About 4 million children will be entering first grade in the public
schools this fall. They all expect to be taught to read. After all, that’s
what school is all about. Some of these children will be better prepared
than others. Some of them will already know how to read because of having
been taught by their parents. Others will have had little or no previous
instruction in reading. And little do they know that, one year from the
beginning of school, they will be found to be “learning disabled,” or
“reading disabled,” or “dyslexic.”
Parents will be told that their child has a reading problem, that 30
percent of all children experience great difficulty in learning to read, and
that the only solution is special education or Ritalin. The latter is
prescribed because children experiencing great difficulty in learning to
read also become intensely frustrated and can make nuisances of themselves
in the classroom. So Ritalin is prescribed to enable the child to
concentrate better and sit still in the classroom.
What most parents don’t realize is that the reason why their child is
having a problem learning to read is because of the way he or she is being
taught. Faulty teaching methods can cause reading problems. We’ve known
that since 1955 when Rudolf Flesch wrote his famous book, “Why Johnny Can’t
Read.” In that book, Flesch wrote, “The teaching of reading — all over the
United States, in all the schools, in all the textbooks — is totally wrong
and flies in the face of all logic and common sense.”
He then explained how in the early 1930s the professors of education
changed the way reading was taught in American schools. They got rid of the
alphabetic-phonics method — which is the proper way to teach children to
read an alphabetic writing system — and put in its place a new whole-word,
look-say method that teaches children to read English as if it were Chinese,
an ideographic writing system. Flesch argued that when you impose an
ideographic teaching method on an alphabetic system, you create reading
So we’ve known the cause of our reading problem at least since 1955. Yet
our schools still insist on using a faulty whole-word methodology in our
schools. In the old days it was the Dick and Jane books that were used.
Today, the method is called whole-language. The only real difference is
that the Dick and Jane textbooks were dull and uninspiring, while today’s
whole-language teachers can use any reading books they want, including trade
books. But do the children learn any better?
Some of today’s adults who were taught with the Dick and Jane books can
read very well. And that’s because most of them were also taught phonics by
an older teacher who knew the importance of phonics in learning to read.
But today’s younger teachers, who never had any phonics training at all,
have bought the lie from their professors of education that 30 percent of
all children can’t learn to read because of something wrong with the
The simple truth is that virtually every child can learn to read if
properly taught with intensive, systematic phonics. In fact, most reading
problems can be avoided by teaching a child phonics at home before he or she
goes to school. But that phonics instruction has to be thorough enough so
that the child develops a phonetic reflex, that is, the ability to see the
phonetic structure of the word he or she is reading.
Why is that important? Because in today’s first-grade classrooms, where
whole-language is being used, children are being trained to develop a
“holistic reflex,” that is, they are being trained to automatically look at
each word in its whole configuration, like a Chinese character, and to
remember it on the basis of its shape, not its letter sounds.
When children develop this “holistic reflex,” they automatically become
dyslexic, because they cannot see the phonetic structure of the word, since
they have had little or no phonetic teaching. Can a parent know when a
child is being trained to develop a holistic reflex? Yes, very easily. If
your child is being told to memorize a sight vocabulary, that is, a set of
words without having been taught what the letters stand for, then you know
that your child is on the road to dyslexia.
Many parents think they are doing their child a great service by helping
him or her memorize a sight vocabulary. What they are actually doing is
helping their child become dyslexic. The definition of dyslexia is the
inability to see the phonetic structure of the words being read. Ours is an
alphabetic writing system. In other words, we use graphic symbols — we
call them letters — that stand for the irreducible sounds of the language.
Every spoken word can be written by using these symbols.
To teach a child to read phonetically, you first teach the child to
recognize the letters of the alphabet, then you drill the child on the
sounds the letters stand for with consonant-vowel combinations. For
hundreds of years this was done by having children repeat “ba, be, bi, bo,
bu,” or “ma, me, mi, mo, mu,” or “ab, eb, ib, ob, ub,” etc. The purpose of
the drill was to make sure that the child developed the needed phonetic
reflex. Once that was done, the child was then given simple words,
sentences, and little stories to read.
This was the method that created the high literacy of our founding
fathers, the men who wrote the Declaration of Independence. Back in those
days, biblical literacy was considered imperative, and therefore everyone
was taught to read either at home or at a dame’s school. Those little
alphabetic-phonics primers did the job extremely well.
If you want something similar to those old primers, get my book, “How to
Tutor.” Or get my Alpha-Phonics kit, which has audio tapes for parents who
never had phonics but want to teach their children to read phonetically.
The sorry truth is that today’s public schools cannot be trusted when it
comes to the teaching of reading. To avoid reading problems, dyslexia,
cognitive dysfunction, etc., you will have to do the job at home.
Fortunately, good teaching materials for parents are now available.
Samuel L. Blumenfeld is the author of several books and programs enabling
parents to teach their children to read at home: “How to Tutor” and
“Blumenfeld’s Alpha-Phonics.” To get “How to Tutor,” call 208-322-4440.
For “Alpha-Phonics,” call 888-922-3000.