Reading the Key

I was extremely disappointed with Mr. Blumenfeld's "The Victims of 'Dick and Jane' " (Oct.). I take issue with the one-sided condemnation of the whole-word method for three reasons.

First, there is a variety of learning styles, and no one method works for all learners; the key is individualized instruction. Obviously, a government school is not the likely place to find this kind of teaching.

Second, this article did not describe some of the absurdities possible using the phonics method. One publisher's series attempts to teach children to read words spelled phonetically; for example, cow would have to be learned as kau. Does this phonics approach really help one become literate?

Lastly, there is value in the whole-word method. The first word read by most children is their name, then perhaps the logo of a favorite toy or restaurant, a label on a food item or the sign on a restroom door. Having children choose first words they want to learn to read makes reading personally relevant and helps to overcome the intellectual growth problem of moving from a concrete world to one in which there are abstract concepts to be learned, like the ability to read. Read Sylvia Ashton-Warner's book, Teacher, for an accounting of her successful application of the whole-word method.

About 80 percent of the teachers I have worked with, no matter what their training, certification, basal series, or years of experience, teach reading phonetically—and most of their students don't read well or for enjoyment.

Mr. Blumenfeld's research on American illiteracy missed the most obvious factor of all: American children don't read well because most public schools discourage the reading of books, seldom provide free reading time, present reading as a decoding process and not as a means of enjoyment of literature, and spend taxpayers' money on new textbooks every two to four years instead of on story books and magazines for classrooms.…Dr. D.L. Edwards's reading "method" is worth mentioning here: 90 percent of the time is spent reading books, 10 percent for instruction. Your percentages might vary, but you get the idea: literate learners are reading, not learning how to read with basals and workbooks.

Karol Kennedy
Loveland, OH

Look, See How to Teach

The article "The Victims of 'Dick and Jane'" by Samuel Blumenfeld (Oct.) certainly points out the tragedy of the look-say method of teaching reading. It should be noted that the reasons why it doesn't work are that (1) it is against the nature of the methodology that the child's brain uses to learn such a complex task, and (2) it is against the nature of the English language.

As this observant parent knows, the child starts making phonetic sounds first, such as the sounds of various letters of the alphabet (their sounds, not their names). For example, we hear the phonetic sounds of b, d, f, k, m, p, s, z, and various vowel sounds, usually before the child is a year old. Then when the child tries to repeat our "whole words," at first all he is able to say is the first or the last sound of the word. For example, he says "roo" for kangaroo or "uck" for truck or "ba" for bath. Then and only then is the child able to put these sounds together to form complete words.…

As far as the English language, studies have shown that around 85 percent of the words we use follow phonetic rules for pronunciation. One study tested over 17,000 words. It would make sense, then, to use a method that would work for 85 percent of the words we normally encounter, and not one that is designed for the other 15 percent.

In view of this, any arguments given by proponents of look-say fall flat on their face due to the reality of how a child learns and the reality of the English language.

John H. Davis
Richardson, TX

Freedom Help

As of August 20 we began to receive contributions for Radio Free Kabul (see Trends, Sept.), and with the August 27 mail the total has reached well over $300. This is a truly heartening response, and we want your readers to know that their valuable assistance will go to help RFK play a greater and more effective role in the great cause of regaining freedom for the people of Afghanistan.…

Karen McKay
Committee for a Free Afghanistan
Washington, DC

Defending Innocents

In past issues, REASON has exhibited a flawed view on foreign policy and national defense. With Robert Poole's editorial "War and Morality" (Oct.), one can pinpoint the source of that flaw: the "Just War" theory. This theory states that "defensive force may be used against aggressors even if this force also inflicts losses on innocent bystanders." One can imagine a policeman, while in pursuit of a criminal who has ducked into a crowd of people, firing his gun into the crowd and then rationalize the resulting deaths by claiming the "Just War" theory.

Though one does have the right to self-defense, one can only use defensive force against the aggressor.…What is defensive force for if not to protect the rights of all innocent individuals? The "Just War" theory is therefore immoral and impractical because it does not accomplish the purpose it was designed for: protection of individual rights. If REASON wants to represent itself as an upholder of individual rights, then the "Just War" theory must rightfully be junked.

Bill Courtney
Austin, TX

Moral Strategy

I have just received the October issue and, as usual, I found it quite enjoyable. It is refreshing to read a magazine containing well-written and fact-filled articles instead of the kind of garbage that passes for "journalism" in such publications as Time and Newsweek.

I particularly enjoyed the editorial "War and Morality." It's nice to know that there is at least one person writing in a public forum who thought about the unfortunate events in Lebanon and made an effort to understand what was going on there before rushing into print with a condemnation of the Israelis. The Israelis certainly took greater pains to minimize collateral civilian casualties in Lebanon than the United States and Great Britain did in their bombing campaign against Germany in World War II.

I must disagree, however, on one point. Intercontinental ballistic missiles with large single warheads, such as the Soviet's SS-18, Mod 1, are more useful for destroying hard-point targets, such as missile silos, than for trashing cities. When the target is a city, a large number of small warheads is a more effective method of attack.…

I think Mr. Poole is quite correct in his assessment of what would constitute a morally sound strategic policy. A careful examination of the statistics of the missile forces currently deployed by the United States and the Soviet Union reveals that the Soviets appear to be following Poole's prescription while American forces seem to be configured for a mere vindictive slaughter of civilians. The policy of Mutual Assured Destruction is MAD indeed.

Charles H. Bell
Conley, GA

Blame Conservatives?

Regarding the article by Tibor Machan in the September issue, "Rent Control: Blame the Conservatives," conservatives deserve blame for plenty of our philosophical/legal problems, but rent control and zoning are certainly not among the areas where such blame can rightfully be attached. I know of no rational conservative supporters of rent control, and with respect to the zoning decision which Machan cites, which must be the case of the Village of Euclid v. Ambler Realty Co. (272 U.S. 365), the most conservative members of the Supreme Court—Justices Van Devanter, McReynolds, and Butler—all dissented.…

Anthony R. Conte
City Councillor
Revere, MA

Mr. Machan replies: Mr. Conte does not come to grips with my point: conservatives established the legal efficacy of the concept of police power as employed by municipalities to encroach upon the right to private property. Zoning ordinances, blue laws, restrictive covenants (regarding public use of property), etc., serve as excellent precedents on which legally to base more recent leftist attempts to implement political control of private property.

It's Really Progressives

In answer to "Rent Control: Blame the Conservatives," it was not conservatives who passed the zoning laws, etc.; it was "progressives," the first of whom was Teddy Roosevelt. The progressives were every bit as socialist as what we now call the left. Taft was probably the last truly conservative president we have had, maybe Coolidge. If you remember your history, Roosevelt split the Republican Party in 1912 because Taft wasn't progressive enough, and Wilson got elected.

Franklin Roosevelt admired his cousin, Teddy, very much and patterned his presidency after him. Hoover wasn't a conservative. Many of the programs that he started and Roosevelt carried on were socialist. We conservatives have had a devil of a time trying to take back the Republican Party from the progressives. Now that we have finally done it, it seems that the eastern establishment (read CFR, Trilateral Commission) has managed to get most of themselves appointed to high places in the Reagan administration.

Harriet S. Nelson
Bothell, WA

Flat-Rate Benefits

I regret that Dr. Rothbard's Viewpoint (Sept.) on flat-rate taxation was a disappointment. Precisely, the difficulty I find with Dr. Rothbard's analysis is that, of necessity, he must support continuation of the current system as the alternative to the reform proposed. That the good doctor does not like the present system either is irrelevant. For, since the state is not going to abdicate or evaporate tomorrow, taxation will continue for the foreseeable future.

Ironically, Dr. Rothbard has hit the nail right on the head concerning why flat-rate taxation is such a good, political idea: the poor and the rich will reap "goodies" while the middle class "will undoubtedly have to shell out when the dust has settled and the piper will have to be paid." And who is in a better position to tell Congress to cut out the boondoggling than that vast middle class which is not going to be happy with the new arrangement of accounts?

In short, Dr. Rothbard needs to put his economics degree away for a little while and learn a little of the art of political finesse. Simply being against the corporate state does not get us away from it. The way one gets a democratic government to move toward a goal one desires is to get as many people as possible pissed-off at that portion of the current arrangement one does not like. The flat-rate income tax is the surest and quickest road toward that goal of reducing government activities by limiting the purse. It has the added advantages of (1) justice in the sense of eliminating from taxation the communistic principle of "ability to pay," (2) uniformity in the sense of setting one rate which everyone knows and personally can judge as to its sufficiency, and (3) integrity in the sense that a crooked politician no longer can gain election by telling one constituency that he will support those programs and tax policies which benefit it at the expense of another constituency, to which will be assigned all the costs and burdens via adjustment of tax brackets.…

Robert B. Crim
Naugatuck, CT

Philosophical Questions

Judging by Ross Levatter's review of it (Oct.), Robert Nozick's Philosophical Explanations presents ideas and arguments that are wholly compatible with, if not quite supportive of the principles of a fully free society. Dr. Levatter's review tells enough of the story in Nozick's book for anyone to doubt this supposed compatibility, however.

For example, the idea that coercion includes "forcing others to believe things" by means of sound arguments is extremely troublesome. This view is not unrelated to an earlier discussion of Nozick's in which he argued that offering someone a very high value in return for something the person would rather not do—for example, life-long financial security or emergency medical care for demeaning work or service—is a form of coercion.

It is no help here to observe, as Levatter does rather generously, that "Nozick does not believe all coercive acts are actionable," since that is to beg the question. A fully free society would uphold individual liberty as its highest political ideal, and coercion, in general, is the central threat to such liberty. Marxists, for example, have argued, precisely along lines that flow from Nozick's conception of coercion, that the propertied class coerces the working class by offering its members the very high value of subsistence in return for the very reluctantly performed service of labor. This kind of coercion, for Marxists, is not only actionable but deserves revolutionary response. If such offers are coercive, as Nozick believes, the advocate of a free society will have to accept that the worker's right to freedom is violated by the capitalist and that this must be remedied by law.

There may be ways of overcoming this result of Nozick's analysis, but for Levatter to fail to even try to come to grips with the issue, if ever so sketchily, is not good reviewing in a magazine like REASON.…

Tibor R. Machan
Department of Philosophy, SUNY
Fredonia, NY

The Joy of Nozick

Ross Levatter's review of Nozick's Philosophical Explanations (Oct.) was a joy to read. He pinpointed the qualities that make Nozick unique and inspiring: his exuberance, his tolerance, his technical brilliance. He seems just as pleased to share his philosophical discoveries with us as we are to be able to read them. That he happens to be libertarian is icing on the cake; the teacher who influenced me most in high school was a socialist, but she showed us all the joy of using one's mind. Perhaps you could persuade Nozick to write a piece for REASON.…

Christine M. Dorffi
Menlo Park, CA

UnREASONable Ad?

The full-page ad of Planned Parenthood in your September issue mentions only possible governmental interference with abortion. It does not mention that Planned Parenthood has been a recipient of millions of dollars in federal grants for abortions and other causes which it favors. Nor does it state that Planned Parenthood has become a major propagandist through the public schools against morality as a guide for our youngsters in their sex lives. I fail to see a reason for you to run such an advertisement.

Marshall E. Surratt
Midland, TX

The editors reply: All of us who object to government funding of Planned Parenthood ought to welcome the organization's attempt to solicit voluntary contributions via magazine advertising.