It has been awhile since I've gotten around to writing a blog entry. But, inspired by Mary Beth's Real English Manifesto, I thought it might be worthwhile to mention how I introduce Word Study (which in my class we call FWI -- Forensic Word Investigation) each year to the parents of my students.

I tell them I'm going to start by teaching them some math. I ask them to imagine that they are first graders and I am their teacher. Of course, as very young students, they are eager to do as the teacher instructs and get it right. So I tell them: "Here is the rule of how to do addition. If you just follow the rules, you'll be a good math student. You start in the column on the right, add the two numbers, and write the answer below in the same column. Then move to the next column to the left and do the same. Keep doing this until you run out of columns. Like this."

And then on the board I write:

2 1 2

+5 4 4

7 5 6

I do a few more problems, then give them a few to do, such as:

3 4 5

+1 3 3

4 7 8

After doing a few of those and having great success following the rule, I remind them to always follow the rules and give them one like this:

2 4 6

+5 8 4

and, following the rule, surprisingly they get the wrong answer -- 71210. So after they have tried and failed by doing exactly what I told them to do, I tell them that this problem is an exception to the rule and they'll just have to memorize it, and a lot more like it, because there are a lot of exceptions, because math is crazy. And we're going to have weekly addition tests, and if they get any wrong it will show that they are bad at math, and will probably need extra tutoring to overcome their math disability.

I point out to the parents that if I taught math this way, they would be showing up at the school with torches and pitchforks, and I wouldn't be a teacher for long, and one of the more excitable parents here in Silicon Valley might even have a bit of tar and feathers in the back of their car just in case I didn't go quietly. But when we teach English (or as we unfortunately call it in America, Language Arts) that way, nobody shows up with torches and pitchforks because that's the way everyone teaches it, and that's the way the parents and their parents were taught, and it's even part of the (shudder) Common Core. So they just accept it, and will sometimes start polishing up their pitchforks when a teacher doesn't give the weekly spelling tests. But teaching English that way makes no more sense than teaching math that way -- it's teaching children a lie, and then punishing them when they do exactly what we told them to do.

I sometimes wonder what effect it would have on the number of children diagnosed with learning disabilities if they were all taught Real Spelling, or FWI, or Real English, or whatever you want to call it, right from the start. How many children are diagnosed because of their inability to make sense of nonsense? Alice was able to handle the Red Queen, more or less, but not every child can. And maybe that's their real disability -- they believe their teachers and parents and try to do what they're told.

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