BLOG > No problem can be solved by the same kind of thinking that created it.

Placeholder imageWhen one small change leads to drastic results it is known as the Butterfly Effect. Believe it or not, the flap of a butterfly’s wing in Brazil spurred catastrophic events leading to a tornado in Texas. Forecasting the future is not an exact science. Meteorologists try their best to track weather patterns and make predictions, but it is hard to predict all the factors, big and small, that lead to the exact moment a storm will strike.

This reminds me of how one small change in American Education has led to out-of-control illiteracy rates more than any other change - the marginalization of phonics in the kindergarten through third grade classrooms. One might argue, and I would agree, that poverty, lack of books in the home, parents’ level of education, stress, and a host of other factors combine to affect literacy. Those factors, however, are difficult to overcome and billions and billions of dollars have been spent on social programs to level the playing field.

Innumerable state and federal initiatives have tried to solve the problems, yet we still have dismal results. 32 million adults in the U.S. can’t read, 21 percent of adults read below a 5th grade level, 19 percent of high school “graduates” can’t read, and over 70 percent of prison inmates cannot read above a fourth grade level. This was not always the case. America used to be one of the most literate countries in the world, despite poverty, crime, unsafe neighborhoods, and other adverse conditions.

If we look at the one “small” change that is fundamentally at the core of the problem, we can see that the teaching philosophy that is espoused today is not aligned with how all children, whether affluent or disadvantaged, can become successful readers. Rather than assume children will learn to read through osmosis, strong, bottom-up principles that begin with teaching how sounds in our language are represented by letters, followed by learning left-to-right sequences of letters that make up words, and leading to an understanding of organized words that make up sentences and represent coherent thought.

Children should not be left to “discover” how words work. For a while, I was optimistic that the tide was turning with scientific research that supported early instruction in systematic phonics. Unfortunately, what we have now is a mixed-methods approach that waters down the intensity needed to make a difference. When children are being encouraged to look at the context and “search for meaning” before they have mastered letter and sound correspondence, we create confusion and failure. The flap of this butterfly’s wing produced a functionally illiterate society, and there is no end to the damage that continues to be inflicted on emergent readers and writers.

Despite decades of effort by government officials and education gurus to raise standards, we are no better off today getting children to read well by the end of third grade. Having been a classroom teacher, reading and learning specialist, mentor, and administrator, I have witnessed firsthand this unfortunate reality. In my thirty years as an educator, I, along with many others, have been frustrated and disgusted by the mixed messages given by politicians, school district officials, elite universities, and publishing companies.

Maybe it is time we revolutionize our thinking. The only way to change the future of education is to begin by making different decisions. Once the root cause of a problem is accurately recognized, we can shift our attention to preventing the problem.

Boon epitomizes a new type of thought; instead of trying to make huge changes, a solution might be to begin with teachers, one small change at a time. By offering to cover the cost of training individual teachers in explicit, multisensory phonics instruction, Boon is taking steps to prevent a problem before one exists. If we continue to focus on intervention instead of prevention, we are not solving the correct problem.

Placeholder image Today’s problems are a product of decisions we made in the past. If we return to the one small change that caused a literacy crisis, we can make one small change to fix it. Einstein brilliantly stated, “No problem can be solved by the same kind of thinking that created it.” Boon Philanthropy is presenting a different point of view, and I proudly support their efforts. It is my hope that eventually every child will be taught by trained teachers in explicit, multi-sensory instruction. But we need to start with one small change to see drastic results.

Faith Borkowsky, is the author of Reading Intervention Behind School Walls: Why Your Child Continues to Struggle. (Read more)

Faith Borkowsky