One of the oldest living debates in our nation’s history is the “Great Debate” over how children should be taught to read. The origins of this argument can be traced back to the 16th century when a man by the name of Martin Luther and his followers transcribed the bible from Latin into English. Luther and his followers invented Phonics as a means for teaching reading of the newly transcribed bible. The following 200 years saw little change to the system of learning to read phonetically. Most of the 19th century was defined by further developments of phonics teaching. Sometime in the 1880’s a man by the name of F.W. Parker devised a program that did away completely with Phonics in exchange for a system that focused on learning to read through writing of books. Many people believe that his approach of “reading is thinking” would prove to be the first known formula for Whole Word Learning.
During the 1920s, educators began to split into two sectors, the traditionalists and the whole word supporters. The divide amongst these two groups grew over time, in large part because of the studies that were done by each side to further prove the validity of their own approach. During the 1950s many articles were written that turned the debate into a political one, leading to the “Reading Wars”. In 1955 Rudolf Flesch’s novel, “Why Johnny Can’t Read”, supported the traditional approach to reading, which furthered heated the Great Debate for years to follow.
Today we see a very similar debate amongst the two parties. However, a third party, which consists of many supporters from both sides are supporting an approach that combines the two apposing approaches. This blended approach now adds a third element for further review on how reading is acquired.