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The Three Stooges Do Phonics!

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Here's a clip from the the Three Stooges' 1938 movie Violent Is the Word for Curly. 


The fact that Moe was supposedly teaching phonics to college students is particularly silly. Most of the people who were entering college in the late 1930s would have mastered phonics in the first few months of first grade. Of course, this particular song wouldn't be useful for teaching English phonics because it would cause confusion about soft and hard consonant sounds and long and short vowel sounds. Nevertheless, this scene illustrates the point that even Stooges used to know that students need to learn phonics. We started having serious epidemics of dyslexia and other "learning disabilities" in the United States when our educators decided to stop using phonics to teach children to read.

The process of turning letter combinations into syllables is one of the most important things for an English-speaking child to learn. English-speaking children who have mastered that skill can read well; those who haven't, can't. It's really that simple.

Back in the 1970s, an advertising executive named David McCall noticed that his son had trouble remembering his multiplication tables but could easily remember the lyrics to popular rock-and-roll songs. The McCaffrey and McCall agency eventually produced an extensive series of short animated educational segments that were shown on Saturday mornings. Their Grammar Rock! segments were particularly valuable. These cartoons helped fill the void created when the English teachers in the United States decided to stop teaching grammar. Here's the cartoon that explains what an interjection is:

Many people who have been trained in our schools of education insist that the formal study of grammar does not improve a student's ability to write. I don't believe them. In my years as an editor, I have worked with many bad writers. Bad writers are generally unaware of how bad their writing is, and they have no way of knowing why their writing is bad or how to improve it. They lack this knowledge because they do not know the rules of English grammar and therefore cannot apply them. Whenever I taught someone these rules and how to apply them, that individual's writing would improve dramatically. I suspect that the person's ability to think logically also improved. That's because logic is the study of the structure of arguments, and arguments are based on sentences.

Progressive educators claim that they want to help students develop higher-order thinking skills. Yet students will find it difficult or impossible to develop such skills unless they know how to read and how to analyze the structure of sentences. In other words, students have to master phonics and grammar before they can go on to learn higher-order skills. Learning the basic skills doesn't have to be boring. Just ask the Three Stooges and the creators of Schoolhouse Rock!
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Laurie taught herself to read at age 4 by analyzing the spelling of the rhyming words in Green Eggs and Ham, by Dr. Seuss. She has worked as an editor in medical and academic publishing for more than 25 years. She is the author of five books: (more...)

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