How California Educators Created an Educational Disaster

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California has probably produced more educational failures than any other state in the union. Why? Well, let’s be blunt. They have the stupidest educators and politicians in the country. And this has been going on for a long time. Back in 1988, when Bill Honig, then-School Superintendent of California, and Francie Alexander, the state’s curriculum director, chose only whole-language reading programs for the state’s public schools, we knew that a literacy disaster was in store for the Golden State.

Indeed, we wrote in our newsletter of Sept. 1988: “Functional illiteracy will be booming in California in the years ahead if that state adopts the look-say basal reading programs it has already approved…. Because of textbook selection decisions based on ignorance, millions of California children will be condemned to lives as functional illiterates. Such state sanctioned educational malpractice will be doing more damage to more lives than one can possibly calculate.”

It was already known in 1987 that California had a serious reading problem. According to the Quincy (Mass.) Patriot Ledger of November 18, 1987:

Almost one in six adults in California is “functionally illiterate,” and most of those who can’t read are native English-speakers who went to school in the U.S. according to a new study by the State Department of Education.

The report says 3.1 million Californians can’t read well enough to understand advertising in newspapers, simple recipes or job applications. …

The largest group of illiterates is white. More than 43 percent of the group are white, and 56 percent were U.S.-born.

Naturally, the educators saw nothing in the schools to blame for this terrible situation. To them, the reasons for all of that functional illiteracy were obviously social. So when it came to adopting new reading programs in 1988, the educators of California ignored everything that had been written about the reading problem since 1955, when Rudolf Flesch’s famous Why Johnny Can’t Read was published, and acted as if nobody knew what caused perfectly normal children in school to become reading failures. But 40 years after Flesch, in 1995, the educators began to see the light, albeit somewhat dimly. In an article entitled “Rethinking Reading,” in the August 1995 issue of Teacher magazine, we learn:

Dismal test scores and recent research that warns against a single approach to instruction have spurred California educational officials to rethink their state’s pioneering techniques for teaching young children to read.

Pioneering techniques? Obviously, none of these so-called educators knew anything about the history of reading reform in the United States. The whole-language method of teaching was described by Edmund Burke Huey in his “pioneering” book, The Pedagogy and Psychology of Reading, published in 1908. The progressives used it as a blueprint for dumbing down the American people, which was advocated by John Dewey in his 1898 essay, “The Primary-Education Fetish,” in which he outlined a plan to reduce high literacy in America by using a whole-word method of teaching reading. The article continues:

The education department currently is drafting guidelines to help schools make the shift to the new wedded approach…. ”Our goal is not to go back to one or push for the other,” says Dennis Parker, manager of language arts and foreign languages for the state education department. “Our goal is to put together a comprehensive program that will work for every child.”

The “wedded approach” was an attempt to create a balanced, middle-of-the-road system by blending whole language with phonics. Of course, it didn’t work because it completely confused the children by expecting them to develop two opposing reflexes: a whole-word reflex and a phonetic reflex. Dr. Ivan Pavlov proved in his Moscow laboratory that introducing conflicting reflexes produces behavioral neurosis. The article informs us:

California adopted the whole language framework for teaching language arts in 1987…. Diana Garchow, a veteran teacher and a member of the state’s new reading task force, says administrators in some California schools actually seized all phonics books and spellers to ensure that teachers were not ignoring the new instructional framework. In their place, she adds, “we got some beautiful pieces of literature that the children can’t read.” …

Bill Honig, who was the state superintendent when the literature-based program was adopted, now concedes that the framework was fuzzy. “We made our mistakes because we weren’t clear enough about this being a balanced approach,” he says. …

Still, there are those who worry that the pendulum may swing too far away from the whole language emphasis, for reasons that have little to do with best practice. Mary Ellen Vogt, a board member of the International Reading Association and a past president of the IRA’s California affiliate, is one of them. “The teaching of phonics is compatible with literature-based instruction,” Vogt says. “Keeping that in balance is the trick.”

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