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‘Language at the Speed of Sight’ Fights to Reopen Our Closed Book on Literacy

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A few weeks ago, while we were all looking the other way, the triennial survey comparing the world’s educational systems came out. For America, the news wasn’t good. Math scores dropped, while reading numbers weren’t much different from last time. Neither finding puts us on course to lap Singapore anytime soon.

Predictably, of the limited media coverage the survey received in the United States, most articles focused on math and science. Who cares if Johnny can’t read well, so long as he can multiply?

Too often, according to Mark Seidenberg’s important, alarming new book, “Language at the Speed of Sight,” Johnny can’t read because schools of education didn’t give Johnny’s teachers the proper tools to show him how. Economic inequality is a big problem, too, of course, but kindergartners may be grandparents before that can be redressed. Mr. Seidenberg, a veteran cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, makes a strong case for how brain science can help the teaching profession in the meantime.

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