On Tuesday, March 12th, I was among over 3,000 people from various backgrounds and Pinellas County churches and groups forming a coalition called FAST – Faith and Action for Strength Together. We gathered in St. Petersburg Tropicana Fields calling for officials to act on demands for jobs, public education, health care and affordable housing. Officials in jobs, health care and public housing all answered yes to FAST’s demands. The only holdout was the Public Education Official. Top dog, Superintendent Michael Grego did not attend, sending his junior instead to answer “No” to FAST’s request: “Will you allow a free Direct Instruction pilot project in one of Pinellas County’s low performing schools?”

Pinellas County School administration has steadfastly answered no to FAST’s request for Direct Instruction which is successfully being used in low income public schools in several areas of the country to help students learn to read. Of special note is the fact that African Americans are learning under Direct Instruction where they were previously failing. At the same time, the Pinellas County school district has the worst graduation rate of African American males of any district in the country. In 2010, Pinellas County graduated just 21 percent of African-American male students who had enrolled. (Schott Foundation for Public Education). Yet on Tuesday, Pinellas School Administrator said no to effective education.

Among those attending Tuesday’ FAST assembly, was a small group of a diverse ethnic mix of professional and volunteer Pinellas County women educators and volunteer tutors who had, just 4 days prior met at the Fort Harrison in Clearwater to discuss issues and resolve solutions to the suffering state of education today. The group, which included tutors, elementary and high school teachers, and directors of private schools, focused on the crisis of illiteracy in the United States, which is worse now than reported a century ago.

They cited such grave statistics as:

  • 70% of Florida 8th Grade students are below proficiency in reading skills (National Center for Education Statistics)
  • In May 2012 Florida education officials reported that nearly half of Florida’s high school students failed the reading portion of the state’s new FCAT.
  • The last national survey conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2003, found 14% of the adult population in America to be functionally illiterate. Compare to statistics reported in the census of 1900 that 11% of Americans were illiterate.
  • The same 2003 survey found that 40% of Americans were either only at basic or below basic levels of reading proficiency.
  • The survey also found 60% of adults in the US prison system at or below the fourth grade reading level, and 85% of US juvenile inmates to be functionally illiterate.

Saturday’s group, who wanted to meet during Women’s History Month as women who historically nurture young and prepare them for the challenges of life, identified a primary cause of current day poor literacy levels to be confusing reading teaching methods introduced into the American education system in the early 1900s, which was rampant by the 1950s, when “whole word” reading instruction had become the prevailing methodology. Though it was exposed as unworkable in 1955 by educator author of the bestselling, “Why Johnny Can’t Read,” Rudolf Flesch, and in later scientific studies, the situation worsened in the 1990s with the introduction of “whole language” reading instruction methods.

The origination of both methods was traced to behavioral psychologists trained at the Wilhelm Wundt school of experimental psychology in Leipzig, Germany in the late 1900s.

In 2000 the Federal National Reading Panel, which examined hundreds of science based studies, determined that the centuries-old successful method of phonics based instruction was the overriding most successful method of teaching reading. Yet, a study by the National Council of Teacher Quality discovered in 2006 that only 15% of teachers colleges in the U.S. was providing teachers with minimal exposure to science based methods of teaching reading and concluded, “Most education schools are not teaching the science of reading.”

The Saturday’s group of women, in celebration of Women’s History Month (March) resolved to network with other educators throughout Pinellas County as a grassroots movement to promote science based reading instruction methods as the primary tool to teach young people to read. They also signed a pledge to “do all I can to stamp out false solutions in the field of education.”

One lady trained as a counseling psychologist with a Masters degree and Music From YOUR Heart teacher said it was an “honor and pleasure,” to gather, “with a wonderful group of women planning on taking back education to secure our future. Without reading skills people are relegated to the sidelines of life with little hope for creating a satisfying life or contributing their unique gifts to society- a-lose, lose, lose proposition.” Speaking of the need to activate educators in this campaign, a Director of Tutoring declared, “we need to be more assertive as educators.”

I gave all of the ladies tools for workable education as described in the recent publication by the Church of Scientology of the “How We Help” series – “Applied Scholastics, Achieving Literacy and Education,” and the volume of the recently published biographical encyclopedia on educator, humanitarian and philosopher L. Ron Hubbard, entitled, “Education, Literacy and Civilization.” In one of Hubbard’s articles called Education:

“We think the more facts we teach, the more the child will ‘learn’. That is true – on an examination paper. But the child who cannot see security in facts will not parrot facts and so, that child is ‘dumb’ when, in reality, he is a genius in the making.”

About Applied Scholastics:

Applied Scholastics International is a secular nonprofit public benefit corporation that addresses head-on the problem of illiteracy by making broadly available L. Ron Hubbard’s discoveries in the field of education and literacy. Since 1972, Scientologists have worked with and supported Applied Scholastics.