The Need to Read Better!
By Linda Schrock Taylor
In 1930, 3 million American adults could not read. Most of those 1 million white illiterates and 2 million black illiterates were people over age fifty who had never been to school. (Regna Lee Wood)
In 2003, 30 million American adults could not read. Most had been to school for many years. (70% of prison inmates could not read; 19% of high school graduates could not read) (Illiteracy Statistics)
In 2003, The U.S. Department of Education’s National Institute of Literacy completed a National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL) and concluded:
NUMBER OF ADULTS IN EACH PROSE LITERACY LEVEL
Below Basic: 30 million adults (14% of population)
no more than the most simple and concrete literacy skills
Basic: 63 million adults (29% of population)
can perform simple and everyday literacy activities
Intermediate: 95 million adults (44% of population)
can perform moderately challenging literacy activities
Proficient: 28 million adults (13% of population)
can perform complex and challenging literacy activities
It can safely be assumed that during the twelve (12) years since this shocking news was released, little has been done to slow the rate of decline in literacy levels, and next-to-nothing has been done to decrease the numbers of illiterates and functional illiterates. The cost of this ever-growing national disaster is heartbreakingly high, both for the compromised individuals and for the nation as a whole. NAAL’s definition of literacy: “The ability to use printed and written information to function in society, to achieve one’s goals, and to develop one’s knowledge and potential.” The noninstitutional population of adults and teens aged 16 and over (not seasonally adjusted) not in the workforce during January of 2016, was 95,051,000. One cannot help but wonder about a correlation between the 2016 unemployment figures and those 93,000,000 illiterates and functional illiterates counted by NAAL in 2003.
In January of 2015, Dr. Sandra Stotsky said that most US college freshmen read at 6-7 grade levels. The assigned reading selections in today’s public schools are written at such low reading levels that the students using those materials fail to develop the vocabulary base, reading fluency, and content reading experiences necessary to prepare them for college/university complex reading and thought processes. I observed the same problems when I taught freshmen reading and English classes at a state university in Michigan. The vast majority of my students read at a fifth-grade level when tested with reading materials written in the 1920s. The students were quite offended when informed of their actual reading levels. As they were provided with additional materials to read, they had to admit that, indeed, they could not read classic academic fare. They then became angry at their high school teachers for not expecting more of them. These students could not write about their readings, either. One Detroit student explained how he became an “A” composition student: “Almost no one turned in homework so just by writing something, anything, and turning it in, I was an A student.”
Such students, when faced with traditional academic standards and teacher expectations, flounder, drop out, fail to perform at their potential, waste tuition money and time, further compromising their lives and their value to America. If our best and brightest are costing America so dearly, consider the great numbers of compromised readers enrolled in remedial classes in middle and high schools; in community colleges, colleges, and even in universities. Consider the expenses for those of all ages receiving remedial help in classes for English as a second language. Count up the hundreds of millions of dollars spent supporting those who, because they cannot read so cannot or will not support themselves, depend on taxpayer dollars for housing, food, utilities, health care, as well as for child rearing costs for their offspring.
With great discouragement, consider the public and personal costs for those sitting in reform schools, jails, and prisons where inmates receive little academic remediation and cannot look for jobs or report to work; and think of the tens of millions of people who work in jobs far beneath their intellectual levels, earning incomes far beneath their value, all because of their inferior reading abilities.
If a count were to be made of all individuals whose lives are less valued and less valuable because their schools failed to teach them to read by using the correct method for a phonetic language, the total would probably reach 90% or more of the American population. As Don Potter recently reminded people, “Even if every school in America started teaching the alphabet code today and every child was taught to read well with phonics, that would not solve the massive problem of teen and adult illiteracy that we have on our hands now.”
I had no choice but to write a book to help adults and teens improve their reading levels…and thus their lives…because few educators will admit to the breadth of the problem, and fewer still have any idea how to go about solving it.
Americans became a highly literate people beginning in Colonial times because the ability to read the Bible was encouraged and expected at all ages, five and above. Schooling was valued so a book like Noah Webster’s “Blue-Backed Speller” became a best seller found in nearly every home. Historically, for 3,500 years, countries with languages with alphabets have successfully taught their citizens to read by using sound-to-letter correspondence, i.e. phonics. But in 1929-30, John Dewey began training America’s elementary teachers to teach reading by the memorization of sight words. The abject failure of American schools to teach children to read began then and continues unabated to this day, even in the face of that appalling 2003 finding of 93,000,000 functional illiterates age 16 and over! THAT alone should have slapped both shame and sense into educators at all levels, from first-grade teachers through university teacher training professors, all across the nation. But it did not. How telling; how utterly shameful that they all were able to disregard the findings; to never look at themselves in any mirrors; and to continue doing what they have been doing since Dewey set them on the oh, so, erroneous path.
Dewey had observed deaf children being taught to read by memorizing sight words on flash cards. Dewey erroneously inferred that if deaf children could learn to read using such a method, one could only imagine how well it would work for hearing children! “One could only imagine” was exactly right because neither deaf nor hearing children learn to read using sight word memorization. Deaf students, including my own brother, dependent upon flash card instruction, usually graduate from high school with, at best, a 3rd-grade reading level. American prisons are filled with individuals who read at or below a 3rd-grade level, 70% of whom do not read at all. In all probability, most individuals dependent on welfare read below a 3rd-grade level, if at all. My mother always maintained that “In today’s schools, the only children who learn to read well do so in spite of the curriculum and the instruction, not because of it!” She was so right.
Thomas Jefferson said, “Educate and inform the whole mass of the people…They are the only sure reliance for the preservation of our liberty.” I look about and see America on the downslide with our liberties being the first things to go over the proverbial cliff. Wise advice abounds but if only 13% of our voting-age citizens can read, evaluate, and act upon complex explanations and suggestions, it is no wonder that we are losing both our liberties and our country.
Both adults and teenagers need an easy, manageable way to improve their reading skills so they not only improve their own lives but also save our liberties in America and thus improve the lives us all.
With that goal foremost; with remedial instruction as my knowledge base; with my career spent teaching and tutoring teens and adults in schools, universities, even in jail, I set about planning a book of methodical, short, essential, incremental lessons that my target populations could handle alone or with the help of a friend, relative or tutor. The lessons first teach, then give practice in the use of those small parts of the “code” in which English is written down into print. Our teachers forget to explain that English has been written down in a Code, and our teachers also forget to tell us that in order to read English, we must first be taught to understand and use the different pieces of the Code. Instead, we are left to guess! We do pretty well when we only have to guess that an ‘f’ is used to represent the /f/ sound. But, oh, how we need someone to explain that the spelling ‘wr’ “is only used at the beginning of words which convey the concept of twisting”! I have a master’s degree in English and I never guessed that clue! Actually, I never even thought about the ‘wr’ situation until Dr. Joseph Stomberg taught it to me about ten years ago. (That was after I had been teaching for about 35 years, unfortunately.)
But we need not dwell on what we do not know. Just understand that the schools let us all down, then use my book to learn the aspects of English that you never learned. Your reading skills will be all the better for the new knowledge and the practice stories included in the book will improve reading speed and mental agility. A life improves when a person can read better!