Reading and the Brain

By:  Sam Blumenfeld
01/24/2012
       
Reading and the Brain

In a recent article on whether one should be optimistic or pessimistic about America’s future, I quoted the former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts who wrote in Commentary magazine:

 

In a recent article on whether one should be optimistic or pessimistic about America’s future, I quoted the former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts who wrote in Commentary magazine:

I remain optimistic in general terms about the United States.... I am far less confident, however, about the nation’s cultural and intellectual future. There has been a vast dumbing down of our public culture that may be irreversible. There can be no doubt from the many detailed and reliable studies available that Americans now know less, read less, and even read less well than they did a quarter of a century ago.

As I have been telling my fellow Americans for the last 35 years, in print and in lectures, the way our educators have been able to impose this dumbing-down process in our schools is by changing the way children are taught to read in the primary grades. They got rid of the alphabetic-phonics method, and put in its place a whole-word, or sight method of teaching reading. In short, they decided to teach American children to read English as if it were Chinese, an ideographic writing system. A reader of the above article who was taught to read that way commented:

As I was being taught to read 45 years ago, I can remember being taught to recognize words by their shape; that is, a box was drawn around the word that traced the contours of each letter. For instance, the word "value" would end up having a box around it that looked like a long rectangle with a small square on top of it, halfway along its length, to accommodate the height of the letter "l". I don't know what this method is called, but it seems to have had some effect on me, in that I believe I grew up being a much more image-based learner, which I also believe was detrimental. My wife learned to read much more phonetically and excels me in literary skills. Is there some correlation?

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Sam Blumenfeld (photo)

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