Phonics versus Look-and-Say

The problem of illiteracy perplexes American educators. One possible explanation for illiteracy is that Americans abandoned the old method that was highly successful (phonics) for a new method that has proven a failure (look-and-say):

“In 1955, Rudolf Flesch published Why Johnny Can’t Read, which explained precisely why the problem with reading instruction in U.S. schools. He said, ‘So, ever since 1500 B.C. people all over the world–wherever an alphabetic system of writing was used–learned how to read and write by the simple process of memorizing the sound of each letter in the alphabet…This is not miraculous, it’s the only natural system of learning how to read.’ Flesch notes that every single nation throughout history with an alphabet taught reading in this way–except ‘twentieth-century Americans–and other nations insofar as they followed our example. And what do we use instead?…We have decided to forget that we write with letters and learn to read English as if it were Chinese.’

“The educational establishment did not respond well to Flesch’s observations. For example, in the NEA Journal Flesch was accused of trying to ‘discredit American education.’ In November of 1955, the Journal published another attack on Flesch entitled ‘Why Can’t Rudy Read.’ It was apparent rather quickly that Flesch had hit a nerve. Although the NEA reacted to his criticism, the continued problems we have with illiteracy show that they did not learn from it. In 1981, Flesch published another book entitled Why John Still Can’t Read. He reported on the progress since his first book. There hasn’t been much. ‘Unfortunately my advice fell on deaf ears. With heart-breaking slowness, phonics-first crept into some 15 percent of our schools, but an estimated 85 percent of them still stick to old discredited look-and-say. The results of this mass miseducation have been disastrous.'”

~From Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning by Doug Wilson



Casting Pearls

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a man whose faith gave him the courage to stand against the Nazi regime. You can read his story here.

Part of Bonhoeffer’s classic The Cost of Discipleship is an exposition of the Sermon on the Mount. Chapter 18 is on Christ’s words:

“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you” (Matthew 7:6).

Bonhoeffer declares: “But the Christian is not only forbidden to judge other men: even the word of salvation has its limits. He has neither power nor right to force it on other men in season and out of season. Every attempt to impose the gospel by force, to run after people and proselytize them, to use our own resources to arrange the salvation of other people, is both futile and dangerous. It is futile, because the swine do not recognize the pearls that are cast before them, and dangerous, because it profanes the word of forgiveness, by causing those we fain would serve to sin against that which is holy. Worse still, we shall only meet with the blind rage of hardened and darkened hearts, and that will be useless and harmful. Our easy trafficking with the word of cheap grace simply bores the world to disgust, so that in the end it turns against those who try to force on it what it does not want. Thus a strict limit is placed upon the activities of the disciples, just as in Matt. 10 they are told to shake the dust off their feet where the word of peace is refused a hearing. Their restless energy which refuses to recognize any note of resistance, springs from a confusion of the gospel with a victorious ideology. An ideology requires fanatics, who neither know nor notice opposition, and it is certainly a potent force. But the Word of God in its weakness takes the risk of meeting the scorn of men and being rejected. There are hearts which are hardened and doors which are closed to the Word. The Word recognizes opposition when it meets it, and is prepared to suffer it. It is a hard lesson, but a true one, that the gospel, unlike an ideology, reckons with impossibilities. The Word is weaker than any ideology, and this means that with only the gospel at their command the witnesses are weaker than the propagandists of an opinion. But although they are weak, they are ready to suffer with the Word and so are free from that morbid restlessness which is so characteristic of fanaticism.”

If you are in a context that has rejected the Word of God, God might be commanding you, not to press through opposition, but to be silent.