Why Johnny Can't Read

How Public School Teachers Can Reverse the Educational Decline

By —— Bio and Archives--June 1, 2010

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The following plea—written 55 years ago and addressed to all the teachers of America—is still solid gold today:


“You are a grade-school teacher. I know that you are doing a conscientious job, that you work overtime for very little pay, that you love children and are proud of your profession. Aren’t you getting tired of being attacked and criticized all the time? Every second mother who comes in to talk to you tells you that she is dissatisfied, that her child doesn’t seem to learn anything, that you should do your job in a different way, that you don’t know your business. Why should you be the scapegoat? The educators in their teachers’ colleges and publishing offices think up all these fancy ideas, and you are on the firing line and have to take the consequences. Have another look at the system you are defending with so much effort. I know you are an intelligent young woman. You belong on the other side.”

Rudolf Flesch wrote this in his 1955 bestseller “Why Johnny Can’t Read.” If anyone doubts it, Flesch is The Man in American education. Look at how perfectly he nails this vicious trap.

Nonsense cascades down from on high. Teachers are supposed to work with the unworkable, to live with the pathological consequences of letting muck into the classroom.

Flesch perfectly sums it up: You Are Intelligent. You Belong On The Other Side. Please, come on over. Work to create real schools.

What would they look like? Simple. Every good school since the beginning of time has been more or less like all the others. Kids learn reading, writing, arithmetic, and geography, so they can move on quickly to history, science, literature, and the arts. It’s not rocket science.

Sure, there are ideologues at Teachers College who would like you to think that it is rocket science. Their scheme, evidently, is to entangle and impede education, to make it difficult and tedious; and them blame the bad results on everyone but themselves. They don’t deserve your respect. Here are some simple steps for coming over to the Other Side:

1) Recall that reading is half of everything. Good schools have always taught children to read in the first grade. Does yours? (To accomplish this, you probably already sense that your school will need to eliminate all vestiges of Whole Word. Teach the alphabet in K, and phonics in 1st grade. Children should be picking books to read in 2nd grade.)

2) The next most important goal is arithmetic. Reform Math causes much more pain than gain. Get rid of it. REAL math is the answer. (If some “expert” tells you that kids don’t need to know what 7 times 8 is, because they can use a calculator, you know you are talking to the problem.)

3) Knowledge is king, or should be! Public schools seem to do everything possible to discourage the actual acquisition of knowledge. Outwit this nonsense. Facts are fun. Knowledge is power.

4) Do not let them turn you into a facilitator. You are precisely the very thing they are most threatened by: a Sage on a Stage. That is your badge of honor and they want to take it away from you. They want to lock you into being an inferior teacher, diminished according to the dogmas of Self-Esteem, Cooperative Learning, Multiculturalism, Constructivism, Authentic Assessment, Portfolios, 21st Century skills and all the rest of the gimmicks.

5) Talk to teachers in private schools; find out what they are doing at the same grade level, and how they do it.

6) Talk to homeschooling parents. Find out why they are homeschooling, what their main complaints are, and what they are doing differently in their home schools.

7) Help the parents of your students to Take Back The School.

8) Read “A Letter To Johnny’s Teacher,” which is Chapter XI in “Why Johnny Can’t Read” (where the opening plea came from).

9) Read “31: Teacher Liberation Front,” an article on Improve-Education.org that develops many of the same themes.


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Bruce Deitrick Price -- Bio and Archives | Comments

Bruce Deitrick Price has been writing about education for 30 years. He is the founder of Improve-Education.org. His eighth book is “Saving K-12—What happened to our public schools? How do we fix them?” More aggressively than most, Price argues that America’s elite educators have deliberately aimed for mediocrity—low standards in public schools prove this. Support this writer on Patreon.

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