On the Hazards of Teaching Reading

By:  Sam Blumenfeld
08/08/2012
       
On the Hazards of Teaching Reading

Recently, some friends of mine with a 4-year-old daughter decided to homeschool and asked for my advice on finding a good preschool program. They had attended the local homeschool convention and were overwhelmed by the plethora of different programs and were unable to decide which program was right for their daughter. So they asked for my opinion on the various programs, especially one they liked. They considered me to be the expert.

Recently, some friends of mine with a 4-year-old daughter decided to homeschool and asked for my advice on finding a good preschool program. They had attended the local homeschool convention and were overwhelmed by the plethora of different programs and were unable to decide which program was right for their daughter. So they asked for my opinion on the various programs, especially one they liked. They considered me to be the expert, particularly when it came to teaching children to read.

How did I become an expert in reading? It’s an interesting story. I first became aware that America had a reading problem back in the 1960s when an attorney friend came to my office at Grosset & Dunlap and asked me to become a member of the National Advisory Council of his newly formed Reading Reform Foundation. I asked him what the purpose of the Foundation was, and he explained that it was to get phonics back in the schools. I was quite surprised. When had phonics been taken out of the schools, I asked, and how could anyone possibly teach children to read without it? He recommended that I read Rudolf Flesch’s book, Why Johnny Can’t Read, which had been published in 1955. I read the book and became an active member of the Foundation. Flesch had written: "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."

And then he explained how the alphabetic phonics method — the proper way to teach children to read an alphabetic writing system —had been replaced by a look-say, whole-word method that required children to look at our alphabetic words as little pictures, and it was causing widespread reading disability.

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Sam Blumenfeld (photo)

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