Don McCabe AVKO’s Research Director

Quick Facts

Born and raised in Flint, Michigan, the home of General Motors and the C.S. Mott Foundation

McCabe graduated from Flint Technical High School in 1950, received his A.A. degree from Flint Junior College in 1952 and his Ph.B. degree from the University of Detroit in 1954.

Was drafted into the Army Security Agency (ASA), sent to the Army Language School to learn Russian, and eventually to a military intelligence base just outside of Kyoto, Japan.

Began his teaching career in 1959 and taught high school and junior high until 1976 when he became the full-time Research Director of the AVKO Foundation.

Received his M.A. from the University of Detroit in 1962 and his A.B.T., the non-honorary, non-recognized degree from Michigan State University in 1985 after having completed all the course requirements for the Ph.D. degree.

Is listed in Who’s Who, The Yearbook of Experts, Authorities, and Spokespersons, as well as many other sourcebooks in the field of special education.

Is the author of over twenty different books and articles relating to the teaching of reading and spelling including The Patterns of English Spelling, the only reference tool in existence in which a teacher or researcher can find all the words that follow any particular spelling pattern.

Has done the unthinkable in the reading profession. He has studied what older « almost-non-readers » can and cannot read and compared his findings with what is and isn’t taught. Lo and behold, these functional illiterates had not learned what they had not been taught, i.e., the things good readers and good spellers somehow learn without being taught.

Has discovered that English does have an internal logic that good readers and good spellers somehow subconsciously learn without being taught. Dyslexics tend to be logical and try to follow what they have been taught. But the way reading is taught today has nothing to do with this internal logic. English has highly consistent logical patterns. So, if we exclude the very few (but highly common) « insane » words such as was and does, English can be said to be 99.9% phonically consistent. The anti-phonics people fail to realize the vast difference between phonetics, phonemics, and phonics.

Is trying to spread the concept that adult community education programs should offer classes for those parents or spouses of dyslexics who would like to learn how to tutor their own. At present, only the very rich can afford tutors on a daily basis. But even the poor, McCabe believes, can afford to take classes that would enable them to learn what they can do at home to help their own children learn to read and write.


McCabe’s research into spelling patterns began in the early 70’s when as a teacher he was assigned the worst students at Flint Northwestern High School. He discovered these students could be taught to read by using a word family approach. But at that time, no book existed in which he could find all the words that belonged to any particular word family. So McCabe attempted the impossible – to completely codify the English language by spelling patterns.

As a result of his research, he made many common sense discoveries about the English language. For example, the most common English words have a one syllable base, words such as run, jump, play, and fish. These words occur in the curriculum of the first two grades in school. But the power words of our language (such as crucial, unique, pension, etc.) not only cannot be reduced to one meaningful syllable, but contain phonic patterns never systematically taught. For a compete explanation read his: “Read by Grade Three? Say What!”

Some of the topics on which Don McCabe enjoys speaking:

Dyslexia: What is it? Should children be tested for dyslexia?
Why throwing money at schools won’t make them better.
Why the worst teachers are in the colleges of education, supposedly teaching how to teach.
Why neither “Whole Language” nor “Phonics” is the answer.

McCabe’s autobiography, To Teach a Dyslexic, gets its title from the simple concept that just as it sometimes takes a thief to catch a thief it has taken a dyslexic (McCabe) to learn how to teach dyslexics. The book describes those events in his life that enabled him not only to learn to read and write, but also how to teach.

McCabe, a Flint, Michigan native, plays golf as often as Michigan weather permits. An avid duplicate bridge player, he has attained the ranking of Silver Life Master.