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