English Hieroglyphics: An easy way to understand the Reading Wars

In his famous 1955 book “Why Johnny Can’t read,” Flesch said that reading English as sight-words or whole words is like reading Chinese ideograms or Sumerian hieroglyphics.

Flesch famously wrote, “We have thrown 3500 years of civilization out the window and gone back to the age of Hammurabi.”

Flesch seemed to feel he was saying something profound and final. Once you heard this, you would immediately understand that look-say was the invention of the devil and work to get rid of it. In fact, it is still with us

That’s because a metaphor is a loose thing. You can focus on the parts you want. If I say that my love is a red red rose, do I mean she has thorns and red petals? I probably mean she’s pretty. This metaphor works precisely because you only have a few choices and can’t go wrong.

But when Flesch talked about hieroglyphics and the “Chinese word-learning system,” it was perfectly possible for the ordinary brain to go into neutral. What’s he trying to say???

This metaphor has been banging around in my head for the last few years. I finally realized I had to close the loop. Don’t say it’s like reading Egyptian Hieroglyphics. Say that it IS reading English Hieroglyphics.

 That was the evil genius of the Look-Say gang. By the stroke of a pen, by the simple statement of a lie, they turned 1 million English phonetic words into 1 million English Hieroglyphics.

Think about the implications. The adults look at the words on the page and think, how simple can it get?  What’s wrong with my kid?

But the kid is not seeing the same English words. The kid is seeing English Hieroglyphics that he is supposed to memorize. He is seeing complicated, exotic, incomprehensible graphic designs. Memorizing 50 of these things is a big job. 

So the child’s reading skills are effectively neutralized. His educational progress stops. 

They are still doing this today in our public schools. If the people in leadership positions tolerate this, they are complicit.

For a longer analysis and some helpful links about reading, see “English Hieroglyphics are fun and easy to read.”

QED: Reading is the fundamental skill. We must use the most efficient reading instruction or our public schools will continue to be mediocre.

Note that these hieroglyphics have pictorial elements in them. English Hieroglyphics have no pictorial elements. Relatively speaking, the hieroglyphics you see here are far easier to memorize than the English ones. Of course, that's because the Egyptian ones were DESIGNED to be easy to memorize. Conversely, English phonetic words were not designed with this in mind. That's because they are phonetic. You memorize the 26 letters of the alphabet and that's all you have to memorize.




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