I was correct and added that this particular word was one for which the rules did not work and that it was pronounced "won or wun". I recall being perfectly happy being told that I had read the word properly and that we were now learning some words that we would have to memorize separately.

  2. Pleistarchos :

    A very good read. I knew about this but was hard for me to understand until i read your blog article!

    I have an idea that i wish you or someone reading this would do: YouTube kids with the phonic-learned VS non-phonic-learned at whatever best grade level to demonstrate your findings. I visualize showing the two kid's groups word cards of unfamiliar words (maybe a little above the grade level) and asking them to
    read aloud the words... If this demonstration already exists, i would like to view it. Thanks again.

    1. Sorry that I missed your comment and thus never replied. I strongly agree with you. The word has to be put out in a manner that will not be stopped by the established powers in Academia. You gave me an idea for a new post.

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