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Going back to phonics is just the first step to making our schools teach again

Our schools are failing.

Across the country, English and math scores have plummeted thanks to bad pandemic policies that kept schools needlessly closed.

But literacy rates had been in trouble even before COVID.

Detroit made headlines in March when National Assessment of Educational Progress scores showed that only 5% of the city’s 8th graders can read on grade level. In 2018, that number was 7%.

Keeping schools closed hurt children, but academics have been going off the rails for years.

There’s been a national conversation recently on the way schools have taught reading.

For decades, schools dropped phonics-based models in favor of memorization.

This half-baked idea was implemented throughout the country with disastrous results.

Bad ideas sometimes work — until they don’t.

My older two children learned to read easily using this ridiculous memorization method.

But my youngest decided to just memorize all words instead of actually learning to read. This worked remarkably well, and he managed to fool a lot of people in his orbit.

New York state has increasingly spent more money on education while federal investment has decreased.

When we realized what was happening, we got him extra help focused on phonics. But how many parents were unable to get their kids similar help?

This week, New York decided to scrap this failed model and return to the basics of teaching kids to read by sounding out words.

The problem is, the way we teach literacy isn’t the only mistake we continue to make in our schools. Our kids spend a lot of time on irrelevant nonsense.

My fourth grader, at a south Florida public school, is about to tackle a Human Growth and Development unit. Great, right?

It includes a section on HIV/AIDS. But why? Why is learning about AIDS still standard-operating procedure for kids in 2023?

The curriculum reads: “HIV is hard to get. It is not as easy to get as some more common illnesses such as the chicken pox, flu, or colds.” So why are children learning about a hard-to-get virus that’s largely irrelevant to them?

As of 2020, Washington, DC, and 39 states mandate instruction about HIV. It makes no sense.

Parents aren’t going to rise up and fight AIDS education as there are so many more important battles happening.

A general view of a grammar school student participating in a remote learning class on the Zoom video conference.
As of 2020, Washington, DC, and 39 states mandate instruction about HIV.
Christopher Sadowski

But people need to understand that every minute wasted in the classroom is a minute the teacher could be teaching math, reading, history or science.

But science has been corrupted, too. Nearly every state has a climate-change curriculum. My own kids started learning about it in New York kindergarten. But again, why?

Thinking it’s pointless to teach children about climate change does not mean you’re a climate-change denier.

It means we understand there is no purpose to scaring young children into thinking the Earth is going to die soon. They can’t do anything about it, they’re children, and it only succeeds in frightening them.

The topic has serious repercussions. A Lancet study reported more than 45% of 16- to 25-year-olds in 10 countries “said their feelings about climate change negatively affected their daily lives” — 26% of Americans surveyed.

And what has been gained? More pointless paper-straw usage?

Their anxiety rates have not produced a decrease in climate change. We have accomplished absolutely nothing by telling children to be afraid of the future.

Then there are the various commemoration days. A parent sent me the Broward County, Fla., calendar of observances, and it includes Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness day, National Youth HIV/AIDS Awareness day, Haitian Flag Day and Immigrant Heritage Month.

There’s a Day of Silence “where concerned students, middle school and older, take some form of a vow of silence to bring attention” to “the silencing” of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender “students and their allies.”

None of these topics should have five minutes in schools let alone a whole day.

U.S. Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) attends a hearing of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic.
English and math scores have plummeted following the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s nice we’ve faced reality on reading and how to teach it, but there is so much more that needs changing.

Schools going back to basics, and what works, on reading should do the same with their whole curriculum.

Post-pandemic, kids and their education need to be a top priority. Academic subjects should be front and center.

Feel-good baloney that no one remembers how or why it got in the curriculum in the first place should be canceled.

Karol Markowicz is co-author of the new book “Stolen Youth.”

This story originally appeared on NYPost

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