Learning to read is not a natural process. As Mitford Mathews said, “Words are not like tadpoles or flowers or horses. Words are man-made...” There is a certain amount of drudgery inherent in learning to read.
Through the years, there have been a number of changes made in the systems for teaching reading in an attempt to make learning to read easier. A short history of reading instruction by Geraldine Rodgers called "Why Noah Webster's Way Was the Right Way" can be found on Don Potter's Education Page.
As she says in this essay, "Teaching the reading of alphabetic print by its "sound" is the correct way. Teaching the reading of alphabetic print by its “meaning" is the incorrect way. Obviously, if “sound” and “meaning” methods for the teaching of alphabetic print are mixed, then the mixture is incorrect in direct proportion to the emphasis given to the “meaning” method."
The history of reading instruction is, to some degree, the history of pendulum swings between these two approaches. Unfortunately, only one approach, the "sound" method, produces a capable reader.
The author focuses on the history of reading instruction in the English language. Completely regular phonetic languages like Latin and Spanish do not suffer from the meaning/sound divide.
Those interested in how our language came to be should read "The Alphabet Effect" by Robert Logan. An examination of the research in favor of phonics can be found in Dr. Patrick Groff's "Preventing Reading Failure."
Those interested in a complete history of reading instruction should read "The History of Beginning Reading" by Geraldine E. Rodgers (available at Amazon.com in 3 volumes or in e-book format at Author House.)Those who are interested in reading the complete article should click on this link: Phonics and the History of Reading Instruction