An Educator and Mom’s Plea for Phonetics

An Educator and Mom’s Plea for Phonetics

(Published by permission of the Author)

Dear Mr. K:

My name is R. A..  J. W. suggested that I write to you regarding the teaching of reading in our schools. 

I am an educator and a Mom.

As an educator, I taught preschool through graduate school, in public and private schools, in five different states.  I was honored with many awards including being in the Who’s Who in American Education.  I taught as an adjunct instructor at both New York University and John Carroll University. I taught future teachers courses such as, The Teaching or Reading and Methods and Materials for the Classroom.  I did not teach my elementary students or my university students phonetics, because it was not part of the curriculum.

During my own teacher training (at the University of Richmond and New York University). I was not taught to teach phonetics. In fact, we were blatantly told not to teach phonetics.  When I questioned one of my professors, I remember him explaining that it was an antiquated method that was a boring waste of time.  He stated that studies had proven that readers read whole words and phrases, and that “it was our job to teach the children to read the way people actually read.”

The textbooks at the universities instruct teachers in ways to guide their students to use picture and context clues, and make guesses.  We were even to have them look at the shape of the word.  The only mention of anything resembling phonetics was to be used as a last resort.  If all else failed, the student should use the first and perhaps the last letter sounds to help them guess at the word. 

As a parent, I saw the tragedy of this with my own children. I remember my child guessing baseball for basketball because the picture clues suggested that the story was about sports. My son even told me that he guessed, “just like his teacher told him to.”  When the picture clues weren’t clear, his guesses were even wilder. 

My daughter had been taught the same “whole word” approach and approached reading in the same fashion. At the end of second grade, I realized that she wasn’t reading.  My husband and I are educated and our home abounds with books.  She was read to early and often, but she wasn’t reading. The teachers assured me that everything was fine.  I used reading diagnostics to test my daughter and I found that she was reading at a beginning first grade level, existing the second grade.  My daughter is gifted (she scored in the top one percent in IQ tests), and she was being “dis-educated”!  She worked with Ms. Watson, using phonetics and one hour weekly, for eight months.  At the end of that period, she was reading at the sixth-grade level.

The story was similar for my son (who is gifted and had been diagnosed with learning disabilities).  Through private tutoring, again by Ms. Watson using phonetics, and home schooling, he was scoring at a high school equivalency on standardized exams by the time he was in the fifth grade.  We had to fight the system to re-educate our children, independent of the schools. 

I have seen the reality of this debate from every angle. I am more than willing to talk to you about my experiences.  No more children should have to endure what my children went through.  All children deserve to be taught to read, the right way, with phonetics.



[Names are removed for privacy purposes.]

 NOTE:  R.A.’s children were taught with the Sing, Spell, Read and Write program authored by Master Teacher Sue Dickson.  Here is her website:



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