Posted by: Bob C. Cleckler | September 29, 2012

How Do YOU Examine a Book Before Deciding to Acquire It?

Anyone picking up a book they have not seen or heard of before will usually read the back cover, the Table of Contents, and then casually thumb through it. What Let’s End Our Literacy Crisis proposes is very simple, but there are 164 pages of text containing countless dozens of facts providing the justification for taking the action it proposes. Upon finding so many diverse facts and figures in a book, we often tend to revert to “conventional wisdom,” which may be (and definitely IS in the case of this book) completely at variance with the many facts scattered throughout the book. So thumbing through to determine what the book is about is definitely counter-productive to learning how we can permanently end our very real literacy crisis.

Of course, most of us will not go to the trouble of getting a book unless we do so with the understanding that the book accomplishes something of value to us. All those who carefully, honestly examine the facts about ending English functional illiteracy will definitely want to read Let’s End Our Literacy Crisis. This website, in addition to giving a very good introduction to the humanitarian project of ending illiteracy, has a link at the bottom of the left-hand column to a .pdf file of the latest version (the second revision) of Let’s End Our Literacy Crisis. The download of this 265 page ebook with 164 pages of text, 46 pages in eight appendixes, 175 extensive end notes and references, an extensive bibliography (containing several references not quoted or paraphrased in the book), a glossary, an index, and several features, is free of cost or obligation of any kind.

Posted by: Bob C. Cleckler | September 24, 2012

Is Reading This In Your Best Interests?

In today’s busy world we are very often tempted to scan through reading material to see if we really want to spend the time to read it carefully. We may be seeking something amusing or entertaining for a brief time of diversion from something else we need to do. When we are told that there is a serious problem, we often do not want to spend the time learning about it because we are afraid we will spend the time and learn that there is, in fact, a problem — with English functional illiteracy, for example — but there is nothing we can do about it.

IF, however, there is a serious problem that is costing each of us at least $5,186 each year and there IS something we can do about it, it is in our best interests to learn about it. That is exactly what this blog is all about. Literacy Research Associates, Inc. and NuEnglish, Inc., two non-profit educational corporations, after 27 years of researching and observing the educational problems in the U.S., have discovered and perfected a proven way of permanently ending English functional illiteracy.

The problem of functional illiteracy is probably much worse than you realize. English functional illiterates must constantly endure at least 34 different kinds of serious physical, mental, emotional, medical, and financial problems — problems that each of us who can read well would consider a literacy crisis, if we had to endure them. For your own benefit and for the benefit of an estimated 600 million English-speaking people around the world who are functionally illiterate in English (including at least 93 million in the U.S. alone) you are challenged to click on the two underlined terms above and learn how to join in our humanitarian project of ending our literacy crisis.

Posted by: Bob C. Cleckler | September 20, 2012

Can the U.S. Maintain Its Dominant Position in the World?

The 1983 “Nation At Risk” report was not just idle rhetoric. A recent survey of Fortune 500 firms found that 58 percent of the companies had trouble finding employees with even the most basic skills and that about 20 percent of the present U.S. workforce is functionally illiterate.

Four examples of the many horror stories that could be given about functional illiterates in the workplace are:

  1. In the Proceedings and Debates of the Second Session of the 95th Congress, September 1978, Senator George McGovern told of a young naval recruit who could not read the repair manuals for naval equipment. This recruit had caused $600,000 in damage to delicate naval equipment. The recruit had been trying to do repairs by using common sense and by following the pictures in the manual. These Proceedings and Debates revealed that 30 percent of navy recruits are “a danger to themselves and to costly naval equipment.” The Boston Globe on May 1, 1983, stated that 25 percent “of naval recruits read below ‘the minimum level [required] to understand safety instructions.'” Serious safety concerns arise, for example, if personnel who cannot read repair manuals do the maintenance on the nuclear reactors on atomic submarines.
  2. A herd of prime beef cattle was killed in 1975 when an illiterate feed lot worker fed poison to the cattle. He thought he was adding a nutritional supplement to their feed.18 What illiterate food-processing employee will, in the future, confuse a pesticide with a nutritional supplement in some mass-produced human food?
  3. Reservation clerks, ticket agents, and other persons who deal directly with the public are usually highly literate and efficient. Airline employees directly concerned with airline safety are often much less literate. As an example, on May 5, 1983, three of the engines on an Eastern Airlines jumbo jet en route from Nassau to Miami went dead. The plane dropped three miles before the pilots averted disaster by getting one engine restarted! This occurred because two maintenance workers “hadn’t read” the instruction manual. It was not reported whether they neglected to read them or whether they had been unable to read and understand them.19
  4. A major reason for the near-catastrophe in March 1979 at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant was open valves that were left unsecured. A worker did not follow maintenance instructions.20 Those who say, “A full-scale nuclear plant disaster is very unlikely,” need only look a few years later at the Chernobyl incident. The Three Mile Island event could have affected millions of people in Pennsylvania, New York, and New Jersey. Admittedly the events in the third and fourth examples cannot be identified with any evidence of inability to read. The fact, however, that there are millions of people in the work force — many of whom we do not know are illiterate — makes hundreds of mistakes each day inevitable. The source and result of many of these mistakes may never be known.

David Broder stated in a very enlightened January 17, 1990 article written for Washington Post Service, “It’s been seven years since the ‘Nation at Risk’ report raised a national alarm about our schools. Reform efforts have lifted minimum standards in many communities. But those standards are not nearly high enough to meet the needs for economic survival….If this situation goes unremedied for another decade, this nation is doomed to decline. We simply cannot survive as a first-class economic power in the information age with “minimal” capacity to acquire and communicate facts, information, concepts or ideas.” We desperately need to end English functional illiteracy. We desperately need to join in the humanitarian project of Literacy Research Associates, Inc. and NuEnglish, Inc. (two non-profit educational corporations — click on “About Us” in the heading of this blog)for ending our very real literacy crisis.

Posted by: Bob C. Cleckler | September 17, 2012

A Proven Solution to Illiteracy

There is a proven way of ending our very real literacy crisis in English that has been recommended by several respected educational and linguistic scholars over the last 250 years. Furthermore, all major objections to what these scholars proposed have been conclusively debunked by several very competent scholars, such as Thomas R. Lounsbury, LL.D., L.H.D., emeritus professor of English, Yale University, in his book published in 1909! As a means of avoiding change, however, skeptics keep repeating these same disproven arguments. As our culture becomes more complex and as literacy becomes more and more necessary for holding almost every job in America, it is time to end English functional illiteracy. There is an even more authoritative source that should be evaluated by everyone concerned about ending our literacy crisis.

Posted by: Bob C. Cleckler | August 16, 2012

America’s Dirty Little Secret, II

Reading time for this blog (without following links): 34 minutes (at an average reading rate of 180 wpm)

I feel like the physician who has a patient with an easy-to-cure, but fatal, disease who has been treating it with an expensive, but ineffective, home remedy. This patient listens to me explain the situation, but he only wants to know the cost of the treatment I recommend. When I explain that the cost will be about what he has been spending for four months of his home remedy, he decides to leave and continue with his home remedy. This scenario is very similar to my experience in 27 years of research in solving our very serious problem of English functional illiteracy.

It has become difficult to avoid becoming a little angry at being ignored when I absolutely KNOW — based upon a mountain of evidence and no known conflicting evidence — that the humanitarian project to end English functional illiteracy that Literacy Research Associates, Inc. and NuEnglish, Inc. (two non-profit educational corporations) are proposing is the RIGHT way to solve a serious problem.

For the sake of an estimated 600 million English-speaking people around the world who are functionally illiterate in English — more than 93 million in the U.S. alone — are you willing to spend 31 minutes of your time in reading and understanding this blog?

 America’s Dirty Little Secret

Chances are very good that you have not heard about one of America’s best-hidden, dirty, little secrets — widespread functional illiteracy and the truancy, juvenile delinquency, crime, poverty, and many other problems it causes. Almost every American can read at least a thousand or so simple words they learned in the first three grades in school. If that is all they can read, however, they do not like to read and almost never try to do so. Statistics show that almost half of U.S. adults never read another entire book after leaving school. Much more importantly, however, they cannot read well enough to get by as well as they should in our increasingly complex society and to hold an above-poverty-level-wage job. There are several definitions of functional illiteracy, but the inability to hold a good job is the most accurate indicator of illiteracy because most employers have a strong financial interest in being accurate about how well their employees can read.

All other definitions of functional illiteracy can be manipulated by the researchers — either inadvertently or on purpose. The results of the study can be influenced by the choice of the interviewees, the location from which interviewees are drawn, the time periods covered by the study, the significant details of the testing, and the assumptions made in interpreting the data. Some of the assumptions made may very well seem to be “obvious,” rather than an attempt to influence the results. Researchers who are associated in any way with the government or education may want the results to show the literacy rate to be higher than it actually is in order to avoid being thrown out of office by an angry electorate demanding that they solve a problem they do not know how to solve. In most cases our leaders mistakenly believe that a massive effort — which they are unwilling to risk failure by publicizing or attempting — would be needed to significantly improve the literacy rate.

With the present, shocking extent of illiteracy, solving the problem of illiteracy in the U.S. is now more crucial than ever. When I tell you how bad it is, you may find it hard to believe, so I need to start by giving you the reasons why you probably did not know.

Why We Do Not Know the Seriousness of Illiteracy

First, this blog is discussing functional illiteracy. Very few Americans cannot read at all, but if they read so poorly that they cannot get by in our society as well as they should, their reading ability is of practically no value.

Second, illiterates are almost always embarrassed about their inability to read well and have developed numerous coping methods for getting by in life while hiding their illiteracy. Community leaders in areas with a large number of illiterates do not want that fact publicized. They fear that it will give people they perceive as their “enemies” — racists and class-conscious persons — ammunition against them. Chances are that many of your acquaintances — without your knowledge — are functionally illiterate.

Third, there is a certain amount of natural separation of readers and non-readers. Because of lower incomes for families where one or both adults are illiterate, they live in lower cost homes, which are separated from more expensive homes by zoning laws. Also, there is a certain amount of separation in the workplace according to job functions and in leisure activities according to reading abilities.

Fourth, most low-income families have more than one employed adult. If one of the employed adults in the family is literate, that adult can pull the family above the poverty threshold. If neither adult in the family is literate, the family is very likely to be in poverty.

Fifth, most low-income families receive financial assistance from government agencies, friends, charities, and relatives in other families.

Sixth, there are four reasons why you may not know information about literacy from media reports. (1) The results of a literacy study may not have appeared in the media, (2) you may not have seen the media reports about the literacy rate, (3) you saw media reports and did not believe them or forgot them, or (4) you saw reports on literacy rate that inaccurately minimized the seriousness of the problem. The reports on the most statistically accurate and comprehensive study of U.S. adult illiteracy ever commissioned by the U.S. government, Adult Literacy in America, definitely downplayed the seriousness of the problem of functional illiteracy. Most reporters have time pressures to get their story into print before someone else reports it and it is no longer “news.” As a result, in a 200-page report, such as the Adult Literacy in America report, reporters may have read only the “Executive Summary.” Part of the reason the report was downplayed is that journalists spend most of their time in school studying journalism rather than math. Getting the full impact of the report required a little mathematical knowledge. Furthermore, many educators, politicians, and members of the media have a short-term interest in disbelieving statistics that show the teaching of reading to be inadequate.

Why Must We Be Concerned About Illiteracy?

There are four very good reasons why we must be concerned about illiteracy.

(1) The extent of English functional illiteracy is undoubtedly much worse than your realize. A careful analysis of the Adult Literacy in America report proves that 48.7% of U.S. adults cannot read and write well enough to hold an above-poverty-level-wage job and can therefore be defined as functionally illiterate. This was a five-year, $14 million study involving lengthy interviews of 26,049 adults. The interviewees were statistically balanced for age, gender, ethnicity, and location to be representative of the entire U.S. population. The study statistically balanced urban, suburban, and rural data from twelve states across the U.S. and included 1100 prisoners from 80 prisons. These results are verified in a 2006 report, which was a study using 19,714 interviewees by the same group of researchers as the Adult Literacy in America report .

(2) The effect of illiteracy on illiterates is undoubtedly much worse than you realize — illiterates must constantly endure at least 34 different types of 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 are beyond the ability of most functional illiterates. A shocking 31.2% of functional illiterates are in poverty and their poverty is more than twice as likely to be a result of illiteracy as for all other causes combined. Multiplying 31.2% by 48.7% shows that 15.2% of all U.S. adults are in poverty, which is in close agreement with poverty rates reported from other sources. Any truly compassionate person will share the anger I feel toward our educators and politicians who know and ignore these facts. Many, of course, do not know these facts. Others want to maintain the status quo and the millions of dollars they consume by taking at least two years longer than necessary to teach American children to read, as will be explained later.

(3) The cost of illiteracy — for both reader and non-reader — is undoubtedly much higher than you realize. These costs are (a) for government programs that illiterates use, (b) for truancy, juvenile delinquency, and crime directly attributable to illiteracy, and (c) for higher costs of consumer goods. Consumer goods cost more due to the higher cost of recruiting and training of new employees because of functionally illiterate job applicants, and due to the expense of preventing and correcting the mistakes and inabilities of functionally illiterate employees. The average cost each year for every U.S. adult — reader and non-reader both — was calculated in 2004 to be $5,186. The cost in 2012 is undoubtedly much more.

(4) Literacy levels that were acceptable in the past are no longer acceptable because of our societal needs and because of our relations (trade and communication) with other nations becoming much more complex. Written communication in English, especially with other nations, can lead to misunderstandings.

Today in the U.S., unlike in past years, there are very few manual labor jobs available. Janitors have been laid off because of being unable to read an after-hours note from their boss with special clean-up instructions. People have become seriously injured or died as a result of being unable to read instructions on medicine bottles. Tenants have been evicted from hard-to-find low-income housing when the apartment owner (who wants to remodel and raise the rent to an amount the owner knows the tenants cannot afford) falsely tells them that their crying baby disturbs other tenants and is not allowed by the rental contract they signed, knowing that they are unable read the rental contract. Children with serious medical problems are in danger if their parents get lost and cannot get quickly to the hospital because they cannot read the road signs. Insurance policy holders do not receive the coverage they are due because they cannot read the policy and they do not remember (or more likely: the salesman did not carefully explain) their benefits. Illiterates often do not know about events important to them because they cannot read the newspaper or posters about events not covered by radio or television. Illiterate voters cannot make an informed vote when all they know about a candidate is the 30-second or one-minute advertisements on radio and television. Illiterates often will not stray very far from their home for fear of getting lost because they cannot read road signs and maps. These and hundreds of similar “horror stories” occur around us every day.

American jobs are sent overseas, not only to find cheaper labor costs but also because many non-English-speaking workers in other nations have a higher literacy rate and are better educated for the type of work the employer needs. Foreign products are becoming more readily available in the U.S. for similar reasons.

Why Is the Illiteracy Rate So High?

Many people blame the illiterate for his or her illiteracy. We often think that if someone does not learn to read it is because they are not trying hard enough or because they are not smart enough. Is that really true? No, it is not true, but teachers, politicians, and the media often want that to be true because they do not know what to do about the problem.

Most of us learn to read as children and have long since forgotten the difficulty we had. Our eyes skip easily over a multitude of traps for beginning readers. Listen to what Sir James Pitman says about learning to read, on p. 38 of his book Alphabets and Reading. “[T]he child is expected to take on a task that is formidable for all and for some impossible: to analyze what is scarcely analyzable, to conjure abstractions and generalizations from a printed medium whose associations are in fact neither invariable nor consistent and thus doubly irrational.” What this means is that only certain students — about half of them — learn to read in school. If they make it to adulthood without learning to read, Laubach Literacy International found that all but the most severely mentally handicapped can learn to read, but it takes about a year of one-on-one tutor training to bring them to an eighth grade reading level.

Statistics show that less than one percent of non-reading adults ever take enough tutor training to become literate after leaving school (see Harman and Hunter, Adult Literacy in the United States, p. 37). Even if they reach an eighth grade reading level, most jobs today require a high-school diploma or a GED equivalent, which may take another year or two. Many illiterates are so busy supporting a family with one or more low-paying jobs that they cannot take the time for these classes, or the locations and times of the classes are so inconvenient that many who start the classes do not complete them. Basically, if the time for education is not completed as children — when they have plenty of time available — their education is never completed.

How inconsistent and irrational is English spelling? Professor Julius Nyikos of Washington and Jefferson College did an extensive study of the way the phonemes — the smallest sound used to distinguish between syllables or words in a language or dialect — are spelled in six desk-size dictionaries (see Julius Nyikos, The Fourteenth LACUS [Linguistic Association of Canada and the United States] Forum 1987, pp. 146-163). He found that there are 1,768 ways of spelling forty phonemes in English! We only need forty ways of spelling forty phonemes — one each. In my own extensive search for numerous spellings of the phonemes, I found 736 ways of spelling 38 phonemes from several sources and 367 graphemes ranging from one to five-letters long used to spell the 38 phonemes. Since Professor Nyikos found 1,768 spellings of 40 phonemes, there are undoubtedly several more graphemes than just 367. (There are at least 22 four-letter graphemes. There are at least four five-letter graphemes. DDING is used for the N phoneme in studdingsail, a common term in sailing. EIGHE is used for the “long a” phoneme in weighed. OUGHA is used for the sound of OO in the word broom, the pronunciation of brougham, and OUGHE is used for the OU sound as in OUR used in the British spelling, ploughed, spelled plowed in the U.S.)

There are no spelling rules in English that do not have an exception. Some of the exceptions have exceptions! A computer programmed with 203 English spelling rules was able to spell correctly only 49% of the words on a list of 17,000 common words. Can you really expect a human to spell better than a computer? Those who do not have a personal computer with spell-check capabilities are at a disadvantage. One misspelled word on a resume can lose a job opportunity for someone who is very-well educated and otherwise perfect for the job.

The ideal spelling method uses a letter or symbol for each syllable, but that is impossible in English. There are too many different syllables. Chinese, for example, has only two forms of most syllables: consonant-vowel (CV) or CVC, and most of the CVC syllables end in either N or NG. Only a little more than half of Chinese words have more than one syllable. There are very few consonant clusters in Chinese and there are about 1,280 “tonal” syllables. English has numerous consonant clusters, more than many other languages, and tens of thousands of syllables. Any one of the syllables in an English word can have any one of the sixteen different syllable patterns: CV, CCV, CCCV, CVC, CCVC, CCCVC, CVCC, CVCCC, CCVCC, CCVCCC, CCCVCCC, CCCVCC, VCCC, VCC, VC, and V. There are two or more syllables in most English words.

If each consonant and each vowel in English syllables always represented the same phoneme (one-to-one mapping), there would be nothing beyond the abilities of a four- or five-year-old, but they do not. English spelling also has one-to-one mapping where one phoneme is represented by one digraph (two letters) — since there are not enough letters to represent all of the phonemes. Almost half of English sounds are represented by digraphs, but the real confusion comes since there is also one-to-many and many-to-one mapping, i.e. one phoneme is represented by many different graphemes (for spelling), and one grapheme represents many phonemes (for reading). (A grapheme is a letter or symbol that represents a phoneme, syllable, or word.) This requires a type of logic that most children do not develop until they are eleven or twelve years old. There are two type of logic required for many-to-one and one-to many mapping. First is the logic of “classes” (categories where objects or events that are similar are grouped together) and “relations” (where objects share some features but not all features, e.g. all poodles are dogs, but not all dogs are poodles). Second is “propositional logic” which combines both the classes and relations types of logic. This requires the ability to think of the same item in more than one combination at the same time. This requires terms such as “and,” “or,” “not,” “if-then,” “if and only if” in formal statements of propositional logic. The problem of digraphs can be stated as follows.

If an H follows the letter T, then say /th/ (thin) or /th/ (then); but If any other letter or no letter follows the T, then say /t/ (top, ant).

As a result, before the age of eleven or twelve students must simply rely upon rote memory or repeated use of a word to remember its spelling.

English is not strictly an alphabetic language. English words are logograms like Chinese written material. A certain combination of letters in a certain order represents an entire English word in the same way that a certain combinations of strokes in a certain position represent a word or part of a word in Chinese. As a result, every word in a person’s reading vocabulary must be learned one-at-a-time by rote memory or by repeated use. Most literate people have a reading vocabulary of between 20,000 and 70,000 words. Well-educated people have reading vocabularies of more than 70,000 words. (And regardless of how well educated a person may be, if he or she must spell an English word they have not seen for a few years, they may have to consult a dictionary to find the “correct” spelling. This never happens in most alphabetic languages — if you know how to pronounce the word, you know how to spell it.)

It is quite obviously much easier to learn the spelling of 38 phonemes (the minimum needed to learn to read English) and how to blend them into words than it is to learn the spelling of 20,000 or more words. Instead of learning to read in less than three months, as in consistent alphabetic languages, it takes most beginning students in traditional English spelling at least two years to learn enough words to enable them to read well enough to understand what they read so that they can add new words to their vocabulary without being totally confused.

Numerous scholars have emphasized the importance of logic in learning. Learning things that are illogical, such as English spelling, is much more difficult. For example, Edward Rondthaler and Edward Lias, on page 8 of their book, Dictionary of simplified American Spelling state, “Systematic spelling takes full advantage of a well documented educational principle: logic stimulates thinking, thinking encourages learning, learning is facilitated when what is being learned ‘makes sense.’ A spelling that makes sense would open the door to literacy for more people, young and old, than all our remedial efforts put together. It would go a long way toward rescuing those who if not rescued will greatly magnify our social problems and undermine our democratic structure.”

There is a familiar saying, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” We have not learned from almost a century of efforts to overcome the difficulties of English spelling instead of correcting it. How much more time are you willing to wait as we continue to avoid the one, inevitable solution, if we ever really want to solve the problem?

What Is the Obvious Solution to the Problem?

Dr. Frank Charles Laubach, founder of Laubach Literacy International, spent almost his entire adult life going all around the world teaching adult illiterates to read in more than 300 languages. He not only wrote primers for 313 languages, but also he invented spelling systems for 220 or more languages. He found that in about 95% of the languages he could teach students to read fluently in from one to twenty days. In some of the simpler languages, such as one or more dialects of the Philippine language, he could teach them to read in one hour! (See Laubach, Forty Years With the Silent Billion, p. 103.) In about 98% of the languages, he could teach beginning readers to read fluently in less than three months (see Sanford S. Silverman, Spelling For the 21st Century, p. v). This was all possible because these languages were consistent and logical — almost every time you see a certain letter or letter combination it represented the same phoneme.

Dr. Laubach stated on page 48 of his book, Forty Years With the Silent Billion, “If we spelled English phonetically, American children could be taught to read in a week.” With a perfect one-to-one phoneme-to-grapheme spelling of English, some of the better students could learn to read in a week, but every student except the most severely mentally handicapped could certainly learn to read in less than three months — perhaps much less.

The grammar and syntax of English is neither the easiest nor the most difficult. Although written English has more consonant clusters than many other languages, and although the grammar and syntax of English is more difficult than many other languages, these characteristics of English are not what makes learning to read so difficult; it is the spelling. The grammar and syntax of English is easier and the consonant clusters are fewer than in many of the European languages, for example, almost all of which can be learned in less than three months. The best illustration of the truth of that statement is Dr. Rudolph Flesch’s explanation, in his book Why Johnny Still Can’t Read, pp. 167-168,that Russian schoolchildren are taught to read 46 of the 130 national languages of Russian — in first grade! There is no reading instruction, as such, after first grade.

English is now spoken by more than 1.3 billion people around the world (see Gwynne Dyer, “English Poses Little Threat to Many Other Languages,” The Salt Lake Tribune, Oct 16, 1997, p. A 11). It is spoken by more people than the dialect of any other language. It is used more than any other language to speak with people who do not know the speakers’ native language. It is estimated, however, that about 600 million people around the world who speak English cannot read English very well and are functionally illiterate in English. There are more than 93 million functional illiterates in the U.S. alone. If we spelled our words the way they sound, the way most of the world does, hundreds of millions of people could easily learn to read English in less than three months.

What are the Benefits of Ending Illiteracy For Those of Us Who Can Read?

Four benefits are listed here. If you think about it, you can probably think of many others.

First, you will benefit emotionally if you are concerned that your loved ones are, or will become, functionally illiterate.

Second, you will benefit financially because illiteracy is now costing every U.S. adult an average of well over $5186 per year as a result of (1) taxes for government programs that illiterates use and for truancy, juvenile delinquency, and crime directly related to illiteracy, and (2) higher prices for consumer goods due to illiterates in the workplace.

Third, since illiteracy affects all businesses to some extent, some of them seriously, you will benefit if your employer’s business improves or if other businesses in which you invest time or money improve when illiteracy is ended.

Fourth, you will benefit by ending illiteracy if our nation improves the trade balance, national relationships, and our national employment by improving our written communication.

Why Is Spelling Reform the Best Solution to Illiteracy?

When Dr. Samuel Johnson issued his well-received dictionary in 1755, he made the linguistic mistake of freezing the spelling of words instead of freezing the spelling of the phonemes, as an alphabetic language is logically supposed to do. The spelling of each of the words was in almost every case the way the word was spelled in one of the eight languages which contributed words to English prior to 1755. Coming from Celtic, Norse, Icelandic, Latin, Anglo-Saxon, German, Danish, and French, they obviously had different spellings for many of the phonemes. (The English language absorbed words — and usually the spelling — from the language of every conqueror who occupied the British Isles.) As you may know, the pronunciation of many words changes with time, so what was bad in 1755 is even worse today. Furthermore, as Henry Hitchings explains on page 2 of his book, The Secret Life of Words, since 1755 we have “borrowed” words — and usually their spelling — from about 350 other languages.

As stated before, the only way to learn to read English is to memorize or learn by repeated use every word in our reading vocabulary, one-at-a-time. In simpler times, namely before the 1920s, that is exactly what happened. Since that time we have developed dozens of pleasurable activities which divert students from the time needed to learn the spelling. Music on radios, CDs, iPods, iPads, smart-phones and in rock concerts; movies on TV and DVD players; the internet; video games; and new athletic and extra-curricular school activities all take time away from the boring memorization of English words. There are also many new negative influences to distract students, such as new gang activities, new drugs, increased bullying in some schools, and more emotional distress for students in their homes because of more divorce (due to loosened divorce laws) and more unmarried parents “living together” in the twentieth century and after.

Use of the whole-word method of teaching began in the 1920s partly in hopes of avoiding the drudgery for both the student and the teacher of learning the spelling of the words, one-at-a-time. Although there have been numerous attempts at improving the teaching of reading in the last ninety years, all of these efforts have been aimed at overcoming the difficulties of English spelling through better textbooks, better teaching methods, better teacher training, and better student motivation methods instead of making the spelling logical and consistent.

In order to emphasize how bad the American education system has become, the 1983 “A Nation At Risk” report stated, “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.” Changes were made in the teaching of reading after this report, but absolutely nothing done in the last century or more has made any overall statistically significant change in the English literacy rate. An April 2008 report shows changes since the “A Nation At Risk” report. The Executive Summary of this report states, “If we were ‘at risk’ in 1983, we are at even greater risk now. The rising demands of our global economy, together with demographic shifts, require that we educate more students to higher levels than ever before. Yet, our education system is not keeping pace with these growing demands. . . . We simply cannot return to the “ostrich approach” and stick our heads in the sand while grave problems threaten our educational system, our civic society, and our economic prosperity. We must consider structural reforms that go well beyond current efforts, as today’s students require a better education than ever before to be successful.”

In other words, for the last ninety years we have been fighting the symptoms of the problem — the difficulty of learning the spelling of the words — rather than solving the problem by making the spelling simple, consistent, and logical. This is similar to taking aspirin, decongestants, and cough medicine for the symptoms of pneumonia rather than taking penicillin to cure it.

Consider these facts about spelling reform

First, dozens of scholars for the last 250 years or more have recommended spelling reform.

Second, thirty-three nations, both smaller and larger than the U.S., both advanced and developing nations, have simplified their spelling.

Third, a simpler spelling system has been proven effective by Dr. Laubach’s work in more than 300 alphabetic languages. Nowhere in any of Dr. Laubach’s books did he mention any students who did not learn to read, and they learned in less than three months in 98% or more of the languages. Most of the 51.3% of U.S. adults who learned to read (that is 100 minus 48.7% functionally illiterate) required at least two years to learn.

Fourth, when you saw that I was promoting spelling reform, you may have thought of reasons why it will not work, but several distinguished scholars have thoroughly debunked all reasonable objections to spelling reform. In fact, the last chapter of the book, English Spelling and Spelling Reform, by Dr. Thomas R. Lounsbury, LL.D., L.H.D., professor emeritus of English at Yale University, gives a very scholarly exposition of why none of the reasonable objections to spelling reform are valid. His book was published in 1909! Even so, a recent print edition of Encyclopedia Britannica listed these same disproven objections to spelling reform. More recently, I have given a rebuttal to the five most common objections to spelling reform in my book, Let’s End Our Literacy Crisis, Second Revision, on pages 123 to 128. Due to my passion for ending our tremendous scourge of functional illiteracy, I am offering an E-book version of this breakthrough book at no cost or obligation in the left-hand column of the home page of our website on ending English functional illiteracy. This website has five short statements of the problem and five short statements of the solution to English functional illiteracy which can be read in less than six minutes. The “Read More” pages following each statement give the proof of the statement. It is a good introduction to our humanitarian project of ending English functional illiteracy. The five rebuttals to the objections to spelling reform are also shown as the July 20 through August 16, 2012 blogs on my blog.

Fifth, the need for a higher literacy rate is greater than ever in our increasingly complex world. There are very few jobs available that do not require literacy.

Sixth, and most importantly, comprehensive spelling reform has never been tried in English!

An April 2008 Example of Hiding America’s Dirty Little Secret

In the next-to-last paragraph of the previous section labeled, “Why Is Spelling Reform the Best Solution to Illiteracy?” I quoted a portion of the executive summary of a very damning 25-page report on American education, titled A Nation Accountable, issued by the U.S. Department of Education in April of 2008. For many years I have read the newspaper and watched TV news every day, and I saw no reference to this report. Although this report may have circulated in some government offices, it apparently was never seen by the American public. Unless you followed the link and carefully examined the report, the quotes from the Executive Summary could not adequately explain the seriousness of the problem of American education, particularly the problem of teaching reading. This section will show only Figure 3 from the report, concerning reading data. You can see some of the highlights of the report, so you can better understand our present problems with American education, in our English Literacy Info website.

Note that although reading is the foundation of all learning in schools — it is required for class-work, homework, and testing, in almost every subject — the graph above shows that the reading scores of 9-, 13-, and 17-year-olds have been essentially flat from 1984 to 2004 while the cost per pupil has gone from $5,896 to $9,116.

The Solution to Functional Illiteracy

My company, Literacy Research Associates, Inc., a non-profit educational corporation, in cooperation with Gary Sprunk’s company, NuEnglish, Inc., a non-profit educational corporation and a 509(a)(2) public charity, has discovered and perfected a simple, consistent, and logical spelling system such as Dr. Laubach recommended. It is a spelling system called NuEnglish. Gary Sprunk has a Masters Degree in English Lingusitics and a genius mentality. He read the original version of my book, Let’s End Our Literacy Crisis, in 2005 and decided on his own (I neither requested or even suggested it) to form a company to promote my spelling system. He has developed a computer program called Respeller (a program on our home page,, in the top left corner, which is free for everyone to use) which can quickly change up to 25 pages at a time of traditional spelling to NuEnglish, our proposed spelling system. Respeller has an English word database of more than 578,000 words. It will convert over 99.9% of anything fed into it and will flag any words not converted for manual conversion. Gary hired a web designer who produced three websites about our humanitarian project.

The original version of my book, published in 2005, was one of six finalists out of 49 entrants in the Education/Academics category of the Best Book Award competition with 1000 to 2000 total entrants and one out of 8 finalists in the Education category of the Foreword Magazine Book-of-the-Year Award competition with 1540 total entrants. Dr. Michael Shaughnessy, professor of Special Education at Eastern New Mexico University, sent me an email after reading my book which said, “I have read the book, from the local public library and I agree with you 100 percent.”

The most important part of marketing a book is publicity! People have to know about a book before they will buy it. The American public is the most generous and compassionate group of people on earth. They have taken part in several grass-roots campaigns in the last couple of centuries to improve our nation. I am convinced that if enough people carefully, honestly read my book and take the action the book recommends, we can enable hundreds of millions of people around the world to lift themselves out of the poverty that their lack of education dooms them to. If you will use your influence to help further our humanitarian project, you can have the satisfaction of knowing you helped the grass-roots movement to get started. If you personally know a celebrity or any person with a great amount of influence, informing them of our humanitarian project will be a help beyond measure.

I have also developed a website which details many of the facts about our humanitarian project at (click here). Page 8 on that website lists ten desirable characteristics of NuEnglish. I have been researching proposed spelling systems for 25 years (I’ve seen nearly every proposed system available to the public since the 1800s) and have never a seen a proposed system with more than six or seven of these desirable characteristics. From the standpoint of easy learning for beginning readers, I have only found two proposed systems that have two or less ways of spelling a phoneme or two systems in which a phoneme can be pronounced in two ways or less. NuEnglish has a perfect one-to-one phoneme-to-grapheme correspondence. To see the characteristics of NuEnglish click here. It is so easy that present readers can learn the system in less than ten minutes (see (click here). Although you may initially think this is an extravagant claim, you are challenged to go to our website — and for a much more comprehensive and extensive exposition of the facts, my book Let’s End Our Literacy Crisis, Second Revision, which you can get at no cost or obligation from our website — and prove it to yourself.

Posted by: Bob C. Cleckler | August 11, 2012

Continued Educational System Tweaking Will Not Work

The American public has seen ample proof that merely tweaking the existing system for teaching reading will not work. We have been tweaking it for over ninety years with no overall statistically significant improvement.

If any readers of this blog are really serious about solving our very real literacy crisis, they are challenged to carefully, honestly evaluate the humanitarian project of Literacy Research Associates, Inc. and NuEnglish, Inc. (see “About Us” in the heading) to end English functional illiteracy, once and for all. This proposal for ending illiteracy has been proven effective in more than 300 languages, but it has never been tried in English. If you have any compassion for hundreds of millions of English-speaking functional illiterates, you will want to carefully, honestly evaluate the additional facts you can learn for ending our literacy crisis in the breakthrough E-book, Let’s End Our Literacy Crisis, Second Revision, which is available for download at no cost in the left-hand of the website accessed by clicking on “English functional illiteracy” above.

Posted by: Bob C. Cleckler | August 9, 2012

The Distractions to Learning to Read

In more simple times students did not have all the distractions — both positive and negative — to learning to read that present-day students have. Positive distractions since the early 1900s are things such as music from radios, CDs, iPods, iPads,smart-phones, and rock-concerts; videos and video games on TV, DVD players, game consoles, and computers; or newly invented sports such as skate boards, BMX, and motocross. Negative distractions since the 1960s include new drugs, increased gang activities, and the negative influence of their parents or guardians social and economic problems (resulting from increased divorce due to loosened divorce laws, living together unmarried, and job problems).

As a result, U.S. students in the 1700s and early 1800s were more willing to spend the necessary time on the “dull drill” and “monotonous repetition” required for learning to read that neither the present-day students nor teachers are willing to endure. In our increasingly complex world, the humanitarian proposal of Literacy Research Associates, Inc. and NuEnglish. Inc. (two non-profit educational corporations) is desperately needed to — at long last — end English functional illiteracy. Nothing else done in the last 90 years or more has made any overall statistically significant improvement in the English literacy rate in the U.S. For a more authoritative and comprehensive presentation of the facts, see the breakthrough new 265 page ebook, Let’s End Our Literacy Crisis, Second Revision, which is available in .pdf format at no cost in the left-hand column of the website in the “end English functional illiteracy” link above.

Posted by: Bob C. Cleckler | August 5, 2012

A Proven Way to Improve U.S. Education

In the case of our educational problems, we tend to turn everything over to educational “experts” who seldom make revolutionary changes unless pushed into them by angry constituents. It has become very obvious that we need to start a grass-roots campaign to implement the revolutionary solution to our very real literacy crisis proposed on a new website about ending English functional illiteracy. The home page of this website presents brief statements of ten proven facts about the problem of English functional illiteracy and about the only effective and permanent solution. The home page can be read in less than six minutes. The proofs are given in the “Read More” following each statement.

If you carefully, honestly read this website, you will agree that this may be our last, best hope of ever permanently ending English functional illiteracy. If you want a much more authoritative and comprehensive explanation of the problem and the proven solution, it can be found in the breakthrough 265 page ebook, Let’s End Our Literacy Crisis, Second Revision, which can be downloaded in .pdf format at no cost from this website. For the sake of an estimated 600 million English-speaking people (of the more than 1.3 billion English-speaking people around the world) who are functionally illiterate in English — including more than 93 million in the U.S. alone — you are urged to get the facts for yourself. It is in the short-term interest of educators and politicians to deny that we have a serious problem — they do not know how to solve it. Absolutely nothing done in the last 90 or more years has made any overall statistically significant improvement in English literacy, which is now worse than it was in the 1700s and early 1800s in the U.S. Up until the latter part of the 1900s there were numerous manual labor jobs which did not require literacy. The number of jobs in the 21st century that do not require literacy is very tiny indeed: even some hard-working, very efficient janitors have been fired because they could not read an after-hours note with special clean-up instructions.

Posted by: Bob C. Cleckler | July 20, 2012

A Serious Problem, Easily Solved

Until you see the facts detailed in this book about ending illiteracy, you may have trouble believing that we have a literacy crisis in the U.S., but we do — and it is more serious than most people realize. The good news is that the problem of English functional illiteracy can be easily solved! Our website explains how the many serious problems of illiteracy can be solved. Our literacy blog has additional information about ending English functional illiteracy.

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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