Rudolph Flesch outraged the Educational Establishment in 1955 with his book Why Johnny Can’t Read. In it he exposed the scandalous failure of the “look say” method of reading instruction introduced in the 1930s by proponents of “progressive education.”
The book provoked quite a stir at the time, but nearly seven decades later, we are being told that 40-70% of US school children reach the fourth grade without mastering the vital skill of reading.
No excuse for sixty years of disfunction
If automobile or refrigerator manufacturers were to discover that a process they were using was turning out defective machines, I think they might be expected to find a solution to the problem in less than half a century. Yet professional educators entrusted with the intellectual development of millions of young human beings have been unable in the course of sixty-two years to figure out how to teach children to read as well as English-speaking children of earlier generations.
In 2023, as in 1955, ineffectual methods of beginning reading instruction dominate in the public schools. Professional reformers call for more effective instruction and professional educators bicker while American school children continue to fail to learn the most important academic skill of their lives.
As Shakespeare put it,
There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
Grades K-3 are the “full sea” on which children must learn the basics of reading, or join the ranks of the academically handicapped. Study habits acquired in the course of beginning reading instruction transfer to the acquisition of every subject.
Parents can’t afford to leave the most important part of their children’s education to schools that are failing to teach more than half of their beginning readers to read.