From The VG Bookshelf: Why Johnny Can’t Read
From The VG Bookshelf: Why Johnny Can’t Read
The subject of the book from the VG Bookshelf this week is literacy. I am not reviewing the book “Why Johnny Can’t Read”. I am issuing a clarion call for parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles and anyone else who wants an educated populace in the United States of America. Of the famous three “R’s”, reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmatic, reading is first because everything else flows from reading. If a child cannot read, that child is doomed to intellectual slavery.
The book “Why Johnny Can’t Read and what you can do about it” was first published in 1955 shortly after the author Rudolf Flesch received his Ph.D from Columbia Teachers College. Flesch was a proponent of both literacy and clear writing. From his New York Times obituary:
Among his targets were ”Federalese,” the language of bureacrats, and ”gobbledygook,” a description of meaninglessness.
Tests on Government material, he said, furnished ”objective evidence that the mass of Government writing is incomprehensible not only to the average American, with his eighth-grade education, but also to the better-educated Government employee.”
Good thing Flesch died in 1986, the government writing has gotten so much worse, it would kill him.
So why should you click on Amazon immediately and order a sixty-four year old book? Because the truth is the truth. Johnny still can’t read and we are spending a metric shit ton (technical term) of money to make sure that Johnny or Jilly stays functionally illiterate.
Here is the 411 from the book:
Before 1920, there were no remedial reading programs in United States schools. Pretty much there still are no remedial reading programs in industrial countries that use alphabetic languages today. France, Germany, Switzerland, Laos. For reference, the Chinese written language has a word symbol rather than an alphabet. Why do we need remedial reading programs today? Because a bunch of geniuses decided that learning phonics and other rote learning was “heartless drudgery” and invented the whole word or “look-say” method of teaching reading. The geniuses didn’t ask teachers.
What is phonics? From PBS.org:
Learning phonics will help your children learn to read and spell. Written language can be compared to a code, so knowing the sounds of letters and letter combinations will help your child decode words as he reads. Knowing phonics will also help your child know which letters to use as he writes words.
You can’t break the code, if you don’t know the code. In “Why Johnny Can’t Read”, Flesch compares learning to read phonetically to learning American Shorthand, Braille or Morse Code. You learn to understand each symbol before you can made whole words, right? You learn to write the symbols and the sounds they stand for in each word.
What is the whole word or “look-say” method of reading? From Teaching Treasures:
With the ‘look and say’ method children learn to recognize whole words or sentences rather than individual sounds. Your student will look at a word which you sound, and in turn will repeat the sound (the word). Flashcards with individual words written on them are used for this method often accompanied with a related picture.
If you don’t use a picture with the word the child will probably make a wild guess as to what it says trying to remember what sound you made previously. This is not a good method if you don’t include pictures.
If you think about the fact that there are nearly 200,000 words in the English language. The “look-say” method doesn’t make sense. If you learned a foreign language or shorthand in school, did you learn the letters and letter groups and their sounds first, or did you learn the whole word?
Which is easier? Flashcards with 200,000 words. Or, 200 letter and letter groups that stand for 44 sounds. No contest. And, then there is context and comprehension and I could go on for hours. Sorry, not sorry. Learning phonics is a really huge building block for raising a literate adult.
Learning that individual letters make certain sounds is the first step. This video might be appropriate for your two or three year old.
There are great phonics computer programs like Reader Rabbit. I personally used Reader Rabbit to teach my son Phonics from ages three to six in the 1990’s. If you are a more patient and enterprising parent than I was, Rudolf Flesch included 72 exercises and review at the back of “Why Johnny Can’t Read”. For the price of a paperback, you get an educational tool that will insure that your child reads, write and comprehends.
Language, communication, history and everything else that makes us competent history begins with learning to read. I am begging you buy this book and use it.
Photo Composite: Darleen Click for Victory Girls