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.
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