A worthy primer on the science of comprehending language at the visible, symbolic level of print, a place that requires...

LANGUAGE AT THE SPEED OF SIGHT

HOW WE READ, WHY SO MANY CAN’T, AND WHAT CAN BE DONE ABOUT IT

Johnny can’t read—and too often his teachers can only guess why.

Reading is something that we almost always do at a subconscious level: we do not think about it, and for good reason, since we need to concentrate on the result—the content of what we have been reading, that is—and not the process. Still, the fact that there is this subconscious work going on requires a science of reading to describe what Seidenberg (Psychology/Univ. of Wisconsin) calls a complex skill that operates “at levels that intuition cannot easily penetrate.” One way of looking at reading is to examine where it doesn’t quite work out as expected. Much of the author’s research, and a sizable portion of this book, concerns dyslexia, a phenomenon that turns on anatomical properties of the brain in which “signal propagation between and within regions seems to be…noisier,” which in turn affects “the modification of neuronal responses and their retention.” The neuroscience underlying these findings is complex, of course, but Seidenberg does not often fall into thickets of technicality; for the most part, his discussions are clear and accessible, if of most compelling interest to a small audience of reading specialists. The author counters on that score that reading should be a matter of larger interest to teachers especially, given the discouraging levels of literacy across the world; he argues that teacher training should involve a curriculum embracing reading science, child development, and cognition, among other areas. Broader familiarity with the science of reading, he suggests, would be of use at the policy level as well, since so much of it is based on assumptions concerning problems of social engineering—poverty, household makeup, and so forth.

A worthy primer on the science of comprehending language at the visible, symbolic level of print, a place that requires plenty of brain power and years of practice to navigate.

Pub Date: Jan. 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-465-01932-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: Nov. 7, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016

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A quirky wonder of a book.

WHY FISH DON'T EXIST

A STORY OF LOSS, LOVE, AND THE HIDDEN ORDER OF LIFE

A Peabody Award–winning NPR science reporter chronicles the life of a turn-of-the-century scientist and how her quest led to significant revelations about the meaning of order, chaos, and her own existence.

Miller began doing research on David Starr Jordan (1851-1931) to understand how he had managed to carry on after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake destroyed his work. A taxonomist who is credited with discovering “a full fifth of fish known to man in his day,” Jordan had amassed an unparalleled collection of ichthyological specimens. Gathering up all the fish he could save, Jordan sewed the nameplates that had been on the destroyed jars directly onto the fish. His perseverance intrigued the author, who also discusses the struggles she underwent after her affair with a woman ended a heterosexual relationship. Born into an upstate New York farm family, Jordan attended Cornell and then became an itinerant scholar and field researcher until he landed at Indiana University, where his first ichthyological collection was destroyed by lightning. In between this catastrophe and others involving family members’ deaths, he reconstructed his collection. Later, he was appointed as the founding president of Stanford, where he evolved into a Machiavellian figure who trampled on colleagues and sang the praises of eugenics. Miller concludes that Jordan displayed the characteristics of someone who relied on “positive illusions” to rebound from disaster and that his stand on eugenics came from a belief in “a divine hierarchy from bacteria to humans that point[ed]…toward better.” Considering recent research that negates biological hierarchies, the author then suggests that Jordan’s beloved taxonomic category—fish—does not exist. Part biography, part science report, and part meditation on how the chaos that caused Miller’s existential misery could also bring self-acceptance and a loving wife, this unique book is an ingenious celebration of diversity and the mysterious order that underlies all existence.

A quirky wonder of a book.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6027-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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INSIDE AMERICAN EDUCATION

THE DECLINE, THE DECEPTION, THE DOGMAS

American schools at every level, from kindergarten to postgraduate programs, have substituted ideological indoctrination for education, charges conservative think-tanker Sowell (Senior Fellow/Hoover Institution; Preferential Polices, 1990, etc.) in this aggressive attack on the contemporary educational establishment. Sowell's quarrel with "values clarification" programs (like sex education, death-sensitizing, and antiwar "brainwashing") isn't that he disagrees with their positions but, rather, that they divert time and resources from the kind of training in intellectual analysis that makes students capable of reasoning for themselves. Contending that the values clarification programs inspired by his archvillain, psychotherapist Carl Rogers, actually inculcate values confusion, Sowell argues that the universal demand for relevance and sensitivity to the whole student has led public schools to abdicate their responsibility to such educational ideals as experience and maturity. On the subject of higher education, Sowell moves to more familiar ground, ascribing the declining quality of classroom instruction to the insatiable appetite of tangentially related research budgets and bloated athletic programs (to which an entire chapter, largely irrelevant to the book's broader argument, is devoted). The evidence offered for these propositions isn't likely to change many minds, since it's so inveterately anecdotal (for example, a call for more stringent curriculum requirements is bolstered by the news that Brooke Shields graduated from Princeton without taking any courses in economics, math, biology, chemistry, history, sociology, or government) and injudiciously applied (Sowell's dismissal of student evaluations as responsible data in judging a professor's classroom performance immediately follows his use of comments from student evaluations to document the general inadequacy of college teaching). All in all, the details of Sowell's indictment—that not only can't Johnny think, but "Johnny doesn't know what thinking is"—are more entertaining than persuasive or new.

Pub Date: Jan. 4, 1993

ISBN: 0-02-930330-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1992

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