When people ask me, what is the most fulfilling thing I've done
in my whole life, I answer -- teaching my six children to read
before they entered school. Our family got a bigger
return for the time I spent on that activity than anything else I
ever did. I urge you, and your family and friends, to do
The school is the wrong place to learn how to read, anyway,
because reading is a solitary, not a group, activity. Reading is
not something you do with other people, like playing ball;
reading is something you do with a book, and other people in the
room are a bad distraction.
Reading is a skill you have to learn to do by yourself (with the
help of an adult), like learning how to walk, or ride a bike, or
play the piano. Did you ever hear of anyone lining up a bunch of
children at pianos and saying, Now we are all going to learn how
to play "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star" at the same time?
When reading is taught in a classroom, most of the children spend
most of their time doing "busy work" to fill up the hours. The
days are so long, the repetition is so boring, the books are so
stupid, the progress is so slow that so many children, who were
eager to learn at the start of the first grade, become bored and
disorderly by the end of the first year in school.
This is especially true of little boys who simply are not ready
to sit quietly at a desk and do neat work at age five or six.
Forcing little boys into a structured classroom environment, and
expecting them to be quiet like little girls, is the reason why,
a few years later, boys outnumber girls 13 to 1 in learning
failure classes and 8 to 1 among the emotionally disturbed. You
can avoid this tragedy by teaching your children to read at home.
It is terribly important that your child be taught to read by the
correct method before he is taught bad habits such as
pretending to read by looking at pictures and guessing at
the words. Your children and grandchildren can avoid all those
bad habits, and the disappointments that result, if you teach
your child to read at home.
You can set your children and grandchildren on the track
to a good education, so they can read well enough to get a good
job and then progress in a career . . . be able to read for
enjoyment and entertainment . . . be able to read the great and
inspiring works of literature written in the English language . .
. and have horizons of opportunity expanded by reading about the
noble deeds of great Americans of achievement.
Most parents work hard to provide their children with the
material things of life. Many parents work hard to provide their
children with the spiritual things of life -- faith in God, moral
training, and good and healthy habits. There is something else
you can do for your child that is important to both of these
goals -- because it's the key to what your child will be able to
do on his own. You can teach your child to read.
Why should you? Aren't you paying the schools to teach your
child to read? Yes, you are paying for public schools at the
rate of $5,000 per child per year, but you and your neighbors are
not getting your money's worth. You should not think that your
children are good readers just because they get good report
cards. It's now the fashion to give all schoolchildren happy
report cards in order to build their self-esteem.
Even most of those who graduate from high school and go on to
college, do not read well enough to enjoy it or to read anything
important. This was pointed out by Al Shanker, longtime
president of the nation's second largest teachers union and a
strong supporter of public schools, who says that even the
children we think are doing OK are really not. In a remarkable
1989 speech in Denver to a closed audience of teachers, he said
that only 3 to 6 percent of 17- and 18-year-olds are able to read
editorials and articles in newspapers and magazines, write an
essay of several pages, and solve a two-step mathematical
problem. That means that 94% of public school graduates
cannot do those things. He said that 80% of public school
graduates cannot even write a two-paragraph letter to a
supermarket manager applying for a job.
That means that, unless your child is in the top 6% of his class,
he is probably not getting as good an education as your
grandparents received. Under Outcome-Based Education -- which
eliminates traditional grading on report cards and eliminates all
kinds of competition such as honor rolls and spelling bees -- you
will never know where your child ranks in his class, or what he
is learning or not learning.
When I spoke on this subject at Baylor University, an attractive
student came up to me and said, "When I entered Baylor, I
discovered that I couldn't read well enough to keep up with my
courses. I had to drop out for a year and learn how to read
before I continued." She was honest about her handicap and took
steps to remedy it. Most students and adults just fake it, too
embarrassed for anyone to know that they cannot read.
How Reading Is Not Taught
According to government statistics, half of the American people
are very poor readers, and two-thirds of school children are not
meeting average literacy goals. But aren't things getting better
since we hear so much about reforming the public schools?
No, the schools are not going to do any better job of teaching
reading next year, or the year after, because most public schools
simply do not teach children the skill of reading. They just
teach the children to guess at the words.
What typically happens in the first grade is well described in
Oklahoma's "Learner Outcomes" published in 1992 by the Oklahoma
State Department of Education. Instead of teaching children to
read by learning the sounds and syllables of the English language
so the child can sound out and read new words, the teacher is
instructed to use the following techniques:
"Develop a sight vocabulary of high frequency words [i.e.,
memorize about 25 words]. . . . [Use] stories with a repetitive
content [i.e., stories that use the same words over and
over again]. . . . Predict unknown words. . . . Use pictorial
clues [i.e., look at the pictures and guess what the words
mean]. . . . Substitute another word [that seems to fit]. . .
Skip the word. . . . [Figure out] the meaning of what is read
rather than focusing on figuring out words."
Guessing, predicting, looking at pictures, skipping, and
memorizing a few dozen words are not reading. They are
very bad habits. The child who is trained in such bad habits is
guaranteed to be a poor and inaccurate reader.
Yet, most public schools use this guessing process with all
first-graders. It's called the "Whole Language" system, which is
just the trendy new name for the old, discredited word-guessing
method called "whole word," "look-and-say," or "sight word."
Reading by the word-guessing method is part and parcel of
Outcome-Based Education, the fad that is sweeping the country
Under Whole Language, the child memorizes a few dozen frequently
used words, and then thinks he is reading because all his school
books are written with a controlled vocabulary comprising only
those few words. But he will never be able to read the great and
good books written in the English language, such as the Bible or
The average five-year-old has a speaking vocabulary of many
thousands of words. In an educated home, the five-year-old may
have understand as many as 25,000 spoken words. It's a crime to
put the child in a classroom and give him books that teach him
only a couple of hundred words. However, if you teach him to
sound out the letters and syllables -- the phonics method -- he
will soon be able to read his entire oral vocabulary.
What Is Reading?
Reading is the skill that enables you to connect the sounds of
words you already know with the print on the page. Connecting a
sound with a picture is not reading. If a child sees a
picture of grasshopper in a book and says "grasshopper," that is
not reading. It is only when he connects the sound
"grasshopper" with the letters (g r a s s h o p p e r) that he
is reading. Reading is the adventure of teaching the child to
sound out the letters and syllables (grass-hop-per) and then say
Teaching your child to read is so easy that any parent,
grandparent, or person who cares about a child can do it in a few
months. It's not difficult or complicated or mysterious if it is
taught in an orderly fashion. You don't have to have a teacher's
certificate, any special training, or a college degree. You
don't even have to have a high school diploma -- you just have to
have the right attitude and the right tools to do the job.
The right tools to do the job are exactly what I have developed
in my new system called First Reader. It's a
complete package for home use. It consists of a 192-page, 4-
color hardbound reader, a 128-page workbook, two cassettes of
instructions, and two "fat" pencils of the type little children
should use to learn how to form their letters in the workbook.
You will be surprised -- maybe even flabbergasted -- at how
little time it takes to teach a child to read if you have
the right tools and use the right system. I recommend teaching
in 20-minute segments, no more than three segments a day. Even
if you have a job outside the home, use your precious "quality
time" with your child to give him the key to a good education.
Use your moments of loving intimacy with your child to teach him
a skill that he can use all his life -- a skill that can produce
knowledge and success. You'll never regret the time you spend on
Why I Don't Read to My Children
For the past several years, there has been a highly-publicized
media campaign to promote the notion that all parents should read
to their children. This campaign has involved a lot of
prominent and well-meaning people. Even the Wall Street
Journal featured an editorial by a teacher called "Why I Read
to My Child," extolling the pleasures of reading fine literature
to his child.
But there was one big problem with this editorial -- the child
was eight years old! Why wasn't the child reading by himself?
Why did the eight year old need his father to read to him? Why
wasn't the child taught how to read so he could be progressing to
more and more difficult books? In the time this father spent
reading to his child, he could have made his son a good reader!
It is splendid to read to two- and three- and four-year-old
children in order to tell them good stories and introduce them to
books. But you are kidding yourself if you think that reading to
your child will make him a good reader. No matter how many hours
or years you spend reading to your child, that will never
turn him into a reader.
If you want your child to be a ball player, do you sit your child
down and read him stories about football players or baseball
players? No, you go out in the back yard and teach him how to
throw and catch the ball! If you want your child to play the
piano, do you sit him down and read him stories about Chopin and
Rachmaninoff? No, you teach him the skill of playing simple
melodies, and then he can progress on his own!
Reading to your child will give you and your child a warm, cozy
feeling, but you can get those same warm feelings by teaching him
how to read, and then your child will have a skill he can
use himself. I urge you to use your close, loving time for
something really constructive -- teaching your child to read.
Each One, Teach One
Teaching children to read at home can be a challenge for you and
the youngsters in your family -- but it is also an urgent
necessity for our whole nation.
In 1983, the National Commission on Excellence in Education
detailed the decline in U.S. education and reported: "If an
unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the
mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well
have view it as an act of war. As it stands, we have allowed
this to happen to ourselves."
Since then, education has declined even further. The National
Adult Literacy Survey, which was commissioned by the U.S.
Department of Education, found in 1993 that 90 million American
adults -- nearly half our adult population -- are poor readers,
possessing only the most limited reading skills. You can read
more details about this survey on the last page of this Report.
Unfortunately, this epidemic of illiteracy will get worse, not
better. A second U.S. Department of Education survey in 1993
disclosed that more than two-thirds of U.S. children cannot read
up to their grade level (even though "grade level" expectations
have been dumbed down by about two years from what they were 50
Cornell University sociologist Donald Hayes has released a
scholarly report showing that schoolchildren's declining verbal
skills are linked to increasingly simplified schoolbooks. Hayes
says that first-grade reading books are now written at about "the
level at which a farmer talks to his cows."
The consequences for our nation of this illiteracy are enormous.
For example, how can illiterate people understand enough about a
complex issue such as health care reform to have an intelligent
opinion? Just consider what we are up against when half the
American people cannot read a single article about this issue,
and know only what is put forth by the politicians in 20-second
sound bites on television!
Our marvelous American constitutional republic, under a process
of self-government, simply cannot survive as a democracy of
The media tell us that crime in the cities is our biggest
problem. But crime correlates with illiteracy more than any
other single factor. If you look at the people in prison, the
biggest single factor that they have in common is they are
Please join me in a nationwide campaign to get all Americans to
teach their own children to read. I don't mean just your
children, I mean everybody's children -- so that when they
go to school they will be already started on the road to learning
-- so the schools cannot keep them dumbed down, and the media
cannot brainwash them.
Let me say something about the minorities for whom the bleeding-
heart liberals pretend to show compassion. I believe that the
worst of all injustices, far worse than not getting to eat at the
same lunch counter, far worse than not getting to vote, was the
injustice of keeping them in school for so many years without
teaching them how to read. When they cannot read, they'll never
be able to advance beyond a minimum-wage job.
It's now clear that the schools are not going to remedy this
injustice. The schools have decided that they would rather teach
self-esteem than reading.
You and I can do more for the disadvantaged of our nation than
all the extravagant handouts and benefits programs. My First Reader is a tool that any mother, no matter how poorly
educated herself, can use to teach her child to read -- and she
can learn right along with her child.
My system is equally good for children with well-educated parents
and those with poorly-educated parents. It is equally good for
families that have decided to homeschool and for those who plan
to put their children in public or private school. It is
especially important for those who plan to put their children in
a formal school -- so that they will learn the correct reading
habits before they are taught the wrong ones. First Reader will also help children who are doing poorly in
school -- it will teach them to become good readers.
Please join me in a new movement called "Each one, teach one."
We can turn an illiterate population into a literate one. Let's
encourage every parent to teach his own child to read. I've
produced the tool that is simple enough, beautiful enough, easy
enough to use, and affordable enough that every family in America
can use it as the key to education.
I hope that you care enough about America's future that you will
join me in an "Each one, teach one" campaign to make America a
literate nation again, as we once were. Only this will enable us
to fulfill the number-one Education Goal proclaimed by our
Federal Government for the year 2000: "Every child should
start school ready to learn."
A Wake-Up Call for Parents
"Nearly half of U.S. population are poor readers, survey says,"
"Two-thirds of U.S. children read below their grade level, study
finds." These newspaper headlines reveal a supreme American
tragedy. Secretary of Education Richard Riley called this news
America's "wake-up call to the sheer magnitude of illiteracy in
The National Adult Literacy Survey, which was commissioned by the
U.S. Department of Education, found that 90 million America
adults -- almost half our adult population -- possess only the
most rudimentary reading skills. That means they can't read
street signs, instructions on medicine bottles, or fill out a job
This was not a casual public opinion survey of the type that
typically asks questions of only a thousand people nationally.
It was an in-depth study of more than 26,000 adults conducted by
the Educational Testing Service of Princeton, New Jersey and
Westat Inc. of Rockville, Maryland.
The study ranked Americans into five levels and it related actual
reading skills to daily life and work. According to the study,
49% of adults (90 million Americans) fall into the lowest two
levels. Only 25% of the illiterates in the lowest two levels are
immigrants just learning to speak English. And 4% of the
illiterates in the lowest two levels had graduated from high
school and been to college!
The survey found 31% of adults (61 million Americans) in the
middle level, where the best they can do is to identify two facts
in an article. But they will never be able to read the great
books written in the English language that are part of our
The economic consequences of this lack of reading skills are
massive. Those who can't read find it very difficult to hold a
job at all and, when they do, they earn a median weekly income of
under $250. The New York Times reports business estimates
of losses totaling $25 to $30 billion a year in "lost
productivity, errors and accidents attributable to poor literacy."
Many of these unfortunate illiterates are bitter about their
plight and blame society for their poverty. But the fault should
be placed squarely on the public schools, which failed to teach
them how to read in the first grade even though the taxpayers
have generously provided an average of $5,000 per first grade
Many illiterates fail to realize their own handicap. The survey
found that most adults who placed in the lowest literacy levels
described themselves as reading and writing English "well" or
"very well." Three-fourths of adults in the lowest literacy
level, and an overwhelming 95% of those in the second-to-lowest
literacy level, said that their grasp of English was "acceptable"
and that they didn't need help or further knowledge. They didn't
seem to have a clue as to why they are unable to get a better
job. Perhaps these people were taught "self-esteem" in school
instead of how to read.
The ones who do realize they can't read are usually too
embarrassed to admit it and go through life trying to hide it.
They resort to dozens of subterfuges to conceal their handicap,
such as getting someone else to fill out a job application for
The Literacy Prognosis is Negative
The illiteracy problem will get worse in the next decade, not
better, because illiteracy among schoolchildren is just as bad as
among adults. Another U.S. Department of Education study
disclosed that more than two-thirds of U.S. children can't read
up to their grade level. This study was based on the testing of
The Education Department found that only 25% of fourth graders,
only 28% of 8th graders, and only 37% of 12th graders have
mastered reading material for their grade levels. The higher
percentages in the upper grades do not mean that some of the kids
who couldn't read 4th grade books suddenly caught up and, eight
years later, were able to read 12th grade books. Most of those
who couldn't read in the 4th grade just dropped out and are no
longer in the count. The problem is not "dropouts" -- the
problem is failing to teach children to read.
This study tentatively implies that long hours of watching
television may be to blame for the abysmal reading skills. But
it's just as likely that the children watch television because
the schools failed to teach them how to read and they didn't have
anything else to do with their evenings.
Unless we are willing to become a society where only the elite
can use the written language, mothers and fathers will have to
assume the responsibility of teaching their own children to read.
It is obvious that the public schools either can't or won't do