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March 12, 2013

Malice or Incompetence: Sarah Hoyt's Experience with Goverment Anti-Education

Her kid was smarter than his teacher, so of course they tried to throw him into special ed. Not gifted and talented education, but learning-disabled.

I think the other day I said it was in third grade that the school gave us trouble over Robert. I was wrong, it was actually in first grade. I sent them a kid who could read, write and was working on fractions. Imagine our shock when in our first first grade conference, the teacher informed us that Robert was learning disabled and would probably never learn to read and write. This was particularly surprising since one of her pieces of evidence was a worksheet that consisted of 1+0, 2+0 etc. across the top of which Robert had written in properly spelled words “this is stupid and boring. A number plus zero always equals the number.”

Note the teacher here failed to recognize that the student had in fact already digested the main point of addition of zero -- that is, the whole point of the rote memorization was to get the student to realize the universal rule that any number plus zero is just that number. The student understood this -- the teacher, apparently, did not, for she seems to have thought this was some kind of "mistake," rather than the whole point of the tedious rote memorization exercise. The kid understood; the teacher was baffled.

Quick, let's pay them more money before they all jump ship for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

But I digress.

Dan and I threw a fit – we would – and they insisted Robert needed to be in Title One and remedial education. We insisted he didn’t. In the end, they had him IQ tested, after priming the school psychologist, who used a “set” that topped out at 107 IQ. Then they informed us his IQ was 107 and he needed to be in Title One and remedial education.

At that point I wanted to go raze the school or perhaps set it on fire. (I did say I’m excitable, right?) But Dan wouldn’t let me. Instead we burned around 1k dollars we didn’t have (we were so tight in those days we hugged each cent till it squealed. Considering whether to buy an extra head of lettuce was existential. We drove a $1500 car, and only had one for the two of us,) found the most reputable psychologist in town, and had him tested over Christmas break. (They were making noises about a “staffing” meeting in January and how they’d take our parental rights away if we didn’t sign Robert for “what’s best for him.”) We said nothing, just had him tested.

He tested profoundly gifted (which is a technical designation.)

So, next thing you know, Dan marches into the staffing meeting with the results, authenticated by a psychologist who was known and respected in the region. He first asked them what they thought of her, and they said she was very good, but of course very expensive. Then he laid the results on the table.

Shock, horror and confusion ensued, the most important – the teacher, who btw, we later found out did this every year to a kid she perceived as ‘minority’ (this, btw, in a town that is one of the most liberal areas in CO. I told this story to a leftist friend who absolutely refused to believe it. And yet it happened.) and her friend, the school psychologist were both present – reaction being BETRAYAL. “How could you go and do this behind our backs, without warning us?”

Then the meeting broke up in disarray, Robert got put in “gifted” classes and no more was said about it.

A lot of her essay is about "Whole Word" reading, such an absurd concept I can only explain what it's not: It's not phonics. It's not reading based on sounding out a word based on the letters, but instead just looking at the word in a gestalt sort of way and guessing what word it is, repeatedly, until the teacher tells you the answer.

There's Cargo Cult thinking going on there.

I think that once someone really knows how to read, their brains skip the phonics sounding-it-out process and just shortcut to whole word reading. When Tami wrote in the comments something like this...

Can you raed tihs? Cachens are you can. Taht's bacsuee poelpe tned to sacn wlohe wrdos at a tmie and olny look at the frsit and lsat ltetres of wrods, and tiehr lgntehs, and of crouse the cntoxet cules of our ebdemded udnretsnding of gammrar and epxetced wrod odrer.

... I think she demonstrated that people who can read automatically, intuitively, really don't need correct spelling nor phonics to do so. We have large enough vocabularies combined with a very strong intuitive grasp of how sentences are supposed to look and what sorts of words we can expect in which parts of a sentence that our brains can just automatically figure these things out without much exertion of conscious effort. (It occurs to me that search-engines' prediction of what word you're going to write next in your search term is just this sort of thing performed by computer code. Our brains do it, without code, but still based upon the same sorts of things, "past searches" (previous experience in what words tend to follow each other, statistically) and the basic logic of sentence structure.)

So that's true of Strong Readers who are now, by their adulthood, intuitive readers who know the rules so well, and so unconsciously, that they can completely ignore the rules and don't even remember what "the rules" are. We all know "the rules" -- we know what has to come in a sentence, and what word goes where, and such -- but we know them unconsciously.

We'd have trouble explaining to a foreigner what the rules are, because we don't really think about the rules in conscious thought or in "mind words," just as we don't consciously think about where precisely we should put our hands to catch a ball. We just do it.

So this sort of thing is the end goal of education-- to get kids to know the rules so well they don't even know the rules anymore. They operate according to the rules, but they don't think about the rules. I can do a lot of basic 8th through 11th grade algebra, but I couldn't justify why I'm permitted to divide both sides by 8 or why I use the FOIL method. I just do.

But does it make sense to "teach" 4, 5, and 6 years old this way?

No. Because it's not teaching. In order to forget the rules by age 15, a kid has to first be trained according to the rules at age 5. You don't "cut out the middleman" and skip right to "forgetting the rules" at age 5.

The 5 year old can't forget the rules, because he never knew them in the first place. This is the end of the journey, not the beginning.

For God's sakes. This is obvious. Even if it weren't obvious, we have the minor clue of empirical results-- we've gone from teaching kids how to read to teaching them to be stubborn near-illiterates even into their college years (and of course then until their end of days).

And of course we've taught them to have the Highest of Self Esteem in their near-illiteracy.

I can't help but think this "whole word" teaching system is an attempt to make things easier for teachers. As I said, it's easy to do something when you already know how to do it. I can do algebra, but I don't know if I could teach it. I forget a lot of the reasons why I can do things. I forget the rigorous procedure of doing it, first do Step One, then do Step Two. I tend to just do it intuitively.

So, the hard part of teaching kids to read is not being able to read yourself. For God's sakes, I hope most of our teachers can read. I sincerely hope that -- but I have doubts.

The hard part of teaching kids to read is learning how to do it step by step -- that is, relearning "the rules" which most adults have forgotten because they've internalized the rules so deeply. That's the hard part-- but we're not asking teachers to do that anymore.

Instead, we're just asking them to read words themselves, and know that "orange" spells orange, and have kids guess at the word until they get it right.

That's very easy for an adult to do. Throw any word at this adult, and I Can Read It For You. I don't even need my Education Degree to do so.

But that's not what teachers are supposed to be doing. They're supposed to be teaching kids the step-by-step method of reading words so that they, too, can one day forget about the rules of phonics and just read.

Not just the easy stuff of saying "This word is 'orange.'" No shit, really? Well thank God our education system is full of people who know the letters O R A N G E spell orange.

The more important question is, as Jamie Escalante said in Stand & Deliver: Why?

Once a kid knows the why, he can decode every word he comes across -- without guessing at it.

Alternate Explanation for Whole Word Teaching: I started reading early, by age 3, I think my parents say. I started reading when every time my parents took me to a bakery it had this word outside it:


and every time I saw this great little cartoon dog Snoopy it had these strange markings under him:


Without being taught that "this letter sounds like this, and that letter sounds like that" I deduced these things, and then started trying to apply them to other words, and found that it... worked. So I started deducing what other strange squiggles might mean.

Now this is a good way to learn, certainly. And some kids will deduce phonics without being taught phonics.

And I'll tell you that as a kid I hated phonics with a white-hot passion. Because it was boring. I already knew, intuitively, that the w made a whuh sound and really disliked being taught this in a formal, rigorous way.

So maybe these people think that by simply exposing kids to words, they too will go through the deduction/experiment/confirmation process and wind up with a deeper understanding of reading than rote teaching of phonics would.

But there are two problems with this. First, the logical objection: If a kid was going to do this he already would be doing it. Kids are exposed to letters and words constantly; if a kid was going to learn to read by deduction and experimentation he already would have. He'd enter school, as many kids do, already reading.

We don't have to teach the kids who know how to read how to read. We have to teach the kids who don't.

Second, the empirical objection: It's not working. Period. Kids are not learning better; they're learning worse.

Maybe some kids are on the cusp of deducting their way into breaking the word code, but they just need help with the first step of it-- like codebreakers, they need a "crib." But if you don't give them that first crib of the phonics of the common words, they won't break the code.

Whatever merits the "force them to commit acts of higher-order deduction" theory might have, they're completely rubbished by the empirical record.

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posted by Ace at 02:58 PM

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