Two Books and a Blackboard

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THEN…two
books used to teach spelling, vocabulary comprehension, and reading, (as well
as character development), up through the level of such words as: reciprocity,
legerdemain, perspicacity, impenetrability, portmanteau, Neapolitans…

Left:
The New England Primer, Boston, 1777

Right:
The American Spelling Book by Noah Webster, Esq. 1824

(Note
on cover: Containing The Rudiments of the English Language for the Use of Schools
in the United States.)

“The
Rudiments of the English Language…”! If the above vocabulary words are considered
the rudiments of our language, at what language development level are teachers
presently instructing — babbling??

America
was once a nation of literate, thinking, people. This level of education was brought
about, despite the fact that there was (fortunately) a dearth of huge textbook
publishing houses selling instructional materials that level a population
down — while economically thriving by impoverishing taxpayers through repeat
purchases of continually rewritten, updated, ineffective, expensive, aligned to
standards and benchmarks, containing more colorful and current photos that will
soon cause the new editions to look as outdated as the former editions so that
taxpayers must buy yet more books from huge textbook publishing houses. (Whew!
And we once thought that being hijacked on the merry-go-round by a group of boys
intent on whirling us until we became physically ill was the worst thing that
could happen at school!)

When
America had a literate population, schools used books that had proven their merit,
generation after generation, by successfully providing children with the information
and strategies necessary for learning to read, write and spell at very accomplished
levels.

Such
seemingly simple books
were used so effectively that average Americans could
skillfully read, contemplate, and express opinions on such as The
Federalist Papers
and the writings of thinkers like Thomas
Paine
. Even then, as explained in this
essay by Geraldine E. Rodgers
, the move towards whole-word dumbing down began
early in America, much to the dismay of Webster, the author of the Blue-Backed
Speller
.

…NOW

SOME…of
the reading materials from one reading series…teacher manuals plus most, but not
all, of the materials to teach one child through the first half of third grade

Here
pictured are books from Open Court, a company that I do respect, although I much
prefer their series from the late 80′s/early 90′s. My now-grown deaf students
still remember and love those books, especially the basal reader, From Sea
to Shining Sea.

I
was surprised to see, after being out of elementary schools for nine years to
teach high school special ed, that Open Court had grown so unbelievably bulky
and labor-intensive. I know teachers who are being forced to use this new series
with directives to follow every word list and every script — to the letter.
These teachers are very unhappy to have their unique and effective teaching styles
discounted and compromised by representatives of the company, and I don’t blame
these teachers at all.

This
forcing of every teacher to march lockstep appears to be the order of the day.
The key words are there in the various offerings — scripted, direct
instruction, decodable text, phonemic awareness, alphabetic principle, fluency…but
the interest in teaching, and in learning, are being destroyed. After a year of
watching my students deal with the above materials plus the shallow stories that
teachers must photocopy and staple into little booklets, I found myself thinking
that I was quite lucky to have learned to read with the old Dick & Jane
books:

See
Puff Go

Come
here, Dick. Come
and see Puff. See
Puff play. See
Puff jump. Puff
can jump and play. Oh,
Mother. Mother. Come
and look. See Puff
jump and play.

(Scott
Foresman and Company, 1951)

Of
course, the problem with the Look-Say methods, as with so many in use today, is
that (to quote my Mother), “The children who do learn to read manage to
accomplish that feat in spite of the teaching.” Too right. I learned
to read because I was ready to read, and because I had been read to a great deal
at home, and because I was intuitive and thus figured out most of the Code in
which English is written on my own through trial and error. (I never became a
great speller, though, until I began using the Spalding
Reading Method
and learned the complete Code and how it is used to record
Speech
to Print
.)

Noah
Webster knew how to put together a group of lessons that would methodically teach
spelling, and thus reading. His organization is superb with no superfluous worksheets
or stapled booklets.

Analysis
of sounds in the English language The
Alphabet Double
letters Words of
one syllable Formation
of the plural from the singular Easy
words of two syllables, accented on the first Easy
words of two syllables, accented on the second Easy
words of three syllables; the full accent on the first, and a weak accent on the
third Etc.

(Students
were working with three syllable words plus accenting by the 10th
page after the introduction of the Alphabet!)

Step-by-careful-step,
Webster’s American Spelling Book instructed students in how to methodically spell
and read English words. By this 10th page, children would be reading
and spelling words that included: abdomen, arrogant, barrister, rudiment, drollery,
drapery, lunacy, notary, cruelty, Crucifix, simony (Definition: buying or selling
of a church office.)

Since
those words seem quite challenging for a child who would be in the early spelling
lessons, I decided to look them up in the Children’s
Writer’s Word Book
. Abdomen is a 6th grade word. Arrogant
is a 6th grade word. Drape is a 5th grade word, so
drapery must be rated higher than that. Lunatic is a 6th
grade word, and probably lunacy is ranked higher than that. Cruel
is a 5th grade word, but Webster presents the word, cruelty.
The other words are not in the Word Book, which only lists words through the 6th
grade level.

Well,
no wonder that Americans in that era could read and discuss The Federalist Papers!
Why wouldn’t they when even children were being gifted with such opportunities
to rapidly develop a challenging vocabulary base? Why are we not providing the
children of today with rapid opportunities to become successful readers? Why aren’t
the children of today, with all of the technology and resources now available,
learning to read faster and better than the children of the late
1700′s and early 1800′s?

If
children would be taught to read rapidly so that their interest doesn’t wane,
and their enthusiasm die, their ambitions in life would change and they would
see the sky as the only limiting factor in life. Too many children today fail
to even see in hope in life.

Besides…what
a financial savings for taxpayers! We could return those basal reading series
then use a fraction of the $change$ to buy each teacher a blackboard
and a couple blue books.

June
20, 2005

Linda
Schrock Taylor [send
her mail
] is an educational consultant,
homeschooling mom, and public school special ed teacher. She is available for
presentations, inservices, and workshops.

Linda
Schrock Taylor Archives

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