Thursday, June 10, 2010
Reading Update: Dick and Jane
I had never actually seen a Dick and Jane reader, but Tim bought one of the reissued "treasury" compilations a few years ago and stored it away for future use. Since N. was sounding out words with great pleasure and read Dr. Suess's "Hop on Pop" completely by himself, we thought we'd pull out Dick and Jane, just for fun. The books are every bit as ridiculous as I'd always heard: dull, repetitive, saccharine, white, and blond. Once you see them you can easily understand why they became controversial both from a pedagogical standpoint (the vocabulary is limited to train children through repetition to recognize whole words rather than to sound them out) and a political standpoint (they do not depict the multicultural America, even with the addition of a black family to Dick and Jane's neighborhood in the 1960s). It's easy to imagine that, as Rudolph Flesch argued in Why Johnny Can't Read (1955), these books would turn a child off of reading rather than inspire him.
As it happens, however, N. loves Dick and Jane. He loves the pictures, he thinks the repetition is hilarious, and he enjoys the stories. With his taste for all things vintage and retro, he admires the dad's car, the kids' toys and clothes. He's proud of being able to read the stories; each one is very short and quickly produces a gratifying sense of accomplishment in the reader. We don't do any formal reading lessons with Dick and Jane (or any other text) but N. routinely asks to read a few of the stories aloud to me at bedtime. Since part of the books' fall from favor was due to a return to phonics-based reading instruction rather than Dick and Jane's whole-word/look-see method, I was interested to see that N. uses both methods when reading these stories: he sounds out new words, while the repetition reinforces words he can read without sounding out.
I certainly wouldn't want Dick and Jane to be any child's only exposure to the world of reading, but I've been pleasantly surprised by N.'s enjoyment of this much-maligned classic. Next I want to get my hands on the McGuffey Readers that Dick and Jane replaced!