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You see them everywhere. These young people without brains who
congregate in parking lots, haunt shopping malls, drive around aimlessly
on Saturday night, partying, drinking, smoking, having sex,
experimenting with drugs, getting into fights. They complain so often
about being bored, bored in school, bored with themselves, bored with
life. Of course, the reason why they are bored is because they
themselves are so utterly boring. They haven’t read a good book in
their entire lives; they have no intellectual interests or curiosity.
It’s as if the entire world of the mind is closed to them, and the only
activities that make them feel alive are uncontrolled sex, drugs and
violence — all of which are so self-destructive.

Jay Leno often interviews these vapid individuals on the avenues of
Los Angeles so that we can get a good laugh from their ignorance. But
their ignorance is nothing to laugh about. It’s a great American
tragedy. We compel these kids to spend 12 years in school at a cost of
billions of dollars to be “educated,” and what we get is appalling
ignorance. It’s as if all of these kids have undergone lobotomies, so
that they no longer have minds that can analyze, or think, or be
creative. What we have are teen-age consumers, easily stimulated by
highly emotional ads, whose interests are limited to what they can touch
in a department store or see in the movies or on television or hear on a
rap music station.

Back in the 1930s and ’40s, when I was going to school, I was never
bored. I could read, and therefore the library was a tremendous source
of stimulating ideas and stories. The world was a tremendously
interesting place. I was taught music appreciation in the third grade
by a teacher who played short classics on a portable Victrola. That
short once-a-week class opened the whole world of classical music for
me. I can still remember some of the pieces she played: “The Swan” by
Saint-Saens, “March Slav” by Tchaikovsky, “The William Tell Overture” by
Rossini.

We read good poetry written by the great poets, not the cute
greeting-card type of poems that kids now read, devoid of insight or
wisdom or true beauty of language and thought. And it isn’t that
today’s kids are not capable of learning to enjoy such great
literature. It’s that their limited ability to read makes it impossible
for them to even venture into that ever fascinating and expansive world
of the written word.

Some months ago, a father brought his 15-year-old, ninth-grade son to
me to be tested. This very intelligent boy had a reading problem which
was preventing him from advancing in his education. He was tested by
the school which determined that the boy should sit closer to the
teacher, be given extra time to “process information,” have his
assignments cut into smaller segments for easier handling, listen to
books on tapes, use Cliff notes when reading novels, and stay after
school to make up for missed work. There was no attempt whatever to
deal with the boy’s reading problem. Which is why his father brought
him to me. I cure dyslexics.

This youngster was no different from so many others I have worked
with over the last 30 years. He was a typical sight-reader who had been
given a sight vocabulary to memorize in the first grade and thereby
acquired a holistic reflex, which would handicap him for the rest of his
life. In other words, he had been taught to look at each word as if it
were a Chinese character and was required to remember it holistically by
its configuration or association with a picture. When a child is taught
to read holistically and develops a holistic reflex, the reflex becomes
an obstacle to seeing the word in its phonetic structure, especially if
the child has been taught little or no phonics.

All alphabetically written words have a phonetic structure. But you
must learn the letter sounds and be drilled in consonant-vowel
combinations in order to develop the needed phonetic reflex or
automaticity, so that reading becomes easy and enjoyable, and the
phonetic structure of a word is perfectly transparent. But if you have
not been taught intensive phonics, and made to look at each word as a
picture, you will never become a fluent reader.

When I asked this boy, who is now in high school, what was a short
a, he had no idea. He did understand the concept that letters
stand for sounds. But this kind of phonetic knowledge in and of itself
does not create a phonetic reflex; it simply provides information, which
the child may or may not use. And because it requires conscious effort
to use this information, reading becomes a difficult and painful chore
which must be avoided. In fact, I once tutored an adult, a highly
successful entrepreneur, who told he that he would rather be beaten than
have to read.

And this could easily have become the case with this youngster. When
I had him read paragraphs from a variety of books, it was easy to see
that he was a holistic reader and made all of the misreadings typical of
this kind of sight-reader. The only way he could read multisyllabic
words was to find smaller sight words within the big words. But he made
so many crucial errors in his reading, that his comprehension had to
suffer.

That the schools permit these learning problems to persist and can
offer no hope of meaningful remediation means that every child who has
developed a holistic reflex is condemned to a life with a very limited
use of mind. It is true that some individuals have the inner resources
to overcome their reading disability, but apparently these empty headed
kids with the lobotomized look, do not have that inner resource. They
will go through life believing that they are stupid, pursue careers that
require a minimum of reading, and lead lives of illiteracy. They will
suffer, their children will suffer, and America will suffer.

Some months ago, Frontline of the Public Broadcasting System, did a
documentary program on the “Lost Children of Conyers, Georgia,” where an
outbreak of syphilis among high school students brought attention to the
dissolute life style of many of the teen-agers in that town. The social
life of these kids revolved around their peer groups at school. They
were bored. They had nothing to do, so they indulged in sex, drinking,
drugs, cigarettes and obscene rap music. What was missing was the life
of the mind, the ability to think, to analyze, to understand that life
meant more than just abusing oneself. Everybody tended to blame the
parents because the parents gave these kids every material good
available.

Nobody blamed the school and the fact that these kids had been
lobotomized in the first grade by their loving teachers. These kids
could not use their minds because they no longer had them. Thus, their
lives would revolve around emotional and sensual activities that
resembled a roller coaster ride. They would be reduced to primitive
pre-civilized behavior. True, they had all of the paraphernalia of our
high-tech civilization, but their emotional lives would be lived on the
level of pre-literate, prehistoric society.

That’s what public education has given us, and the vast majority of
Americans have no idea why it is the way it is. And that’s why they
keep supporting the system with billions of tax dollars.

Fortunately, there are a growing number of parents who have seen the
light and have turned to home schooling. In general, home-schoolers
teach their children to read by phonics so that their children can
eventually educate themselves by reading history, biographies, novels,
poetry, and the Bible.

Meanwhile, the two major candidates for the Presidency offer
different approaches to our ongoing educational problems. Gore, the
obedient child of the National Education Association, strongly opposes
vouchers and is not at all friendly toward home-schoolers. In fact the
Democratic Party platform reflects the NEA’s hostility toward home
schooling. Bush, on the other hand, favors vouchers, speaks highly of
phonics, and is sympathetic toward home schooling. Both, of course,
intend to spend lots more money on public education. What this means is
that we ought not to expect politicians to solve our education
problems. They will have to be solved by parents willing to make the
necessary sacrifices to send their children to decent private schools or
educate them at home, for the only true reform of education will take
place when the government gets out of the education business.

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