How to Create Functional Illiteracy in 7 Easy Lessons

Public schools are expert at creating illiteracy.  Our K-12 system can usually guarantee that students don't become fluent readers.  The system is nearly foolproof.  Parents and teachers can make children illiterate or semi-literate simply by following this well-tested seven-step formula:

1) FORGET ABOUT THE ALPHABET.  Do not teach the alphabet, the sounds, or the blends.  Reading maestro Frank Smith maintained in Reading Without Nonsense (1973): "I have said that children should not be taught the alphabet[.] ... [U]ntil children have a good idea of what reading is about, learning the names of letters is largely a nonsense activity."

In her strikingly insightful 1970 book Programmed Illiteracy in Our Schools, Mary Johnson noted: "It was frequently stressed that English was 'not a phonetic language' and that children did not need to be told the separate letter sounds. 'Surely we don't have anyone here who is old-fashioned enough to tell children the sounds of the letters!' teased one consultant [from a publisher]."

2) MEMORIZE SIGHT-WORDS.  Our faux experts insist that if a child will learn a few hundred of the most common words, reading will be a snap.  Here are some examples of the lethal boilerplate:

"Sight word acquisition is an important building block in the construction of a child's ability to read. Once she is able to read all of the words on Dolch's list, for example, she has access to up to 75% of what is printed in almost any piece of children's literature."

"Sight words are used repeatedly in children's reading books. Sight word competency is a major factor in a child's ability to read fluently. These words should be read without hesitation. If your child slows down or stops to sound out irregularly spelled words, his/her reading will become laborious instead of fluent."

3) GUESS OR SKIP.  The ultimate advice given by Whole Word and Whole Language gurus really came down to two ways to surrender: guess or skip.  Frank Smith argued that "the first alternative and preference is to skip over the  puzzling word. The second alternative is to guess what the unknown word might be."  If you're in a foreign country and trying to make sense of a menu, what are your options?  You can guess each word, or you can skip each word.  This is what illiteracy looks like.  Real readers do not guess or skip.

4) USE CONTEXT CLUES.  The official method says that children can use context (i.e., the nearby words which they often can't read) to read the word they are trying to read.  Unless you rig the example, this is typically a useless technique.  "The man looked out the window and saw a ____."  Even the smartest, best educated people can rarely figure what X is.  Or pick up any book and black out a few nouns or verbs.  Find out if people can ever deduce meaning from context.  (To use this technique, you have to look closely at many other words, back and forth, up and down – all of which takes a lot of time.)

5) USE THE ILLITERATE'S MANY HANDY WORKAROUNDS.  Pre-read; post read; prediction; picture clues; summarizing the passage; relying on prior experience; and, of course, guessing.  If there's a picture of an animal you can identify, assume that the word will be in the passage somewhere.  Go ahead and find it.  Again, all of these techniques are what any illiterate person does when he doesn't know how to read.  None of them is reading.  All are floundering.

6) PUT A GOOD SPIN ON FAILURE.  When you experience weird reading problems, view them as "a gift."  This is how dyslexia organizations describe the cognitive disorientation that sight-words induce in children.  Not to worry.  We are told that many of the world's smartest people were dyslexics.  This claim is supposed to make you feel better about being abused by education professors.

7) ACCEPT THAT DRUGS WILL BE AN IMPORTANT PART OF YOUR READING PROGRAM.  You won't be able to read, but you won't care, thanks to the magic of Ritalin and other chemicals.  So don't waste time being fidgety, impatient, and unhappy.  This is the brave new world of school-induced acceptance of mediocrity.

As you see, this is a simple, straightforward program.  Follow the seven steps, and you can turn anybody into a functional illiterate.  If you do it to a high degree, he will simply be illiterate; he won't function at all.

Conversely, if you ignore all these rules and do the opposite – i.e., what all phonics experts tell you to do, your children will become real readers and real students.

NB: Summer is a good time to teach children to read, before the schools can mess them up.

Bruce Deitrick Price explains theories and methods on his education sites  (For info on his four new novels, see his literary site

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