Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Classics of Conservatism - part IV

Click here for parts I, II and III.

This month's book recommendation is Why Johnny Can't Read by Rudolph Flesch.


Like most of the books I recommend, this one is older. But it is worth every minute spent on every page. This book is not simply about reading and the methods used to teach reading. The battle over reading methods serves as only one part of a larger struggle between the education establishment and the advocates of reform. The establishment's attempt to squelch phonics serves as a reminder of the failure not only of the public schools but of the entire leftist establishment that has so dominated our culture for decades.

For generations, phonics was the accepted method for teaching children to read. Flesch shows how the education establishment pushed phonics aside in the early part of the 20th century in favor of much more primitive methods. The results are painfully obvious to anyone who will look. Contrary to what modern educators will say, phonics is not just a recent fad. Anyone who has ever used McGuffey's readers knows this fact. Phonics is THE basis for reading. The modern "whole word" method merely gets in the way.

Because Flesch wrote in the pre-information age, it took almost twenty years for Flesch to gain substantial acceptance by the public. Reform came slowly in the 1970's and afterward. By the time of Flesch' death in the 1980's, he was noteworthy enough that his death was mentioned on CBS' "Sunday Morning."

Why Johnny Can't Read is not mere history. The battle continues to rage over reading, as the education establishment continues to seek ways to water down the phonics movement. Today, most modern educators will tell you that their program mixes phonics and "other" methods.

Flesch is to the modern phonics movement what Goldwater was to the conservative revolution.

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