This text presents information that shows vocal communication to be a mechanical function performed by genetically specified and specialized biological machinery. Vocal communication works directly from and to the conscious brain. Written communication, on the other hand, is shown to be an intellectual skill, one that may be learned by gifted children but should be taught to all children as a practice. The common language, that used by the brain to consciously interface in communications, is in the form of a stream of vocal phonemes. The printed word requires translation to its corresponding vocal phoneme string before it becomes intelligible. The teaching of reading by the whole language method is shown to be without merit, and is, in fact, quite permanently damaging to the child in many cases. The study of the basic communication language of the brain shows that the study of phonemes is the proper method of teaching the intellectual skill of reading.
Modern education is based on modern psychology. Neither of these 'professional' areas are based on any form of measurable or provable fact. Marx said some things. Freud said some things. A few philosophers down through the ages thought about some things. None of these knew what they were talking about. Since then it has been imagination built on hearsay which was in turn built on conjecture and all of it stacked on top of erroneous premises. Even the most rigid logic, carefully checked step by step, will provide truth only by coincidence if it is built on unproven fact. When the logic is not checked and the basis is conjecture, the results would be humorous if not so deadly serious.
Take the case of whole language as a method of teaching reading and writing for example. It is the modern darling of the public school system, loved by the educators (but not necessarily by the teachers) and soundly hated by any parent who cares whether his child learns to read. It has proven to be a disaster everywhere it has been tried. California tried it and within four years they dropped from 4th in the nation to 49th in early school reading ability, saved from the bottom only by Mississippi. As will be shown, it is total idiocy both in concept and practice. This is often the result of depending on dogma as the basis for anything. Surprisingly, it will be shown that the way phonetics has been used in the teaching of reading and writing has also been in some error, although far less error than whole language. Whole language will be shown to be damaging to the child, rather than helpful. Some, if not most, of that damage is not correctable.
The mistake made by the psychology and education establishments is in building their body of knowledge on the assumption that man is an intelligent creature. This is so far from being true that practice dictated by this concept is often the direct opposite of what it should be. As shown in other texts, man is an instinctive creature which late in his development had intelligence added to his behavior determination. Toward the end of a four million year development, after becoming bipedal, man's current brain was genetically established somewhat less than 200,000 years ago, less than 5% of the total evolutionary development period (although it took place gradually over the entire period). All of man's motor skills, including vocal communication, rely on a brain construction that is genetically determined, as are ALL of man's social drives. Man is intelligent only in his control of these biological devices in seeking his personal goals.
In ancient times, man learned his speech by immersion in a tribal setting. He was not taught to speak formally, yet he became fluent. He learned speech in the same manner that he learned to walk. He did it. He talked and walked. He watched others in order to improve. Others corrected him when he made an error. Since walking is instinctive, and talking is learned in exactly the same manner, it must be also instinctive (performed by a specialized, genetically specified, controllable, internal biological machine). Studies of the human brain bear that out.
Whole language is the concept that a child should not be taught reading and writing. He should, instead, be allowed to learn reading and writing by being immersed in a rich written communication environment. There he will learn to read and write much as he learned to communicate vocally before. The teacher does not teach and does not lead the class. She demonstrates reading and writing and through conversation sells the idea to the student that reading and writing is wonderful. She performs the role of facilitator. Since there is no structure then there are no periodic requirements. The child reads. As the child progresses, he moves from being able to read very little (approaching zero), to reading a lot. His writing is expected to parallel his reading. Since the child knows little to start, one cannot expect him to spell, write legibly, or understand the meanings of words. He must, therefore, be imaginative to gain a story from that which he cannot read. In fact it is quite permissible, and considered a sign of progress, if the child describes what he reads in a completely imaginative way (He hasn't a clue but learns quickly to be responsive).
A rule of thumb, another of those experience things that really good teachers work by, is called the 80% rule. If a child cannot understand at least 80% of the subject matter, he will become frustrated, then bored and from that point on will "tune out" the entire subject matter. If this is true then, obviously, learning reading by the whole language method will produce a bunch of frustrated, bored and "tuned out" students, since the figure at first is 0%.
The traditional phonetic technique for teaching reading, though flawed from what we now know, was highly successful. The vocabulary was taught word by word. Watch this sequence carefully. Although effective (children have been taught and taught well using this sequence), the sequence is quite in error as you will later see:
One must remember that most children are quite versatile. They are bright and practical little creatures. Many can learn correctly while you try to teach them the opposite. About the only way a child can be kept from learning would be complete sensory deprivation. And, even then, I wouldn't want to bet against the little guy coming out of the box a first rate philosopher. This makes it difficult to evaluate a teaching process. The child has more to do with the results than the process. He can be held back in his learning by poor or misdirected teaching. He can be damaged by incorrect teaching procedures, since learning is a near permanent procedure. Whole language is a process that can permanently partially disable reading ability, but is not damaging to the psyche (sanity), since it is an error in objective learning. About the only way the reasoning process of a student can be permanently harmed is by brain-washing, teaching through psychological coercion and intellectual trickery. Our modern public schools are openly using these techniques, in general, behind all teaching. Better a stupid teacher (or none at all) than one steeped in ideological trickery.
There are two possible theories behind the promotion of whole language to teach reading.
It would be senseless for a field coach to train a runner to run backwards. Why? Because man is physically constructed to run the other direction. Could a runner be taught to run backwards? Of course. Could he be taught to run fast that way? Probably, but it would take a lot of time in studying the motions, correcting the stride, and learning the proper swinging of the arms. Could this new skill be transferred to running forwards? Yes, quite a bit of it. The body conditioning would not be wasted, nor the developed spirit of competitiveness. Even the motion study would be useful, by plugging in new constants and concepts. Can one learn to run either direction without a coach? You bet they can. Not as fast or as well perhaps, but they can learn to run on their own.
Wouldn't it be more sensible for the coach to study the body first, and determine the proper direction to train the running? And then with this knowledge of the body, couldn't he provide better training procedures? Of course, he could, and that is exactly what he does. Why not apply the same reasoning to teaching children how to communicate? Why not, indeed.
A little background:
With magnetic resonance imaging, the process of reading may be mapped in the brain. We can see where the brain is active as we do different things.
When reading aloud while a magnetic resonance imager scans the brain and plots the areas of metabolic activity, three areas show up. These are shown in Fig 1 with the left side of the brain showing and the frontal lobes to the left. The leftmost area is the phonetic processor, the mechanism which accepts a phoneme string and converts it to voice. The rightmost area is the processing area for the signals from the eyes. It is here that the written word is examined. The center is a reasoning area . It is my opinion, based on my belief that the reasoning module of the brain is quite ancient and is therefore located deep in the ancient portions of the brain, that this is a specialized portion of memory which holds the vocal vocabulary in phoneme form. It is here that the vocal phoneme vocabulary is cross-referenced with the associated thought and the corresponding hearing phoneme set. However it performs its function, the location of the device, and its function, can be clearly determined by talking from memory, reading into memory, and by reading aloud while observing the activity in each of these three areas. This center area is active in all three. The significance of this finding is profound since it shows that it is here that the correlation between inner thought, speech signals, hearing signals and sight is established.
The human nervous system, including the brain, is an amazingly complex biological machine. It has two principle features which make it different from the nervous systems in other mobile creatures: the size of its memory and its vocal communications ability.
Fig 2 shows a basic nervous system. This system has been around more than a half-billion years and is still used by many primitive creatures. This is a reactive system. The sensors see a condition, such as heat, light or touch, and pass that information directly to a reasoning process which analyzes this real time information, decides what to do and passes the commands to a motor control which executes the desired action. There are single-cell animals, for example, which live by eating others. They move aimlessly around until they bump into something and then start chomping away on whatever is next to them. There are others that rely on light to power their photo-synthesis energy system. These will sense which direction has the most light and then swim toward it. This reasoning module is fixed. It does not learn, it only reacts. The sensor drives the motor controls almost directly. Signal level translation and distribution is all that is required. If a certain thing happens to it, it responds in a fixed way. It senses a condition and acts immediately on that condition.
Fig 3 shows the first adaptation, a memory module has been added. This system also receives information, the same as in Fig 2 but now the information is fed into a memory module instead of directly to the decision making mechanism. As life became more complex, more and more sensors were added. Man has five senses: sight, sound, feel, smell, and taste. Only the eyes and ears enter into reading, writing and talking so we will simplify things a little by discussing only those two. In the early stages the eyes and the ears were connected directly to the reasoning mechanism. These connections are quite complicated. In the human, for example there are more than a million connections between the eyes and the brain. Each element in the eye has a private wire directly to the brain.
The senses are connected to the brain in parallel. All elements of both enter the brain at the same time. There is no time sharing or switching. The eyes are connected in one area, the ears to another, etc. The memory developed around these channels. In the beginning the memory was not trainable and consisted largely of inherited images of things which were important for survival. It was here that recognition of specific food or danger was built in. Since the eyes watch out for one set of things and the ears another and usually separate, the two channels into the brain are different. Wave a cutout of a hawk over a nest and most chicks will try to hide. Other animals respond to certain sounds. But conditions sometimes change rapidly. New dangers move in, perhaps a new predator that is not a hawk. Those animals with fixed knowledge were not able to adjust to the new conditions. The chick watches for a hawk but does not flee from a snake crawling into the nest. So trainable memory began to develop around those same channels. The trainable memory around the junction of the eyes to the reasoning mechanism, responded to a different kind of signal completely, from that of the ears. Both were trainable memory, but for different things and in different ways. So we show the memory as two different channels, with a dashed line showing a very vague separation between the two. Since there is wide correlation, say in hunting in the forest, between sight and sound, there is memory that bridges the two channels, both to correlate the incoming sound and sight and also for the recall of prior combinations of sound and sight.
Also within this memory area, certain functions developed which aided the speed of decision and reasoning by pre-processing the data before it reached the decision making portion of the brain. One of these in the hearing channel aids vocal communication immensely. It's absence in the seeing channel is what causes our problems in reading.
So we have a memory, a device which both remembers things from past experience and has fixed congenital memories (and inclinations) from past centuries within the species. It is this combination of fixed and current memories that we study with respect to reading.
With memory, the reasoning module gains another term to consider in making its decision for action. It still reacts to incoming information as it flows through the memory, but it also considers past experience from that same memory before making a decision. The survival benefits are enormous. It no longer repeatedly blunders into survival problems. If it survived the first, it is likely not to repeat the error. This is still a very primitive creature because it still reacts to only two terms: current and past experience As the information flows into the memory module, it sears a pattern, one which in time will heal and the pattern will disappear. The reasoning mechanism constantly surveys the memory. New experience is continually reviewed and compared with the old. A constant stream of commands flow out to the motor controls.
The double headed arrow between the reasoning and memory modules indicates a later development in the same basic mechanism and one which applies to all of the higher animals of today (dog, parrot, dolphin, etc.). The reasoning module not only uses current and past information in making its analysis of reality, it now contributes the results of its own reasoning process to the memory as well. This allows plans to be made for future action based on an estimate of the meaning of past and current experience. Herein imagination developed as various plans were considered. As it considers current and past memory patterns it makes decisions which are returned to the memory instead of being routed to the motor controls. This mechanism is wide spread. The major differences between this in the higher animals and the human brain is the size and complexity of the memory and the appearance of a unique area on the surface of the human brain that is associated with vocal communication. This latter element appeared in man about two million years ago, first seen in the fossil remains of Homo habilis. It has long been known that this latter part of the human brain is not present in the higher animals and that trauma to that area always affects speech.
A look at the reading process in the brain.
Fig 4 is a vastly simplified block diagram showing the major modules of the modern human brain which affect communication. A new module, the phoneme processor (control), has been added. It is a development from the original much simpler voice motor control which allowed only grunts, howls and barks. This new one allows extremely complex manipulation of the voice mechanism, and it is evidently a new one since it is not even located in the vicinity of all the old mechanisms which work the legs and arms, etc. Significantly, it is in the vicinity of the memory. It requires huge amounts of memory to function. The purpose of the phoneme processor is to combine and overlap the succession of sounds (phonemes) which symbolizes a particular thought and allows that thought to be transmitted through the voice to another being. It has been proven to be a fixed device. If faulty, due to birth defect or trauma, other parts of the brain can't be trained to take its place.
A new function in the memory, the phoneme matrix, occupies the logical border between the memory and the phoneme processor. It is in fact a specialized form of memory. The output of this matrix supplies the phoneme groups which represent thought to the phoneme processor. The phoneme controller then times the phonemes and coarticulates them (blends them together so that the words are smooth).
The phoneme matrix selects the proper phoneme set for a given thought. The conscious mind composes a thought process, a sentence perhaps. This sequential process is presented to the phoneme matrix which then in turn issues the proper string of phoneme sets to the voice phoneme processor. This matrix contains the entire spoken vocabulary in phoneme form. Please realize that there are thousands of signals which are sent to the voice mechanism to form a single phoneme, everything from breath control to tongue positioning. So each phoneme (44 in our language) stored in this matrix consists of thousands upon thousands of instructions to be issued to the voice mechanism. The vocal vocabulary consists of words stored in the form of the sequence of phonemes needed to express that word in the voice. This is an extremely efficient method of storing these words, far more compact than a dictionary.
There are three logical sides to this matrix: 1. Links (in internal brain language form) to thoughts in the main memory. 2. Vocal representations for each thought (in voice phoneme language form) for driving the voice processor. 3. Vocal representations for each thought (in hearing phoneme language form) for translating words into thought when they are heard.
When talking from memory and without reading, the reasoning module selects thoughts from memory, enters this matrix with each thought in turn and causes the vocal phoneme set corresponding with each thought to drive the voice phoneme processor and thence the voice.
When hearing, the sound, in the form of electrical signals from the inner ear which represent the phoneme structure heard by the ear, is applied directly to the matrix. There is no conscious procedure of obtaining the signals, applying them to the matrix and thereby selecting the corresponding thought meaning. It is done automatically by direct wire from the ear, applied to a matrix as a conduit directly to the thought. Once a word is learned by hearing, it is registered in the matrix with a direct connection to its thought meaning which should have been learned at the same time.
All three sides of this matrix are trainable, indicating that it was formed from trainable material which has been specialized for vocal communication.
The pronunciation determined by a given vocal word in the matrix (in the form of a series of phonemes that drives the phoneme processor) which represents a given thought, may be learned, and later changed if necessary. This happens as we learn a new vocal word to add to our vocabulary. We hear a word then try to pronounce it ourselves. That first pronunciation is recorded in the matrix linked to the thought which it reflects. If we pronounce it badly, we try again, and keep trying until we pronounce it properly. So the thought we wish to communicate is linked in this matrix with the proper pronunciation. The next time we wish to express that thought, the proper pronunciation, in all its complexity, pops out.
It is also possible to train the thought link side. If we learn a word, and how to pronounce it, it is installed in this matrix and linked to a given thought pattern in our main memory. If we made a mistake (or were taught one) and that word really meant something else, it may be corrected, but it is much harder to learn the correction than the original word. Evidently the matrix stores the correction as if it is a new word, though, because the old erroneous one often pops up when we least expect it. When teaching a new vocabulary word, one must be exceedingly careful since vestiges of any error will remain after correction.
We start each child off in the training in this matrix when we ask the baby to, "Say ma - ma," while trying to teach it who mama is. Each word the child learns is by the same method. We point to a feline picture and say, "Say cat." We carefully sound each word out while associating it with something. Those phonemes flow through the child's ears to the phoneme matrix. We keep working at it until we get the correct flow of phonemes from the child's phoneme processor and he pronounces it properly. For millions of years, this has been the way each child learned its vocabulary. It still should be.
Learning to read a word is a separate and much more difficult task which is based entirely on the correct vocal learning of the word.
The hearing is very important in this training cycle. As physical changes were made to the brain to accommodate the complex voicing required, changes were also made to the hearing, the other half of voice communication. The spoken word is received by the ears in the form of a series of "our" sound phonemes. These are the same logical phonemes as those used to drive the phoneme voice processor, but in a different code. They are in the form of "ear" electrical signals from the inner ear. In order to understand the thought in this sound it must be matched with the phoneme set which has been developed for speaking that same word. And it is, in the same matrix. At the time that a spoken word is learned, the heard word, mostly from our own voice, is also recorded in phoneme form but in "ear" code. It is linked directly with the phoneme in "voice" code, as well as being linked to the meaning which is in a vastly different electrical code.
So, when a word is heard, its detected series of phonemes act as a sorting key to the phoneme matrix and will automatically find the corresponding meaning link into the memory portion of our brain. The correlation is learned, the connection is automatic. It took well over two million years to develop this mechanism. This specialized communication matrix entry does not exist for things that are seen, it only exists for things that are heard.
So when we wish to speak, our reasoning mechanism first develops its thought, then it searches the vocabulary memory for the proper words (group of phonemes), shoves them from the matrix into the phoneme processor thence to the voice. That's all there was in communication for two million years, until about five thousand years ago when man decided to write things down.
Now to the problems in learning to read and write. The human has all kinds of biological tools to help him communicate by voice. It's all built in, like having an arm to reach for something, or a hand to grasp it with. BUT! He must make do with the intellectual tools he already has, tools which were developed for other functions, to learn to read and write. We added those tasks ourselves. There are no special machines in there to help. In no way does it come naturally. One must consciously make it happen.
So we'll use a word on a flash card to study the process of learning to read a word. That series of letters without prior knowledge is meaningless. There is no clue as to its meaning. To hand that card to a child and walk off is absolute idiocy. He has no method to decipher it.
The word (symbol) on that card has no direct association with any idea or thought, ever. It is a printed word symbol which stands for a series of vocal phonemes. Only when translated into a set of vocal phonemes which is linked to a thought in the phoneme matrix, can the printed word gain meaning. Where before reading it was required that a vocal symbol be received by the ears, it is now a visual symbol. Where before with the vocal word there was a built-in machine to translate that word into meaning, it must be done another way. No such translator exists for the printed word.
The word must first be translated into its vocal counterpart, then the brain can easily finish the job. It has the tools to do it. That conscious translation is the key to reading.
To read a word and know its meaning, one must first associate it with an already learned spoken word. Only then can the meaning be found.
The phoneme matrix can't be accessed to find the link to the meaning any other way.
When anyone reads a word, he converts it to a vocal word and it is that vocal word which gives that written word meaning. That is why it is so difficult to learn to read without reading aloud. When one is asked for the meaning of a printed word, he first vocalizes the word (either aloud or silently) then he tells you the meaning. But! How does one vocalize the printed word that is unfamiliar in printed form? He reads the phonemes, that's how. Once pronounced, the rest is easy - provided the word in phoneme form already exists in the phoneme matrix and in turn is linked to the proper thought, and that must be done vocally in advance.
Now the proper procedure for teaching young children to read:
Never never never try to teach a young child to read a word that he does not already know the meaning of and how to pronounce. I even cringe at the idea of doing it simultaneously. The presence of those phoneme patterns are needed in the memory before the printed word can be learned. The child's vocabulary must be learned vocally. When the child becomes proficient in reading and phonemes are completely familiar to him and the words are very long, then the written word MIGHT form the basis for the learning process for the word. BUT!! that is against nature and should be used sparingly.
Never never never teach a printed word as a word. It must always be taught as a symbol with an associated meaning. For example, it has been a practice to group words of like sounds to teach a particular phoneme. This can be quite damaging. Unless a child knows the meaning of each and every word in advance, and has spoken them aloud himself, he will be forming mental paths which will later need retraining. Those words which are new will be stored in memory as unimportant words without meaning. In a young child, unfamiliar written words perceived through the eyes do not have access to the phoneme matrix for translation, even if internally pronounced properly. Retraining is always a more difficult task than the initial task. The mind perceives retraining as learning something new in addition to, not instead of the old. The new is recalled most usually, only because it is in a newer 'portion' of memory. The old will be recalled also, usually at the most inopportune time. Unlearning something is very difficult. In fact, an intense effort to unlearn something will result in learning it forever. (This is where modern psychiatry and psychology fail, the more attention paid to a problem the deeper seated it becomes.) This is caused by the way our brain learns. It has no eraser, and it intensifies with repetition.
Try not to ever teach a word in a nonsense setting. The purpose of teaching a word is to gain in communication proficiency. It should be taught in a meaningful way and associated with a meaning that has substance. When reading a passage with new words in it to a class: first read the passage then study each new word first vocally then by print. Have the children read the passage aloud so they can gain the pronunciation (articulated phoneme string). Be sure, before leaving that passage, that every child knows every word. Also be sure that the passage has meaning. Discuss a new factual idea. The word memory is then intensified by its association with the idea.
From strictly a mechanical point of view:
Here are some other things to teach as the child progresses in reading skill;
Some general comments:
Why in the world don't we convert our written language immediately from 26 letter symbols to 44 phoneme symbols??? It would remove one level of translation from the reading process. It would make spelling an easy task and learning how to read would become a pleasure.
Dyslexia is a malfunction in the intellectual process of converting the printed word to the spoken word, resulting in a lack of comprehension. Since this process uses the same mechanism as that used in learning general information the two should be equivalent. When the reading comprehension lags other learning it is very possible that the child has been pushed into reading before adequate vocal comprehension and pronunciation was assured. The thought paths have then become damaged. The repair is quite difficult and may never be complete. But heavy doses of phoneme instruction seem to help.
There is one particular point in the normal process of reading which could possibly cause dyslexia due to a physical deficiency. The normal (vocal) communication process relies on a learned phoneme string association with a meaning (the actual meaning is held in conscious memory). The phoneme matrix automatically obtains that phoneme string directly from the ears, it does not need to be perceived and then associated with meaning. The meaning, instead, is associated with (linked to) the phoneme string in the phoneme matrix, a subconscious function. Reading communication, however, requires the perceived symbol to be translated into a phoneme string in the conscious mind. The conscious mind must first have been taught that phoneme string by reading the word out loud. But the heard and spoken phoneme strings are perceived in the mind as articulated (the phonemes are smoothed together). If the child has never been taught how to ARTICULATE the word, even though he has been made aware of the phonetics of the word, their is no cross-association in the mind with the meaning. It has been noted that children afflicted with dyslexia have particular problems in 'sounding out' the written word. Even though the probability is that the affliction is caused by poor training, such as whole language, it is possible that a genetic malfunction at a critical junction causes it.
It is interesting to note that learning (the establishment of patterns in the trainable memory) is necessarily a repetitious process. The brain cells are connected in a vague way when the baby is formed (except for those portions which carry genetic memory - instincts). When a thought is formed down through the brain, those lines through which that particular thought propagated are intensified. Recalling that 'scorched' path is what we call memory. If the same path is repeated, either through recalling or experiencing the same thought again (as in reading the same word again), that same path is 'burned' deeper. With repetition, that thought may become as strong as an instinct. At that point its use becomes reactive, the same as an instinct. Who says that rote repetition is a poor way to learn?
Any teaching procedure that has been proven to be successful in treating (compensating for) dyslexia should make an excellent teaching program for all children. The whole reading process is based on conscious compensation for the lack of a translator in the visual path.
Can reading be taught with the whole language method? Of course it can. It exposes the child to the need for reading and provides attention and reading material. But it's like teaching the child to run backwards. It can be done but it's the hard way and there will be more children who will fall by the reading wayside. And the bright ones don't even need a coach. Toss them a few books and leave them alone. But, if you want maximum results from the maximum number of kids, do it the easy way, the right way, with phonetics.
It is interesting to note that when students become damaged while trying to learn under the whole language process, they are usually placed in remedial classes where they are taught in phonetics in the same manner as classes for correcting dyslexia. Those innocent defective students were deliberately taught dyslexia. Since the remedial classes attempt to correct students reading processes with the use of phonetics, then it is proven that the education establishment is aware of the differences between the two teaching procedures.
It is my opinion that since the information in this text is well known, or should be known, by teachers as a part of their responsibility, the teachers and the school administrators who insist on teaching reading by whole language are liable in a court of law for the damage they do to the student. It is deliberate and nothing less than criminal.
I urge all parents who have children who have so been damaged to immediately and individually file suit against the teachers directly responsible in person, their administration in person, the area education district administrators in person, the state education officials in person and the federal education board officials in person.
Whole language must be stopped!