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Berys Dixon is the Education Establishment's worst nightmare

Literacy Experts: Are They Ready To Apologize Yet?


By —— Bio and Archives--March 14, 2018

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Berys Dixon is the Education Establishment's worst nightmare
“There is one question I’d really love to ask (One Heart!):
Is there a place for the hopeless sinner,
Who has hurt all mankind just to save his own beliefs?
—Bob Marley

The people in charge of literacy in most English-speaking countries are literacy’s worst enemies. This counterintuitive turn-about has to be one of the planet’s more bizarre stories.

The official experts praise a method, often called Whole Language, that doesn’t work. They insist that young teachers use this useless method. The teachers in turn force their students to embrace the method, and they make the parents tolerate the method. That’s how you get a never-ending illiteracy crisis.

This twisted tale is beautifully illustrated in one teacher’s epiphany

This twisted tale is beautifully illustrated in one teacher’s epiphany. Berys Dixon, an Australian housewife, raised children, went back to school, and became a teacher. She found that many things had changed, mainly, “The explicit teaching of phonics was abandoned.”

Berys recalls: “I was to tell the parents, ‘Don’t sound the words out, you can’t sound them all out. This is what you have to do. Look at the picture, see what the first sound is, try a word. See if it makes sense’….If they’re really stuck, tell them what the word is.”

Try a word?! Isn’t this suggestion preposterous on the face of it? Trying out different words would make reading an endless process of guess and hope-you-get-lucky. Real reading is very fast. There is no guessing and luck about it.

Dixon did everything her professors told her, even though the results were bad year after year.

One day, a parent complained that her young child couldn’t sound out the words in his home reader. Berys suppressed her doubts and confidently instructed the parent NOT to expect the child to sound out words. Instead, encourage him to look at the picture, read ahead, “have a guess,” etc., etc. Then if he still couldn’t get the word, just read it for him. All of this is bunk but Berys Dixon did not know this. Her professors surely did.



Berys Dixon is the Education Establishment’s worst nightmare

Dixon became more uneasy with her failure: “That night I went home and began Googling…There was so much out there.”

The next day, Dixon had to go back to the mothers at the door and say, “Forget everything I said to you last week. There’s a better way of doing things.”

As she relates on a poignant video, “In 2008 my whole world changed.”

Berys Dixon is the Education Establishment’s worst nightmare, a teacher smart enough to see through the popular gimmicks. But think of all the damage already done by the time of her epiphany. Think of the thousands of other teachers who never have an epiphany. That’s why Australia has been in turmoil for many decades. Their schools adopted all the junk exported from America.



Frank Smith, throughout the 1970s, 80s,  and 90s, was the arch apostle for Whole Language. (Ken Goodman is the other important name to know.) If you enjoy highfalutin paradoxes, you will never grow tired of Frank Smith. If you think that sometimes he’s making sense, savor some of the following sentences (from his famous book “Reading Without Nonsense”) and you’ll realize he rarely makes sense:

Continued below...

“It is just not possible to decode written language into speech. Phonics…just does not work.”

“But there is no evidence that there is any limit to the capacity of human memory…”

“Similarly, a child who reads ‘John didn’t have no sweets” when the text is ‘John has no sweets’ may well be reading better than a child who is more literally correct.”

“In other words, when we read a word, we do not read letters at all.”

“Comprehension depends on prediction.”

Establishment goes right on doing the exact opposite of what works best

The big question is not how to teach reading. The big question is how do you find tens of thousands of hacks who pretend to believe something they can’t possibly believe except by being willfully oblivious. After all, Rudolf Flesch did explain the whole matter in “Why Johnny Can’t Read” (1955). And yet our Education Establishment goes right on doing the exact opposite of what works best.

If you demand why Frank Smith and many other professors encouraged dysfunctional approaches to reading, here’s what we know for sure. Stanley Hall (d. 1924) and John Dewey (d. 1952), two of our big-shot early educators, did not think literacy was primary. Even more scary, they did not like children to be independent thinkers, able to figure out their own answers. Dewey was on a committee, roughly 100 years ago, whose goal was to start reading instruction in the fourth grade, not before. Never mind that various research studies had shown conclusively by 1930 that Sight-words did not work. The score was 11 to zero in favor of phonics.


In reality, phonetic languages must be taught phonetically

The critical part of Berys Dixon’s story is that every day she gave bad advice to her students and parents. She did this in good faith. She had been rendered useless and dangerous by what the Education Establishment chose to teach her. Parents, students, and teachers are equally victims in this story. None of them knows the reality. But the people at the top know it.

In reality, phonetic languages must be taught phonetically. There are no other good options no matter how much the “literacy experts” pretend otherwise.

The only question, in this whole discussion, is when are these so-called experts going to apologize? They’ve been hurting children for decades (apparently as part of a push for a more socialist society) and it’s time to accept responsibility.

Stats shows that only one-third of fourth- and eighth-graders are considered “proficient “in reading. Clearly, the people in charge do not understand how to teach reading. In a business environment, they would all be fired for incompetence. Are they ready yet to take responsibility for creating (in the US alone) more than 40 million functional illiterates?


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Bruce Deitrick Price -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Bruce Deitrick Price has been writing about education for 30 years. He is the founder of Improve-Education.org. His eighth book is “Saving K-12—What happened to our public schools? How do we fix them?” More aggressively than most, Price argues that America’s elite educators have deliberately aimed for mediocrity—low standards in public schools prove this. Support this writer on Patreon.


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