Why Phonics

"Why Phonics

"Why Phonics?"

By Jeremiah Cameron, Ph.D. (August 15, 2001)

Although teachers—especially of the young and impressionable children—take no such oath as doctors do, admonishing them "to do no harm," they need to be reminded, day after day, as they teach children, that they should be cautious about innovations that might do more harm than good. An unfortunate thing about colleges and universities today is that, obsessed with the idea of research, even if it amounts to just rummaging through a junk pile to see what is there and get to the bottom, they have abandoned even commonsense in the effort to come up with something that piddling "research" considers new. There's nothing new about the way the left hemisphere of the brain identifies the sounds—separating, sorting in timed sequences—to make words.

Ordinary human experience, if educational researchers want to write doctoral dissertations that are practical and make sense too, what even untrained people know, has demonstrated that sound and certain grammatical structures operating as sound bites enable us to read better. And why not, since what we read on the printed page is SOUND? Though what we read appears as something we SEE, that writing has to be mentally transposed into what we SAY—word combinations so important to PHONICS: prefixes, suffixes, the arrangement of structures as words, phrases, clauses. THERE IS NO OTHER WAY TO READ. The left hemisphere must be trained to understand sound units that make words and word groups that have meaning.

Everything on the printed page—including the absolutely necessary stresses; pauses; and pitches—is SOUND, and some of these sound-groups constitute what schools call PHONICS. It is important for readers to know that the eye may see PNEUMONIA but that the PN in similar words like PNEUMATICS and PNEUMOGASTRIC is sounded like just N. Phonics deals with how spelling sounds and the sounds of letter combinations (usually 2 consonants together in a language that characteristically has a vowel between 2 consonants)—ST-; SR-; BL-; PR-; KN-; QU-; GL-; etc.

To make a point about WHOLE LEARNING, schools of education (which I believe have done as much harm in teacher training as they have done good) for the past 70 years have failed to recognize the fact that what they expect the children to grasp as a unit is a UNIT OF SOUND: Phonics is a system dealing with spellings of PHONEMES—basic units of SOUND. It does not take much sense to understand that the phonics approach HAS TO accompany all other approaches, for writing is a means of representing spelled sound and the arrangement of sounds into structures of grammar and word arrangements.

The brain has what we call ASSOCIATION AREAS: BROCA'S AREA permits us to muscularly make the sounds, which I shall take up in a later article. To understand written language (reading) we must use the association area in the back of the brain (the OCCIPITAL LOBE). To understand speech or spoken language we have to use association areas in the TEMPORAL LOBE. Defects in these areas are going to spell trouble for reading—like dyslexia.

There are nerve fibers that connect these language areas, making possible the WHOLE EXPERIENCE that educators hope for. The ARCUATE FASCICULUS in the Temporal Lobe is such a bundle of fibers.

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