Friday, June 07, 2019

Seuss And Education

"How Dr. Seuss Changed Education in America"
It didn’t help that Dick and Jane belonged to what many have dubbed the dullest family on earth. The books were plotless, littered with mind-numbing, repetitious quasi-sentences. (“Look, Jane. Look, look. See Dick. See, see. Oh, see. See Dick.”) The illustrations were stodgy and bland. Flesch deemed the series “horrible, stupid, emasculated, pointless.”

The author John Hersey, in an article on the literacy debate, for Life magazine, was not much kinder, calling the books “namby-pamby” and “insipid,” and the pictures “terribly literal.” Hersey wondered why primers couldn’t at least feature the talents of gifted children’s-book illustrators, and he listed Dr. Seuss among their ranks.

The head of Houghton Mifflin’s education division took note. He challenged Geisel to write a primer that emerging or reluctant readers would actually enjoy, pleading, “Write me a story that first graders can’t put down!” But for a wordsmith as playful and unconventional as Dr. Seuss—someone fond of phrases such as “howling mad hullaballoo,” who invented animals like the Yuzz-a-ma-Tuzz—there was a big catch: to qualify as a first-grade primer, the text would have to be tightly restricted to a list of three hundred and fifty simple, pre-approved vocabulary words, supplied by the publisher, with a preferred limit of just two hundred and twenty-five words.

Could Dr. Seuss deliver a page-turner that contained itself to no more than two hundred and twenty-five real, English, mostly monosyllabic words?