With the present extent of illiteracy among English-speaking people, solving the problem of ending illiteracy is now more crucial than ever. In promoting my proven solution to functional illiteracy, I feel like a medical doctor who has a patient with a serious medical problem who has been treating his illness with an expensive home remedy. It is obvious that there is an easy cure for the problem, but the patient only wants to know the cost of the medical treatment. Although the cost is less than several more months of the home remedy, the patient decides to continue with what he knows—his home remedy—instead of learning the details of a proven cure. In 1985, I read Jonathan Kozol’s shocking book, Illiterate America, which tells about the serious physical, mental, emotional, medical, and financial problems that functional illiterates must constantly endure—problems which we would consider a crisis if they occurred to us. Since then I have had a relentless passion to help end Illiteracy. The difficulty in getting the publicity needed to convince the public of the wisdom of adopting the simple, proven solution to illiteracy is very frustrating.
(In our present money-crazed society, where money has corrupted some pharmaceutical businesses as well as many wall street and other businesses across the U.S., where business lobbyists and efforts to hang onto congressional jobs has corrupted most of the congress, and where money has corrupted many government agencies and officials, it is understandable if people think that my real motivation is to make money selling my book. They couldn’t be more wrong. I have spent well over $30,000 more on free review copies of my book mailed out, on marketing programs, and office supplies—thankfully the eleven associates in Literacy Research Assoc., Inc. were all unpaid advisors—than I have earned in book sales, and with the multiple hundreds of hours spent on researching, writing, and marketing since 1985, even after my book reaches best-seller status it is extremely unlikely that I will earn more than a dollar an hour for my efforts.)
To get back to the home remedy versus proven medical procedure analogy: our present spelling system is analogous to a serious medical problem treated with an expensive home remedy. It results in expensive education because it takes about two years longer to teach our children to read than almost any other alphabetic languages. This means that, as Rudolph Flesch states on pages 76-77 of his book Why Johnny Can’t Read, “Generally speaking, students in our schools are about two years behind students of the same age in other countries. This is not a wild accusation of the American educational system; it is an established, generally known fact . . . . What accounts for these two years? Usually the assumption seems to be that in other countries children and adolescents are forced to study harder. Now that I have looked into this matter of reading, I think the explanation is much simpler and more reasonable: Americans take two years longer to learn how to read—and reading, of course, is the basis for achievement in all other subjects.”
Our present spelling is so inconsistent, illogical, and chaotic that, as Sir James Pitman states on page 38 of his book Alphabets and Reading, concerning learning to read, “[T]he child is expected to take on a task that is formidable for all and for some impossible: to analyze what is scarcely analyzable, to conjure abstractions and generalizations from a printed medium whose associations are in fact neither invariable nor consistent and thus doubly irrational.” resulting in over a million U.S. students graduating from high school every year who cannot even read their own diplomas and helping maintain or increase the 48.7% of the adult population who are functionally illiterate (see the report Adult Literacy in America and page 2 of our home page for detailed proof). Any person, child or adult, except the most seriously mentally handicapped can learn to read traditional spelling, but about half of them will not learn to read in most of the present school systems—they can learn only with a year or more of extensive one-on-one tutor training.
When the proposal is made to correct the spelling—to be simple, consistent, and logical, as a means of solving the problem of illiteracy—people tend to look only at the cost of the solution, just like the person with a serious medical problem wants to compare the cost quoted by the doctor and his home remedy’s cost. This distracts people from looking at the seriousness of the problem of functional illiteracy or the details of how easy the solution would really be—and how in the long run it reduces the cost of teaching students to read English.
There are at least three reasons why spelling reform is so seldom considered as a solution to illiteracy. First of all, since most of us learned to read as children, we do not realize how inconsistent, illogical, and chaotic English spelling really is (see page 5 of our home page for detailed proof). Our eyes glide easily over a multitude of traps for beginning readers.
Second, we have been taught all our lives that there is only one correct way to spell a word, not realizing that not only does the “so-called” correct spelling often not represent the pronunciation of the word, but also that the pronunciation of many words changes with time, and not realizing that the spelling of an alphabetic language should be based upon the pronunciation of the word, as it is in almost every other alphabetic languages.
Third, most of us have heard the “conventional wisdom” that spelling reform is too expensive or that it has been rejected as an option by the “experts.” Conventional wisdom is what most people believe regardless of whether or not it has been proven. At one time, conventional wisdom was that the earth was flat. The truth of the matter is that several distinguished scholars have carefully analyzed all reasonable objections to spelling reform and have thoroughly debunked all of them, and that the overall cost of learning to read will be reduced once a simple, consistent and logical spelling has been adopted and is taught in the schools. Many people also believe that spelling reform has been tried and failed in English, but spelling reform as Literacy Research Associates, Inc. and NuEnglish, Inc. are proposing has never been tried. The only attempt, so far, has been President Theodore Roosevelt’s attempt in which he mandated that government agencies use a simpler spelling of 300 words that he presented to them. Although the Chicago Tribune joined in this trial, both the government agencies and the newspaper reverted to “correct” spelling of the words after a couple of years. Only a handful of words from this trial were adopted into present usage—as alternative spellings.
To see how our humanitarian project for ending English illiteracy evolved, go to the Amazon.com detail page http://www.amazon.com/dp/1589824970. The Amazon.com detail page also has a review of the book by Robert S. Laubach, president emeritus of Laubach Literacy International and ten customer review; some of them are “top 500″ Amazon reviewers. Nine of the reviews are 5-Star reviews (the maximum) and one is a 4-Star review. The book is available for a discount price here. Regardless of “conventional wisdom,” ending our shocking scourge of English functional illiteracy IS possible.