Do We Need Reform In Reading?

February 15 1955

Do We Need Reform In Reading?

February 15 1955

Do We Need Reform In Reading?


You are to be congratulated on the service given your readers by the excellent article, I Say Your Child Can’t Read, by Rudolf Flesch (Jan. 1). I taught in Ontario while the phonetic system was in use and am in a position to compare the product of this system with today’s. Today a child’s vocabulary is so limited he is unable to understand the most elementary English; the pathetic part is that he looks upon those who use good English as “squares.” Unfortunately this lack of education is not made up in later years and the student is handicapped when he enters university.

Teachers of music have complained that it is becoming impossible to teach specialized subjects such as music history owing to the student’s inability to grasp the meaning of the required textbooks. The writers of these books do not limit their vocabulary to that of Canadian scholars.

Notwithstanding these facts educators have the impertinence to call their system “progressive” instead of retrogressive as Dr. Flesch has pointed out. One is almost led to believe there is a deliberate plan to retard the progress of our children and reduce all to a mediocre level.—E. Macdonald, Vancouver.

• Thousands of readers will disagree with Flesch. My little boy (Grade 2,

age 7 and average intelligence) amazed the family one evening by reading from books he had never seen before. He read paragraphs of Flesch’s article, encountering little difficulty.—Clifford E. Edwards, Inspector of Schools, Bridgetown, N.S.

• I agree wholeheartedly with Dr. Flesch ... My own children attended school in England and were taught the phonetic method of reading. After three years in Canada they still read by this method, with the result that my youngest child, age eight, can read better than most neighborhood children up to eleven and twelve. My eldest daughter, eleven, can read more easily than many Canadian teen-agers. I intend to encourage them to read by this method to offset the retarding influence of the method taught in school . . . Our children are reasoning, thinking humans, not parrots.— Dennis Martin, Beamsville, Ont.

• Marian Harvie and Phyllis Todds, in their reply to Dr. Flesch, speak of English as “non-phonetic.” This is plain silly! I don’t suppose any language is absolutely phonetic. Welsh comes about as close to it as any I know . . . But English is fundamentally phonetic . . .

Another exaggeration is the statement “we have only twenty-six let-

ters to transmit about sixty different sounds.” Anybody who has studied shorthand phonetics knows that there are only forty-two: seven long pure

vowels, Pa, may we all go through {the) church?; six short vowels, that pen is not much good; four diphthongs, now you, my boy!; twenty-five consonants, P, B, T, D, chay, J, K, gay, F, V, ith, thee, S, Z, ish, zhee, M, N, ing, L, Ray, R, way, yay, hay, (W, Y, H).

With due allowance for slight nuances like the long A in hay and in hair, these are ALL the purely English sounds our alphabet is ever called on to represent.—Walter F. Harris, Red Deer, Alta.

• Children of pre-school age demand incident, variety, and some sort of logical sequence in the stories told them. If at school age the nauseating tripe illustrated by Dr. Flesch appeals

to them—and the Misses Harvie and Todds assure us it does—it is the most damning indictment of modern education that has yet come to my notice, and can only result in the rapid degeneracy of the national intelligence. —L. H. Neatby, ¿Wolfville, N.S.

• I say if your child can’t read, and has no physical disability, it is your fault as a parent. I speak from twenty years’ experience as a teacher-librarian and a member of every B. C. curriculum committee concerned with the

choice of library books and supplementary readers from 1929 to 1948.

In B. C. every child has access to the best books for children and young people. The committee on supplementary readers has always made a point of requiring plenty of poetry of the sort that appeals to the young. The repetitive primers of which Dr. Flesch complains are to the learning of reading what scales are to the study of music. In Vancouver schools, after four months in Grade 1, most children are reading and enjoying the gay and well-written books to be found in the library of

every primary classroom in the city.

Surveys among my library pupils (Grades 3 to 6) showed the two most popular books to be Little Women and Treasure Island. Studies over a period of years indicate a close co-ordination between the attitude of the home and the child’s reading ability . . . If there are good books in the home, if parents are fond of reading, and if they share their interests with their children then the children will become readers. If the home library consists of movie magazines, if the children never see their parents enjoying a good book,

then in all probability the children will never read well.—Mary Elizabeth Colman, Vancouver.

• Yours for a return to common sense. —Jack Sutherland, Hanna, Alta.

• Reading consultants Marian Harvie and Phyllis Todds are wrong. Children today do not read better. Their lack of reading ability is one more proof that our expensive new schools are failing to teach childi'en to think. It seems the more we pay our educator's the less we get in return.—R. G. Bell, Toronto.

• The problem of teaching children to read was solved in Scandinavia during the nineteenth century by a revision of the alphabet. Some useless letters were dropped, three new ones wex*e added and each letter assigned one clear distinct sound, always the same. As a result a child can read any wox'd as soon as it knows the alphabet. —Arthur Jensen, Kemptville, Ont.

• Let’s get back to the efficient phonic method.—John Wilford, Essex, Conn.

• Dr. Flesch has flattei'ed our word system by comparing it with Chinese. China has used a concise style and design of lexicology which has served thousands of years. We are attempting to apply twelve-letter wox’ds to their system. —James A. Fox-ster, Keoma, Alberta.

The Case for Oscar Wilde

A pat on the back for the article, Has Oscar Wilde’s Crime Been Redeemed?, by Beverley Baxter (Dec. 15). I hope this helps restore Wilde’s name to the eminence it deserves. When I tell people I am rereading Wilde they stare at me as if to say, “Why waste time on that salacious trash?” Oscar Wilde never penned a pornographic line in his life.

Wilde was the first playwright to write drama without sadism . . . His witty dialogue is a course in pure English and brilliant conversation. For me his Picture of Dorian Gray is the greatest novel ever written.—Lee Pritzker, Toronto.

• Into the trash can goes Dec. 15 London Letter. Would that its contributor were already there.—Wallis W. Scott, Windsor, Ont.

The Guaranteed Wage

Maclean’s shows a lack of responsibility in the editorial, The Guaranteed Wage Myth (Dec. 15) . . . It attempts to prove that the whole of labor is asking for a guaranteed annual wage. Such is not the case; the demand for the guaranteed annual wage has arisen in mass-production industries such as the automobile industry, to meet conditions peculiar to these industries. It hopes to overcome that condition whereby the employee might be working eight months of the year or seven days a week and be unemployed for the next four months. Such a condition does not apply to “the men who deliver milk to the kitchen doors.” All society is not in a position to need the guaranteed annual wage, so the consideration of it is not necessary on such a scale. —John Campbell, Windsor.

• The Guaranteed Wage Myth made me wonder and conclude that you are wrong. Whenever you see hopes for progress, don’t back up. You are accustomed to thinking that the people must always work for finance, ixxstead of finance working for the people. —M. W. Patterson, Lac La Biche, Alta.

• I hope your comment on workers having a vested interest in their jobs does not mean that you believe a worker should have the right to keep his job when he goes on strike. Unless it is accepted that at such a time the employer is free to hire others, if he can find them, then what we are accepting is the proposition that, once having hired a worker, an employer must meet that employee’s demands for increased pay or else go out of business. —R. Bruce Taylor, Toronto. ★