Skip to comments.Why Johnny STILL Can't Read
Posted on 02/13/2011 4:44:10 AM PST by IbJensen
-six years ago, in 1955 to be exact, the most significant book about American education was published and, with very good reason, caused quite a stir. It was written by Rudolf Flesch, who had come to America to escape the Nazis in Vienna, became highly fluent in English and got a Ph.D in English at Columbia University. The book was entitled Why Johnny Cant Read. It became a best-seller and rankled the entire education establishment. In it Flesch explained why so many children in American schools were having such a difficult time learning to read. He wrote:
The teaching of reading - -all over the United States, in all the schools, and in all the textbooks - -is totally wrong and flies in the face of all logic and common sense.
He then went on to explain how, in the 1930s, the professors of education changed the way reading was taught in American schools. They threw out the traditional alphabetic-phonics method, in which one learns how to sound out new words, and replaced it with a new sight, whole-word, or look-say method that teaches children to read English as if it were Chinese. He said that when you impose an ideographic teaching method on a phonetic reading and writing system you get dyslexia, or reading disability.
Fleschs book was the first salvo in the Reading War, which is still going on over a half a century later. The progressive educators, who had introduced the new reading programs, were not about to give up their crusade to use the schools to create a socialist America. Their view, as first stated by their leader John Dewey, was that traditional phonics produced independent, individualistic readers who could think for themselves, while the new whole-word approach produced readers dependent on the collective for meaning and interpretation and were thereby easier to collectivize and control. And anyone who has visited a public school lately will become aware of how socialistic the curriculum has become.
In this socialist crusade, behavioral psychology would play an important role. For example, Dr. Paul Witty, professor of education and director of the psycho-educational clinic at Northwestern University, was interviewed by Nations Schools in July 1955. Flesch had singled out the professor as one of the whole-word gurus. So the magazine prefaced the interview with this paragraph:
How does one tell a gullible public that it is being exploited by a biased writer as in the case with Rudolf Flesch and his book Why Johnny Cant Read? It will take time and patience for parents to learn that Mr. Flesch has mixed a few half-truths with prejudice to capitalize on two misconceptions. The first is his superficial notion as to what reading really is. The second is his misrepresentation as to how reading is taught.
By now we know exactly what the progressives mean by what reading really is. The word method is now called Whole Language, and in 1991 three Whole Language professors wrote a book, Whole Language: Whats the Difference?, in which they defined what they mean by reading. They wrote:
From a whole language perspective, reading (and language use in general) is a process of generating hypotheses in a meaning-making transaction in a sociohistorical context. As a transactional process reading is not a matter of getting the meaning from text, as if that meaning were in the text waiting to be decoded by the reader. Rather, reading is a matter of readers using the cues print provide and the knowledge they bring with them to construct a unique interpretation. This view of reading implies that there is no single correct meaning for a given text, only plausible meanings.
This is the kind of pedagogical insanity that now reigns in our colleges of education and has filtered down to the classroom teacher. Most parents assume that our educators are sane human beings who use common sense in their classrooms. Unfortunately, few if any parents have access to the writings of these so-called professors of education, and so are totally ignorant of the kind of crackpots who are educating their children.
Of course, back in 1955, the educators had every reason to denounce Rudolf Flesch because he put in jeopardy all of the new programs that were created to deal with the reading problems children were having as a result of the new teaching methods. An article in the May 1953 issue of High Points had described the new world of remedial reading which had come into existence:
Nearly every university in the United States now operates a reading clinic staffed by psychiatrists, psychologists, and trained reading technicians, and equipped with novel mechanical devices such as the metronoscope, the ophthalmograph, and the reading rate accelerator . In addition, an entirely new professional group of private practitioners has arisen, whose specialized training in the field justifies their hanging out their shingles as reading counselors and rating large fees for consultation and remedial treatment.
So in addition to the education establishment and the new basal textbooks they wrote promoting the new teaching method, a whole new field of psychological therapy had developed to take care of childrens reading problems. Indeed, as early as 1944, Life magazine was writing articles about the epidemic of dyslexia among American children. The article stated:
Millions of children in the U.S. suffer from dyslexia which is the medical term for reading difficulties. It is responsible for about 70% of the school failures in the 6- to 12-year-age group, and handicaps about 15% of all grade-school children. Dyslexia may stem from a variety of physical ailments or combination of them- glandular imbalance, heart disease, eye or ear trouble or from a deep-seated psychological disturbance that blocks a childs ability to learn. It has little or nothing to do with intelligence and is usually curable.
The article then went on to describe the case of a little girl with an I.Q. of 118 who was being examined at the Dyslexia Institute of Northwestern University. After her tests, the doctors concluded that the little girl needed thyroid treatments, removal of tonsils and adenoids, exercises to strengthen her eye muscles. No one suggested teaching her to read with phonics.
No wonder Fleschs book hit a sensitive nerve among the educators, psychiatrists, psychologists and reading specialists. They all had an economic stake in the continued use of teaching methods that produced these thousands of affected children.
The result of Fleschs book is that it awakened many parents who then began to teach their children to read at home. But the public schools continued to use the teaching method that continued to produce reading disability. And by now the full story of the deliberate dumbing down of the American people has been fully documented by such books as Charlotte Iserbyts the deliberate dumbing down of America and John Taylor Gattos monumental, The Underground History of American Education.
And yet most American parents continue to put their children in the government schools where the dumbing down curriculum is still in place and does its job of destroying their childrens ability to become good readers and successful human beings. And yet, the idea of reforming the public schools still resonates among the public who constantly approve of the governments efforts of reform by throwing billions of dollars at the educators.
But Flesch knew how difficult the job of reform would be. He wrote:
Its a foolproof system all right. Every grade-school teacher in the country has to go to a teachers college or school of education; every teachers college gives at least one course on how to teach reading; every course on how to teach reading is based on a textbook; every one of those textbooks is written by one of the high priests of the word method. In the old days it was impossible to keep a good teacher from following her own common sense and practical knowledge; today the phonetic system of teaching reading is kept out of our schools as effectively as if we had a dictatorship with an all-powerful Ministry of Education.
And the situation today is about the same as it was back in Fleschs day. My contacts in the teaching field tell me that not much has changed since 1955, despite the fact that many books have been published since then corroborating Fleschs findings. But it seems that only the homeschoolers have bothered to read them.
Back in the 1970s when I became aware of what was going on in the schools, I decided to write a phonics reading program that could easily be used by any parent to teach their child to read at home. I eliminated the use of any pictures and simply taught the student our English alphabetic system in a rational, systematic way. Its title is Alpha-Phonics. By now it has been used by thousands of homeschooling parents quite successfully, proving beyond any doubt that we can restore high literacy to this country if the will to do so is there. Unfortunately, it isnt among the educational establishment.
Meanwhile, just about everyone who reads a newspaper knows that we still have a severe reading problem, which is not helping our country compete with all of those students learning English in China, South Korea, Japan, and India.. Indeed, the National Endowment for the Arts was so concerned about our declining literacy that they conducted their own survey which was released in November of 2007 entitled Reading at Risk.
According to the Report, the number of 17-year-olds who never read for pleasure increased from 9 percent in 1984 to 19 percent in 2004. About half of Americans between the ages of 18 and 24 never read books for pleasure.
Endowment Chairman Dana Gioia stated: This is a massive social problem. We are losing the majority of the new generation. They will not achieve anything close to their potential because of poor reading. The survey found that only a third of high school seniors read at a proficient level. And proficiency is not a high standard, said Gioia. Were not asking them to be able to read Proust in the original. Were talking about reading the daily newspaper.
Well, as you can imagine the Report had as much influence on our educators as Fleschs book of 1955. By the way, Flesch wrote a new book in 1983, Why Johnny Still Cant Read. That book was totally ignored by the educators, who had so completely solidified their control over reading in the schools, that they couldnt have cared less about what Flesch had to say in his new book.
Apparently he can't do math either...
Granted you have to have phonics but we need a real alphabet for English; we don’t have one at present. Things like the German joke about English spelling involving the word “photi” which is pronounced “fish” should not be possible. I would say offhand that Russian is about 95% phonetic, German about 99%, and English about 60% at best.
Theirs know way there learning they’re alphabet.
Phonics is a learning tool only, like training wheels. Taking in whole sentences at a glance is the end state of the highly literate. Many people who are ‘eulexic’ skip the phonics part almost entirely, and jump to the end state.
The mistake is the supposition that if some people can do this, everyone can.
Johnny still can’t read and everyone will try another “one-size-fits-all” , liberal approach.
Every human learns differently. We are individuals who come from different backgrounds and different genes.
One program solutions stem from big gov’’t thinking.
No wonder so many consider our Constitution a "living, beathing document" while foundering in a self-made world of moral relativism.
Simple solution: cut 100% of Federal funding for “teacher’s colleges”.
I’ve always found it to be interesting that we’re able to recognize misspelled words and read over them as if nothing is wrong.
“...cannot make change without a computerized cash register to do the math for him...”
A couple years ago I bought lunch at a fast food place. The power went out when it was my turn to pay. The very young boy behind the register didn’t skip a beat and counted out perfect change — something I hadn’t seen done in decades, even by adults. I praised him and asked why he was so good at it and he said that was part of the arithmetic class at the Christian school he attended in town. The other kids nearby watched like it was a magic trick or something.
That is the best article I’ve read on Free Republic since I’ve been here. Thanks for posting it.
It’s no joke, either.
When I was in school, in first grade I was placed in the “lowest reader” class. My parents were furious; I learned to read at 3 yrs old, and entered kindergarden at age four. They marched into that school and demanded a comprehensive reading test be administered to me. I was already reading at a 3rd grade level because my parents taught me phonics.
Things haven’t changed much, either. I went through this with my own son.
Same ol’ shit....even though he has mild Tourette’s Syndrome, I taught him to read....early. I got the same crap that my parents did, and I reacted the same way; I demanded a comprehensive test. In sixth grade, my son was reading at a college sophomore level, exactly the same level I read at HIS age.
This “dumbing down” of kids is intentional, as is the trying to convince parents that their kids are dumb, is.
Again, thanks for posting the piece.
Johnny can’t read, but Johnny CAN:
1) Discuss his feelings
2) Celebrate diversity
3) Engage in Multiculturalism
4) Accept that Jane has two Moms
5) reproduce like a rabbit
6) Understands that Islam his a peaceful religion
7) Knows that rich white men exploit the American worker.
8) Name every winner of American Idol
9) Exhibit white guilt
10) All the worlds problems are because of America
11) Knows that Sarah Palin can see Russia from her home but could find Alaska on a map
12) GW Bush was a evil man
The key to learning how to read is to...read. I think the turning point for me was a teacher I had in the 4th grade. Instead of forcing the class to all read the same thing, she let us read anything from the school library or what we brought from home.
Made all the difference. Instead of reading as a chore, as part of school, I found myself reading for fun. Sure, I initially chose to read Hardy Boys novels and MAD magazine, but quickly progressed from there to science fiction, non-fiction and then even literature so when I got into the later grades, I had usually already read what was being assigned to the class.
To your point, at least two of them are too learning their alphabet.
I’m a 3rd teacher. Johnny can’t read because there is no cohesive family anymore. There is no one at home who will talk to their children anymore. There are no books in the homes anymore. The vocabulary of the typical student these days is pathetic. We had a little girl in kindergarten the other day who couldn’t tell the teacher what a picture of a tree was. These kids have no life experiences . They have no common sense. They are living in an environment that is full of drugs, sex, poverty, and so on. The government has created an entitlement hell.
A lot of this article is true about phonics, but I never learned phonics until I began to teach. We have tried to fix reading so much that we are screwing it up even more. Any little problem and they try to label it as a deficiency. A majority of the problems could be turned around with a little help from Mom and Dad.
True. Three of my sons have been able to read with great fluency at three years old. One started learning Greek when he was 4. The variations among people are infinite, which is why the factory model of schooling is a failure at producing anything beyond basic functionality (and in this country, a failure at that, too).
Hell, the librarian at my sons elementary school would not let him check out certain books, because she said he could not read. He was in the first grade reading at the fifth grade level. At the first conference, I told the teacher to allow him to check out any book he damn well pleases. The teached said he could not read. I told her he started reading at 3 years old, and was reading me bedtime stories by the time he was 5. She just stated he could not read. He may recognize some words, but he could not read. I called my son in from the hallway. I then went to the teachers desk, grabbed the daily teachers memo, handed it to my son, and told him to read the second paragraph, out loud. He did, word for word. Then, I asked him to explain what he had just read. He did. I told him good job, and to go back out into the hallway. When I looked at the teacher, she looked me right in the eye and said, “ He cannot read.”.....
Apparently he can't do math either...
As sometimes happens when doing a copy-and-paste, the first word of the article was cut off. The article starts the sentence like this:
"Fifty-six years ago, in 1955 to be exact..."
"The plan of the book enables the teacher to pursue the Phonic Method, the Word Method, the Alphabet Method, or any combination of these methods."
Beyond the Primer are six (6) Readers, one of the last offerings in the sixth reader is A Definite Aim in Reading by Noah Porter (1811-1892, from Farmington, CT).
For those interested, the McGuffey Cat - a stuffed toy animal - having a butterfly on its nose was often seen to accompany this set of books.
I remember when I learned to enjoy reading, and it was whn we were assigned “The Martian Chronicles” by Ray Bradbury. What an exciting thing to open up cpmpletely new worlds in your imagination? I then went week after week to the school library until I had read every Bradbury book they had...”R is for Rocket” “S is for Space” “Something Wicked This Way Comes”, all of them. After Bradbury I moved on to Asimov, Niven, and Heinlein and never looked back.
Kudos to the teacher who exposed me to science fiction.
Ive always found it to be interesting that were able to recognize misspelled words and read over them as if nothing is wrong.
= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =
Agreed, plus lack of punctuation AND the butchering of headlines etc.
One gets ‘tired’ of pointing them out and you also get labeled as being picky etc....
Sometimes it ‘hurts my eyes’ to read what is posted....
I learned to read by the phonics method, in the classroom and at home where my mother was a teacher and elementary principal who’d always taught the phonics method.
I’ve yet to read a description of the “whole language” approach that makes any sense. All it seems to be is memorization, or kids just learn to memorize “whole” words rather than being able to look at the letters and syllables that make up the word, and then pronounce and discern the meaning or new words, or use a dictionary.
Of course, once a kid has looked at the letters and syllables and learned a new word, I guess they read the words they’ve learned on a “whole word” basis afterward. But being able to look at the letters and syllables that make up a word seems like a far superior method of learning to read and spell, and to learn news words throughout life.
He meant 60 years ago in 1955.
This was a great article. I recall my parents had the book in the home when I was a child.
Thank you for posting this interesting and informative article.
The goal of almost every college professor is tenure - aka near absolute job security that continues until you want to retire. A family example is my Uncle who wrote a text book in the mid 1970s at age 40ish, gained tenure, and is still teaching at 72. Most, if not all of this is based on that 1976 era text book and its reprints.
To gain tenure you have to publish. This normally means text books. Since you have your textbook on the subject you are teaching all of your students have to buy your textbook. At 20-50 students a session, 2-3 sessions a year, this gets into some real money after a decade or three.
So what happens to this market logic if you don't come up with something new every generation or so?
There is no money or tenure in teaching something cast in concrete - see the collapse of the classical (Greek and Latin) based programs in our university systems along with the explosive growth in gender/racial based programs.
don’t schools get extra $$/grants/aid/tax money for “special” programs for kids? I’d say follow the money when it comes to schools...they probably have a certain percentage that they must reach in order to get more $$$$$ “for the children”.
Cincinnati Public Schools calendar...the February page says, “We Practice the 3 R’s...reduce, reuse, recycle”...children in photo holding a green globe. Wonder why Johnny can’t read? Our tax money is spent on these 3 R’s training them to be green nazis and the 4th R, feel good anytime about reproduction.
As almost always, Donald Trump is Right on the money!
Schools has been used to create social illiterates for America. The result being now you do have an illiterate President among a flawed Congress.
The solution is simple, END FEDERAL SCHOOLING SYSTEM (DOE), and give parents the right to choose for their children.
Send all this commies under disguise teachers to serve gas stations!
I attended a Catholic school. We had alphabet letters with lower case and caps all the way around the room. Also had pictures, A is for apple, B is for banana etc. It was painless learning. Every afternoon the nun would read to us, usually from some children’s storybook...it made us want to read our own storybooks. It was joy to learn in that atmosphere. No stress, just enthusiasm and a desire to learn faster and read more. And so very simple.
I started reading well before Kindergarten (1956) also. One day in class, one of the kids told me I couldn’t read. So I picked up a book and began reading to the other kids to prove I could read. The teacher saw me. Well, it ended up that my parents tried to get the school to let me “skip” a grade. I spent a lot of time reading to the principal, doing math, etc. Although I was learning at a higher level (I don’t know what level) they would not let me skip a grade simply because of my “age.” However, what they DID do, was call me in to read to the classes whenever the teachers had to leave the room for some reason. That happened all the way through the 6th grade. I would be asked to leave my classroom and go to another and read to the class. They actually used my skills for their benefit, but wouldn’t let me move forward because of my “age.”
I had a similar experience with my daughter back in the early 70s.
I/we had taught her to read prior to kindergarten.
We went to 'Meet the Teacher' night just before the start of my daughter entering kindergarten. I told the teacher, rather proudly, that Jeanette knew how to read. She jumped me with both barrels, accusing me of using the wrong method and my daughter woud be ruined for life.
That's when I knew gov. education was in the toilet.
My daughter was in honors classes throughout.
But even there the curriculum sucked.
My daughter would bring home papers in science , for instance, with poor capitalization, punctuation. But they were graded 'A'. When I pointed out the mistakes she told me in Science class punctuation, etc. was ignored. Only English class graded on it.
Then there was New Math. Another totally worthless endeavor.
One of the problems is these 'educators' trying to justify their jobs by thinking up new ways to teach.
Then there's discipline, no family unit, uneducated parents. The list is long but the first step is Get rid of the Dept. of Education.
It's pretty simple stuff and the best way for kids to learn how to read. This "historical context of words" bullsh*t that these wacko teachers spout is EXACTLY why Johnny not only can't read but has absolutely no interest in doing so.
How DARE you!!! Just who do you think you are? ;-)
I have another thought to share...
If Americans can´t read, they ought to relay on TV or Films for information, and this is the COMMUNIST PROPAGANDA PARADISE!
When I was eight, I was rounded up by one of the staff at my hometown's Carnegie Public Library and "charged with:
1. leaving the juvenile section that occupied the basement
2. having the nerve to try and check out William L. Shirer's "Rise and Fall of the Third Reich"
3. thwarting an impromptu "literacy test" by reading a line from the book at random.
It took the intervention of my mother (who had taught me to read phonetically despite her being a teacher in the public schools) to eventually obtain the book, and the woman at the desk was adamant that it would be checked out to my mom and NOT to me.
The episode did little more than confuse me, but it outraged mater.
As for me, I don't remember whether I learned by phonics or the look-say method. The school taught phonics-phonics-phonics, but I could read before first grade. Math had way too many of the new math "set theory" topics, but I do remember lots of addition and multiplication drills.
>>”-six years ago, in 1955 to be exact”
>Apparently he can’t do math either...
Really? You can’t extrapolate from the hyphen in front of the word “six”? I find that interesting.
I have not had that particular experience but have had similar ones where it seems you are talking to a machine that is programmed to stay quiet and calm until you finish speaking and then repeat the same phrase over and over. It truly is maddening. I have never understood how people can arrive at such a state.
My youngest is 29 next month, they said he was learning disabled in Math and reading....hubby wrote a simple math program for the old Commodore 64, electronic flash cards. Grades went from D’s to A’s in 6 weeks, a little of the board of education applied to increase Concentration.
Reading was my area...Dick and Jane style books, and a little of the board of education, and 6 weeks later grades were up to B’s. Had to teach CONCENTRATION before learning could begin.
Then when he hit 3rd grade the teacher stopped teaching the multiplication tables at 6 times.....she ran out of time. Again we ended up teaching him his math with electronic flash cards.
I’m assuming that in both instances you were dealing with the public school system?
As an aside, anyone who’s interested should read up on what’s happening in the DC public school system. Some teachers were fired because they couldn’t pass the tests they needed to pass in two years. Guess what? The teacher’s union got them reinstated - with back pay! LOL. Teacher’s unions are a big part of the problem. The whole system is loaded with incompetent, greedy fools who know how to scam a dollar from the taxpayer, but little else.
Take him out of that school asap.
Apparently you didn’t phinish the sintence. :)
John Dewey came along long before federal involvement in collectivist-socialist government schooling. Rudolf Flesch published his book in 1955. This is also long before federal involvement.
I have a question:
Where are the studies that **prove** children learn anything in Prussian-style, prison-like, socialist-modeled schools ( private or government). Hm? Where are the controlled studies?
I have asked this question many times over my years as a member of Free Republic. No “educator” has ever provided me with the studies or links that would show how much children actually learn in these socialist-modeled classrooms. I would think these controlled studies would be rather easy to create. Test the students before the class, an then a few hours later after the class.
The only thing Prussian-style, prison-like schools do is send home a curriculum for the parents and child to follow in the home. The real work of learning is done in the home!
If you know of a successfully educated institutionalized child, that child has enjoyed the **SAME** home environment as a successfully educated homeschooler! The parents of successfully educated institutionalized children and homeschoolers are BOTH homeschooling! In the case of institutionalized children it is called “afterschooling”.
If **ALL** of our collectivist government schools were shut down tight tomorrow, the **SAME** children who are being educated today would be educated tomorrow! Why?...
Answer: ...Because it is the **parents** ( who may get help from friends, neighbors, and relatives,) and the child himself who are doing the hard work of educating and learning, and this hard work is done OUTSIDE of the school.
My homeschooled children entered college at the ages of 13, 12, and 13. All finished all general required college courses and Calculus III by the age of 15. Two finished B.S. degrees in mathematics by the age of 18.
The two children who finished math degrees by the age of 18 were the youngest children ever admitted to our flag ship university. A full-page, full-color article was written about them in the university paper. My children have also been in the local paper, on occasion, as well. No “educator” has ever called us, contacted us, or in any way asked us how we, as a family, accomplished this. ( Yes, **NEVER**!) Plenty of homeschoolers have. Plenty of parents of successfully “afterschooled” institutionalized children have, as well.
junior high "Middle School" (I felt sooo cheated when they changed the school name from Jr High to middle school the very year I went there, depriving me of the social cachet of being in Junior HIGH SCHOOL! ) they gave us another reading test : We were to hand them a book, they'd point at a line, and we'd read it. The *&%$###@s wouldn't LET ME read from War and Peace, a book I'd already plowed through twice! I was forced to fall back on 1984 . :-(
When schools fail, blame the parents.
When parents “afterschool”, the schools take the credit.
He neglected that one of the biggest and most important American proponents of whole language was none other than Noam Chomsky.
As such, Chomsky has done more to “keep down” black Americans than anyone since Jefferson Davis.
When whole language was introduced into the US, black students, even in segregated schools, were almost on a par with white students in English proficiency, despite a large difference in prosperity and educational opportunity.
When whole language was introduced, white parents immediately reacted with things like hiring tutors, and white schools worked overtime to get failing students back on track. But black parents often did not have this luxury, nor were black schools as concerned about these setbacks.
So within 10 years, black English proficiency test scores plummeted, and soon dragged down the rest of their grades. This condemned them to lives of minimum wages and government dependency.
But due in large part to the advocacy of Chomsky, whole language became an article of faith with socialists, so despite voluminous evidence that it was an utter, total and complete failure, they still push for it in public schools.
To make matters worse, in the northwest they recently introduced the equivalent of whole language but for mathematics instruction. Within months it was an utter disaster, utterly rejected by parents, who had to spend a lot of money to get math tutors and special classes for their children, so they would not continue to fall behind their peers.
Importantly, from the onset, the arguments used by the socialists have been the same. First of all, that whole language had *not* failed at all, *despite* the objective statistics that demonstrated that it had failed.
Second, that “if” whole language failed because it had not been applied *extensively* enough—an obvious logical fallacy.
Third, that *if* whole language failed, it was only because it had been starved for funding, that throwing money at it would make it work.
And finally, their fourth argument was that whole language *would* have worked, but that it had been *sabotaged* by nefarious people, including teachers, parents and others, who either did not want the children to succeed with whole language, or who supported the evil and corrupt (capitalist?) system of phonics English language instruction.
In any event, the next time, and any time, you see a black American living in despair and poverty, stripped of his or her dignity and future, criminalized and institutionalized, your first thought should be about how there is a good chance that Noam Chomsky is responsible for their condition.
He truly is “The anti-Martin Luther King”.
Great article. I’m 68 and was reading ever since “when”, learned by phonics and my dear late Mom’s encouragement and instruction.
She would take me to a public library which I learned was an adventure, not a punishment. If I checked out a book beneath my reading level she would usually comment, “That’s nice but it seems a little too young for you”. This shamed me to keep striving, not fall back on a level I was comfortable with. Such is the power of parents.
The mistake is the supposition that if some people can do this, everyone can.
I'm a fan of phonics. I learned to read with phonics; my grandchildren are being homeschooled with phonics. But your comment intrigues me much. It suggests that phonetics and whole language should complement each other.
Outside of my day job I teach dance and I coach racewalking. In those domains we often talk about visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learning. Some people perform quite well when I simply say "do this" and demonstrate. Others need a description; most of those need me to break down the motion into its component parts. Some others need me to push an arm or leg into correct position.
Good teaching and coaching recognizes that different approaches may be indicated for different folks. Reading should not be excluded from that consideration.