Thoes Chi-tonw Schoosl!

Published March 9, 2007

Dear Editor:

Eric Zorn’s account (“The mark of true friends,” Mar. 8) of how Chicagoan Michael Duplessis got a misspelled “Chi-tonw” tattoo shows how badly our public schools are failing, since that’s an error a third-grader should catch. But neither Duplessis nor tattooist Sam Hacker realized “tonw” was incorrect until someone else pointed it out to them.

How could two grown men miss such an obvious error? Because it’s likely they were taught to read by recognizing whole words, rather than sounding out letters. To whole word readers, “town” and “tonw” don’t look that much different, while the misspelling is obvious to phonics readers.

Reading failure like this is widespread in Chicago. A 2005 national assessment (NAEP) revealed a staggering 40 percent of 8th-graders in the city’s schools can’t even read at a “basic” level. Not surprisingly, almost half of Chicago’s public school students become dropouts.

Read “Chi-tonw” and weep — not just for Duplessis and Hacker, but for all the children whose lives are being stunted because Mayor Daley’s schools can’t even do a good job of teaching them how to read.

George Clowes ([email protected]) is senior fellow for education policy at The Heartland Institute.