Bruce Deitrick Price
"My kid can't read. What should I do?"
Fix reading and half of our education problems disappear
By Bruce Deitrick Price
May 18, 2018

It's a common problem in the US. Children in the second and third grades, even the fourth and fifth grades, are struggling readers. They guess; they skip ahead; they search for clues from context; they look at pictures to read words. Did I mention they guess? Typically, these children are unsuccessful in most school subjects and very unhappy.

The school may think this slow progress is fine. But perhaps you as a parent know younger children who've already learned to read. You worry that your child Is falling behind. You are right to worry.

The first thing to confront is that teachers and school officials will mislead you. Truth is, they'll lie: "Your child is doing fine. He's getting plenty of phonics." But then your child comes home with a list of sight-words to be memorized. You know phonics is being slighted. But what can you do?

Here's a second problem: finding help is not easy. The media are basically a dead zone. You're not going to find advice on reading in your local newspaper or TV program.

Bottom line, sight-word instruction (that is, learning to name word-designs on sight) is the cause of most reading problems. Ideally, schools stop using them. The good news is that a list of sight-words can be a valuable wake-up call. They tell you that the school has embraced the destructive ideas which have been hurting children for the past 80 years.

Parents should trust systematic phonics where the focus is on learning letters, then the sounds represented by the letters, then the blends of those sounds. (Usually the whole process takes five months. All phonics experts say the same thing: reading is easy.)

So let's say your child is having reading problems; and simultaneously your child brings home lists of sight-words to memorize. Get involved immediately and teach your child the basics of phonics. Namely, letters represent sounds.

To start, parents can read "Preemptive Reading," a quick introduction to phonics. (It includes a list of complete phonics courses.)

YouTube has many helpful videos. A. J. Jenkins in Australia has made some wonderful phonics videos. One of these has attracted more than half-a-billion views! Encourage your child to sing along. Very quickly he'll have the phonics idea in his head.

The main thing is that children get the concept that letters and words are symbols for SOUNDS. When looking at b-words like beach, branch, ball, and block, the child knows that all of them start with the same sound. At that point, language becomes logical and predictable.

Sight-words, on the other hand, are always arbitrary, like a phone number you just committed to memory. (Wait a minute, was that 5271 or 5721?)

Despite all the propaganda we hear, the English language is 100% phonetic. There is no such thing as a non-phonetic word in an English dictionary. Indeed, all the words are arranged alphabetically, which is to say that all the words listed under B start with the same b-sound.

English is an old language that has borrowed many foreign words. So our vowels can be inconsistent. But old tennis shoes are still tennis shoes. Whole Word promoters try to pretend that a small difference means that something is "non-phonetic." No, merely non-consistent. For a word to be truly non-phonetic, it would have to be something like XXFG, which you're told to pronounce "shuffleboard." Fortunately, English has no such words, although the Education Establishment loves to pretend otherwise.

Some children learn to read almost without instruction. The brain figures out the easy way to read, which is to identify the phonics information. Less verbal children seem to need more rules and more practice. But keep in mind that phonics rules are stepping stones to reading, not goals in themselves. Don't hesitate to teach something over and over; on the other hand don't hesitate to move along. It's good to make the learning process as fun as possible. Mix in singing, poetry, knock-knock jokes, and football cheers.

The most important thing of all is helping children find things they want to read. Once reading is easy for children, they'll read everything in sight. The problem in our schools now is that many children never reach that point. Especially make sure that boys find material that is appealing to boys.

Sight-words (also known by many other names) are probably viewed by our far-left as one of the most successful subversive tricks in history. They imposed this incorrect theory on the public schools in 1931. They carefully destroyed phonics books, and since that time they have been conducting a rearguard operation insisting that sight-words are terrific, phonics doesn't work, and kids will read when they are ready. If they don't read, that's because they have a serious problem like dyslexia. Nature caused this problem, so our Education Establishment can claim to be blameless for what it has perpetrated! Phonics experts reject the sophistry, saying that "dyslexia" should be relabeled "dysteachia." That is, a disease caused by classroom instruction.

The simple way to save American K-12 is to eliminate sight-words and return to phonics. Children must learn to read before they can read to learn.

(Bruce Deitrick Price's new book is "Saving K-12"; his education site is Improve- You can support his work on Patreon.)

© Bruce Deitrick Price


The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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Bruce Deitrick Price

Bruce Deitrick Price is the author of six books, an artist, a poet, and an education reformer. He was born in Norfolk, Virginia, earned Honors in English Literature from Princeton, served two years in the Army, and then lived many years in Manhattan.

Price explains educational theories and methods on his ed site (founded in 2005). He has 400 education articles and videos on the Internet. More forcefully than most, Price argues that the public schools are mediocre because our Education Establishment wants them that way.

Price's literary site is .


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