Have you noticed how everything the government touches eventually results in a crisis? There’s the health care crisis. And health care is mostly run/managed/paid for by the government, particularly when you consider Medicare, Medicaid, the now-entrenched Obamacare and all the regulations telling doctors and hospitals what they may and may not do. It’s the same with education. Education is in a state of perpetual crisis. People just take it for granted. The assumption is always that we need more money. We throw billions and billions more at education every year, and yet the problem never resolves.
It’s amazing. We don’t see a crisis in the area of computers, smart phones, streaming television shows, veterinary care, groceries, restaurants, clothing or automobiles. Granted, there is government intervention affecting these fields, as with all fields. But in those fields we do not have government control bordering on a monopoly, the way there is with health care and education. It really says something that the more government controls a field, the more resulting crisis we find.
We don’t hear about the reading crisis affecting millions of Americans, most of whom were taught by government schools. But there is one. Millions of Americans do not like to read. In fact, it’s torture for them. Most of us take that for granted as normal, reasonable, and to-be-expected. But is it, really? Earlier generations of people — with far less technology and capacity than we have today — managed to learn to read, enjoy it and largely think for themselves. What happened? Can we really blame it all on technology? Or is the abuse of technology at the expense of reading a symptom of a deeper problem, a problem in which federalized, command-and-control-from-Washington DC government schools have played a role?
There are a host of techniques aimed at teaching children to read that essentially do not work very well. The author of one article compares it to an execution.
Newspapers in my state reported a particularly sadistic murder. The victim was shot, strangled, beaten with a hammer, stabbed, punched, and set on fire. The killers were thorough and then some.
If you look at how reading is taught in the U.S., you will think of this execution. Children are taught stupidly and then some. Every technique that will make reading difficult and unpleasant is employed.
To start with, Sight-words are the worst way to start. Instead of learning letters and the sounds they represent, children memorize graphic designs. Rudolf Flesch (Chapter V of Why Johnny Can’t Read) said that as of 1948, eleven studies had been conducted; all found that phonics is superior. (So the Education Establishment has always known that if you want a society to have low literacy, you will promote Sight-words. And that is what they relentlessly do.)
Children who rely entirely on Sight-words will invariably end up semi-literate (aka functionally illiterate). However, it’s also true that the more verbal children will in time figure out that Sight-words are not efficient. These children will notice that certain letter-shapes represent certain sounds. And by the third grade, many children will be reading phonetically even though they were never taught to do so!
The writer of the article argues for movement away from sight-teaching approaches to reading and toward more rational ones. He appeals to President Trump and his new education secretary to take note. But it’s never going to work that way. Government officials are not motivated by rationality and innovation. It’s not the nature of the job. We need free markets for that. Free markets allow the best and the brightest to flourish and innovate. In a free market, for example, you’d have a lot of schools teaching kids how to read in the old and existing, sight-learning way. Some would stubbornly persist, and — who knows — perhaps it works OK for some. But with open, free competition and the ability to go out of businesses, word would quickly get around that newer methods were doing the job better, and people would start to send their children, probably in mass numbers, to the schools with better methods. Keep in mind that in a free market, private education would be a lot cheaper, because there would be enormous supply (motivated by profit) to meet the enormous and always growing demand for the best education at the lowest price possible. “Free” public schools would not exist in a free market, other than as charity or with private funding, but the open market would be vital and innovative, because it would not have to compete with guaranteed, no-cost education for all.
The bottom line is that government schools cannot and will never go out of business. So long as they can’t do so, and so long as they’re primarily regulated and run by central authorities in the nation’s capital, it’s never going to change. Throwing more money at them rewards their unearned greed and entrenches them even deeper into the unmovable and accountable swamp that teachers’ unions have become. But the spending and borrowing frenzy orchestrated annually by career politicians doesn’t do anything to help children (1) learn to read and (2) grow into adults who actually like and want to read. It’s true that charter schools and other innovations have made some inroads in the public system. But these attempts to mimic the free market merely prove how vital a fully free market is, and how desperately we need to replace the Communist-style command-and-control system with a market.
We have to be honest here. America is in decline. It’s actually the one thing that Republicans and Democrats seem to agree on. Granted, their diagnosis and cures might be totally opposite in many cases. But at least we can all agree the country is in decline. The inability to enjoy and be competent at reading is symptomatic of a deeper problem: an inability to enjoy and be good at thinking. If we’re becoming a nation of non-thinking or lazy-thinking adults, we can’t blame it all on social media. The laziness and non-thinking we find on social media and elsewhere merely reflect the lack of thinking that exists in the first place. A culture of reading, thinking persons who enjoyed reading would not act this way, and they’d use the technology we enjoy in much more creative, productive ways. Something is more deeply wrong. And if so many millions fail to read and think, then it stands to reason that the federalized, one-size-fits-all and largely unaccountable public schools we run from the nation’s capital are not doing the job.
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