Millions of people who can read today owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Samuel L. Blumenfeld, America’s foremost apostle of phonics over the past half century. Blumenfeld died on June 1, one day after his 89th birthday. I was privileged to know him as a friend and colleague for more than 30 years.
I first became acquainted with Sam Blumenfeld’s writings in the early 1970s. I was a college student at the time and had switched my course of study from pre-veterinary medicine to psychology and education. The “reading controversy” that had been launched in 1955 with the publication of Dr. Rudolph Flesch’s bestseller Why Johnny Can’t Read and What You Can Do About It was back in full swing, following a period of relative quiescence. Sam’s book The New Illiterates (1973) rekindled the debate, exposing the ludicrous basis of the destructive look-say methodology that was mentally crippling millions of children, and forcefully putting forward the case for restoring intensive phonics in the reading programs of our nation’s schools. Having, myself, been taught to read by the phonics method, and being well aware of the devastating (and growing) illiteracy plague, Blumenfeld’s The New Illiterates seemed to me to be spot-on. This led me to his other early books, How to Start Your Own Private School (1972) and How to Tutor (1973). These and his many other books, articles (for this magazine and others), audiotapes and CDs, videotapes and DVDs, online videos, radio and television appearances, and global speaking tours have rightfully earned Sam Blumenfeld the respectful sobriquets “godfather of the phonics movement,” “godfather of the homeschool movement,” and “godfather of the private school movement.”
Samuel Blumenfeld was born and raised in New York City. He was educated in New York’s public schools and graduated from the City College of New York. He studied for a year at the University of Paris-Sorbonne and was fluent in French. During World War II, Sam enlisted in the U.S. Anny and was assigned to an artillery unit. He saw combat in the Po Valley of Italy.
Following the war, Sam worked in New York City as a magazine and book editor for major publishers such as Viking Press and Grosset & Dunlap, and was founder and president of his own publishing house, Coleridge Press.
Sam was a staunch anti-communist, and in 1959 founded the American Committee for France and Algeria, to expose the Soviet communist hand at work in the Algerian revolution, which was being much romanticized by the American press and materially helped by our State Department. In the mid-1960s — with Soviet communism advancing around the globe and domestic communists setting America ablaze — he moved from New York City to Boston, to work with, and for, The John Birch Society, which was headquartered in Belmont, a Boston suburb. Founded by anti-communist businessman/historian/philosopher Robert Welch, the society was being smeared by the liberal-left media and political machines. Sam, a small, soft-spoken, gentle man, showed his steel, wading into the fray. He became a writer and editor for the society’s magazines, American Opinion and The Review of the News (precursor to this magazine), and editor of its book-publishing house, Western Islands. In 1966, he was a founder of the Jewish Society of Americanists (JSA), along with noted author Alan Stang and other Jewish members of the Birch Society, including Hungarian immigrant Georgia Gabor, whose autobiography, My Destiny.‘ Survivor of the Holocaust (1981), details her harrowing experience and the killing of her entire family by the Nazis.
Sam Blumenfeld was a first-rate historical researcher, and his 1981 path-breaking book Is Public Education Necessary? remains a critically important book today — more than a quarter century after its publication — for understanding the destructive course of American education in the 20th century. His many other books on education include NEA: Trojan Horse in American Education, Alpha-Phonics: A Primer for Beginning Readers, The Victims of Dick and Jane, The Whole Language/OBE Fraud: The Shocking Story of How America ls Being Dumbed Down by Its Own Education System, Homeschooling.” A Parents Guide to Teaching Children, Revolution via Education, Blumenfeld Oral Reading Assessment, and Phonics for Success.
During the last year of his life, Sam labored with co-author Alex Newman to complete Crimes of the Educators: How Utopians Are Using Government Schools to Destroy America’s Children, which may be his most important work.
Sam Blumenfeld displayed an enduring, heroic passion for truth and freedom, and he has informed and inspired several generations of patriots now actively engaged in the culture wars. However, as heated as the battles became, he remained always a civil and decent man, never descending to rancor and name-calling, even when subjected to the same. He was a fierce warrior with a gentle soul, a giant residing in a small frame. His contributions toward restoring our culture and our civilization are immense. His passing is our loss, but his life’s work remains with us to enlighten our path and strengthen our courage for the upward climb.
William F. Jasper is Senior Editor at The New American. Use by Permission The New American, July 6, 2015.