Caution: this is important to you and to all of us, but it is not “light-reading.” Are you up to the challenge?
Many people resist change, even a change to something that is better. This is because people often prefer to continue the inconvenience of the known instead changing to achieve the proven benefits of the unknown. People often continue to resist change until it becomes a crisis that they cannot continue to ignore. I hesitate to use the following example because it is so trivial compared to the shockingly large problem of English functional illiteracy, but it is a perfect example of avoiding change until a crisis occurs that cannot be ignored.
In a Western U.S. city, which shall remain nameless, there is a straight stretch of road almost a half-mile long which has only one intersection — near the middle. The speed limit on the road is 50 mph, but cars often go 65 mph. People who live near the intersection often want to enter the road at the intersection. The only way to avoid entering the road at this intersection, on one side of the road, is to go almost a mile out of the way along a slow twisty-turny, uphill road through the neighborhood and stop at a stop sign and then later a traffic light. People on the other side of the road have an even longer path to avoid entering at this intersection. People who want to enter the road at this intersection complained to city officials for years about the need for a stop light there because of the danger and because of many near-misses they encountered. Because of the high cost, city officials resisted the change for many years — which those in the neighborhood considered a crisis. A traffic light was not installed, however, until after someone was killed in a car wreck at the intersection.
Political and educational officials have been avoiding any truly EFFECTIVE changes in the method of teaching reading in the U.S. for more than ninety years. Almost a hundred million functionally illiterate people in the U.S. are affected by our “car-wreck” of a system for teaching reading. There are several reasons. Political and educational officials make small changes hoping it will solve the problem and then hope no one will really notice that the change has not made a statistically significant improvement. Parents may see reports about the problems in the schools but are firmly convinced that the school(s) their child(ren) attend(s) (or to which they move their offspring) is a very good school. They believe this because they want to — they do not know what else they can do. In short, everyone involved, politicians, educational officials, teachers, and parents, do not know how to solve the problem and do not want to take a chance on anything they consider too “radical.” Some critical problems, such as the problem of English functional illiteracy, however, cannot be solved by merely “tweaking” the existing system — as has been done many times in the last ninety years (at an increasing pace since the 1983 “Nation At Risk” educational report. This report concluded that if a foreign nation had imposed upon us our present, ineffective educational system, we would consider it an act of war.)
The good news is that the discovery of Literacy-Research Associates, Inc. and NuEnglish, Inc., (two non-profit educational corporations) and the perfection of the method they discovered for solving the problem of English functional illiteracy has been proven to solve the problem. Dr. Frank Laubach, perhaps the world’s greatest authority on teaching illiterates around the world to read, taught in more than 300 alphabetic languages. In 95% of these languages, he could teach adults to read fluently in from one to twenty days! In some simpler languages, such as one or more dialects of the Philippine language, he could teach adults to read in one hour! In 98% of these languages, he could teach his students to read fluently in less than three months. In fact, Dr. Laubach invented spelling systems for 220 languages. In Dr. Laubach’s books, Teaching the World to Read and Forty Years With the Silent Billion, he never mentioned even one student that he was unable to teach to read. All of this was possible because all of these written languages were logical and consistent.
Present English spelling — on the other hand — is illogical, inconsistent, and chaotic. Most of us who can read learned to read as a child and have long ago forgotten the difficulty we had. Our eyes skip easily over a multitude of traps for beginning readers. Although there are many reasons why any one student may not learn to read, there is only one problem that affects every student — the illogical, inconsistent spelling. Our ridiculous spelling is the fundamental, root cause of functional illiteracy. To see proof of that statement, click here. As far as grammar and syntax are concerned, English is neither the easiest nor the most difficult, but English spelling is by far the most illogical, inconsistent, and chaotic spelling in the world. English grammar and syntax are easier, for example, than many European languages. Learning to read any of these European languages with a more complicated grammar and syntax can be mastered in less than three months. It takes most U.S. students at least two years to learn to read English, and almost half of U.S. students NEVER become fluent readers.
A careful analysis of the most statistically accurate and comprehensive study of U.S. adult literacy, the Adult Literacy in America report, conclusively proves that a shocking 48.7% of U.S. adults cannot read well enough to hold an above-poverty-level-wage job. This report is available for free study and download, click here. Not only did newspaper reporters downplay the seriousness of the facts in this report, the authors of the report did not take the facts they reported to their logical conclusion as would be possible with some simple ratio-multiplication. The inability to read well enough to hold an above-poverty-level-wage job is the most accurate possible determination of English functional illiteracy. See proof of that statement here. The accuracy of this report was confirmed by a 2006 report, which is also free on the internet (click here.) To see proof that 48.7% of U.S. adults are functionally illiterate and that 31.2% of these functional illiterates are in poverty and that they are more than twice as likely to be in poverty as for all other reasons combined, click here.
Dr. Laubach stated on page 48 of his book, Forty Years With the Silent Billion, “If we spelled English phonetically, American children could be taught to read in a week.” Educationists familiar only with traditional English may be tempted to discount Dr. Laubach’s expertise and claim that is too optimistic, as a way of maintaining the status quo. Learning to read in only three months or less would make American schools equal to schools in other languages. Many other school subjects could be begun two years earlier than they are now.
The school systems in many nations have such high standards that only the best students remain in school. Dr. Rudolph Flesch, on pages 76 and 77 of his book, Why Johnny Can’t Read, explains another important difference:
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 know 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 to read — and reading, of course, is the basis for achievement in all other subjects.
Although conscientious teachers of the first three grades in school may be frustrated by their inability to teach their students to read, many of the teachers of the first three grades — even including many of these conscientious teachers — do not relish the idea of having to learn to teach new subjects. John Corcoran, who wrote the book, The Teacher Who Couldn’t Read, was a college graduate who taught in a California high school for several years but could hardly read at all. He stated that even though no school teacher ever heard him read aloud correctly, they never seemed to notice. He stated that school teachers are in denial about the problem of non-readers in the schools.
Some of the better students can probably learn to read English spelled phonetically in a week, as Dr. Laubach stated, but it would be a serious mistake to discount Dr. Laubach’s lifetime devotion to teaching students around the world. Even if Dr. Laubach is too optimistic in his assessment, if every student except the most seriously mentally disabled can learn to read in less than three months (instead of the present record of only slightly more than half learning to read in two years or more), everyone who has any compassion for the pain and suffering of illiterates and the cost their illiteracy imposes on every adult, reader and non-reader alike, (more than $5,000 each year for the cost of government programs that illiterates use, the cost of truancy, juvenile delinquency, and crime directly related to illiteracy, and the increased cost of consumer goods due to illiteracy) should be eager to help promote the only proven solution to illiteracy.
To see an overview of our humanitarian project, click here. What we are proposing is very simple: let’s spell our words the way they sound, the way most of the entire world does! As stated at the start of this blog, however, this is not light reading. Due to the natural human avoidance of change, many people have to see a large number of facts before they are willing to make a change. Some skeptical readers will not be convinced by this blog or any or our extensive websites. One thing is certain however: anyone who carefully, honestly reads all of the text of our book, Let’s End Our Literacy Crisis, which is 164 pages and will take about six hours at a normal reading rate, will be convinced that we must stop fighting the symptoms of the problem (the difficulty of English spelling) and solve the problem, by making the spelling simple, dependable, and logical, as Dr. Frank Laubach found effective in more than 300 languages. This is similar to taking aspirin, decongestant, and cough medicine for the symptoms of pneumonia instead of antibiotics to cure it. Visit the Amazon.com website about Let’s End Our Literacy Crisis to see a description of the book, a short history of the development of our humanitarian project, an editorial review by Dr. Robert S. Laubach, past president of Laubach Literacy International, and ten customer reviews of the book, some of them by Amazon Top 500 reviewers, by clicking here.