Monday, June 1, 2015

Sam Blumenfeld, 1926-2015

It is with great sorrow that I report the passing of Sam Blumenfeld.  In 2008, Sam called me up to float the idea of my starting a blog on the Marlowe-as-Shakespeare theory.  It was Sam's phone call that inspired me to give it a shot.

My first communication with Sam was in 1993. I was 25 years old and teaching high school English in the South Bronx, and I was horrified by how many incoming 9th graders struggled with reading. It was Sam's Alpha-Phonics reading system that assisted me in teaching kids the right way to read - kids who had sadly graduated from New York City public middle schools as shockingly poor readers. Alpha-Phonics, I had discovered, was the quickest way to repair the damage of dubious reading strategies, such as look-say and whole language, or flat-out ineffective reading instruction in general. Alpha-Phonics was a godsend, and I employed "guerilla" teaching by sneaking his intensive, systematic system into my daily class lessons so that I could ensure that at least my students became proficient in letter-sound relationships. Along with Rudolf Flesch, I consider Sam to have been the most effective, articulate, and influential critic of bad reading methods in American schools, methods he was not afraid to label "educational malpractice."

Sam was a legendary pioneer in America's flourishing homeschool movement, in part because Alpha-Phonics empowered thousands upon thousand of parents to teach their kids how to read correctly, and he was a tireless proponent of common sense pedagogical strategies, such as intensive, systematic phonics.  I attended homeschool conferences with Sam, and I saw firsthand how parents couldn't wait to thank him for his how-to instructional materials and relentless defense of homeschooling in countless publications and forums. Browse the Amazon reader reviews of his Alpha-Phonics reading system and you'll get a sense of the positive impact he had on so many lives. 

To calculate how many speeches Sam has given in his lifetime at conventions and conferences is impossible, but they are in the many hundreds.  I know that he had lectured in all 50 states.

Sam was born in New York City, was a World War II veteran of the Italian campaign, was fluent in French, and was widely published on a diverse range of topics (one of his first "big" pieces was "How to Marry a Rockefeller," Esquire, 1974). He truly led an exciting life, and here's one of my favorite anecdotes of his: "I did meet Ayn Rand when I was editor at Grosset & Dunlap. Took her to lunch. I then attended the Objectivist lectures given by her protege Nathaniel Branden. Rand would come at the end of each lecture and answer questions. After the lecture, a group of us would retire to the bar in the hotel for further dicussion. Alan Greenspan was part of that group. Of course, Rand later broke off with Branden because he was in love with a younger woman."

Sam was a passionate Marlovian, and in the 1960s he was a close acquaintance of Calvin Hoffman, who pioneered the "Marlowe as hidden hand behind Shakespeare" theory in the mid 1950s.  Two years ago, Sam turned over to me all of his correspondences between Hoffman and him  - what a treasure trove for Marlovians!

In 2009, I had a former student of mine interview Sam regarding the Marlowe-as-Shakespeare theory.  Click here for the interview.

Also in 2009, Sam - along with Peter Farey, Dr. Ros Barber, Daryl Pinksen, Mike Rubbo, Isabel Gortázar, and myself - co-founded the International Marlowe-Shakespeare Society.

Sam was a kind and generous man who valued authentic conversation and lively debate, and he was so well-versed on so many issues. Until the very end, he was a fiercely passionate advocate of causes near and dear to his heart, especially the absolutely vital mission of teaching children - and even adults - how to read.

Rest in peace, Sam. 


Anthony Kellett said...

A very sad day, indeed. The world just became a poorer place.

daver852 said...

He will be sorely missed!

JacksonM said...

Sam was a fighter with everything he did.

TREX said...

I met Sam many years ago . . . a very nice man.

DresdenDoll said...

I enjoyed reading his Marlowe posts on this blog. Rest in peace.

Genoa212 said...

Will you be making Blumenfeld's correspondences with Hoffman public?

PeterS said...

Sad news. Enjoyed his many writings on many subjects. said...

I am working on an archive of Sam's work.
I knew him briefly. His papers were donated to a good friend and associate of mine and I am preserving them in digital pdf format.

The Hoffman letters interest me greatly.
I was laughing to myself when you mentioned his many speeches as I have over 150 cassettes that I am converting to mp3.

If you are interested in preserving the Hoffman letters as part of the archive, please let me know. I probably have itms of interest to you as well.

I am working on an index of materials, but I have been receiving items faster than I can catalog them LOL.

He used his 89 years wisely and I am going to miss him.

Bill McNally said...

Dear Would you share your archives at
thanks, Bill McNally - President

Morten said...

My closest contact with Sam was watching an interview with him, and a lecture by him, on YouTube. He was unquestionably a very passionate Marlovian. The saddest thing is that I believe the Marlovians are close to an outright victory, and Sam, by just a little, did not live to see it.