The War against Black Children
There is a statistic out there that almost half the adults in Detroit are functionally illiterate. They can't fill out job applications. They can't read the instructions on a pill bottle.
So when we talk about a war against black children, let's not think first about guns. Think about the weapon that is doing the most damage. That would be our public schools.
You cannot have functionality illiterate children at the high school level unless the school system systematically evades teaching those children to read at the elementary school level. That's exactly what is happening in cities across America. This is hardly a natural phenomenon. It's caused by the perennial incompetence (some would say malevolence) of our Education Establishment.
A famous book precisely explained in 1955 "Why Johnny Can't Read." You need phonics to teach reading. Without phonics, you will get illiterate kids. But our Education Establishment pretends not to hear the news. Nobody can be that clueless. They are best understood as a cult that pretends to be oblivious if that will help their agenda.
This is an easy matter for everyone to check. Just ask any black parents you know who have (or had) children in elementary school. Go ahead, ask them. That's the only way we are going to confront and cure this thing. Here's the key question: Did your children bring home lists of sight-words to be memorized? If that was the method of instruction, then those kids were doomed from the start never to become good readers. Sight-word lists are the smoking gun, the DNA evidence, the bloody fingerprints proving that the people in charge are not serious about literacy.
Our Education Establishment, in its devotion to a progressive (i.e., leveling) ideology, will apparently stop at nothing to make sure children end up with a mediocre education generally and poor reading skills in particular. This shabby education falls with particular violence on children from poor families, single-parent families, and generally families that are not well-educated or highly literate. After all, who will visit the school to defend the child against educational malpractice, which is what most reading instruction is?
So imagine a single mom maybe 25 or 30 years old – no husband, no job, no particular skills, and this mother was herself a victim of bad elementary school education 15 or 20 years before. She probably cannot read at a high level and isn't comfortable talking about it. Most illiterates never recover from that hopeless feeling of inadequacy due to not learning to read. (That feeling is especially destructive for boys, who need to feel that they are capable.)
While memorizing sight-words is the one best example of foolish educational methods, it's not the only culprit. Reform Math mangles arithmetic. Constructivism isn't a good way to teach facts and knowledge. Common Core in general embraces all the worst ideas from past decades. There is, in every academic area, a war against knowledge. And as there are often no informed, confident parents to defend them, black children are more likely to be damaged by this war.
Shockingly, our Educational Establishment does not stop there. In addition to a war against academic achievement, there is also a war against character. Think back to the virtues embraced by Poor Richard's Almanack and the more recent list of virtues in the Boy Scout Oath. The Education Establishment disdains all those traditional values. There is a constant defending of lower standards (aka defining deviance down), a constant refusal to instruct or correct in the traditional way. The "soft bigotry of low expectations" sabotages all attempts to improve education.
Many schools seem to preach a gospel of failure. It's okay to be mediocre. It's okay to be late. It's okay to be lazy. It's okay to forget to do your homework. It's okay to guess wildly. It's okay to be sloppy. It's okay to cheat sometimes. It's okay if you're not very good at academic things. It's okay if you can't read very well or do basic arithmetic. It's okay if you're not even trying. It's okay to be a lot less than you can be.
A child growing up in difficult circumstances needs character to rise above the problems. But look at our public school system – it seems as though the goal is to keep children lazy and passive, to keep them on the welfare plantation. The underlying goal of our Education Establishment seems to be to create a never-ending supply of obedient Democrat voters. They won't know very much or reflect very much, but they will do as they are told by their so-called leaders.
As reading is the shining symbol of all this madness, let's take a quick look at how to recognize the threat. The first thing to know is that there are a dozen different names for the same sophistry. The names include Look-say, Whole Word, Memory Method, Whole Language, Balanced Literacy, High-frequency Words, Dolch Words, Fry Words, Zeno Words, Reading Recovery, Writing Workshop Method, etc. But strip away the small differences, and what you'll find at the center is this: a relentless disdain of phonics coupled with a relentless endorsement of sight-words. Both tendencies are fatal for literacy.
Meanwhile, systematic phonics works. All the research and all the studies show that you have to teach children the names of the letters and then the sounds represented by those letters. Details can be argued over, but the essential phonetic idea cannot be argued over.
So there is a war against black children, not because they're black, but because their parents can't defend them. This same thing is happening in Appalachia, Latino neighborhoods, and wherever else you have poor families who are not very sophisticated about education. So don't think of it as racial discrimination. It's a problem of people being defenseless against an Education Establishment that will take advantage of weakness. Black children are what the military calls targets of opportunity. They're there, they're unprotected, so they're more often going to be casualties.
In any case, the cure is obvious. Fight back, first by banishing sight-words from the school. Teach children how to say the alphabet, how to write the letters, and how to say the sounds represented by each letter. B always represents a buh-sound. Once a child gets that concept, everything moves along quickly. All the phonics experts say they can teach virtually every child to read in the first grade. Most public schools hardly teach children to read at all. Fixing this problem should be the country's most urgent concern.
Here's the biggest question of all. Where are the responsible grown-ups, who should have stepped in and saved the situation? Where are the political leaders, the religious leaders, the educational leaders?
In particular, where is black leadership? Where are Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton? Do they have anything intelligent to say about education? Where is Obama? He likes to talk about making children college-ready and career-ready, but most children are not even ready for high school. What has he done to help the situation? Arguably nothing, as his main contribution is Common Core.
It's clear we can't wait for our useless leaders. Everyone has to step up his game. Parents must protect their children. If they're not reading real books in third grade, start complaining loudly. Make some noise.
The kids themselves should step up. Demand better education.
To boil it down, fight against sight-words. Fight against Common Core.
Bruce Deitrick Price explains educational theories and methods on his site Improve-Education.org.