WHY JOHNNY STILL CAN'T READ by Rudolf Flesch
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WHY JOHNNY STILL CAN'T READ

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KIRKUS REVIEW

If only schools would shape up and start teaching reading correctly--phonics-first, as Flesch recommended in 1955--SAT scores would rise, reading failures would be eliminated, the world would be a better place to live. Still, Flesch isn't all wrong. Here he first uses studies (ancient and modern), letters from converts (teachers and students, old and young), and statistics (some he compiled of an afternoon--e.g., English is 97.4 percent phonetically ""decodable"") to make the same old case. But he's found a new format: to challenge the ""Ten Alibis"" that school personnel are most likely to mutter when asked why they use one of the ""Dismal Dozen"" look-say readers. They range, with Flesch's rebuttals, from: ""Everything is Hunky-Dory"" (even though National Assessment data shows that nearly 25 percent of high school seniors can't read simple directions) to ""No One Method is Best"" (although research does not support the instructional model that advocates matching learning materials to children's auditory or visual strengths or weaknesses), and ""Too Much TV"" (indeed, the repetition of commercials was found to have been one four-year-old reader's only source of instruction), Flesch's is not above ridicule, or quoting out of context;and he pulls out all the stops in damning the ""cottage industry"" of textbook publishers and teacher-trainers. In the midst of the rhetoric, however, there are important messages for parents and teachers: don't be quick to blame the victim, or to accept the ""expert's"" opinion that a child ""isn't ready"" (Montessori advocates teaching reading at four) or that he or she is disabled. (""Dyslexia?"" said Siegfried Engelmann, a developer of the DISTAR reading program to Flesch, ""I call it dysteachia."") Those with an investment in non-phonic approaches--the International Reading Association, special education teachers, text-book publishers, among others, according to Flesch--will surely continue to find the phonics solution too easy, if not downright wrong, and so that battle will rage on . . . . But about a third of what Flesch has to Say is worth anyone's time.

Pub Date: May 20th, 1981
Publisher: Harper & Row