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The Revival of Phonics May Sound the Death Knell for Tyranny

I came across some good news today. The kind of news that makes me think there is some hope for America and its citizens.

“What is this good news?” you might ask.

It’s simple, really: schools are beginning to teach phonics again.

“Is that all?” I can hear you reply. “That’s not such a big deal!”

Au contraire! Teaching phonics is a very big deal, for in teaching phonics, we enable literacy to surge, which makes knowledge soar, which in turn brings common sense and understanding back to the minds of the voting public.

That America has finally realized the importance of phonics is evident in a recent New York Times article by Bella DiMarco, “Sounding Out a Better Way to Teach Reading.” There, DiMarco describes how early grade school students in central Virginia sound out letters without any cues to help them guess. The joy on their faces when the sounds of the letters click into a word gives a good picture of how much of a decoding game reading is. Once you know the key to the code, everything becomes clear.

Teaching students that code is having impressive effects. “After just one year using the new reading strategy,” DiMarco writes, “Richmond Public Schools raised its early literacy scores by seven points, the largest single-year gains the district has seen.” And it’s not only this school that has seen success. The entire state of Mississippi first started using a phonics-based approach to reading in 2013, DiMarco tells us. By 2019, its national standing in fourth-grade reading scores went from 49th to 29th. That’s not bad considering Mississippi is the poorest state in the union.

But can teaching phonics have that much positive impact on our nation as a whole? Surely American students have always struggled with reading—isn’t it overly optimistic to say that teaching phonics can help them grow in knowledge and understanding?

To answer those questions, it’s helpful to look at some historical data on literacy rates, data which former teacher of the year John Taylor Gatto laid out in his book, The Underground History of American Education.

According to Gatto, “literacy was universal” in the American colonies. In fact, it seems reading was so easy to teach, that many schools in colonial days didn’t even offer reading instruction “because few schoolmasters were willing to waste time teaching what was so easy to learn.” Apparently, parents—or perhaps dame school teachers—were expected to take care of such a simple task? Perhaps we should consider that an early endorsement for homeschooling…but I digress.

Such high literacy rates were apparently par for the course until World War II, for military tests found a 96 percent literacy rate amongst the millions of men who registered and were either inducted into the military or rejected for various reasons. When the Korean War rolled around a few years later, that literacy rate dropped to 81 percent, Gatto explains, dropping further to 73 percent during recruitment for the Vietnam War.

What happened during these three short decades to cause such a sudden decline in literacy rates? “Well, one change is indisputable, well-documented and easy to track,” Gatto wrote. “During WWII, American public schools massively converted to non-phonetic ways of teaching reading.”

Today only 37 percent of high school seniors can read proficiently. Are the 63 percent who can’t read proficiently illiterate? Some, yes. Others can likely read enough to get by, but such reading is unenjoyable, and when reading is unenjoyable, learning and growth in knowledge is much harder to come by.

Such a lack of knowledge doesn’t do much for students…but it does do a lot for those in power, whether they are close to home in the schools and local communities, or farther away in the halls of Congress or the White House. If students are unable to read well—if at all—then they will be unable to discern important truths and make connections from those truths to accurately judge the character and actions of those in power. And if they can’t accurately judge whether the actions of those in power are right or wrong, then they will tread ever closer to living under tyranny.

John Adams said it best when he wrote:

I must judge for myself. But how can I judge, how can any man judge, unless his mind has been opened and enlarged by reading? A man who can read will find in his Bible, in his common sermon books that common people have by them, and even in the almanac, and the newspapers, rules and observations that will enlarge his range of thought, and enable him the better to judge who has, and who has not that integrity of heart and that compass of knowledge and understanding which forms the statesman.

And that is exactly why the resurgence of phonics is joyous news. Such instruction clearly sets students on a path to being stronger readers, and once they are stronger readers, they will increase in knowledge and become more discerning, shining a light on, and exposing those who would lead blind followers on the path toward tyranny.

Image Credit: Flickr-The Real Estreya, CC BY-NC 2.0

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Annie Holmquist
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14 Comments

  • Avatar
    sharon medvitz
    October 10, 2022, 11:22 pm

    Always, always find your articles of interest and well written. Thank you for using your skills to help all of us understand in clear language the complexity of life as lived today.

    REPLY
  • Avatar
    Mike Laughlin
    October 11, 2022, 1:43 am

    When I was in grade school, public schools had dropped phonics in favor of "sight reading." However, I attended parochial school, and learned phonics. I became a skilled reader, and tested 12th grade in English comp — when I was in 6th grade. My English skills were, and are exceptional (don’t ask about math!). However, my younger brother attended public school with sight reading and never did become a skilled reader. Now I volunteer teach English as Second Language to adult migrants. I’m working phonics into my lessons.

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  • Avatar
    Tionico
    October 11, 2022, 3:47 am

    I went to private school in the fifties and sities. We ALL learned how to read by the strong teaching of phonics. When I decided, years later, to begin learning other languages, phonics made it SO simple. Each lanaguage has its own rules for pronouncing each letter or letter group. Learn them, you can speak the language quickly and easily. Some languages are simple.. each letter ONLY says one sound, with few exceptions which follow predictable rules. English is VERY complex. By the time I was six I was an avid reader and have remained so these past many decades.
    I also know many of wide age range who are or have been homeschooled. Phonics is nearly universally taught amongst this group. I know young children of eight and ten who literally read at least a book a week, some are at a book a DAY.At nine years old. And she can sit and tell you what the story of the book is.
    nd when I read about the literacy rate, or rather lack thereof, of the gummit skewl fokes I can only sit here and shake my head. WHY? Part of the plan to keep them dumbed down, powerless, mindless, hopeless. It is working well.

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  • Avatar
    Joe Walker
    October 11, 2022, 11:56 am

    The "whole word" method (memorization of words) became almost a religious symbol for the Left and unfortunately they control education. It was a disaster, particularly for boys. My youngest was struggling with reading (having aggressive young boys reading unisex passive stories did not help) and their remedy was extra instruction…in whole word. He was in danger of being held back, but I got him a tutor in the summer (in phonics) and by the start of school he was up to grade level, which curiously displeased his teachers. I’m solidly middle class and had the means. What happens to a child whose parents are of limited means? Frustration, anger, seeing reading and learning as a female thing, lack of achievement.

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    • Avatar
      Bubba@Joe Walker
      October 12, 2022, 2:30 am

      I did a stint in a medium security prison and was shocked at how few men, especially "of color" know how to read (and write.)
      I taught quite a few hardened gang members how to read using phonics.
      I’d teach anyone for whatever they wanted to pay or nothing, as long as they could sing the ABC song to me.
      It gave me something to do that seemed worthwhile.
      It was satisfying to see those lightbulbs of understanding turn on.

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  • Avatar
    Richard
    October 11, 2022, 12:30 pm

    That is a huge step in the right direction…..now they have to replace all that cultural Marxist based reading material, both in their socialist studies classes and English literature classes, with Western Civilization based material and reintroduce rhetoric and logic.

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