A jaw-dropping 52 percent of California fourth graders were reading below the baseline established for that grade. When the same test was conducted again in 1994, the number of semiliterate children in California had risen to 56 percent. One teacher in the Los Angeles area gave a heartbreaking report of first graders asked to read. “The children were in tears… . They look at you with three paragraphs on a page and they say, ‘What do we do with this?’”
When some schools course-corrected and reintroduced phonics, the results were telling. After students taught with whole language repeatedly tested poorly, their elementary school in Texas switched to intensive phonics training. On a subsequent statewide reading test, 98 percent of students from the school scored at or above grade level.
The continued commitment to the whole word method on the part of education professionals would be unfathomable without a grasp of their basic motives. But once we apprehend that their aim is to create “well-socialized” future citizens obedient to commands for “the good of humanity,” the Progressive repudiation of phonics becomes readily understandable, even predictable. If you want children to read well, you embrace phonics. If you do not want children to read well—or at all—you reject it. If you want students to master academic subjects, you embrace phonics. If you do not want students to master academic subjects, you reject it.
It’s no wonder that many American students cannot read. The “educational experts” who train their teachers do not want them to.
DUMBING DOWN THE REST OF THE CURRICULUM
This same horrific tale has been replicated across the entire academic curriculum. In keeping with the principles of the curriculum designers, less and less attention is given to academic subjects. Regarding math, for example, the middle schools are “heavily mired down in simple arithmetic.” By the late 1990s, only three states required more than two years of math to graduate from a public high school. “Most required two years, and others even less.” By then, more than a third of public high school graduates had never taken a full course in basic algebra; 45 percent had never taken intermediate algebra; and trigonometry had all but vanished—only one graduate in eight took an introductory course. The numbers haven’t changed much since then, and high school students still do not learn enough math to prepare them for college.
Regarding science, the story is the same. Although 93 percent of high school students study biology, only 54 percent take a chemistry course, and a mere 24 percent study physics. The writer Martin Gross reports, “Only 20 percent of public high school graduates—one in five—take all three basic science courses.”
As for history, it has been transformed into “social studies,” thoroughly eviscerated, and permeated with more political activism than content.
Related, because reading abilities have been severely curtailed, literature classes are severely dumbed down as well. For example, the 1922 Texas state high school reading list for the ninth grade included such works as Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans and Scott’s Ivanhoe; the estimated grade levels for the list ranged from 8.0 to 12.9. By contrast, the 2015–16 ninth grade reading list includes Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street and Rodman Philbrick’s Freak the Mighty; the estimated grade levels for this list range from 4.5 to 6.7. It is, therefore, appalling but not surprising that, as eminent scholar Richard Pipes reports, applicants for his freshman seminar at Harvard University are “almost totally unfamiliar with the world’s great literature.”