59. Dick and Jane

Every day, I read the notes from teachers around the world on Internet. One teacher was annoyed by the “whole language” approach to teaching reading, and longed for a return to basal readers. This teacher ended the note with the question, “Where are Dick and Jane when we need them?” Here’s the answer I sent:
I was beginning to think no one remembered us. Spot was run over by a car years ago – 1968, I think. The driver didn’t even stop. Spot was a good dog. I remember the way we used to play on the lawn. Sometimes, in my dreams, I can still see Spot run.
It’s funny you should mention Jane. I just got a letter from her last week. We write to each other occasionally. I’m trying to convince her to get on Internet, but so far she isn’t even interested in getting a computer. She says she’s committed to getting back to basics. After hitching around Europe for three years (1970-73), she went to UCLA, and majored in Chinese medicine. Then she dropped out about a week before she would have graduated. Typical of Jane, I think. She has a health food store in LA. It’s called “Peacemeal.”
I’ve been teaching third grade since 1968. I do use the whole language approach. Children seem to get more involved in what they read, and reading fits in more with the rest of their lives. I’ve used basals (because I’ve had to), and with the exception of the classic one about me and Jane, they aren’t worth the ink used to mass produce them. They’re mostly good at providing jacuzzis and Saabs for Scott, Houghton, Foresman, Miflin, and the like. I used to call the stories in basal readers “Saab stories.”
I know the old controlled-vocabulary stories were supposed to cater to children’s ability levels. But it’s strange how much more a child can read if the stories are interesting, even if the words aren’t necessarily from some prescribed list. I could go on and on about this issue, but I won’t. But I guess you can now say whole language is better than basals, and you’ve heard it from the horse’s mouth.
Thanks for asking about us. When I read your question, “Where are Dick and Jane when we need them?”, I just had to answer. Jane is alive and well, and selling tofu and sprouts in LA. And I am using the whole language approach to teach reading. You’ve inspired me to look for Tom and Sally. I can’t help wondering how they’re doing. If you find either one of them while you’re exploring cyberspace, please pass on my address.
Fondly, Dick

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