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The evolution of a crusade

Guest column

One single determined individual can leverage freedom for millions: Susan B. Anthony organized a nation to change the Constitution, allowing women to vote.

I dedicate my outreach to the memory of Susan B. Anthony and I thank the editors of the News-Times for the opportunity to write a guest column.

Q: What kind of a crusade am I on?

A: I want all American children, ages 5-8 (and all the children around the world who want to learn English) to be taught with the most efficient method ever found: the 'The Writing and Spelling Road to Reading and Thinking,' by Myrna McCulloch and Romalda Spaulding (2003), 'Riggs' for short.

Q: What's so great about Riggs?

A: Riggs is explicit phonics, which means the 42 sounds of English and 75 letter combinations that produce those sounds are taught without any reference to letter names, key words or pictures. Dr. Samuel Orton, the first neurolinguist, identified these sounds in the 1940s and over the last 60 years many reading teachers have collaborated to perfect this system. He discovered the importance of using all four pathways of the brain simultaneously when learning language: hearing, seeing, speaking and movement (printing). Unfortunately, America turned away from phonics and adopted sight reading decades ago; our high illiteracy (and incarceration) rates suggest many students cannot learn with only visual cues.

Q: How did I find out about it and what makes me so sure it's better than anything else being used in schools today?

A: I got my teaching license in 1998, after seven years as an aide. I started substitute teaching in the Forest Grove School District. The district paid for me to receive training in Riggs in 2004, at my request. As I continued to sub, it became more and more obvious to me how inferior the current programs were. I was saddened by the low statewide reading scores of our children, and shocked by our students' inability to spell and print legibly and the widespread hatred of reading. I found out Emmaus Christian School in Cornelius has been using it for almost 20 years and two public charter schools in Washington County (Mitch Academy in Tigard and Sherwood) are having great success with it.

Q: Is Riggs very expensive?

A: No. It's basically free, after teacher training. One teacher can be trained in each elementary school, and then train the others in the school. Phonogram cards can be reproduced with permission.

Q: What did I do to get our district interested in Riggs?

A: I approached two administrations and the school board several times over seven years. I spoke to site councils, too. Their minds were closed. (Myrna once told me Oregon's public schools won't use Riggs because the legislature's Textbook Adoption Committee is heavily lobbied by publishers.)

Q: Is there anything in Oregon State law about this?

A: ORS 337.275(2) states: 'Each school district shall have an explicit phonics program available for teachers to use.'

Q: What can the average parent do to help our kids?

A: Find out more about explicit phonics at www.riggsinst.org and urge the attorney general to enforce ORS 337.275(2). The Oregon Department of Education should be leading the change. The last national study of reading instruction was in 1985. We need reading instruction reform now!

Q: Where will this crusade take me next?

A: I just returned from eight months in Korea and will leave soon for Costa Rica. This is the best retirement I could have dreamed of: The Volunteer Explicit Phonics Ambassador is on the move! Expect my book in September, 2013.

Mary Whitmore can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.