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


My Dear Stinkbreath

I am a huge fan of The Screwtape Letters. What is one of the most significant ways demons tempt parents today? In this scenario I imagine a senior demon, Sharkhook, instructing his underling, Stinkbreath.

My dear Stinkbreath,

When tempting your young father, keep constantly in your mind the Pharisees. They were extremely well-behaved, but had no love for the Enemy in their hearts. Now, when tempting your young father, convince him that the point of parenting is only to raise well-behaved children (not to seek to glorify the Enemy through parenting no matter what). Notice this is all modern parenting “wisdom” is about, raising well-behaved children with no reference to the Enemy. We have successfully raised a whole generation who are well-behaved and decent human beings, and because they are so well-behaved, they believe they have no need for grace.

Curse James for pointing out that there is such a thing as demonic wisdom (James 3:15)! You must convince your young father of the attractiveness of demonic wisdom and the ugliness of Christ on the cross. When you have convinced him that demonic wisdom is wise and that heavenly wisdom is folly, you can then present the choice to him as being between “wisdom” and “folly” and not between heavenly wisdom and demonic wisdom. This is a lot to swallow, but think very carefully about what I am saying. You must make him see the attractiveness of demonic things that will get instant results (i.e. getting angry), and discourage him from seeking forgiveness. But then with heavenly wisdom, you must not only make him see the ugliness of lowly service, self-denial, and suffering, but also blind him to the joy. “For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2)? Really? Ick. It makes me sick even saying it.

Happy tempting!

Your Commander,