When addressing the issue of social reforms and added programs that have little to do with education and the “educational” experiments made on our children I didn’t even mention “whole language“. When my son began learning to read the district used something called “whole language reading” instead of phonics. The idea is that language is a system and a child can learn to recognize concepts faster if they learn whole words as units instead of breaking the word up into parts and pronouncing each individual letter.
The problem is that it doesn’t work.
My son is a college graduate with a good job in the oil and gas industry but he doesn’t find reading enjoyable. He tested into the gifted and talented program in kindergarten with his strength in math and science but the whole language system threw him off reading for life.
I believe a good foundation in phonics would have changed that outcome.
Having worked with special needs children for so many years, dealing with every level of every kind of special needs, I can say with some authority that whole language doesn’t work for the average or below average child. How can a child who can not distinguish between a letter and a number “get” an entire word? Phew! The BEST program I used for teaching children with reading challenges was a program called “Scottish Rite”. (This is nothing to do with “Free Masonry”.) It used phonics and the whole body (kinesthetic) to get a grasp of what each letter is and what it does and from there how it can be used. By “using the whole body” I mean that you teach the child to fully extend their arm and trace the letter in the air. You would be surprised at how well this teaches the proper direction of writing and reading.
So, what did the school district do? It pulled the Scottish Rite program out because “it costs too much.” What? That’s right. They pulled the only program that worked, thank-you-very-much! There was no substitute for what the program did. It was a series of lessons on video that we used in a quiet spot or empty classroom for one or two kids at a time. (It wasn’t as if they were paying me extra for it, so that wasn’t the problem.) I could remember what each lesson had been, so with permission, was able to continue teaching phonics in that way with great success.
I mentioned in an earlier blog that there is a simple solution to many of the problems in our public school system.
I don’t mean that parents should go up to their child’s school and yell at administrators for the problems they see with their child’s learning programs. That kind of action only causes ill will between parties and solves nothing. What I mean by parental involvement is more parents and grandparents and legal guardians getting their hands and feet dirty and volunteering.
Yes, I said it – volunteering.
When I worked in the school system I saw quite a few parents who the teachers called the “rabble-rouzers”, the “pit-bull team”, and other not-so-nice-descriptors, come up to the school to yell at the principal, their child’s teacher, and otherwise name-call. Then, they would leave. I never saw those particular parents actually volunteering, helping their child’s teacher in the classroom, or helping make the tons of little paper things that kids in Elementary need. It is one thing to call for a meeting such as an IEP meeting. (“Individual Educational Program” meetings, or ARDs where the IEP is developed for the child), it is another to yell at supposed “wrongs.” In a formal meeting (usually video-taped or recorded) where all the teachers, speech pathologists, special-needs teacher, etc are called together, the idea is to help figure out an ever-improving path of education for a child. This is a good thing, although once again this is a serious interruption of the educational process that should be taking place in the classroom, not to mention the ton of paper-work that comes with the IEP that is then added to the teacher’s already over-loaded daily schedule. (A teacher must have a check list of modifications to implement on a daily basis for that individual child or two or more children. This takes special care to complete because it is a legal and binding contract under the child’s IEP.)
Parents and grandparents who came to the school on a regular basis rarely became angry at teachers, yelled at school principals, or declared that “my angel would NEVER do that!” when told of misbehavior. Parents who saw what went on in the classroom on a daily or even weekly basis were more likely to suggest improvements that were actually helpful, and to help teachers when real problems came up.
There is not enough good things I can say about parents and grandparents who take the time to volunteer.
But you can’t volunteer in your child’s school because you work full-time? For the majority of parents there is someone who they can trust to help them out. Even another parent of a child in the same class as your student could report back to you on a regular basis about the education (or lack of it) taking place. You can even take turns volunteering, just as you take turns with car-pooling your children.
How much better our educational system can become will not take more money thrown at it by a largely indifferent government. What it will take is more parents or caregivers getting involved in volunteering at their child’s school.
Volunteers make all the difference.