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.