van den Honert
they are called development engineers. They take theoretical
results from the science labs, think up a practical application
of new information and turn the idea over to design engineers,
who then invent a widget that embodies the scientific information.
they aren't called anything, because there is no such thing.
Information from neurological labs stays right where it is,
or, which amounts to the same thing in educational circles,
is published in a neurological journal that no educator ever
the information flow goes both ways. In education, it doesn't
flow at all. Neurologists aren't expected to turn their discoveries
into teaching techniques. Indeed, their findings are often
so fragmented, one finding out one fact, another a related
fact, but in a different context, that they seldom have even
an inkling that what they are doing might be usable down in
the educational trenches.
a teacher never sees research neurologists to consult about
some promising idea she has. Once in a while, at a National
Conference, where the experts zip in for a speech and zip
out again, she might try to talk to one after his speech.
She is usually lucky if her brush-off is polite. And I have
never seen a professional article rewritten from neurological
jargon into English.
between attained knowledge and its application is nothing
new, of course, and it certainly is not restricted to the
field of education. If the gap is allowed to continue in any
field, it must be for one or both of two reasons: 1. it doesn't
matter, or 2. the application of a piece of knowledge will
not be financially profitable to anyone.
all seen educational theories come and go, most of them buttressed
only by anecdotal evidence or someone's fond hope. In the
absence of hard scientific evidence that one technique is
better than another, one might argue that it doesn't much
matter what teachers do:
some things work for some, other approaches work for others.
Unfortunately, today's students are performing so badly in
national and international studies that the argument is rapidly
unraveling. But there is a lot of money tied up in maintaining
the status quo, even if its results are poor. Textbooks are
a major source of income for the educators who write them,
and who, incidentally, teach the education majors in college
to use them. To revamp schooling so that 90% of high school
graduates could read, write, spell, compute and think involves
a lot of hard thought and hard work. Intellectual inertia
is reinforced by the financial rewards of doing nothing. And
anyhow, where is the real scientific evidence that we are
not training the brain to maximize its potential as a human
organism? Isn't the problem really one of poverty, drugs and
other nasty social conditions? Why blame teaching techniques?
area there is solid evidence from the labs of those who explore
the way the brain operates that certain teaching techniques
are badly off base and are actually doing harm to the hapless
students upon whom they are inflicted. This is the area of
reading. The argument over phonics first versus look-say has
been raging for years, generating enough heat to threaten
global warming. But the evidence is available right now to
settle the question. Maybe even save the planet. Here are
hemisphere (with rare exceptions) is specialized for handling
both spoken and written language,. Writing is the transcription
of linguistic noises into visible squiggles. Environmental
noises (doors closing, sneezing, thunder, etc.) are handled
by the right hemisphere and need not be transcribed into visible
form. The left hemisphere has the capability, starting from
infancy, of sorting out specifically linguistic noises from
environmental sounds and eventually duplicating the ones that
are in its own language. It can be taught to identify the
individual vowel and consonant sounds in a word and put their
squiggle-equivalents down in the proper order. The left hemisphere
can also be taught to look at a lineup of squiggles, produce
the equivalent sounds in the proper order and come up with
the word. In short, when a person goes through the auditory
component of analysis to read or write a word, he is using
his left hemisphere to do it.
hemisphere, specialized for handling environmental sounds,
has no need to transcribe them. If you ask it to identify
a printed word, it does not think in terms of sounds, but
rather of shapes. If it has been taught the particular shape,
it can identify the word-- or at least the concept. Since
it does not go through any auditory or phonetic route to get
the exact line-up of sounds, it may not come up with the exact
word that is on the page. Or, if the word looks somewhat like
another one, it may even produce a word with a similar shape
but totally different meaning! Thus the right hemisphere might
read black for dark, or pony for horse. But it has also been
caught, in college kids yet, reading
bifocals for bivouac
diminished for timid
hammer for hurricane
trapeze for neurosurgeon
lot of other horror shows.
hemisphere is also a total dolt at grammar and syntax, since
the programming to understand these facets of language is
built into the left side. Abstract carriers of meaning like
punctuation are also mud in the eye of the right side. In
short, it is deficient in sound-symbol correspondence, punctuation,
grammatical understanding and letter sequencing. More succinctly
yet, at reading and spelling, it's no good.
train a small child to analyze the sounds in words, to learn
which squiggles represent which of those sounds, and to form
the shapes of the squiggles on paper, saying the appropriate
noises as he goes, you are training him to activate his left
hemisphere when he has a language task to do. It is called,
in the trade, phonics-first training.
when you train a small child to look at the shape of a word
and try to remember, or guess at its meaning, by-passing the
auditory route and going directly from shape to meaning, you
are training him to activate his inept right hemisphere when
he has a language task to do. It is called in the trade, the
sight method, used both in "Look Say" and "Whole
hasn't this piece of vital information been passed from the
neurologists to teachers? Because there is nobody to pass
it. No "development engineer" exists who is paid
to link the two. Who will benefit financially from having
children learn their phonics first? Practically nobody, because
phonics is so cheap to teach, requiring almost no outlay for
the workbooks, teacher's manuals, textbooks, and other paraphernalia
of reading programs, that there is no money in promoting it.
Well then, why doesn't someone write up the information for
an educational journal which teachers will read? People do,
but the peer reviewers for the journals are the same professors
from teachers' colleges who sell all that expensive "Whole
Language" material they invented. Naturally they aren't
interested in telling the world that they are not only wrong,
but probably doing damage to the average American student.
without saying that a teacher who devises a phonics-first
method that delivers spectacular improvement in her pupils'
reading scores will not get paid a penny extra for her success.
Indeed, she may find herself on the carpet because she wasn't
using the material that the school system required. By and
large, teachers are paid to get to page 23 by the 3rd of October
in the textbook that the School Board has approved.
national price of sloppy, inadequate reading is incalculable.
us SPED teacher with dyslectic pupils are already using some
form of alphabetic phonics, because that is the only thing
that works on a dyslectic pupil, so one might assume that
we aren't affected by the gap. Not so. A dyslectic reader
also uses his right hemisphere for language processing, but
it is used by default, partly because his left side is not
normally constructed. The more phonics, sequencing, and grammar
you can pump into his head, the more you stir up that languid
process is painfully slow, requires individual tutoring, and
is very expensive. There is a much quicker, more efficient
method which not only improves reading but sends comprehension
skyrocketing and enhances verbal memory. Called "Enhanced
Lateralization," it is based on two facts that have come
out of neurological labs. One is the need for left-hemisphere
processing; the other is the fact that the corpus callosum,
a heavy bridge of neural tissue that connects the two hemispheres,
is defective in dyslexia. One function of the CC is to allocate
appropriate neural space (left or right) to a job and enable
sustained attention during cognitive processing. We know that
allocation of neural space is out of whack in dyslectics,
or they wouldn't be using the right hemisphere all the time
when they try to read or spell, and heaven knows that nobody
has to tell a SPED teacher about the lack of sustained attention!
Lateralization, end-runs these two problems by the simple
device of putting stereo headphones on the student, sending
a phonics task into the left hemisphere (via the right ear,
since things criss-cross in the brain) and simultaneously
shipping music into the right hemisphere, which effectively
keeps it out of the verbal action. This trick also by-passes
the CC, enabling you to mechanically solve the problem of
allocation of neural space and force the sustained attention
that the CC isn't providing. It works like gangbusters.
that wonderful? Why isn't everybody in the world doing it?
Because talk is cheap, and so far, I have only told you it
works. It's that gap again. Neurologists have shown clearly
that a dyslectic individual does not use his angular gyrus
when reading. But no one has yet done a functional MRI study
on a dyslectic showing that he is not using his angular gyrus
in the left hemisphere, then trained him with Enhanced Lateralization
and re-fMRI'd him after a few months to see whether he is
making greater use of the angular gyrus, or whether there
have been any other changes in his cerebral patterns during
reading. No graduate student has set up a controlled study
comparing EL with plain old Orton Gillingham on a large number
of matched students. No private school wants some outsider
to come in, set up a study and prove that the job could be
done far more quickly and better than they have been doing
it. What would all those parents say? And how about the egos
of the Leaders in the Field who have masterminded the school's
current methods and curriculum?
there is no "development engineer" who is paid to
develop applications. In business, the money is in using new
technologies to make better products. In education, the money
is in keeping things the way they are. But the sad thing is
that however ingenious and brilliant a piece of science may
be, it is useless until it is applied. Application in the
field of education consists of turning knowledge into teaching
strategies. Perhaps if all education majors had been required
to take a course in the physiology of the brain instead of
some of the fluff currently required, they wouldn't have fallen
like dominoes for something as clearly foolish as Whole Language.
It doesn't seem unreasonable to require that people whose
lives are spent molding and training the human brain, be required
to know something about how it works.
At a higher
level, the obvious educational analogue of the development
engineer is the professor in teachers' colleges. A good first
step in bridging the gap would be to require full year courses
in both neurophysiology and neurolinguistics for all candidates
for advanced degrees in education!
a good start. I propose that we persuade industry, now
crying foul at the expense of providing remedial programs
for high school graduates, to put some of that money into
exemplary phonics-first programs in inner-city schools, and
to put some more of it into subsidizing a few brain scans
for dyslectic pupils. The cost of EL is about a third that
of SPED. It is surely cheaper to put money into the beginning
of the pipeline than to finance elaborate, usually unsuccessful
dropout programs for gang leaders or to pay the enormous cost
to society of having 20% of its members grow up functionally
illiterate. For industry it might even be profitable.