Class action lawsuit against YBCR

Larry Sanger

UPDATE 1: my apologies.  I thought this was news, but it actually isn’t.  I ran across this Courthouse News Service story, and the plaintiff is a Tondia Johnson, not Matthew Melmed (as I mistakenly wrote), and the dateline of the Courthouse News Service story is December 9, so it’s month-old news.  As CNS says:

The class seeks restitution and punitive damages deceptive trade, unjust enrichment and breach of contract – the “perpetuation of the elaborate hoax on parents across the country.” They are represented by Marc Reich with Reich Radcliffe & Kuttler.

In a Class Action Central report, it sounds as if they are resting on the Today Show report about YBCR. See my discussion of the Today Show segment, which was ridiculously biased.

If the litigants are suing on the basis of that, they’ll fail, big time. The report even says, “The experts all agree that children cannot really learn to read until they are 4 or 5 years old because the brain has yet to develop the cognitive ability.” That children can learn to read before the age of four, using YBCR, is one the easiest things to prove, out of all the possible criticisms one can make of YBCR. There are lots and lots of kids who have learned to read before the age of 4, who used YBCR.

By the way, just to be clear, I have no relationship to YBCR myself. I am a supporter and satisfied customer, so much so that the non-profit I work for has purchased copies of the kits to place in Memphis-area preschools, and we are sponsoring a study of the program’s efficacy. This is one of five studies that I have heard about. I’m guessing that the studies are going to shame the supposed experts, as well as winning the case for YBCR against these money-grubbing lawyers.

As outrageous as this is, it could prove to be one of the best possible things that could happen for baby reading, especially if the case goes to trial.  It is hard to imagine that the class action suit would win, and if it goes to trial, the resulting exchange of arguments should be most illuminating.  I’m sure the plaintiffs will figure this out soon enough, however, and it won’t actually go to trial.

UPDATE 2: it turns out that there was a Class Action Central report a month before the class action suit was announced in early December, touting the Today Show segment.  Verrry interesting.

UPDATE 3: here is my analysis of the court filing.  Bottom line?  Not very compelling.

WatchKnow Reader coding gets under way!

Larry Sanger

I’m really pumped now!  Technical development of WatchKnow Reader (tentative name) is now officially under way.  After months of planning, requirements writing, and demo’ing, we are now starting a proof of concept that the software can be coded in HTML5.  Yes, we’re hoping to go with HTML5 so we can write the code just once, and then use it across all browsers and platforms.  After that we’ll be diving into what I think will be the best free program to teach reading the world has seen.  You’ll be able to use it on all major browsers or on your iPhone (etc.) or Droid machine.

The Reader app will have these features:

  • Around 40 word lists, each list corresponding to one (or a few) phonetic rules, and the lists arranged in order.  One presentation per word list.
  • Each word is sounded out slowly and quickly, then blended slowly and quickly.
  • The phoneme currently being read will always be highlighted, making it super-easy for kids to match up letters with sounds.
  • A person will read the word to the camera, so kids can actually see someone saying the word (this is off by default but can be turned on so it is always displayed).
  • After the word comes a picture (either a photograph or a realistic illustration–I think we’ll have both, intermixed) that perfectly illustrates the word.
  • Then, the word will either be defined or used in a sentence that highlights its meaning.
  • The sentence will have its own picture, too.  Hopefully, we’ll have some video as well.  (I’m very hopeful we’ll hear back from a major stock photography company next week, that we’ll be able to use their stuff free of charge.)
  • We’ll have a whole variety of variations, too: you’ll be able to skip the sounding-out; you’ll be able to play only words, or only sentences; and there will be auto-play or manual play.

That’s just a taste.  Well, let me know if you have any special requests!

Invitation to collaborate on encyclopedia article

Larry Sanger

Some time ago I started working on a Citizendium article titled, tentatively, “Accelerated early childhood education.”  (Is there a better name for this subject?)  What is the Citizendium, you ask?  It’s a wiki encyclopedia, like that other wiki, but it requires that you use your real name, and there is a low-key guiding role for experts in what is otherwise a free, open collaborative wiki.

So far, my article covers only early reading.  It could be expanded to talk about academic preschools, baby videos, Doman math dots, and various other subjects.  You’ll see that I’ve tried to make the article neutral.  It lacks a lot of essential information and I’m sure it can be greatly improved.  If anybody wants to help out there, that would be wonderful!

It’s not hard to sign up on the Citizendium (which I got started, by the way–but I’m no longer in any leadership role there, I’m just still a fan).  Just go here and sign up.  Somebody should give you authoring permissions within 24 hours.  Then you can edit my article (which will then be our article) or any other article on the system you like.  Or you can start a new one yourself!

Interview in Education News about infant reading

Larry Sanger

This morning, an interview I did a couple weeks ago appeared in Education News. The topic is the how and why of teaching babies to read.

It covers familiar ground to readers of this blog, but still might be interesting to those who are skeptical or puzzled about baby reading.

Reviews of three classic children’s novels

Larry Sanger

Recently I finished reading three classic children’s novels to H.  We’ve been on a roll, reading quite a bit every night.  I don’t know if there’s much point to a non-literature guy pretending to write reviews of classic children’s literature, but I did so on Amazon.  Of course, you’ll learn more about me than you will about these books.

Pippi Longstocking 
by Astrid Lindgren

Excellent bedtime reading, December 29, 2010 

My 4-year-old son and I had lots of fun with this. Pippi is outrageous, fun-loving, irreverent, and good-hearted–just like many children, only more so. The book is a quick and not too challenging read, mainly because it addresses themes and ways of thinking that are distinctly childish. The main theme, repeated throughout, is how Pippi enjoys herself in spite of (even oblivious to) physical resistance or social convention, setting up absurd situations that obviously appeal to children (and lots of adults, too).

It’s mainly a storybook. After the first chapter, it wouldn’t matter much what order you read the stories in, although one point of continuity is that the children get to know Pippi better, as do the townspeople.

Although it’s an excellent book and well deserves its status as a classic, it really wasn’t among my top favorites. This is mainly because Pippi and her antics more or less represent a gimmick, and the gimmick, though well executed, does get old after a while (at least, for this adult). 

Old Yeller
by Fred Gipson

One of the standard-bearers of children’s literature, December 29, 2010           

Old Yeller is simply one of the best children’s novels there is. It really says something about a book if it can be thoroughly enjoyed by a 4-year-old boy, who probably identifies more with Arliss than Travis, as well his middle-aged Papa.

The language and detail of the book marks it as authentic; one gets the sense that the book was written as an autobiography, though it wasn’t. Like the Little House books–although, arguably, better in this regard–it immerses the young reader in a time and place, impressing upon one just how important the details of place were when people lived “close to the land.”

The lovely thing about this book is that it wonderfully develops the relationship between the boys and their dog, who turns out to be a canine hero. While this might sound banal or silly, the book is really anything but; it is great literature and seems perfectly realistic. It captures some of the best aspects of boyhood (and the realities of frontier life).

This is the sort of book that a zillion would-be “literary” entries lamely attempt to imitate. It is an enjoyable, fulfilling experience instead of a dry intellectual exercise.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
by Roald Dahl

A favorite of kids, December 29, 2010

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory deserves its status as a classic. Of three classics I recently read to my 4-year-old, all of which he liked, he loved this one the best. (The others were Pippi Longstocking and Old Yeller.) I give the book five stars in honor of his opinion, but I would probably give it four stars myself.

Wonka’s chocolate factory, like many creatures of Dahl’s imagination, is an impossible place, and it is probably only more intriguing and beloved by children for that reason. Wonka himself is zany and irrepressible, like many a kid who probably shouldn’t be diagnosed ADD. Dahl’s characters, with the sole exceptions of Charlie and his parents, are caricatures, something shown well by Quentin Blake’s weird illustrations. (But frankly, I didn’t care for the illustrations in this edition.)

Dahl’s style has a sort of wild, unruly exuberance, together with dollops of nonsense, that appeals to kids, especially little boys like mine. Maybe I’m too much of a grown-up now, but it doesn’t especially appeal to me, but I very much appreciate how it taps into the spirit of childhood. Besides, it was pretty fun to read it to my little boy, who clearly was enjoying himself.

Plans for WatchKnow Reader

Larry Sanger

All, finally I thought I’d tell you about my plans for what I’m tentatively calling WatchKnow Reader, and ask for your input.  I might ramble on — apologies in advance.

As many readers of this blog know, I taught H. how to read largely by using a series of about 1,000 flashcards arranged into sets that illustrate different (increasingly difficult) phonics rules.  (The word list was taken from Rudolf Flesch’s controversial pro-phonics polemic, Why Johnny Can’t Read.)  I wanted to make phonics flashcards because I have long been convinced that learning the rules of phonics explicitly makes better readers of kids.  There were four words per page, as large as I could make them on the page, with an illustrative image on back (grabbed from somewhere online).

Now, I’ve seen a wide variety of flashcard tools, from hand-made and commercial flashcards, to PowerPoint presentations that simply replicate flashcard content, to fancier customizable things like Little Reader, to plain old videos that include the contents of flashcards.  Heck, Your Baby Can Read is basically just a series of fancy video flashcards, with some nice songs interspersed.  But I’m not merely setting out to build a better mousetrap.  If I thought the aforementioned tools could do the job well enough, I wouldn’t bother with this.  But frankly, I don’t think those tools do the job quite well enough.

There are a couple problems.  First, YBCR and Little Reader are both excellent, but they both cost money, and for some people, it’s a significant amount of money.  Second, my flashcards are free, but it’s a lot of work to download them, print them out, and cut them out.  Moreover, they don’t have all the bells and whistles of something like YBCR, which would make them more interesting to a mass audience.  To the committed mommies I know online who as a serious hobby are teaching their kids to read, my flashcards are perfectly usable.  But to the many more people who, not being convinced, barely have time to make use of YBCR, they’d never consider such a tool.  In fact, ease of use is usually necessary, and will probably become only more so, for any Internet resource to get much traction — and of all these tools, only YBCR and commercial flashcards are very easy to use.

For these reasons and others, I’ve been asked to develop a “free replacement for YBCR,” although that isn’t really how I think of WatchKnow Reader.  What I’m going to produce will be usable with beginning readers of all ages.

So, first, let me explain what my plans with Reader are, and then, I hope, you’ll be able to give me specific requests about features you want.

To begin with, Reader will be a Macromedia Flash application (which we will port to an iApp, probably) that contains around 40 presentations.  In each presentation, there will be around 30 words, grouped phonetically.  (The first word five sets are CVC words for each of the five vowels; then there are the simplest blends, and so forth.)  For each word, say, “dog,” my notion is that there will be the following slides:

  1. The word sounded out slowly, displayed karaoke style
  2. The word sounded out quickly, displayed karaoke style
  3. The word blended together slowly, displayed karaoke style *
  4. The word blended together at normal speed, displayed all at once*
  5. A picture or video illustrating the word (with voice-over)
  6. A sentence using the word, displayed karaoke style
  7. A picture or video illustrating the sentence
  8. Maybe the word (alone) again—same as 4
  9. After several words, to break things up, we might have something else, I’m not sure what (e.g., music and art).

* By default, on these slides, there would be a little “face” icon in the corner; clicking the face would bring up a video of a person saying the word at the normal speed.  If, in the options, the user chooses to display the person saying the word, it appears between slides 3 and 4.

The app will allow users to log in and track their progress, showing how many times a user has seen each set, remembering where they last left off in a set, making recommendations for the next presentation to look at, etc.  There would also be four or five different “modes” of viewing a presentation; there would be video mode, in which the user could do nothing but play, pause, or rewind, a simple mode without the sentences, and the full-fledged mode which would do 1-9 above (and other modes too).

If this reading tutorial works well, then as soon as the reading tutorial app is finished, I’ll be turning to making a whole bunch of presentations similar to the ones you can see here (only better).

I’ve already put in a request for an estimate for the coding cost for a demo (the first set of words).  In January, we’ll be working to create this demo.  A lot of the important decisions about this app will be made then.  So, please, if you have any comments, get them to me by early January!

Suggestions, comments, etc., please!

And now, just for fun, Jan Van Eyck’s Madonna with the Child Reading –>

Bet you didn’t know that Jesus was an early reader.  (Just kidding!)

4-year-old reading philosophy textbook (and Elkind’s “Miseducation”)

Larry Sanger

Here’s H. reading a random page from Jones’ History of Western Philosophy. Recorded last Nov. when he was 4 years, 5 months.

 

A few comments about this. First, obviously, he must understand very little of this text. He seems intrigued by books he can’t understand, like the philosophy books on the shelves in my office, but he doesn’t get them down often. If I recall correctly, I just noticed him on the floor of my office, probably after his nap, getting out a philosophy book, and my videocam was on the bookshelf, so I just grabbed it and made this video. I think this establishes that he has mastered the phonics of English pretty well — so, again, this is something little kids are capable of being taught to do. But it is interesting to me that he misread “psychology” as “physiology.”  Clearly, he’s seeing a long, difficult word he has rarely seen (“psychology”), and matched it up by shape to a word he has seen only maybe a few more times (he might have seen the word “physiology” in one or two of our books about the human body).  But he’s capable of using phonics to correct his “whole word” reading.

If you want to know how we got to this point, see How and Why I Taught My Toddler to Read.

UPDATE:

Preschooler (H.) reading from David Elkind’s Miseducation: Preschoolers at Risk yesterday (Dec. 28):

The Today Show’s takedown of Your Baby Can Read ridiculously biased

Larry Sanger

This is a review of a review.  Last November 1, the Today Show did a segment about Your Baby Can Read, and that segment is now one of the top results for the Google searches for “your baby can read“.  Unlike most of the Today Show’s viewers, and apparently unlike Matt Lauer and his team, I actually know something about Your Baby Can Read and the baby reading phenomenon.  We used it with success and I’ve written a 140-page essay on our experience and the phenomenon in general.  I found the segment to be amazingly biased, and so I want to help set the record straight.

Here’s a blow-by-blow response.

0:32 “And that’s the promise: that if you buy this program, your baby, as young as three months old, can learn to read.”  Of course, nobody promises or believes that a three-month-old can read.  Three months is the age at which the program can begin to be used.

0:39 “This morning our Today investigation goes after the truth.”  Going after the truth involves allowing both (or all relevant) sides of an issue to be fully and fairly explored, within the time constraints.  That is not at all what the Today segment did.  It was very much one-sided, and quite unfair when explaining the other side.

1:29 “But she says it didn’t teach her daughter anything.”  Questions for Today and Ms. Torres: for how long did the little girl watch the show?  And what age is she now?  Do the Today Show and Ms. Torres realize that results aren’t (and aren’t supposed to be) instantaneous?

1:51 “[Interviewer:] Are those babies reading?  [Nonie Lesaux:] No.”  The expert goes on to explain that the babies have simply memorized words.  That’s true, but later, I gather from those who have reported about their use of the program, some users of this program are able to decode other words, a fact that the Today Show later mentions only to dismiss without a hearing.  This is unreasonable, just as it would be unreasonable to say of a five-year-old that she is “not reading” because she has merely memorized her first words.  She can say out loud those words, and will soon be reading many more; so she has taken her first steps in the process of learning to read.  This is also true of the kids who use YBCR (for long enough).  And what neither the expert nor the Today Show admit is that by the time they are out of babyhood, many former users of YBCR are reading quite well, thanks very much.

2:03 “In fact, we spoke with ten child development experts from the country’s top universities and organizations, and the message was universal: this isn’t reading, it’s just memorization.”  Has a single one of the experts that Today interviewed actually sat down with children whose parents claimed their 18-month-old was reading phonetically, i.e., could decode words they hadn’t seen before?  My guess is that the answer is “no.”

They wouldn’t want to, I guess, because doing so would upset their world view; so much of their reading research rests on the assumption that children aren’t “ready” to begin learning to read until age five or six.  The notion that children can actually decode, i.e., really sound out unfamiliar words or even read them fluently, is too outrageous to the experts.  But the fact of the matter is that many children who use YBCR and some other similar tools and methods can do this.  This fact has been known — to a few — since the 1960s if not before that.  Both these experts as well as the Today Show do society a great disservice by simply denying a fact that can be established quite easily.

It is a fact that some children who use YBCR and similar tools (but how many? That I admit I don’t know, and future studies should shed light on that) can and do decode new words while they are just one year old — many more are reading by age two.  This is not a matter of opinion, subject to theoretical debate.  The claim is clear enough, and either it’s true or it isn’t; and there is plenty of evidence that it is true.  Those experts do themselves and their institutions a disservice by either knowingly denying this fact or else being ignorant of it yet pretending to be able to speak on the question authoritatively.

2:23 “[Interviewer:] Is there any evidence that even learning to memorize, at a young age, makes you a better reader later?  [Karen Hopkins:] No evidence at all — that learning to memorize images of words can make you a better reader.”  I find the formulation of the claim here interesting: it is in terms of can, or what is possible.  Well, clearly it is possible that learning to memorize words at a young age makes a child a better reader later on, because some little memorizers are able to decode new words some months later.  So the answer to the interviewer’s question is: yes, there are plenty of instances where children who learned to memorize words at a young age soon became better readers later, because within months they were able to decode unfamiliar words.  But, of course, if you don’t know, or are willing to deny, that some toddlers can decode unfamiliar words, then you can rest undisturbed in your views about their capabilities.

2:33 “In fact, most experts say most children don’t even have the brain development to read until four or five years old.”  Yes, that’s what most experts say, and this is the theoretical situation that perhaps best explains why those experts are denying the phenomenon of phonetic decoding among toddlers: it’s not possible.  It couldn’t happen, certainly not on a mass scale and definitely not as a result of using some mere product.

How often do we see this in academe — where some experts deny facts that are staring them in the face simply because the facts don’t fit with their cherished assumptions?  Too often.

2:39 “[Maryanne Wolf:] I know not of one single study in which anyone says that children who learn to read before five do better later on. I’m a reading expert. I know not one single study.” I was delighted to receive an email from Dr. Wolf the other day, and she seems to be a nice lady, and I don’t want to offend her; but this remark is just incorrect, and if she simply thought about it, she would realize that it is.  As a reading expert, surely she knows that Dolores Durkin did some pioneering studies back in the 1950s and 60s, published in book form under the title Children Who Read Early: Two Longitudinal Studies, that showed that some children who learned to read before Kindergarten were still doing better than their peers, and in some cases increasing their advantage, by third grade and sixth grade.  There have in fact been quite a few studies of what are called precocious readers, and surely Dr. Wolf knows this.  The studies are almost unequivocal in support of the proposition that children who learn to read at the normal age do not catch up two, three, or even six years later with precocious readers, even controlling for intelligence and socioeconomic background.  There was an excellent review article of this research recently, “Precocious Readers: Past, Present, and Future,” which appeared in 2006 in the Journal for the Education of the Gifted.

Now, perhaps Dr. Wolf misspoke and what she meant to say was that she knew of not a single study in which anyone says that children who learn to read before age three do better academically later on.  Now that I would have to agree with.

But — and this is an important point — there have been no studies on that question at all. It is an open question.  So, no studies have established that other kids “catch up” later on, either.  The question has not been studied, period. But, given the precocious reader research, it’s reasonable to believe that those who are already reading at an advanced level by age 3 (i.e., the youngest of the precocious reader groups studied so far) will be even more advanced later on.  Why would you want to deny this, and so forcefully?

4:00 Interviewer lists the institutions that their criticals experts are affiliated with, then says: “they say your program is not only misleading, but it’s false. [Titzer:] Well, they’re all wrong. [Interviewer:] You’re saying they’re all wrong. [Titzer:] Yes, I’m saying they’re all wrong.”  Out of all the time Titzer was being taped, this is what they lead with?  First, the interviewer asks a nonsensical question: the program isn’t misleading or false, if anything it would be claims about the program’s effectiveness that would be misleading or false.  And when confronted with a vague, blanket declaration that his program is misleading and false, what is Dr. Titzer supposed to say? In short, this is unfair treatment.

4:28 “While he [Titzer] admits that it all starts as memorization, he says it leads to reading.”  Right.  And does the Today Show allow Dr. Titzer to bring on anyone to help establish that this is at least possible, that it has happened in a few cases at least?  No.  They don’t even do that.  And that omission is probably the most biasing flaw in the program.  It would have been easy for them to do; I heard, in fact, that they had someone lined up, and then the Today Show then pulled the plug on the interview.  But actually showing a child reading new words on-camera would have gone contrary to their whole line, and would directly show to be possible what the experts said was impossible.  That must be why they pulled the plug on the interview.

5:22 “But much of the research he cites for his program seems to be based on his own daughter using it.”   This is not just a low blow, it’s nonsensical — it’s poor writing.  Of course Dr. Titzer doesn’t cite any “research” that is “based on his own daughter”; unless I’m mistaken, there is no research per se that is based on his daughter using the program.  What the Today Show evidently meant to say, but did not, was that Dr. Titzer’s grounds for thinking the program works was merely that it worked with his own daughter.  If that is the point, it is still ridiculous on its face, because the program just got done saying that he could produce excellent customer satisfaction surveys.  In fact, Dr. Titzer has told me that his company has received “thousands” of communications from very satisfied customers, with parents reporting that their children had learned to read using the program.  So if the implication is that Dr. Titzer rests his claims about the effectiveness of the program just on his own daughter’s success with it, why wouldn’t they also say at least that he rests his claims on the success of the program with his customers?

What follows then are some accusatory claims and quotations from a deeply unsympathetic, “gotcha” interview with Dr. Titzer that amount to a blatant attempt to discredit him and assert that he is merely greedy and dishonest.  I really don’t have the patience to take this apart; it all rests on the assumption that YBCR does not work, which is a claim the Today Show makes simply based on the assertions of experts that it could not work, and without any examination of the many actual cases of small children who are decoding new words.

Near the end there comes this aside:

6:24 “Experts say this product can actually be harmful because it forces your baby to watch all those DVDs — too much TV time.  Matt, they say the best way to teach your kids is free: you just talk to them, you interact with them, you sing with them, you play with them, and they’ll learn just as well as they can, or better, than this program.”  What the Today Show does not say is that the programs are short, and that even if you follow Dr. Titzer’s advice, watching the program twice a day, that still adds up to something like 40 minutes.  (We watched just once a day, and not every day.)  Considering the amount of time that many kids unfortunately are exposed to television, that’s not much.  The claim here is also very tendentious in that it ignores that possibility that watching YBCR might actually cause your child to learn to read.  If it has that effect, then it is just false to say that talking, interacting, singing, and playing with your children will teach them as well the program can; no doubt children do learn a lot in those ways, but they don’t typically learn to read from those activities.  Besides, who can really, credibly claim that children who use YBCR and similar programs don’t play or talk with their parents?  The contrary suggestion is frankly ridiculous.

Saying the children are “forced”  is also misleading and wrong: like Glenn Doman, Dr. Titzer states very clearly that the program should not be shown to a resisting child.  If the child indicates he isn’t interested, then he shouldn’t be shown the program.  No forcing should be going on.  Speaking from our own experience, when my boy was watching the program for 3-4 months around his second birthday, he loved it to pieces and often demanded to see it.  No forcing there.

A lot of the points the Today Show brings up are discussed in great detail in my essay.  In Part 2, see:

  • Section 1 on whether it is possible to teach children to sound out new words at an early age.
  • Section 2 on reactions to the sales hype.
  • Section 5 on whether using methods like YBCR constitutes “pressuring” kids.
  • Section 7 on the too-much-video, too-early objection.
  • Section 8 on the claim that creative free play is superior to reading as a teaching method.
  • Section 12 on the question of whether early reading has long-term advantages.

See also Part 1, Section 4 for my own take on Your Baby Can Read, which is supportive, but not uncritically positive.

Kindle Store version of essay available (for those who need it)

Larry Sanger

At least one person said she wanted to read my essay on her Kindle, but could not figure out how to get it. I’m pretty sure she could download it from her desktop and email it to her Kindle, but for those who want it on their handheld devices and can’t be bothered to figure such things out, you can give $2.99 to Amazon (and me–it was the minimum I could charge without giving most of the proceeds to Amazon) for a copy.  The formatting is not as good as the PDF, in my opinion.  But if you want it, here it is:

How and Why I Taught My Toddler to Read

By the way, is there any interest in my making this available in print book version?  I will do so if there is.  Please let me know.  If nobody asks for such a version, I won’t make one.

Does reading count as direct instruction?

Larry Sanger

I have a provocative question for the teachers and educational theorists out there: does reading count as direct instruction?  I ask because, if it does, then there is surely nothing wrong with direct instruction, per se.

I think it is plausible to call it instruction, anyway.  The basic difference between reading a book, for example, and listening to a lecture is that the book is written and the lecture is spoken.  Why should we deny the word “instruction” to reading when a person reads in order to learn, or be instructed, about a subject?

And when a book instructs you that X, you are, surely, being directly instructed that X.

Therefore, reading is direct instruction, and since copious reading of increasingly difficult, important books is the very backbone of liberal arts education, direct instruction (in the form of reading) is not just a good idea, it’s an absolutely necessary part of getting a complete liberal arts education.

What’s wrong with that argument?