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Getting George's Goat
By the end of this post, I want you to feel sorry for George W. Bush. That may seem impossible, but give it a try.

You may have heard that when George found out about the 9-11 attacks, he was reading a book called "My Pet Goat". Well, that's not quite correct. The story was actually called "THE Pet Goat", and it was just one of many short stories in a primer titled "Reading Mastery II: Storybook 1 (Rainbow Edition)" by Siegfried Engelmann and Elaine C. Bruner. With a name like that, you might imagine that the book is one of those dull texts written by a team of English teachers eager to create a course of "new reading" the way they destroyed arithmetic with "new math" in the seventies. You would be right. Of course I had to track the book down and buy a copy, just as a historical artifact.

I only bought the student ("Rainbow") edition and not the teacher's manual, so I have no idea why each story is written with a variable typeface. For no understandable reason I can figure out, many vowels have lines over the top of them. Font sizes change randomly through the text. There are curving swoops over entire words. I don't think this was done for stylized reasons... I think the reader is supposed to do something special when those special characters show up. Stand up, maybe, when you see italics. Or rub your tummy at an underlined verb. In the video, the teacher bangs her book with a pen while forcing the students to repeat sentences while reading in an odd staccato monotone. I guess it's supposed to help them learn, by sucking all the rhythm and music out of language.


In any case, it makes for very awkward reading, like trying to decipher the fake runes written on walls in a bad sci-fi movie. The story tries to use as many new vocabulary words as possible, which it thinks is more important than making sense. As a result, the book is full of such mindbending stories as "The Barking Shark", "The Farmer's Buttons", and "The Bug In The Ball". It's like Dr. Seuss, only if the doctor was insane and had no talent for writing children's books whatsoever. It is an attempt by clueless PhDs to connect with young readers, with a warped idea of what kids find interesting or funny. Here is the full story "The Girl And Her Goat":

the pet goat
a girl got a pet goat. she liked to go running with her pet goat. she played with her goat in her house. she played with the goat in her yard.

but the goat did some things that made the girl's dad mad. the goat ate things. he ate can and he ate canes. he ate pans and he ate panes. he even ate capes and capes.

one day her dad said, "that goat must go. he eats too many things."

the girl said, "dad, if you let the goat stay with us. I will see that he stops eating all those things."

her dad said, "we will try it."

so the goat stayed and the girl made him stop eating cans and canes and caps and capes.

but one day a car robber came to the girl's house/ he saw a big red car near the house and said, "I will steal that car."

he ran to the car and started to open the door.

the girl and the goat were playing i the back yard. they did not see the car robber.

more to come


the goat stops the robber
a girl had a pet goat. her dad had a red car.

a car robber was going to steal her dad's car. the girl and get goat were playing in the back yard.

just the the goat stopped playing. he saw the robber. he bent his head down and started to run for the robber. the robber was bending over the seat of the car. the goat hit him with his sharp horns. the car robber went flying.

the girls' dad ran out of the house. he grabber the robber. "you were trying to steal my car," he yelled.

the girl said, "but my goat stopped him."

"yes," her dad said. "that goat saved my car."

the car robber said, "something hit me when I was trying to steal that car."

the girl said, "my goat hit you."

the girl hugged the goat. her dad said, "that goat can stay with us. and he can eat all the can and canes and caps and capes he wants."

the girl smiled. her goat smiled. her dad smiled. but the car robber did not smile. he said, "I am sore."

the end


So here is where the pity part comes in. Picture George W. Bush reading to a roomful of children who are hyperactive and excited at meeting the president. Nine months into his presidency, the world has correctly decided that George is woefully inadequate for the job. The economy is tanking, and George has no grasp on foreign or domestic issues. He is forced to sit still for long periods of time, listening to meetings that he doesn't understand. Or, he is forced to attend dog-and-pony photo ops like this one. He has a hard time with the English language as it is, and now he is supposed to be setting an example for the overmedicated students in front of him. Holding tightly onto the nonsensical book in front of him brings back bad memories as a dim-witted boy of having to stand in front of the class and read out loud as punishment.

Now, even as an adult, he is humiliated trying to stammer his way through a story that makes no sense - when all of a sudden, an aide comes into the room an whispers in his ear that a horrible catastrophe has happened. The country is looking at you, Mr. President, for guidance and leadership that you clearly do not possess. The bizarre words of the goat story mix with the scrambled thoughts in his head, "capes cans panes pans north tower hit". The world shifts sideways and the sentences on the pages make even less sense then they originally did. George doesn't know what to do, and sits in a drug-like stupor in silence for the next five minutes, wondering what happens at the end of the story that he will never get to finish. Will the robber steal the car? Will the little girl have to give up the goat? Will the United States lose its mind and spend billions of dollars fighting a war in a different country than the one the attackers came from and losing it's morality by torturing and killing innocent civilians?

Personally, I blame the book.

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my sister is the school nurse for Booker Elementary School - since then, the Sarasota School District has had to cut staff, so now my sister spends her time among Booker and 2 other schools.

Those weird lines and stuff are a pronunciation guide.

The line over the O and A...they're pronounced the same as their name (gOat, plAyed as opposed to hard sounds), the subscript letters are pretty much silent (the a in gOat for example) and the line over N and G (in running) are their own new sound, and the S and H in She are connected for sort of the same reason.

OK that was a lot easier than your handball puzzle! ;-)

Oh yeah and poor George, right? I always thought he should have just got up and said "Well kids, something really important has just landed on my desk, and I gotta run along! Enjoy the rest of the story!" Not that it would have helped him in the long run.

Does the theory work? I mean, I have a heard time thinking any kid would enjoy learning like that

I can attest to the phonic symbols. This is how we learned to read in elementary school in 1978-82.

Those of us who learned to read in the '50s had Dick and Jane had books. The books relied on whole language theories (or "whole word reading" also called "sight reading") and repetition. They used sentences like, "See. See Spot. See Spot run. Run Spot, Run." They did not do much in the way phonics, which a became popular teaching method for reading in the late '60s.


What's with the incessant pen tapping, then? It's weird... it's like trying to beat comprehension into their little heads with with "fast reading"

WTF with the pencil tapping and robotic reading?

The books I learned to read from back in the early 1960's were Dick And Jane, and The Bobsy Twins series.


Slight correction, "New Math" was from the 1960s, not the 1970s. I know because I am a Survivor. See the Tom Lehrer song.

And I don't feel sorry for GWB at all. That would be like feeling sorry for a drunk who steals a car and drives into a crowd and kills people, and then walks away unharmed. Ain't gonna happen.

Yeah, but I'm sure he's really sorry for what he did.

The letters are grouped into phonemes by the variable type face size... For example, Sh visually clues in the reader to the production of the phoneme "shhhhhhh"... The force of the sound is in the S.. so the s is bigger.

The bars over some vowels mark long vowel sounds (The "o" sound in "tome" as compared to the "o" sound in "book").
This style of children's books were designed with VARK Learning Styles theory in mind. When read aloud by a teacher, while students read along with their fingers in the book, the finger moves across the syllables as the teacher taps them out with the pencil. The students are learning to read through Visual, Audio, Reading, and KInesthetic (VARK) learning modalities simultaneously.

Edited at 2010-05-16 06:30 pm (UTC)

Cool! It makes sense to me as an adult... kind of like a visual Hooked On Phonics. But does it really help kids? Or get in the way? When the children go into the real world, words don't look like that

Liked Hooked on Phonics.... No, it doesn't work.... Not really... It teaches some pretty good phonetic decoding skills, which are useful to a point, but I can learn to read and speak Swedish phonetically and have no idea what I am reading...

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