Because Latin letters were used for a language which was ill-suited to their pronunciation, the adaptation led to a mish-mash of spellings that took several hundred years to standardize. This occurred after the reign of James I largely as a result of the publication of the Authorised Version of the Bible in 1611. No longer could someone just learn the basic letters and translate them into the sounds of words. The same letter or letters could have different sounds and one sound could be represented by different letters. The method of teaching these many variations later came to be called the "phonics" system which is really an elaboration of the alphabetical system used by the ancients.  
              Teaching Reading - a History by Robert McCole Wilson

English has evolved a very complex system for spellings and it has been a challenge to educators since the 16th century. This problem of an alphabetic representation of English led to the development of phonics as an effort to specifically teach the complex relation between English sounds and spellings.
              Recent History of the Phonics Debates, Part II By William T. Stokes

The first person who was prominent in advocating the "natural" way of learning to read was the German, Friedrich Gedike (1754-1803). He felt the rote learning of meaningless letters led to slow pronunciation of uncomprehended words. The child should listen to songs and stories suited to his age, draw pictures, and exercise his imagination. By the time he was about ten he would learn to read easily by going from "wholes" to their parts, from books to their elements, words then letters.
               Teaching Reading - a History by Robert McCole Wilson

As early as the 1840s, Horace Mann and other reformers influenced by the work of European educators, advocated for a word method that would omit the drill and recitation associated with spelling and phonic approaches. Instead, emphasis would be placed on learning words with the aid of pictures, objects, sentences, and little stories.
               Recent History of the Phonics Debates, Part II By William T. Stokes

In his lectures and reports beginning in 1841, Mann attacked the alphabetic and syllabic methods of teaching reading as meaningless repetition of "skeleton-shaped ghosts." He pointed out, for example, that l- e- g, does not spell "leg" but "elegy". 
                Teaching Reading - a History by Robert McCole Wilson

The establishment of the normal school to train teachers at the same time Horace Mann was promoting the "new method" was not coincidental because these institutions became the vehicle by which to continue promoting the "new method." With the help of John Dewey at the University of Chicago, Arthur Gates at Columbia Teachers College, and the growing network of normal schools springing up around the country, direct, intensive, systematic phonics was debunked in favor of the whole word "look and say" way of teaching reading, with no research to support it.
                 Illiteracy: An Incurable Disease or Education Malpractice? by Robert W. Sweet, Jr.

They think I did it in twenty minutes. That d -- ned Cat in the Hat took nine months until I was satisfied. I did it for a textbook house and they sent me a word list. That was due to the Dewey revolt in the Twenties in which they threw out phonic reading and went to word recognition, as if you're reading Chinese pictographs instead of blending sounds of different letters. I think killing phonics was one of the greatest causes of illiteracy in the country. Anyway, they had it all worked out that a healthy child at the age of four can learn so many words in a week and that's all. So there were two hundred and twenty-three words to use in this book. I read the list three times and I almost went out of my head. I said, I'll read it once more and if I can find two words that rhyme that'll be the title of my book.  I found "cat" and "hat" and I said, "The title will be The Cat in the Hat."   
                 Dr. Seuss in an interview published in Arizona magazine in June 1981

Miller discovered that when preschoolers memorize as sight words the entire texts of such popular books as Dr. Seuss's The Cat in the Hat and Green Eggs and Ham, they develop a block against seeing the words phonetically and thus become "dyslexic." They become sight readers with a holistic reflex rather than phonetic readers with a phonetic reflex. A holistic reader looks at each word as a little picture, a configuration, much like a Chinese ideograph, and tries to think of the word it represents. A phonetic reader associates letters with sounds and sounds out the syllabic units which blend into an articulated word.

What we do know is that when you impose an inaccurate, subjective ideographic teaching technique on a phonetic-alphabetic writing system which demands accurate decoding, you create symbolic confusion, cognitive conflict, frustration and a learning breakdown. In addition, I strongly suspect that attention deficit disorder, otherwise known as ADD, is a form of behavioral disorganization created by a teaching disorganization. It is the symbolic confusion, cognitive conflict, learning blocks and frustration caused by holistic teaching methods that literally force children to react physically to what they instinctively know is harming them. They may not know exactly what it is the teacher is doing that is harming them. But they certainly know that they are being harmed. How? By the simple circumstances of their position.

If children they are taught to read holistically, mastering our alphabetically written words becomes a superhuman task. And because the teaching method seems to defy all logic and common sense, their minds react against such teaching just as their stomachs would if some sort of poison were eaten.
Dyslexia: The Man-Made Disease By Sam Blumenfeld

In the 1980s, the supposedly miraculous results of Marie Clay's Reading Recovery programme in New Zealand was an inspiration to those elsewhere who felt uncomfortable with or rejected what they saw as the repetitious, teacher-directed instruction broken up into separate packages of language arts. "Whole Language" became the new faith.

Advocates claimed it was more than a teaching method, but a philosophy. Reading should not be taught but acquired through the student actually reading real books, following as the teacher reads, using context, pictures and known words to understand even if every word is not familiar. Motivation rather than instruction would be the key, child-centred rather than teacher-directed. While phonics would be taught incidentally, teaching separate language skills (encoding, decoding, spelling) in isolation was rejected

The converts rejected any suggestion that it was just a revival of the look-and-say method. If meaning and motivation are present, the child will learn to read as naturally as to talk. Despite opposition from a few who said its success was unproven, its appeal was so seductive that many schools (such as California in 1987) and most teacher-training institutions embraced it.

Although some evidence was produced to support its effectiveness, methodology was subordinated to ideology.
                 Teaching Reading - a History by Robert McCole Wilson

... the theory and research which forms the underpinnings of the WL (whole language) techniques are primarily research around how fluent readers read, not around how kids learn to read. This is a crucial difference. Research that looks at word recognition strategies of fluent readers does not necessarily apply to beginners. For instance, a fluent reader will often recognize entire words at once, without sounding out words that have been committed to memory by virtue of having been read literally thousands of times. It does not follow, then that beginners should try to read whole words without sounding out words. Fluent readers don't need to sound out many words BECAUSE of the decoding they have done. It does not follow that decoding is not necessary to achieve whole-word recogntion.)
                   Constance Weaver: Facts on the Nature of Whole Language Education

Soon books constructed on a phonics basis were hard to find in schools, and new teachers had no grounding in how to teach phonics. But the explosion of "learning disabilities" mandated a costly industry of psychologists, special education teachers and reading specialists. How many students were genuinely disabled and how many were recruited to fill the need for clients is hard to say. Overall, the end results did not change.

In 1996 in response to voter demand, the California legislature decreed that phonics must be taught, closely followed by Texas and other states. The whole-language advocates retreated, but not very far. The fashionable word now is "balance" with the whole language people maintaining that they also teach phonics without abandoning the essentials of their method.
                   Teaching Reading - a History by Robert McCole Wilson

The ‘phonics’ people are right: we must learn to decode.  The ‘whole word/language’ people are right: humans are meaning oriented.  Their war was caused by the fact that they both took the code for granted – both camps assumed it couldn’t be changed.

Copyright 2001 - 2003: Training Wheels for Literacy & Implicity