Recently, I wrote something that was copyedited by a poorly trained editor. She caught a few typos, for which I was grateful. However, she introduced more errors than she fixed. The most infuriating thing she did was to add the word therefore inappropriately in several places. If I had more than three statements in a paragraph, she’d often stick in therefore at the beginning of the last statement, just as you’d put the word and before the last item in a list that you’ve written out in a sentence. I asked her why she kept adding therefore. She said it was “for flow.” I started to explain why the added therefores made no sense, but then I realized that I was not talking with a Vulcan. It is probably pointless to try to reason with someone who is so illogical that she does not understand what therefore means. Continue reading “What Does “Therefore” Mean?”
Many people have been complaining that the educational system in the United States is failing. Yet whether you consider something to be a success or a failure depends on your point of view. After all, a basketball game is a success if your team wins and a failure if it loses. If you want the educational system to keep the majority of the voters not only ignorant but completely unashamed of their ignorance, maybe the system is succeeding beyond your wildest dreams.
When you watch the following footage, note how completely unashamed the interviewees are about their ignorance. Some of them actually think that it’s cute:
We want one class of persons to have a liberal education and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class of necessity, to forgo the privileges of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks.
—Woodrow Wilson, from an address to the New York City High School Teachers Association
Jan. 9th, 1909
The above quotation, from an Ivy League University president who went on to become the Governor of New Jersey and then the President of the United States, is simply shocking. Read it carefully and think about what it means. Whom did he mean by “we”? What kind of person would want “one class of persons” to have a liberal education and find it necessary for “a very much larger class” to “forgo the privileges” (i.e., be deprived of) of a liberal education? Why would it be necessary for “a very much larger class” to forgo the kind of education that is appropriate for free people, as opposed to slaves? Did the “we” to whom Wilson referred include the people whose children were “by necessity” being deprived? In this context, do you find it surprising that Wilson wasn’t particularly nice to African-Americans?
Here’s an open letter to President Wilson that W.E.B. Dubois published in The Crisis, which was the official magazine of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
As a writer, I choose my words carefully. As an editor, I have helped many other writers choose their words carefully. So do I want readers to be able to read the exact words that were actually written? Of course I do! That seems like a stupid question. However, some prominent professors of education have taught that children should use “cues,” guesswork, and their own expectations to generate their own narrative, instead of reading the words that the writer actually wrote. I feel that unless the children are reading the words that were actually written, they are not really reading. No real communication from writer to reader is taking place.
Can your child really read? Or is your child simply guessing what words are on the page? There’s an easy way to find out. Just print out this Reading Competency Test from the National Right to Read Foundation: http://www.nrrf.org/readtest.html
Part I of the test consists of eight groups of simple sentences. The sentences in the first group are made up of words that follow the simplest phonetic rules: “The big red hen is mad.” The second group includes some words with consonant blends: “Bang went the black drum!” The final group includes some words that follow more difficult rules: “Phone for some bread and fruit for the child.” Part II consists of six paragraphs. The first one is simple, and each succeeding paragraph is more difficult.
To administer the test, print out two copies. Give one copy to the child, and have the child read each sentence. On your copy, make a check mark each time the child skips a word, substitutes a different word (even if it means the same thing), inserts an unrelated word, or mispronounces a word (remove the check mark if the child corrects the mispronunciation).
This test helps you figure out whether your child is really reading or is just guessing. There’s no picture of an angry red chicken to enable the child to guess what “The big red hen is mad” is supposed to mean. Unfortunately, many of our primary school teachers have actually been trained to teach children to look for clues of that kind instead of teaching children to sound out the words. How do those teachers expect children to comprehend what they read if the children can’t identify which words were actually written? As soon as those children start having to read real textbooks, instead of lavishly illustrated storybooks, they’ll be in big trouble.
According to the National Right to Read Foundation, a student who has completed second grade but cannot read all of the sentences in Part I with one check mark or less in each group needs to study phonics. Likewise, any child who cannot read independently at grade level needs to study phonics. I would also add that any children who are having trouble reading should also have their hearing and vision tested.
When children study phonics, they are specifically taught how the letters of the alphabet are used to represent sounds in words. Unless they understand phonics, they will have a lot of trouble in reading any alphabetic language. In 1998, the National Academy of Sciences published a report titled Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children. Its main conclusion was that “Adequate progress in learning to read English (or any alphabetic language) beyond the initial level depends on having a working understanding of how sounds are represented alphabetically.”
In this scene from the classic 1932 film, Tarzan the Ape Man, Tarzan gets confused by pronouns. A pronoun is a function word that stands in for another noun. Pronouns have no meaning of their own. They take their meaning from context. The first-person personal pronouns (I, me, myself) refer to the speaker. The second-person personal pronouns (you, yourself) refer to the person to whom the speaker is speaking. Tarzan has trouble with this concept, possibly because he was reared by chimpanzees and therefore failed to learn grammatical principles in any language before he went through puberty. Of course, Cheeta the chimpanzee would never be able to figure out pronouns at all. Chimpanzees have never been able to grasp any grammatical concept.
I tried to find some other footage of Tarzan and Jane dialog, but all I could find was this scene where Tarzan tears off Jane’s evening gown and tosses her in the water, whereupon the two of them do a lovely underwater ballet. This movie was made right before the Motion Picture Association of America started enforcing the Hays Code, which banned nudity.
Forget what you saw in Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Apes can’t make sentences, even if someone has tried really hard to teach them sign language. The documentary Project Nim describes one attempt to teach sign language to a chimpanzee:
The chimpanzee used in this experiment was named Nim Chimpsky, which was a mocking reference to the linguist Noam Chomsky, who had predicted that no such experiment would work. Chomsky said that it’s about as likely that an ape will prove to have a language ability as there is an island somewhere with a species of flightless birds waiting for humans to teach them to fly. In other words, if apes could use language, they’d be doing so already. Continue reading “Can an Ape Create a Sentence?”
Here is the climax of the movie The Miracle Worker, with Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke:
The Miracle Worker tells the true story of Anne Sullivan (played by Bancroft) and Helen Keller (played by Duke), as recounted in Helen Keller’s autobiography The Story of My Life. In this scene, Helen suddenly grasps the idea that the sequences of hand gestures that Sullivan has been making stand for the names of things! Once Helen grasped this concept, she started racing around, demanding to know what other things were called. No ape has ever done that.
In the 1920s, a medical doctor named Samuel T. Orton was studying a new and disturbing epidemic that was being called congenital word blindness. Large numbers of children with normal vision, hearing, and intelligence were mysteriously failing to learn to read. Many of these children then went on to develop emotional and behavior problems. All of these problems were being blamed on some unknown disease of the child’s nervous system.
Dr. Orton found that the explanation was much simpler. He found that the schools were using an ineffective method for teaching children to read. Instead of teaching the children to sound out the words letter by letter (phonics), the schools were asking children to memorize whole words. This latter method has been called sight-reading, look-say, or whole word. It’s the center of the “whole language” educational approach that proved to be so disastrous in California in the late 1980s. When Orton’s “word blind” patients were taught phonics, they quickly learned to read and their emotional and behavior problems went away. Continue reading “Does Your Child Need Drugs or Phonics?”