ParentingSkepticism

Your baby can’t frakking read!

There’s a new (or newish) product out there teaching babies to read. Babies. Not toddlers. Not preschoolers. Babies. It’s called Your Baby Can Read®, and it’s going to revolutionize the way we teach reading.

Dr. Robert Titzer, PhD (yes, he’s both a doctor and a PhD) claims that by waiting until preschool or kindergarten to introduce reading, we are not only hampering our children’s abilities to learn how to read, but also crushing their ability to develop reading skills as they grow.

Instead,  Doc Bobby Titz PhD has developed a *New*! and *Improved*! method of teaching kids to read.  All you have to do is buy his program (for the low low price of just $200) and plop your newborn in front of the TV.

I’m not even being snarky about the newborn bit. His DVD’s are most effective when introduced at 3 months of age… after that the learning window starts to slowly close. If your kid is older than 3 months, relax, you still have time, just remember that every hour you wait is an hour your child will spend becoming irreversibly dumber until he’s pretty much permanently functionally illiterate by the age of 4.

Really, there just isn’t enough pressure these days to create perfect little over achievers. There’s nothing adding to parental insecurities. And have you noticed no one is out there promoting those condescending and petty my-baby-is-better-than-yours competitions between parents on playgrounds everywhere? Doesn’t anyone care anymore about totally fucking up kids with neurotic and unnecessary pressure to be the most developmentally advanced of all their peers?  (I’ve  been feeling a lot of pressure lately thinking that I’m the only one trying to get the message out. Every Tuesday I spend the day at the local NICUs handing out informational pamphlets titled Prepping your newborn for success: A Parent’s guide to getting your child into the best kindergarten pre-med programs; 12 weeks to Calculus: the dangers of ending your maternity leave before your baby learns advanced math and Raising Twins: don’t double your disappointment.)

In actuality, the BobbyTits method is far from revolutionary. Here’s how it works:

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  1. You spend $200 on a reading system and BobbyTits mails it to you.
  2. Beaming with pride that your baby will be the last of his peers to sit up due to the weight of the knowledge in his head, you open the box.
  3. Ignoring the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics to not let your kid watch TV until he’s at least 2, you pop the DVD in, and sit your illiterate disappointment of a newborn in front of the TV.
  4. You log onto parenting forums to tell people not to vaccinate their kids and then take some “What kind of _____ are you?” quizzes on Facebook.
  5. An hour later, you return to your baby only to find that he can now read!

The Titz system is literally video flashcards – flashcards without the annoying responsibility of personally going over the content of the cards with your child. The DVD shows a word, someone says the word out loud, and then there is a short video clip of the word. For example, the screen shows “EAT”. Then someone says “eeeeeeeeeeet”. Then baby sees someone eating for 5 seconds.

The fact that this isn’t really even reading, but just association, does not bother Bobbytits. In fact he freely admits it on his site.

Are the babies simply memorizing the words or are they actually reading?

Answer: It is true that the babies initially memorize the shapes of the written words, but over time they will figure out the patterns of the written language in a way that is similar to how they figure out the patterns of the spoken language.

Um, to me that says that you are giving them flash cards; they memorize the flash cards and then they figure out how to read later when someone teaches them about things like phonics and the alphabet… you know, when they actually learn how reading works.

Oh wait, no. I’m wrong. The YBCR program is backed by RealScyenceâ„¢! Just look at this very convincing statisical graph from their FAQ:

Yes, according to “scientific studies”, the majority of 2nd graders read at a 2nd grade level. They also “cite” “scientific studies” that “late age readers” read at a lower level than other kids their age. Even if we concede that this information is accurate (for the record, there are about a billion ways this data is probably skewed), they present it as if it’s something to fear, but it’s not. If a kid starts school later than other kids his age (thus being “introduced to reading” later), for whatever reason, he’s generally going to be behind other kids his age. This chart leaves out information like whether the kid who starts reading at 6 1/2 is excelling or lagging behind other kids in his grade level. Sure, at the age of 10 he’s reading at a 4th grade level, compared with a 5th grade level for other 10 year olds, but is this kid even in 5th grade? Maybe he’s only in 3rd grade. It’s quite fair to say that most of these “late reading” kids are about one grade behind other kids their age.

Most schools in Illinois have a September 1st birthday cut off for enrollment. This means that your son or daughter has to be 5 years old by Sept 1 in order to get into kindergarten in any given school year. So if your daughter is born Sept 2, she will have to wait until she’s 6 to start school. According to this chart, if she starts reading at the same time as her other classmates, she’ll actually be reading at a level more advanced than her peers until around 5th grade when things seem to average out. (In fact, there are even parents who “red shirt” their 5-year-olds just to give them this advantage, arguing that older children are more intellectually mature and ready to learn.)

Using this information, Dr. PhD then creates a carefully crafted and seductive non-sequitur argument that if most kids learn at an average pace, and kids who fall behind learn at a slowed pace, then by using his program, and learning to read early, babies read at a more advanced level. And he charts the evidence to convince you of that fact.

But the evidence for his program isn’t “cited scientific studies” like the ones he’s using to gather his comparative data; it’s evidence “based on information from children tested after learning to read using Your Baby Can Read”. Tested? How? How many children? How often were they tested? Once? Monthly? Tested while using the system? After? Were they tested before using the system? Are they receiving other reading instruction? Are they developmentally advanced in other areas? Tested by whom? Are these results typical? Can we see the study? No? Ok, then I’m holding on to my $200.

Here’s the thing – there’s already a really great program available to parents that doesn’t cost $200. It’s proven. It’s recommended by child development experts almost unanimously. The problem is, you can’t bottle it up and market it.

All you have to do is sit down with your baby, every day, and read to them.

Show them books. Show them words. Talk to them about the words, interact with them during the story. The cost of this program is whatever you want it to be, as low as the cost of transportation to the library up to whatever you can budget for books.

Yes, it’s more work. You can’t do the dishes or fold the laundry or work on employee reviews while you’re doing it. You can’t Google stalk the cheerleaders from your high school. You can’t catch up on the news or go over your fantasy baseball lineup one more time. But that’s the point. You can’t teach your kid by plopping him in front of the TV. You teach your kid to read by reading. Sooner than you’re ready, your baby will read, and when she does, it will blow your mind.

Your daughter doesn’t need Your Baby Can Read. She needs her parents. She needs people to show her not only how to read, but why to read, to show her the fun of reading, to teach her the importance of reading.  Learning to love books and love reading is going to offer your baby benefits that this douche can’t put on a misleading scare-tactic chart.

This is your child’s education, not a Walmart New Hire orientation. You can’t do it with a video.

All Dr Titz’s program is going to do is take $200 out of your book budget. That’s about 20 books a kid isn’t going to own because of his parents’  need for him to learn to read early. Perhaps Dr. Titz never read the definition of “irony”.

Elyse

Elyse MoFo Anders is the bad ass behind forming the Women Thinking, inc and the superhero who launched the Hug Me! I'm Vaccinated campaign as well as podcaster emeritus, writer, slacktivist extraordinaire, cancer survivor and sometimes runs marathons for charity. You probably think she's awesome so you follow her on twitter.

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56 Comments

  1. I must protest. I didn’t have the benefit of the BobbyTitzâ„¢ method when I was a youngster, and now I am an illiterate bumpkin whose life was roont. ROONT I tell ya! Not my kids. They WILL be able to read the flavours of their microwaveable burritos… I want a better life for them…*snif*

  2. My 7 year old daughter, the brain surgeon did wonderful with the “Your Baby can Read” system. When she is not doing brain surgery or her part time job as a rocket scientist. She is such a loving giving personally fulfilled person, volunteering caring for other children struggling with cancer. I just have to tell the MIT recruiters she is just a little girl and can not attend because I just want her to be a kid for a while. I absolutely love the “Your Baby can Read” system.

  3. I saw about a minute of that infomercial one morning, and am so glad you posted this. I should have had the idea to market memorizing to guilty parents. Our Baby Grrl has been “reading” for quite a few months.

    My Baby Grrl can READ and yours CAN TOO! Just sit down with them and read a book to your precious baby girl or boy, and after about a dozen readings, she or he will READ it all by him/herself! Just ignore the fact that the kid will just be repeating exactly everything you said, including any additions to the story like a different voice for a different character. Brag to your friends that your child is a GENIUS!

  4. My daughter is six-weeks old, and I figure it’s time she started earning her keep. She’s perfected the art of soiling her diaper approximately 30 seconds after getting a change, and those things ain’t cheap.

    First, I have to get her onto the See Clearly Method, to correct the terrible eyesight that she inevitably inherited from both of her parents. (Without glasses or contacts!) Then I’ll hook her up with these reading DVDs. I’ll pump Mozart into her room while she sleeps, and in no time she’ll be ready to make a fortune daytrading like that creepy kid in the E*Trade commercials.

    Seriously, is it weird that I enjoy reading to my daughter? I might be a little less enthusiastic when she’s asking for The Cat In The Hat for the nine kajillionth time, but I really like reading to her. I just have to catch her when a) she’s awake and b) not nursing or c) crying because she wants to nurse. So hardly ever, but it’s wonderful when it happens.

  5. Well,

    “Jack of all trades, Master of none” comes to mind.

    I mean, dudes a Doctor, P.H.D., con-man, used car salesman and internet promoter/fraudster, all rolled into one! (I wouldn’t be surprised if he also made a little money off of “derivatives”).

    I’m guessing “Orange Coast University” on that P.H.D. , at the very least (or best).

    I know that, no matter where you went to school, you can still be crazy and evil. It’s just more fun for me if the crack pot of the week also went to degree mills.

    It’s a personal foible,

    rod

    BTW: Didn’t they have a con like this in the Sixties also? I think one of my Uncles fell for it.

  6. Oskar Kennedy,
    You pervert! Hook your kid up to a machine like us normal humans and then ignore it (using the words Her or Him are more symptoms of your disease!) until it’s thirteen and then blame the education system for it’s delinquent ways.

    I don’t know what’s wrong with the world today, but I know what I don’t like…

  7. I learned to read at the age of (roughly) two and a half. If only I’d had the benefit of this program, I could have reached the same level by 1.25 years. That means that, by now, I’d be so skilled I could read books that HAVEN’T EVEN BEEN WRITTEN YET. Pity I was born too soon!

  8. As long as this program can guarantee that little kids wont grow up to hear gods voice and paint schlock crap on black velvet it sounds good to me.

    And I feel so much better about the contribution that was made to my education by the stack of text books my grandfather had hidden in the hall closet that I discovered all those years ago.

  9. Do they have an inter-vaginal version I can purchase? Because I’m going to try to get pregnant soon and I want my fetus to be able to learn to read so we can really get head start on all those other babies. That little bugger might as well be doing something useful while it’s floating around for nine months.

  10. @Pinkbunny: You should also try to conceive in a lecture hall, but during something sciency, not like a literature class. You don’t want your partner’s sperm to get wind of something like Hemingway and produce something Palahniukesque.

  11. So much of parenthood is a drag, the diapers, the endless preparing of food, the vomit clean-up. By contrast, reading to my kids is the one thing I’ve always loved. As babies they would be delighted to listen to me read even when I started them out with “Good Omens” in their first weeks. Now they’re nine and seven and bedtime reading is still a reliable great part of my day.

    As much fun as we’re having I can easily imagine me podcasting to them when they go off to college.

  12. My five year old is more interested in Dr Seuss than James Joyce. At this rate, he’ll never grow up to be a burnt-out prodigy. He’ll probably end up being merely smart and interesting instead of completely screwed up. Such a disappointment.

  13. I’m going to create a video of flashcards showing quadratic equations and sell the your baby can do algebra (even though you flunked out of 8th grade) series for a measly few hundred bucks.

    It is true that the babies initially memorize the shapes of the written words equations, but over time they will figure out the patterns of the written language math in a way that is similar to how they figure out the patterns of the spoken language witchcraft taught by reading Harry Potter before age 2.

  14. No wonder the entire world is illiterate. I have often wondered what those little marks on the screen are for. So they represent words? Like the ones we use to talk to each other? That is amazing. I wonder if it is too late to learn how to read? I know how to write. I hope that will help. I wonder if what I am writing is words? Maybe an infant will read them to me and tell me what it is I am writing.

  15. My 6 yr old reads about 3 to 4 years above his age. I spent hours working with him, having fun, learning, and bonding with him. You mean I didn’t have to do any of that? I could have just put him front of the TV and say “learn you lazy, stupid kid?” Thanks so much for helping me become a better parent. I won’t make the same mistake with my daughter.

    I think I’d rather use that $200 to spend time at a museum or some other interactive social and intellectual activity.

  16. You can’t Google stalk the cheerleaders from your high school.

    Does Facebook-stalking the dance team count? Laundry-stalking that chick across the hall? How about binoculars-stalking the chemistry teacher?

    I am asking purely for academic reasons.

  17. @jtradke:

    Think of each of those stalking excursions as an opportunity to teach your infant.

    When you’re checking out the dance team, read the photo captions.

    Laundry stalking? Pull out her underwear and show your little one what the washing instructions say! Teach him math and the alphabet by tearing out the little size tags out of her bras. Then review what they say”How much is 36? What comes after C?”

    While you’re in the tree outside your old teacher’s house, but your stalking mini-companion in a Baby Bjorn. When teach is out of view, point the binoculars toward the sky and teach him about the moon and constellations… or point into the teacher’s daughter’s room for a chance to teach your kid about puberty.

    See? You don’t need to drop $200 on a reading system! Even felonies are an opportunity to educate your kid!

  18. @Elyse:

    Seeing as how I don’t yet have my own infant, perhaps I will borrow the chemistry teacher’s. I will teach it some stuff and then I will give it back and be like “I found ur baby and now it reads” and she’ll be all “OMG ur my hero” and then we’ll make out.

    This is why I read Skepchick – for the inspiration.

  19. My wife teaches communication and story telling at the local university. She tells me that the push to early reading/literacy has little if any evidence indicating future academic and life success. However there is some strong evidence that reading stories to children and teaching your child to pay attention to narratives, and cooperate with other children and adults has a significant impact on future academic and life success.

  20. @jtradke:

    You know, no one ever mentions the favors that kidnappers and crazed stalkers do for thier “victims”.

    Yeah, you stole the kid and chained him to a basement wall for three months. Yes, you refused to provide him “adequate nourishment” or keep him “properly hydrated”. Sure, you pimped him out to some registered sex offenders… but you gave him 20% of the profit AND you taught him to read. Don’t you get sick of the sensationalist journalists only reporting the “bad” stuff. The media is so one-sided.

  21. @Elyse: The graph was nice, wifey actually studies and teaches from the most current research so I’ll source her. I started passing along the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue to my son when he was in his early teens. Sad to think I waited far to long and had the wrong publication.

  22. I for one am thankful for the hard work of Dr. Mr. Teats PhD. He’s the lone voice regarding the outrageous illiteracy rate among toddlers.

    If only he can find a way to address the manic depressive behavior among 98 percent of newborns as reported in today’s The Onion, I think I smell a Nobel prize in someone’s future!

  23. I learned to read by the time I was four by watching TV…and it wasn’t by watching Sesame Street but rather by watching Wheel of Fortune, I think even then, I thought the contestants were dimwits.

  24. It occurs to me that this program is barely tapping the potential of this method. If babies can learn by watching people on the TV do things, then I think we’ve got a great new business model.

    No time to cook? A week’s worth of Food Network will have your infant making competent homecooked meals every night. (May require your assistance to get up to the counter.)

    Scared of home invasions? Sit your baby down in front of Hong Kong action flicks for 48 straight hours, and then watch her go whirling through the air to bust some burglar ass.

    Beat the market by investing in our offspring, with solid sessions of CNBC and Bloomberg News. $500 in startup cash, and your baby’s trading-fu will build a college fund in no time.

    Can’t remember your password? Rent every DVD about hackers that you can, and baby will soon be able to break into any account you’ve forgotten how to access.

    No, wait, those movies don’t contain any useful information.

  25. The (misattributed to PT Barnum) quote: “There’s a sucker born every minute.” and the (I’m not sure *who* said it) quote: “You a have a moral obligation to separate a fool from his/her money” are for *some* strange reason, coming to mind.

    Another perfect example of the need to teach critical thinking skills and having a lack thereof causing (in this case, at least some financial) harm.

    On the other hand, this post did bring a smile and chuckle to my face! :-)

  26. Elyse – I have nothing to add. Your post perfectly says everything needed on this topic.

    @James Fox: I can’t cite the source, but I’m pretty sure I stumbled on some research that supported your wifes position back when I was working on a graduate degree, (didn’t finish.. Life happens ehh.)

  27. I think most of you are unaware of the fact that this “Baby Training” has been going on for decades, if not centuries. I remember (yes, it’s another excerpt from the memoirs!) a family that lived downstairs from us in the East End of London (Englandshire) who had their three year-old daughter doing the vacuuming with an upright machine taller than she was, and hearing the mother shout at her because she “missed a bit!” (Presumably under the sofa).

    It’s just a different aspirational level, that’s all…

    P.S. I’m actually talking decades ago, not centuries in this instance. Wouldn’t want to start some cult of “worship the old guy” ‘cos he’s really centuries old. On the other hand, it could mean a comfortable old age… hmm.

  28. Late correction, I have just been informed that the little girl in my previous post was actually less than two when this happened. Still not quite in the same league as 3 months old, but then you’ve got to be able to walk to vacuum…

  29. @Binkennedy:

    Moose actually likes to vacuum. The thing is, I always have to go back over whatever he “cleaned” because he absolutely sucks at housework.

    He also likes to help me do the dishes, but it invariably ends with him waving steak knives and dessert forks near the dogs’ eyes.

    That’s why I distract him with Playboys.

  30. Entirely anecdotal, but my own childhood confirms this post’s conclusion. My mom read to me every day. Quality writing, too. Not always kids books (though plenty of those), but fun things from books she was reading as well.

    When I was tested in the first grade for reading placement, I was already reading at a 4th-grade level. I’m not unusually intelligent or developmentally gifted in other areas. To this day, my language skills are more developed than most of my peers.

    Reading to your kids works. Reading with your kids is even better.

  31. @Elyse:

    My oldest nephew liked to sleep with his head resting on the vacuum cleaner, it had to be running, mind. This was when he was four to five years old, he doesn’t do it anymore, he’s discovered the joy of breeding (three at the last count) instead.

  32. It could be the inestimable pleasure of seeing your off-spring wreaking havoc at family gatherings. Three boys who just love charging about imitating the superheroes of the moment, scaring the pets and old people, baring their chests and making animal noises.
    Everyone just smiles indulgently and makes ooh and ah noises. If I did that I’d end up locked away, drugged up to the eyeballs and, and being fed and looked after by young women in nylon uniforms. Hold on a moment…

  33. Robert Titzer? Wait, that’s the same doof Penn & Teller: Bullshit! picked on (Season 1, Episode 5). I loved that part of the episode when he tested the kids* to read. It was hilarious.

    Word “tiger”
    Response: “Ball!”

    Word: “ned”
    Response: “Flower.”

    Word: “clap”
    Response: “Truck.”

    * = they’ve been watching his tapes for 2 and a half years

  34. It probably doesn’t make a large difference if a baby reads early, though they tend to be more verbal and comfortable with books from then on, but you’re wrong in suggesting it doesn’t work. Titzer’s program teaches reading kind of like learning chords on a guitar before learning notes. The chords are syllables and the notes are letters. It’s an easier way to learn the guitar cause you can make music quickly, which is encouraging. Same with reading. The method works but it requires the parent sitting with their kid going over words and reading books to them and pointing to the words. It might be better to really know someone’s researched and tested program before you trash it in a post that takes you fifteen minutes to write.

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