Why Some Do Not Read
MANY view reading as a chore. Why? For one thing, some never really learn to read while going to school. One 34-year-old woman said that whenever she looked at a printed page, all she saw was “jumbled-up stuff” that did not make any sense. At times, it would take her up to two minutes to read a sentence.
Not long ago, a high school graduate sued the San Francisco Unified School District for half a million dollars because it awarded him a high school diploma even though he was barely literate. According to the report, he was reading at a fifth- or sixth-grade level when he received his diploma. As a result, when applying for jobs, he found himself incapable of properly handling the application forms. How could this happen?
Diverse Methods of Instruction
Unfortunately, certain methods of reading education seem to have proved seriously defective. In recent years, much criticism has been launched against the “see and say” method. This method teaches students to recognize whole words without being able to pronounce the individual syllables and letters that make them up. The main objection to this method is that it produces readers who guess at words, who are poor at pronouncing new words, and who read inaccurately because they confuse similar-looking words.
To illustrate: In his book Why Johnny Still Can’t Read, author Rudolf Flesch reprinted a letter he received from a woman who described herself as a victim of the “see and say” method. She said: “We could look at the pictures, for example an apple. The teacher would tell us to remember the word apple because it had two P’s in it. This meant that every time I saw a word with two P’s in it, I thought it said apple.”
It is estimated that the “see and say” method enables a child to recognize only about 350 words at the end of the first grade. By the end of the second grade he can recognize about 1,100 more words, another 1,200 by the end of the third grade, and an additional 1,550 by the end of the fourth grade. That represents a total of 4,200 words in the child’s vocabulary.
By contrast, it has been estimated that children who are taught reading by the “phonics first” method can expect to learn up to 40,000 words by the end of their fourth year of elementary schooling. “Phonics” means “of vocal sounds,” and in the phonic method the student is taught not merely what the letters are called but also how they sound in a word. First the vowel sounds are learned and then the consonants. Thereafter, the two are combined into two-, three-, or four-letter combinations to form words, then phrases, and finally sentences. (See Awake! of July 8, 1967, pages 12-16.) Independent testing seems to support the “phonics first” method of reading instruction in primary grades.
To complicate matters further, however, some teachers may view negatively the learning capacity of their students. One expert stated: “Whether children are ‘advantaged’ or ‘disadvantaged,’ black or white, rich or poor, does not have anything to do with how successfully children learn to read. Based on my professional experiences, such statements are only excuses for not teaching children to read.”—Italics ours.
Other Factors Affect Reading
Television is cited as another reason why people do not read. It has been estimated that a person in the United States who lives to be 70 will have watched 70,000 hours of television in his lifetime, second only to the time spent working and sleeping! TV Guide reports: “An increasing body of scientific evidence attests to the incompatibility of heavy TV viewing and mastery of the basic skills of reading and writing for the beginning elementary-school child. Studies . . . suggest that even children who come from backgrounds where reading is valued but who are also allowed to watch a lot of TV are highly vulnerable to reading difficulties.”
Still other factors bear directly on a person’s ability to develop good reading skills. “A child whose eyes are not functioning properly may suffer from headaches, eyestrain, nervous tension, and other ailments which may make reading a very unpleasant activity.” In regular classes, however, often little attention is given to such pupils.—Diagnostic and Remedial Teaching, page 49.
Hearing defects are at times a factor. Partly deaf children would naturally be handicapped in classes where phonetic methods of teaching are employed.
Emotional factors play a significant role as well. For example, “a child who has met with initial failure in reading frequently develops an emotional attitude toward reading which hinders further progress,” says one authority, adding: “The sight of a book or the mention of the word reading has been known to cause certain individuals to become tense and uncomfortable.” Also, the environment of a broken home, insecurity in the home, or neurotic parents can often have an effect upon a child’s progress in reading.
Most significant of all factors affecting a poor reader is his failure to read. The point is that no one has ever learned to read without reading. Often, such failure to read has its roots in one or more of the physical or emotional factors already discussed.
Whatever the reason for an individual’s reading handicap, a genuine effort to overcome it will, in time, produce some results. Next, we will offer suggestions that may help.
[Picture on page 5]
Children who are allowed to watch too much TV are highly vulnerable to reading difficulties