Extraordinary Stories

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Saturday, April 8, 2017

The "Fun With Dick And Jane" Story

It was an ordinary day.  Began like this ... "A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.... a young boy picked up a book written by Elson-Gray and read ... See Dick Run!  Page two was similar ... See Jane Run!  Wow, you mean you don't remember that?  How can that be!  That's exacty how I learned to read.  The main characters in the book were Dick and Jane with a supporting cast of characters which included Baby, Mother, Father, Spot the dog, Puff the cat and Tim the teddy bear.  You have to remember them!!  The books relied on the whole word or sight reading method as well as repetition.  Over and over again.  Dick and Jane; Dick and Spot; Jane and Puff; etc, etc. And, the phrases like: Oh, see.  Oh, see Jane.  Funny, funny Jane.  
The early illustrations were primarily done by artists Eleanor Campbell and Keith Ward, while Robert Childress began doing the illustrations in the 1950s and Richard Wiley took over the illustrations in the 1960s.  Yep, they used these books into the 1960s.  It wasn't until the 60s that Black characters and characters from other races and cultures were placed in the books.  Then, just like that, the books disappeared when phonics began to be used as a more effective method of gaining literacy.  But, it was about ten years before that Rudolf Flesch criticized the Dick and Jane series in his book Why Johnny Can't Read.  Well, I had to Google the Fun with Dick and Jane book and found they are going for close to $50.  Wonder what ever happened to all those books we read at Brecht Elementary School years ago.  Boxes and boxes of books that probably were burned or found a home in the dump.  The original characters in the book were devised by Zerna Sharp, a former teacher.  She came up with a core cast that were easy to remember.  Worked, didn't it.  At least with me.  Although she didn't write any of the books, her cast of characters were used.  Ist grade books contained about 300 words while by the time students reached 3rd grade they were given 1000 more words and 4000 more by 6th grade.  
The books were said to use the "look-say" method to teach reading since they would stress:  Look, Spot. Oh, look, look Spot. Look and see. Oh, see.  Repetition, repetition, repetition!  By 1950 about 85 million American first graders plowed though Dick and Jane readers.  Then along came aforementioned Rudolf Flesch who claimed that the average Russian 4th grader commanded a vocabulary of nearly 10,000 word while American children had mastered only 1,800 at that level.  So, Dick and Jane bit the dust, so to speak.  Along came Theodore Seuss Geisel who began writing his Cat in the Hat and other stories.  Finally Dick and Jane were dead.  That is until people began to ask ... What ever happened to Dick and Jane.  Well, friends, they are going for $50 on eBay.  Get one before they are all gone.  Now, my next story will have to be ... "What ever happened to cursive writing?"  Remember that?  It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.

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