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Ledson, Sidney.

Toronto, Stoddart, c1985. 207pp, paper, $8.95, ISBN 0-7737-5031-2.CIP

Reviewed by Robert W. Bruinsma

Volume 14 Number 2
1986 March

About ten years ago, when I had just begun graduate studies in reading education, one of my professors asked me to review a just-published kit called Teach Your Child To Read In 60 Days. The kit consisted of a book, a collection of word cards, letter blocks, and other paraphernalia to use with the book. I remember being uncomfortable with this how to kit then and I must confess that time (and a lot of experience) has only confirmed my negative opinion of this same program supposedly "updated for the "80s." Ledson's book is representative of a growing genre that is designed to answer what Piaget called "the American question," i.e., how can we speed up child development? So we have books on teaching babies to read, on creating super intelligent infants, etc., reflective of what child developmentalist David Elkind calls the "hurried child syndrome."

In the first part of his book Ledson begins with the premise (a la Rudolph Flesch) that the schools are making a mess of reading instruction because they have abandoned the teaching of phonics, and thus parents had better realize their responsibility and do the job themselves. Besides, if you want your children to be successful, you have to start them on the road as early as possible. When Ledson began his teaching project, he was a single parent to his two daughters (aged three and four years) and he wanted to get them off and reading at an early age so that they would be able to amuse themselves independently, and thus give him time to attend to his free-lance writing and art work. And since Ledson admitted to having little patience with young children, he wanted to develop a method that was relatively fool-proof and quick. How he went about this is chronicled in the second part of his book, where we are privileged to read a day-by-day account of the sixty days it took him to get his two children to decode print. Because, make no mistake about it, Ledson is a member of the school of thinking that holds that reading is little more than "sounding out" print. The heart of his book is a detailed chronicle of how he used Skinnerian conditioning principles, complete with variable reinforcement schedules (using cookies, candies, cheesies, etc.), to get his girls to "read." (Important secret: Be sure the kids are hungry when they are being conditioned or the rein-forcers will not work.) As a training manual for pigeons or apes Ledson's book may have some merit, but I for one have a view of the human child, and of the reading process, that rejects manipulative behaviourism, both on ethical and pedagogical grounds. Yet the central question for some might be, "Does Ledson's approach work?" The answer is that it can, more-or-less, depending on the child and the parent instructor. Sixty consecutive days of about one-and-a-half hours of instruction per day translates into ninety hours of concentrated instructional time. That is a lot of high-input conditioning time. One wonders what Ledson would have accomplished if he had spent those ninety hours reading good books with his children, telling them stories, chanting nursery rhymes and songs, and just generally providing them with a rich literary environment. (See for example Reading Begins At Home by Dorothy Butler and Marie Clay.)

Many years ago I foolishly bought a book that promised to make me rich if I would carefully follow its recipe for financial success. I am still relatively poor. I fear that Sidney Ledson's method advertised as being "simple, fast, failure proof and fun" will have about the same low impact on raising Canadian literacy standards, although, ironically, it may make Ledson rich. Pity. Not recommended.

Robert W. Bruinsma, The King's College, Edmonton, Alta.
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