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How to Make America Better

by Phyllis Schlafly

President Bill Clinton says that 40 percent of third graders cannot read. Every week, I meet nice-looking adults who whisper, "I can't read big words." National surveys show that nearly half of our population is, at best, only semi-literate, so it's obvious that the schools have failed in their number-one task.

Can our marvelous system of self-government endure if the majority of our people can't, or won't, read books and articles with big words? If you reread the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, and the Federalist Papers, and compare them to the speeches of our public officials today, it will be obvious that America has suffered a drastic dumbing down in political discourse.

The schools are not going to change. They and the publishers have too much invested in stupid but expensive four-color books that teach children to guess at words by looking at pictures. It's a scandal when six-year-olds can only read "hamburger" if they see a picture of a hamburger on the page. The teachers unions are more eager to expand job opportunities for the remedial reading bureaucracy, and for servicing the social problems caused by illiteracy, than they are in teaching the basics.

I believe that the most important way to make America better is for parents to teach their own children to read before they enter school. That's what I did. I taught my six children to read before they entered school, and I believe every American parent can do this, too. It's the only way to make sure that your child can succeed in school and in life.

It's so important to teach your child to read the right way -- by sounding out syllables and putting them together to make words (phonics) -- before the schools teach your child the bad habit of guessing by looking at the pictures. Don't lose that window of opportunity when your child is so eager to learn to read at age 4, 5, or 6. You will find that teaching your child to read is the most fulfilling thing you will ever do. It was for me.

Published in 250 Ways to Make America Better, book published by George Magazine.