July 2014

Why Johnny Can’t Read–a Book that Started a War

Why Johnny Can't Read book coverWhy Johnny Can’t Read–a Book that Started a War

Written by Sharon Hillestad, Director of Tutoring

Dr. William Gray, editor of the Dick and Jane reading books for elementary children, successfully squashed the teaching of phonics and the first scientific reading program, Let’s Read, in the 1940s (see previous blog post). The debate on what was the best way to teach reading moved out of academia and into the public arena because of Dr. Rudolf Flesch, a scholar, professor, and grandfather.

Rudolph Flesch knew that several children, including his own grandson, were having trouble learning to read. By interviewing teachers, visiting colleges and researching curriculum, he discovered the cause of reading difficulties. Colleges were training novice teachers not to teach phonics; experienced classroom teachers were being pressured to abandon teaching phonics; phonic curriculum was no longer available to teachers.

In 1955 he wrote a book, Why Johnny Can’t Read. In it, he described how children were being taught to memorize words. Teachers were not skilled in teaching students to sound out words and that this was causing a decline of literacy. Why Johnny Can’t Read was a best-selling book. The author received letters from teachers all over the country confirming his assertion that teachers could no longer teach all children to read. 

Kristen HarperWhy Johnny Can’t Read–a Book that Started a War
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