Only relatively recently in the history of the human race has there been a great deal of interest in how children learn to read and write. The prior lack of interest is not surprising because until the advent of education of the masses only a small fraction of the population acquired literacy skills -- in general, religious leaders, scribes who made written records of business transactions, and children of the wealthy and ruling classes.
Interest in how children learn to read and write has been motivated by changes in the literacy requirements for employment as societies have moved from agricultural and industrial to technological economies. Even when public education became free to all, students with reading and writing problems were likely to drop out of school long before their peers who were skilled readers and writers, but these dropouts were still able to get jobs that required minimal or no reading and writing skills in agriculture or industry. In the United States, for instance, completion of elementary school was common at the time of World War I, but completion of high school did not become common until the World War II era. Increasingly, jobs in the post- Cold War era require education beyond the high school level. Thus, schools are under greater pressure than ever before to teach all children from diverse socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds to read and write so that they can complete the necessary education to compete in the work force. Those who do not become competent readers and writers can no longer quit school and be as likely to find meaningful, stable employment as was the case in the past.
Over the years, the question of primary interest about literacy acquisition has been about the best method for teaching reading and