Saturday, April 28, 2012


I am, in truth, fairly keen on Bug learning to read before he goes to school.  He will probably be capable of it without a lot of pushing ("It's a big M, Mama! May I have some french fries?").  This is: so the school can't screw it up.

I went to public schools.  My sisters went to public schools.  We currently hold three bachelor's degrees and two PhDs between us, and comprise a biologist, a chemist, and a nurse.  Public schools are wonderful.  However.

I still remember when my youngest sister, Prudence, ran afoul of the 'Phonics-based' reading method her (very good, Congressional Blue Ribbon, well-off suburban) school was using.  "You need to sound the word out," they said to her.  "Pl-ooo-uuu-gggg-hhh."

"But that's not how it's pronounced," she said.

"But you have to sound it out."

(Irrelevant postscript:  Someone mentioned the stupid 'delayed' vaccine schedule to me today, because their kid with significant other medical issues was extra reflux-y after the kid's last shots, and I nobly did not scream POST HOC at them.) 


  1. Anonymous7:47 AM

    I learnt to read before I went to school. Long before. Most teachers were fine with it and just let me read the story-books at the back of the class during 'reading hour', or, as it actually was, 'painfully slow hideously dull sounding out of the word 'cat' and 'dog' and 'play' and 'ball' hour'. The one time we had a substitute teacher for a month it was like that bit from To Kill A Mockingbird. So like, in fact, that when I read To Kill A Mockingbird I had a massive two-day flash-back and have had an unreasoning passion for the book ever since and called a kitten 'Scout'.

    Anyway. Phonics. Are. SHIT. They may teach a child to 'read', but they also drain every ounce of interest, enjoyment, love, and enthusiasm out of the process. We across the Western World are raising generations of functionally illiterate joyless little berks with the attention span of goldfish and the information processing abilities of garbage disposal units because schools are basically teaching them that reading is boring as hell and based on a completely illogical set of 'you have to do it this way even if it's wrong' rules (this annoys every child with half a brain). I know kids who can SPELL colossus, ambient, floral, herbivore etc. and yet, at the age of TWELVE, haven't a freakin' clue what any of the words mean, how to use them in a sentence, or even if they're verbs or nouns. Oh, and they can all spell adjective as well, but not use one correctly. Phonics is anathema. I spit on its grave.

    Not that I have strong feelings on this or anything.

    (My mother taught me to read with flashcard games, and by reading books to me. It worked. Reading age of 18 at the age of ten, despite the fact I like the rest of my family am on the dyslexia spectrum (in my case, dyscalculia and gross motor skills faceplantage (my fine motor skills are bodacious).

    1. I remember lots of flashcards but maybe for math? I disapprove most strongly of any reading 'system' that substitutes rote memorization for... learning to READ.

  2. Dear husband was quite keen on Oldest Boy learning to read before kindergarten. "He knows his ABC's at 1.5, he shall read by 3!" Honey, there's no rush. He can be a child for a while. So we read to him and talk about how letters sound, and he likes to practice writing his name (and all of ours). I don't know if he will pick it up by the time he heads to kindergarten this fall, but he's at least on his way.
    Thanks for giving me a good question to ask at kindergarten registration today! I honestly can't remember learning to read, so I have no idea if my school used phonics or not. All I know is, I read everything I could get my hands on and was up to a book a day in high school. So someone did something right. (My mother was working full time and getting straight A's attending college full time, so there is no way she was teaching me to read with flash cards at age 4.)

    1. Hey, I'm sure he'll do fine, and also, y'know, ask me in 2 years what Bug is doing. (The pre-K coordinator for your school district recommended the Letter Factory vid to us; we showed it to Bug 3 times and now he knows all his letter sounds. I figure I could have replicated the effect, but slower.)

      Probably a household enthusiasm for reading- which, having seen your house, I imagine is quite apparent to your kids- does just as much good in the long run, anyways.

  3. I read very early. Very. Like, no one believes it anyway, so why get into it? I hope this does not lead me to being unreasonably anxious about the Bean at an unreasonable age.

    Anyway, we did phonics (and lots of books), and I didn't especially hate it, I guess, though the workbook was this hideous murky, pink PLAID -- just not at all the kind of colors a plaid should be -- the offense of which has not faded with the years, apparently. Book design aside, p
    honics may not have been God's gift to literature, but holy shit should you see the miserable snake oil methods sold (at enormous expense) to the poor city school where I used to teach. My smartest kids would correct my flashcards to have the MORONIC diacritical marks that were part of the "alphabet" used by the system -- for example, th was drawn as a single character, vowels were doubled and given lines over them if long, EVEN IF THE WORD HAD ONLY ONE VOWEL. This meant even the kids who managed to read in spite of the clap-trap could only read books sold by the company who made the curriculum. How CONVENIENT.

    Not that I'm still angry or anything.

    (Also: let's say the vax did cause the reflux. Let's just say. So now REFLUX is reason enough to put a child at risk of deadly illnesses? Seriously?)

    1. Yes, well, I didn't scream THAT, either.

      As for snake oil: OWWWWW MY BRAIN.

  4. I have no idea how I learned to read, but it was not particularly early, and not something my divorced, depressed, struggling mother focused on. And I went to utterly shitty public schools. Like rural, backwards, really not good. AND LOOKIT ME! I LOVE TO READ AND HAVE A PhD, TOO. I think what helped in my case was that reading was valued in my house even if my mom didn't do no flash cars, and we had nothing else to do, so hey, books. I suspect Bug will do splendidly, but I'm curious--do you really think public schools are wonderful, or do you just think they're the best we've got?

    1. Books!

      On schools, briefly: in sum, I think they have the potential to be wonderful, and that many of them are, and that even the sub-optimal ones have a lot of potential which can generally be extracted with serious effort- such as the most needy students, and their families, do not have to spare. I also think that many private schools breed a particular flavor of entitled blindness which I find especially distasteful (if I never read another editorial on the theme of "Anyone who must work a JOB for MONEY while in this snooty college could NOT POSSIBLY get a decent education, the poor, poor little darlings".... it'll be too soon).

      I've also seen, and taught in, some really tragic inner-city schools. My cousin J went to school in Nelson County, which is one of the poorest in the state, and, well.

      In summary: conflicted. Forgive me, I must go to bed now.


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