To the Editor:

Regarding the Spectrum's Sept 21 story and editorial about the lagging reading and writing skills of New Milford's public school students (and those across the entire U.S.), I'd like to offer some sounds advice.

The problem goes way back to the first years of school -- even kindergarten. It's the curriculum, for the most part; overall teaching pedagogy taught in teachers' colleges comes in as a close second.

When a child is taught reading the progressive way (whole language, where, despite there being a number of "sight words," students are expected to recognize over a million words by sight/context), rather than the phonetic method that instructs the sounding out of our language's forty-four sounds.

Once a child feels he's falling behind, he cowers from the written word, and it only compounds as the years go by -- the same holding true for math, where the basics are all left to the almighty calculator.

No matter what type of learner a child is, no matter what his strengths or weaknesses, phonics -- which is abhorred in teachers' colleges -- produces better results.

Oh, they will claim to teach phonics, but once you know what the signs are, you will likely find out otherwise.

"Progressive education" virtually took hold at Columbia many years ago, then spread to other schools from there. Despite the glaring failures these dramatic changes wrought, they still continue to this day.

Eventually, the disease wound up in Washington, so besides common-sense techniques being ignored by the country's assistant superintendents and their "experts," we have the NCTE and NCTM (National Councils of Teachers of English and Math, respectively) at the federal -- and also state level -- to make sure no one goes off the "approved" path to doom. (Social Studies has its own "Big Brother" as well.)

I don't know anyone in the New Milford system, nor do I know what goes on in its classrooms, but I would bet my last dollar they choose their textbooks and curricula the old-fashioned way: They rely on the "experts."

Unfortunately, the experts are ignorant or lazy, or both.

Changing the status quo is almost impossible; I know. But I also know a few brave people can make it happen.

If the parents or teachers in New Milford really care about the students' futures as much as they make sure they get their perennial raises, they wouldn't announce a "new initiative" to improve student scores.

Isn't that what they're supposed to be doing every single day?

"Education" is not rocket science, although it does come with its own language that is meant to sound intimidating, intelligent and wise.

I call it "educanese." It doesn't take more than a dozen books read to learn well. Once you get past this hurdle, the cloak will be drawn away and the truth will be all that's left standing.

As a first read, I'd recommend Charles Sykes' "Dumbing Down our Kids." If that whets your appetite, just search through your public library until you strike more gold; I guarantee none of the books will be taken out, so the pickings will be good.

The impossible isn't performed only by the Jaime Escalantes of the world; it's accomplished by many unknowns who risk much in going against the grain and challenging the "experts."

Just remember: when they claim you're not an "educator," all you need do is point to their achievements to make the case that neither are they.

Pedagogy is an entirely other subject, one I may address in future letter.

Jim Griffin