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Why Johnny Can’t Read – And What You Can Do About It

This book, written in 1955 by author, readability expert and writing consultant Rudolf Flesch, is all about phonics, which is the method recommended by the U.S. Department of Education for teaching children to read. Why Johnny Can’t Read and What You Can Do About It contains all the materials and instructions anyone would need to teach a child to read at home.  The book, which was reissued in 1986, also serves as an exposé on the American education system’s failure to properly teach this method to so many children over the years.

In the 1950s, Rudolf Flesch began tutoring a boy named Johnny who was held back in sixth grade because he had such weak reading skills. Once Flesch began working with Johnny, he realized that at age twelve this child still struggled to understand even some of the simplest words. The reason for this was that Johnny had not been instructed using phonics, which teaches children how to sound out or “decode” words. Once Johnny was introduced to phonics, he began to excel at reading.

Phonics is also referred to as the “foundational skills” of reading because while children could learn to read books in kindergarten or first grade by memorizing words, that will not help them once they get older and are assigned more challenging reading materials. So often the negative impact from lack of phonics instruction doesn’t become apparent until the child gets a bit older and is faced with these more complicated reading assignments. The scientific community stands by phonics as the best way to teach children to read. There have been movements to ensure it is used in schools, but as the book reveals, enforcing it has been a whole different story.

About the Author

Rudolf Flesch is an Austrian-born American author, readability expert and writing consultant.  He was a major advocate for plain English and the use of phonics rather than sight reading to teach children in the United States. He created the Flesch Reading Ease tests, and was co-creator of the Flesch-Kincaid readability tests.

Flesch is probably known best for Why Johnny Can’t Read: And What You Can Do About It.  His other books include How to Test Readability (1951), How to Write Better (1951), The Art of Clear Thinking (1951), The ABC of Style: A Guide to Plain English (1964), and How to Write Plain English: A Book for Lawyers and Consumers.