In The Clutches of the Sight-Word Monster

The country continues to be plagued by illiteracy. The reason is simple. The country continues to be under the heel of some of the most reckless and reprehensible “experts” imaginable.
They make little children memorize the SHAPES of words, which most little children simply can’t do. Ergo, these children experience major reading and cognitive problems. 
Don Potter, the phonics guru and as well a teacher in Texas, recently sent me this illuminating note: “This has been a banner year for me. I have rescued dozens of students from the clutches of the sight-word monster. I am looking forward to rescuing more in the year to come. The parents marvel that I have been able to improve their children's reading with phonics in a very short time. They are also very upset to learn that their children were suffering, not genetic defects that screwed up neural pathways, but old fashioned artificially induced whole-word dyslexia caused by sight-word instruction. Every student coming to me has a copy of the Dolch Sight Vocabulary List in their Homework Folder.”
Note that the parents had  embraced the idea that their kids were mentally impaired (dyslexic) but are now shocked to find that the kids are normal! (In fact, it’s the school that is mentally impaired.) There in a few dozen words is the whole story of dyslexia in our time. Parents and kids accept the school’s nutty diagnosis but in many cases will be angry with you if you tell them, sorry, you’re fine but you are the victim of a hoax. (I have a video on YouTube called "The Strange Truth About Dyslexia." People leave really violent comments on it.)
 QED: the Dolch Sight Vocabulary List should be removed from every school.
 Now, I want to give you a little more detail about the reading  debate...but not too much! Reading theory quickly becomes murky; and I believe our Education Establishment uses the general confusion to keep their bad ideas in play.
 Happily, I’ve found an excellent way to explore some of the subtleties. Raymond Laurita was a major crusader 40 years ago; in 1967 he published an article titled “Errors Children Make in Reading.” I’ve cut his article down to the best parts; and I promise you will be glad you read them. They explain how Sight-Words do their evil work:
On hearing the errors of these unfortunate children, the first impulse is to attribute them to a lack of intelligence or even some form of mental aberration. The linguistic monstrosities these children perpetrate appear to be without semblance of logic or consistency...
The primary cause of reading difficulties in virtually all of the over 700 cases of reading disability I have treated over the years was related to difficulties the child encountered in attempting to cope with the problems imposed by whole configurations....
When a child is exposed to a whole word configuration such as “could” for example, without sufficient preparation, we are literally opening a Pandora’s Box of possible confusions....
To the immature child who hasn’t developed adequate visual and auditory identity and association between individual language symbols and the words they form, the word “could” will undoubtedly be confused later with a variety of configurations; among them: cold, called, cloud, canned, cooled, clawed, cord, would, should, etc....It isn’t difficult for the more than casual observer to understand why so many children become reading problems. They simply cannot cope fast enough with the need to learn numerous and unrelated whole word configurations on a purely visual basis. 
It must be remembered that children who learn by the sight method, and this constitutes the majority of children in the United States, have been scientifically conditioned during the initial exposure period to a learning experience which by its very nature elicits a purely visual response to a configuration without assistance from auditory clues. No sincere educator can pretend that this initial exposure period hasn’t a most profound and enduring effect on the immature child, for by a series of carefully arranged stimulus-response activities, he has been literally conditioned to a visual, configurational attack on language. The result is inevitable. 
The argument of those who persist in exposing all children indiscriminately to a visual configurational attack is usually based on post-facto reasoning, for they tend to cite the large numbers of children who have learned to read without first making auditory and visual associations with the individual letters of the alphabet. It is my belief and that of others that children who learn to read using a gestalt approach which exposes them to whole word configurations at the outset, are children who have had either prior preparation which prepared them for the experience or are those children gifted with better than average capacities of visual perception, discrimination and memory....
Alex Bannatyne writing in The Disabled Reader, states “This latter method, commonly called look-and-say, may be effective with those two thirds of first- and second-grade pupils who are sufficiently gifted in the realm of language to be able to learn to read quickly. I believe that these verbally capable children rapidly teach themselves to analyze words phonetically in spite of a deliberate non-phonetic approach on the part of the teacher. That this is so can easily be tested by asking children who have learned to read well using the look-and-say method to sound out difficult words; this they usually do quite competently....”
The subtlety and infinite diversity of the errors that the child becomes subject to in his developing confusion have to be seen to be believed....
Another example saw a child respond to the word “grab” with the response “drag.” This is an extremely common type of error for it has in addition to the visual confusion an overlay of confused auditory association. The consonant blends gr and dr are extremely difficult to differentiate for the child with inadequate auditory perception and discrimination. The two sounds are very similar as are the lip movements which are made to create them. In addition to the auditory confusion and the close configurational pattern of the two words, the child was also reversing the initial and final consonants. This child also referred to a “furry” animal as a “funny” animal and read about a character who went swimming in the “winter” instead of in the “water.” Both of these errors had a configurational base with the error involving the words furry and funny complicated by a discrimination confusion between the n and the r. This child also made the following progression in mistaking the word “Oh.” He went from oh to on to no and finally concluded the series with not. 
These confusions are not extreme examples of severely disabled children but are instead rather common samples that every remedial teacher will meet on a given day if the time is taken to record the mistakes children make. 
Often a child will read a sentence such as: “The little boy went into the jungle and saw a big giraffe.” and substitute for the last word: elephant, rhinoceros, hippopotamus or even dinosaur. Most adults fail to realize the subtle yet logical cause for this kind of mistake. It is really very logical for the child who has been conditioned to respond to visual stimuli. He isn’t thinking in terms of auditory clues, rather he is sure only that the little boy has seen some kind of large jungle animal. Unless he is a capable, linguistically talented child, his auditory associational training hasn’t prepared him for a total attack on the word, thus why shouldn’t it be a hippopotamus, elephant, rhinoceros or even a dinosaur. They are all “big” words in terms of size; they are all large animals and to the small child the possibility of a dinosaur residing in the depths of the jungle is a distinct possibility.... 
Observing a child who has lost some of this marvelous human capacity to respond with reasoning and logic, is a terribly depressing sight, and when one considers the number of times that human frailty in the form of faulty teaching and inadequate methodology has been the cause of this loss, the situation takes on the aspects of a tragedy....
QED: the Dolch Sight Vocabulary List is the reason we have 50 million functional illiterates. It should be removed from every school. All the phonics experts say that children learn to read in the first grade. The Whole Word maniacs say that children will read someday, maybe, perhaps in middle school, but don’t be surprised if they experience ADHD, depression, dyslexia, and chronic illiteracy.
Don Potter publishes this article and many like it on donpotter.net. His site is an archive of historically important material.
My own focus is on providing artillery for parents to use in their daily battles with school administrators. Many of these officials may actually have no idea how far over to the dark side they have drifted. (They make the mistake of trusting the pronouncements coming down from on high.) So send them a copy of this article: “Fake Reading Theory is the Slave Trade of Our Era.

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