Literacy

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Recently
I witnessed a shocking demonstration by a new, English-speaking,
college graduate. I don't normally talk about my writing with colleagues
at work – there isn't time – but one intelligent youngster
asked me a question that I could most easily answer by showing him
one of my essays. He could not read it. I mean, he could sound out
the words that he knew, skipping the words he didn't know, but he
could not make sense of the sentences. After watching his ordeal
for five painful minutes, I verbally gave him the message encoded
in the English language that he could not read. He believes that
he is educated, by the way, because he has a college degree.

This
incident reminded me once again to stop taking things for granted.
That reminder stimulated me to wonder how many people working in
health-care are functionally illiterate? I can't find an answer
to that question, but if it's so easy to slip through high-school
English and the required undergraduate liberal arts classes without
being able to read, then the probability that medical professionals
can't read goes up.

I
found a good article on the Internet called, Illiteracy:
An Incurable Disease or Education Malpractice?
written by
Robert W. Sweet, Jr., a former professional government education
bureaucrat. Roughly a third of American adults are functionally
illiterate, meaning they cannot read better than a third-grader,
while government spending to combat illiteracy cost the taxpayers
$463 billion between 1966 and 1996. Obviously, throwing money at
the problem doesn't work.

Mr.
Sweet explains that the problem began with a proposal by Horace
Mann in 1837 to stop teaching reading by the phonetic method and
to begin teaching reading by the "whole-word" memorization
method. Mann's method didn't work, so it was adopted by teachers'
colleges all over the country. Mann's method still doesn't work
and it is still taught in teachers' colleges all over the country.
There seems to be something stubbornly perverse about this.

I
learned to read before I was sent to school. My stepmother's mother
taught me, maybe by accident. She was a German-speaking cook with
no education who liked to read bedtime stories to me. My favorite
author was Thornton
W. Burgess
and I liked his stories so much that I wanted to
read them myself. Grandma made it a game. She would read to me,
then I would read to her. It was great fun. My wife and I taught
our own children to read by this same "method" using the
same books. I do recall that the Mann method was used by the nuns
in the first grade, the Dick and Jane nonsense, but I didn't pay
attention to it because I could already read.

I
think the whole argument about "method" is specious. Reading,
like potty training, is more a matter of children copying the behavior
of adults than it is a matter of teaching method. If children don't
see adults reading, then how will they get the idea that reading
is important to learn? Moreover, when children hear stories they
like, read to them from a book, then they will want to read the
stories themselves. It is not method that matters; it is nurturing
natural human curiosity.

Presumably,
this poses a problem for the children of illiterate parents, a problem
that has excused massive government spending on remedies that haven't
worked. That money came out of somebody's life and went into somebody
else's life, while the unmotivated parents of unmotivated children
remained unmotivated. It's just another con game, just another government
racket, where only the bureaucrats win.

Mr.
Sweet points out that the Mann method actually inhibits reading
skill and he cites research to prove it. I don't know how this research
is conducted, although it appears to be a trial and error procedure
that permits total failure, something that is not permitted in medical
research involving human beings. I think that research into learning
reading skills ought to include parental incentive, i.e., I would
not compare "methods" used in pubic schools, I would compare
public school results with homeschool results.

Looking
at literacy in the social context of television programming, reading
is an utterly unnecessary skill. Serious content is delivered to
the viewer in simple third-grade vocabulary, while violent content
is delivered in non-verbal, primordial action. Judging by the popularity
of this kind of programming, both literate and illiterate Americans
tolerate it, I wonder if literacy even matters?

Literacy
does matter to political governments. People need to be able to
decode their written propaganda. People need to be able to decode
their written indictments and the multitude of their laws, even
if the people cannot understand them. A third-grade reading skill
is critical to the perpetuation of this fraud, because if people
could not read at third-grade level, the fraud would collapse. What
if every defendant in every legal trial said, I didn't know that?
I can't read!

But
reading skills under political government must be limited. As Richard
Mitchell writes in The
Graves of Academe
the reading of unapproved books is forbidden
in public schools, even if there were somebody left who could read
them. An anonymous committee of people, who know nothing and who
care for nothing except power, in however a limited environment,
choose the texts. To hell with Shakespeare; "See Spot Run"
is good enough for everybody.

Mr.
Sweet writes that "the number of functionally illiterate adults
is increasing by approximately two and one quarter million persons
each year." Is this bad news? There are very few people who
speak out against the imperial state and most of them do it in writing.
What if they cannot be read? Do the functionally illiterate college
graduates have any idea what is at stake in civil atrocities like
Waco? Like Ruby Ridge? Like the War on Drugs? Like their local SWAT
team? Do they have any idea what Slick Willie did? Do they know
what "perjury" means?

If
they don't, they will find out eventually, because they will be
paying for it too. But two-thirds of American adults can read just
fine. Two-thirds of American adults can figure out the stakes by
reading the truth themselves. Taxpayers can stop the flow of their
money into government literacy scams and let the illiterates learn
to read if they want to. I'll do my part too. I'll give this essay
to a certain college graduate and let him figure out the message
for himself.

August
30, 2001

Robert
Klassen [send him mail] is
a medical technician and writer. Here’s
his web site.

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