Posted by: Bob C. Cleckler | July 10, 2012

The Ultimate Account (?) of America’s Education Dilemma

Some people like mental challenges. Do you? Then, as the saying goes, “I have a real “doozy” for you!”

Are you willing to spend the twelve to fifteen minutes required to read about this very important topic?

Here are some of the reasons that making any statistically significant improvement in American education is so difficult.

1. This is presented in condensed form because if it is too long, you will probably be “too busy” to read it.

2. Being “in condensed form” means there is no room for proof of these statements — except Item 6, the key statement. You probably consider yourself too busy to read the proof, even if presented. Part of the dilemma is that you may use any lack of proof as an excuse to discount the entire blog. If you really want a mental challenge, however, you are challenged to refer to our website ( or our blogs (,,,,,,  and or to books by Dr. Frank Laubach, Dr. William Bennett, or Samuel L. Blumenfeld for the readily available proof.

3. Any teacher will tell you that reading is the foundation of nearly all learning in school. It is required for class-work, homework, and testing.

4. A major part of the dilemma is the fact that those who can read well think that they do not need what we are proposing. Those who cannot read well are powerless to do anything to end everyone’s illiteracy. They cannot write a letter or email to their local or federal congressman or senator or any of the educational or political leaders. They are afraid to try to contact any of these officials by telephone or in person, fearing that they will say the wrong thing and embarrass themselves.

5. The most important part of the dilemma is that almost no one knows either the extent or the seriousness of the problem of functional illiteracy. Although people may have several friends or associates who are functional illiterates, they may not be aware of it. They are also not aware of the monetary cost that they and everyone else must pay because of the functional illiterates in our midst. They have difficulty believing that English functional illiteracy is a serious problem. Human nature virtually guarantees that changes people consider “too radical” or “unnecessary” will not be made until the occurrence of a crisis that they cannot continue to ignore. How much longer will the crisis of English functional illiteracy continue to be ignored?

6. Fully 48.7% of U.S. adults (more than 93 million of them) are functionally illiterate, defined as being unable to read and write well enough to hold an above-poverty-level-wage job. Fully 31.2% of these functional illiterates are in poverty. Functional illiterates are more than twice as likely to be in poverty because of their illiteracy as for all other reasons combined. (the 1993 Adult Literacy in America reporta 2006 follow-up to the Adult Literacy in America report ,  and page 2 of our website.)

7. Determining the extent of functional illiteracy by the ability to hold a good job is by far the most accurate. Employers have a very strong interest in accurately determining a prospective employee’s reading ability — their success in business depends upon having employees who can read and write well enough to be profitable to them. Other means of determining (or guessing) the literacy rate are open to subjective judgments and can be skewed to indicate the literacy level desired by the person(s) making the assessment. It is in the short-term best interest of educators and politicians to promote a belief that American education is doing very well. That way they do not have to make any unwanted changes.

8. We do not see the levels of illiteracy and poverty in item 6 because of the following. (1) Illiterates are very good at hiding their embarrassing inabilities. (2) There is a certain amount of natural separation of readers and non-readers because of zoning laws determining the value of houses in most areas and by the natural separation of employees according to job duties. (3) Most illiterates are part of a family with more than one employed adult, and (4) low-income families receive assistance from government agencies, family, friends, and charities.

9. Although the previous information is shocking, the media has essentially ignored it. The media does not have the slightest clue as to how to solve the problem of English functional illiteracy, so they ignore it rather than risk upsetting the educational and political leaders who might cause problems for them and their media supervisors.

10. Teachers, teachers’ unions, and educational leaders may want to help students learn to read, but they are at least a hundred times more interested in maintaining the status quo in their workplaces and in the enormous quantities of money involved in teaching reading. If students learn to read in three months or less (according to Dr. Laubach — arguably the world’s foremost teacher of reading — American students can be taught to read in a week with his recommended change), schools can eliminate two or three years of present schooling for reading instruction. This not only eliminates most of the money received for teaching reading in the first three grades in school; it also requires a complete revamp of the curricula for those three grades. If our students learn to read as quickly as students of other languages and the curricula are changed appropriately, American students can at long last be the equal of students in other languages. At present our students are widely acknowledged as being two years behind students of the same age in other languages as reported on pages 76 – 77 of Rudolph Flesch’s book, Why Johnny Can’t Read.

11. The main goal of the National Education Association — America’s most powerful labor union — as well as the state teachers’ unions, is to promote the salary and benefits of the teachers. In that regard, they usually succeed very well. Although teachers’ salaries are not as high as the presidents of medium-sized and large companies, their salaries are often higher than those of the general public. Another lesser-known goal of many, if not most, of the teachers’ unions is to produce compliant, “worker bees” for our culture by “dumbing-down” the curricula. This is so that the higher-paying, more challenging jobs can be taken by the children of the educational and political leaders and the “elites” in our society. An easily provable fact is that a much higher percentage of the children of teachers, educational leaders, and politicians attend private schools than the children of the general public. In case you think that present education has not been “dumbed down,” you are invited to attempt the final exam given eighth graders in Salina, Kansas in 1895, which was typical for elementary school in the late 1800s.

12. There have been many attempts at improving American education in the recent past — especially since the issuance of the 1983 “Nation At Risk” report. Far more often than any other changes are the calls to spend more money for education and reduce the number of students in each class. Although most people may believe smaller class sizes are better, there is no convincing proof that reducing class size has any significant beneficial effect. There is abundant proof, however, that spending more money on education will NOT necessarily improve education. Many of these calls for increased funding for education comes from the teachers’ unions. Two advertisements in early July 2012 pointed out how poorly American students fared against students of other industrialized nations in international scholastic competitions. American student were in 17th place in one advertisement and in 25th place in another. Both advertisements called for increased teacher pay. At the present time only one nation —Switzerland — spends more money per pupil than the U.S. If more money were the answer, we should at least be in second place in international scholastic competitions.

13. Although there have been many attempts at improving the teaching of reading in the past century or more, nearly all of these efforts have amounted to nothing more that “tweaking” the existing systems. The major school-book companies have reading “experts” who come up with a new variation or combination of phonics and “whole-language” every few years so that they can sell more reading books. An honest evaluation of all the tweaking, however, will show that there has been no statistically significant improvement over reading rates in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

14. Although Bob C. Cleckler has been researching and writing since 1985 about the solution to ending English functional illiteracy that he discovered and perfected, his humanitarian project cannot succeed without much more publicity than he knows how to generate. NO project — no matter how worthy — can succeed without sufficient publicity.

15. Both Cleckler, CEO of Literacy Research Associates, Inc., and his collaborator Gary Sprunk, M.A. English Linguistics, President of NuEnglish, Inc. (both organizations are non-profit educational corporations — see ABOUT US on our website, have spent multiple-hundreds of hours in perfecting the solution that Dr. Frank Laubach recommended. We did not realize the difficulty in getting the publicity needed to move 200 million U.S. adults to do anything!

16. A large part of the difficulty in improving education is the natural human resistance to change — even change for the better.

17. Most Americans in today’s world are so busy that they have an established list of priorities: their relationship to God, their family and friends, their job or profession, and their recreation and hobbies —not necessarily in that order. Part of the difficulty in improving education is that most Americans are so busy with their own interests that they have no time — not even 15 seconds — for someone else’s interests. If you think that is an exaggeration, I had an experience that shocked me. I sent emails — marked “important” in the subject line — to about 50 personal associates of mine who were leaders in an organization we belong to. I asked them to spend the two minutes it would take to read my email concerning ending illiteracy and then take ten or fifteen seconds to respond. I have no way of knowing how many of them spent two minutes reading the email, but I do know that only one person took the ten or fifteen seconds to respond! Maybe overly aggressive spam filters kept a small percentage of them from seeing the email, but the lack of response was a shocking display of how apathetic to illiteracy people are — primarily because they do not know the facts of the situation.

18. A large part of the reason for apathy toward illiteracy is that in addition to being unaware of the shocking extent of illiteracy (proven in item 6 above), most people neither know nor care about how seriously illiteracy affects everyone — themselves included. Functional illiterates must constantly endure serious physical, mental, emotional, medical, and financial problems that we would consider a crisis if we had to endure them. Many simple tasks that we perform every day to thrive in our present complicated, technological culture are beyond the ability of most illiterates. Unfortunately, illiteracy costs every American, reader and non-reader alike, at least $5,000 each year for government programs used by illiterates; for truancy, juvenile delinquency, and crime directly related to illiteracy; and for the higher cost of consumer goods due to the higher costs of recruiting, training, and correcting the mistakes and inabilities of functional illiterates in the workplace.

19.  Due to the “busyness” of most Americans and the challenge in using the multitude of possessions we own and maintain, most Americans make no effort to master every different item or service that is a part of our lives. Instead, we depend upon “experts” to maintain our electronic devices and many of our tools and appliances. We depend upon “experts” to educate our children and take care of our medical, legal, and psychological needs. We usually want only someone with a doctor’s degree for our more important educational , medical, legal, or psychological needs. Although Gary Sprunk has a genius mentality, and although I have a “near-genius” mentality, our lack of the title Ph.D. after our names removes much of the authority that our names have on the books we write and the websites we create.

20. Although a person with a doctor’s degree may have twenty-five years of experience on the job, it is often true that it is not really twenty-five years of experience but one year of experience repeated twenty-five times. I have spent the last 27 years researching and writing about the solution to illiteracy, which is far more time than would be required to receive a doctor’s degree. Furthermore, I studied ideas that are never considered in educational doctoral programs. I read dozens of books — every book of any substance on the subject of my research in a large research library, the Marriott Library of the University of Utah.

21. Although I have spent multiple-hundreds of hours in researching and writing my book, my credibility is suspect because of my lack of an educational doctoral degree. It is easy for people to believe that my real motivation is to make money on my book. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have spent well over $40,000 more on free review copies, marketing programs, advertising, office equipment, and office supplies than I have earned from book sales on my book, first published by American University & Colleges Press in 2005. In addition to spending all of my IRA, I have put $13,000 of my advertising expenses on my credit card. It is extremely unlikely that I will ever earn more than a dollar an hour from all of my work. I have been passionately concerned about the welfare of illiterates ever since reading Jonathan Kozol’s book, Illiterate America, when it came out in 1985. Kozol described the serious problems that many of his fifth and sixth grade students that he knew and loved in the Boston area had to endure. My passion increased tremendously in 1993 when I learned the shocking extent of illiteracy in the Adult Literacy in America study.

22. If you have read this far, even though you may have much higher priorities, are you willing to spend an hour or two learning about our solution to English functional illiteracy? If our website and blogs do not convince you, even the most skeptical reader will have difficulty in ignoring the multitude of facts and figures in the book, Let’s End Our Literacy Crisis, Revised Edition or the free e-book Let’s End Our Literacy Crisis, Second Revision available on our website home page. Although solving the dilemma of how to make this project a success is difficult, my certain knowledge that we have found the proven right way to solve the problem is what keeps me going. Are you willing to spend five or ten minutes a day (or a week) to help publicize a truly worthy humanitarian project? If you personally know a celebrity, telling them what you learn about our humanitarian project of ending English functional illiteracy could very well be the event needed to make this project a success. If people cannot depend upon an expert with a doctor’s degree in education, they will often depend upon the endorsement of a celebrity.


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