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Education Activist Challenges Education Establishment Stop the Lies

Here’s what the USA is faced with: declining literacy rates and more than 50,000,000 functional illiterates. How could the Education Establishment get away with creating this massive damage to our society? The quick answer is they told a lot of lies. I’m asking them to stop.

For 75 years the Education Establishment has promoted Whole Word and tried to marginalize Phonics, as much as possible in both cases. Still today, after eight decades of disaster and dyslexia, and despite their own claims of embracing a more balanced approach, many schools and educators seem to have learned nothing. Check the internet and you’ll find that Dolch Words, Sight Word, Word Walls and the rest are enthusiastically pushed, as if they are some wonderful new invention.

This scam is built on one fantasy in particular: that humans can learn to read English using sight-words. Therefore children shouldn’t study letters and sounds, because it’s much easier to memorize shapes. Not true.

Truth is, almost nobody can memorize even 1,000 of ANYTHING. Consider flags, classic cars, celebrities, famous monuments or great paintings--pick the non-phonetic objects that would be easiest for you. How many could you memorize to the point where a picture is flashed and you say the name? Allow months to work on this. Throw in a big cash prize. Could you reach 500? 800? 1,000??

But you have to name them quickly. At least one a second. Otherwise, it’s nothing like reading.

Point is, memorizing 1,000 sight-words is like memorizing 1,000 sight-ANYTHING. Which is nearly impossible unless you have a photographic memory. (In fact, memorizing flags, cars, paintings, celebrities, or monuments is easier than memorizing English words, because our letters appear as lower and UPPER case, not to mention many hundreds of type styles.)

So, 1,000 is probably the upper limit for memorizing most categories of things, for most people. But 1,000 sight-words is merely the BEGINNING of literacy, which requires at least 10,000 words. Now do you see the problem? Whole Word demands that children do something that is not humanly possible.

Furthermore, during the many years when children are trying to do this mission impossible, their academic progress and self-esteem will be utterly destroyed. And all of this damage will continue for as long as our country lets the Education Establishment get away with this malfeasance.

So here is the essence of the Big Lie: that memorizing thousands of sight-words is doable. Frank Smith, the chief priest of Whole Word, airily announced that people can learn 50,000 or even 100,000 sight-words. Not true.

The little trick that the Education Establishment plays is to pretend that English words are a special kind of visual object, and if you look at them a few times, you have them for life. Not true.

The Education Establishment can get away with these absurd lies only because most adults don’t stop and reflect : hey, what is being asked of my kid here? That’s why I invite you to extrapolate away from reading to something else you are comfortable with--cars, paintings, faces, etc.

Try to imagine the staggering task of memorizing a thousand such objects--so you can name them with “automaticity,” as the educators say that children must do. Memory, you’ll find, is a fickle friend. As you fail to master 1,000 of your favorite objects, I predict you’ll be thinking, “Those *&+# educators are lying ^*%#@.”


But let’s say you hit 1,000. Congratulations. Bet you can’t hit 2,000. At which point you would still be a functional illiterate.

For a comparison chart that shows why Whole Word doesn’t work, see “37: Whole Word versus Phonics” on
About Author Bruce Deitrick Price :

Bruce Deitrick Price is the founder of <a href="" target="_blank"></a>. His new book is THE EDUCATION ENIGMA--What Happened to American Education (order it on Amazon).

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Article Added on Wednesday, April 1, 2009
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