Education – Southern Style

Retarding America:  The Imprisonment of Potential


Michael Brunner

A Review and Commentary by Sharman Burson Ramsey

Introduction by Robert W. Sweet, Jr.

Author, teacher, wife, mom, and grandmother, Sharman Burson Ramsey has been there as an education reformer and advocate for common sense and evidence based reading instruction in her community, and she paid a price for it.

Like many others all across America she was worn down by the enormous pressure exerted by “education experts” who belittle, and beleaguer all who oppose their “theories.”  And, theories they are.  No evidence is presented about why the “Four Block” program should be adopted.  No scholarly peer reviewed, experimental studies to support whole language.  No challenges to the “name changing” philosophies that permeate elite circles of the “planners and policy guru’s” who arrogantly use taxpayer money to impose their nefarious methods on unsuspecting teachers and students.

It is no wonder that parents give up…. who can stand against such an array of ideologues who are supported by major publishing houses, powerful teachers unions, and colleges of education that pump out millions of teachers totally unprepared to teach a child to read.  This, in spite of the fact that Moms without any formal “teaching credentials” can teach their sons and daughters to read in a matter of months…and prepare them for academic excellence throughout their educational careers.  That is why parents are abandoning the public schools and teaching their children at home….and they should.

The U.S. Justice Department study, Retarding America: The Imprisonment of Potential, that Sharman reviews in her essay was a study that was commissioned during my tenure as Administrator of the U.S. Department of Juvenile Justice during the George H.W. Bush administration.  President Bush appointed me to be Administrator and I was confirmed by a Democrat controlled Senate.  I knew the statistics on the number of young people incarcerated was high…about 85% of them could not read.  That statistic was cited in a U.S. Department of Labor study, and it has not changed.   Today it is likely even worse than when the study was conducted.

I hired Michael Brunner as my assistant to research the state of illiteracy among those who were placed in juvenile detention.  The study he completed was the first time the U.S. Justice Department approved and released such data. I recall speaking to more than 1,000 Juvenile and Family Court Judges in Rapid City, SD, and urging them to include a provision in any sentence rendered to a first time offender requiring that direct, systematic, and intensive phonics be a mandatory course of study before they were released.  I do not know how widely that recommendation was followed, but at least they heard the pitch from me for an hour!  And, I was able to include a provision that required it in the reauthorization of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Law in 2003.

Linked to my introduction here is the excellent and poignant essay written by Sharman Burson Ramsey.  It is well worth reading.  I understand her frustration and discouragement.

However, I am reminded of the story of Gideon in the Bible.  He was reduced to 300 men who were up against an army that is described as follows:  “The armies of Midian, Amalek, and the people of the east had settled in the valley like a swarm of locusts.  Their camels were like grains of sand on the seashore–too many to count.”

When Gideon and his 300 men entered the fray and then “crossed the Jordan River.  “They were exhausted, but they continued to chase the enemy.”

And, he won the battle.

It is much like that today in our determination to return evidence based reading instruction to our public schools.  We are certainly no match for the power, influence and effectiveness of the education industry. They are like the locusts or camels in Gideon’s day.

But, we do have truth on our side.  The outcome is not ours to determine. We must do all we can to defeat the discredited, and harmful “theories and philosophies” of education that are enslaving millions of children and their families today, and we nest pursue our objectives relentlessly and with abandon. It is for the sake of our children and grandchildren that we press on “faint though pursuing.”

Over my desk in my office I have a motto I excerpted from the story of Gideon:

“…Go with the strength you have…I am sending you…I will be with you.” Judges 6:14 & 16.

I know the President is quoting Scripture these days…but I wanted to make sure that the citation I used was accurate.  Check it out!

The article in the link below is  Sharman Burson Ramsey’s essay: it is must a must read.


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