Two Books and a Blackboard

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standards and benchmarks, containing more colorful and current photos that will soon cause the new editions to look as outdated as the former editions so that taxpayers must buy yet more books from huge textbook publishing houses.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.


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