How Bad Is U.S. Reading Education and How Can We Improve It?

Posted by on August 9, 2012 in blog | 0 comments

English functional illiteracy is a far worse problem than most Americans realize; it adversely affects everyone — reader and non-reader alike. It causes numerous serious physical, mental, emotional, medical, and financial problems for illiterates — problems that we would consider a crisis if they occurred to us. Illiteracy costs every adult American at least $5,000 each year (1) for government programs that illiterates use; (2) for truancy, juvenile delinquency, and crime directly related to illiteracy; and (3) for higher costs of consumer goods due to higher costs of recruiting and training employees and for mistakes and inabilities of illiterates in the workplace.

Numerous changes to our educational system have been proposed and some of them have been implemented since the 1983 "Nation at Risk" report, which detailed America's serious educational problems. But absolutely nothing done in the last 90 years has made an overall statistically significant improvement in the U.S. literacy rate, which is now lower than it was in the 1700s and early 1800s.

Today's lower literacy rate is due to neither teacher nor student being patient enough for the long hours of rote memory and familiarization through repetition used to teach reading in simpler times. The resulting "whole word" or "whole language" methods of teaching — and what Dr. Dianne McGuinness, in her book Why Our Children Can't Read, has shown to be inadequate methods of teaching phonics — results in fewer students who learn to read fluently.

There are, today, too many pleasurable activities that did not exist before the 1920s to draw students away from the "boring lessons and dull drill" that succeeded previously. And since the 1960s, there are also numerous negative influences drawing students away from studying, such as new drugs, bullying in school, gang activities, and emotionally disturbing parental influences in the home, caused by loosened divorce laws and living together outside of marriage.

Since reading is the foundation of all learning (students can succeed in very few, if any, school subjects today without reading for class-work, homework, and testing), students who do not learn to read in the first three grades in school are almost never able to keep up with fluent readers. Today we have over two million school drop-outs or even high school graduates added to the number of functional illiterates every year. If you think any of the above is an exaggeration, please consider the 1895 Salina, Kansas eighth grade final exam shown in the definition of functional illiteracy. We badly need to solve the problem of English functional illiteracy instead of merely fighting the symptoms of the problem, as we have been doing for nearly a century. Solving our literacy crisis may require a careful, honest evaluation of our (click "About Us" in the heading) humanitarian project to end our literacy crisis very carefully detailed in the breakthrough book, Let's End Our Literacy Crisis, Second Revision which can be obtained at no cost in .pdf format in the left-hand column of the website in the English functional illiteracy link above

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