• 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    soon cause the new editions to look as outdated as the former editions so that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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