National Consequences             


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Collective Costs

See also: Dollars and Sense - Social PathologyAdult Literacy - Shame

Return to Index of Topics  -  Notes: 1) This page is a work in progress and does not yet comprehensively cover its topic or include all the COTC and web resources its topic deserves.  2) Bold is used to emphasize our [COTC] sense of importance and does not necessarily reflect gestures or tones of emphasis in the original source. This color indicates COTC edits for brevity or flow. See referenced original for exact quotes.

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Importance of Reading in Today's Society

Learning to read may not have been as critical in another era, in another time, but in todayís society, where we have moved largely from a manufacturing economy to a service economy, it requires a higher level of literacy than we previously experienced. So, when people bemoan that weíre not teaching children to read and that children are doing worse than before, there is some data to indicate that actually the levels of achievement in reading havenít changed that much.

But what has changed is our world and so to take advantage of the goods of our current society, literacy is a must. Without it you are relegated to a level of income and opportunity that isnít fair. The whole purpose of public education is to create more of an equal playing field so that everyone experiences those same opportunities. If we know aprori that itís requisite to become successful you have to be literate in our society then itís incumbent upon us to do a better job of helping children at these beginning stages and through out. So, for a society thereís deep consequences for all of us in not having a literate society.

Anne Cunningham, Director of the Joint Doctoral Program in Special Education with the Graduate School of Education at the University of California-Berkeley.  Source: COTC Interview -

Reading Crisis is Connected to an Economic Crisis

There is a reading crisis and the reading crisis leads to an education crisis, and also is certainly connected to an economic crisis as you look at job formation.  Do we have people coming through the school system who can really perform the job functions that American business has to have? The answer to that now is clearly no. The schools are not producing.

James Wendorf, Executive Director, National Center for Learning DisabilitiesSource: COTC Interview -

Cost of Our Nation's Reading Difficulties

David Boulton: Going on a broader, macro level - what does our populationís reading difficulties cost our nation? Iím not looking for precision, Iím looking for magnitudes of order. Economically, in terms of our global economic competition and in terms of the intelligence of our population and what that means about the security of our nation over the longer view.

Dr. Grover (Russ) Whitehurst: It is impossible to quantify the cost associated with reading failure or the advantages that flow to societies whose citizens are highly literate, who read well and read deeply and widely. It is clear, however, particularly in the context of a global economy, that increasingly the competitors of the United States, economic competitors, competitors in terms of ideas and philosophies, are competing in a way that undermines the ability of citizens in the United States to perform well based on the types of skills that involve lifting and pushing and using muscles. They are skills that depend increasingly on high levels of education. And even within high levels of education, the effects of global markets are that its only value added by special types of education, including high levels of literacy, that ultimately are going to allow us to compete well.

Software jobs that pay sixty dollars an hour in the United States are now done for six dollars an hour in India. For our citizens to compete, they have to bring to the software business a higher level of value. That value comes from the ability to conceptualize problems, to come up with novel solutions, to be creative, to think about how to market, speak to the world, speak to citizens of the United States, and all of those abilities flow from the understanding of a culture and oneself and other people that depends on reading.

David Boulton: So, as we said, reading is profoundly connected to this meta-linguistic verbal intelligence, and what makes us competitive is this innovative intelligence.

Dr. Grover (Russ) Whitehurst: Yes, absolutely. Innovative intelligence is a type of verbal intelligence. Verbal intelligence flows, depends on, and has a foundation in reading. 

Grover (Russ) Whitehurst, Ex-Director (2002-08), Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Source: COTC Interview:

2000 Florida Election and Reading Difficulty

Dr. Timothy Shanahan: One aspect of this that I had personal experience with was one of the newspapers asked me to analyze the votes in the 2000 Florida election. Obviously, media attention was  directed to the hanging chads and the failure of the machines to record peopleís votes. The thing that is interesting is that in Florida there are probably more counties that are using paper ballots than machine ballots. One of the newspapers said letís look at the paper ballots and see how we did there. Florida lost even more votes with paper ballots than machine ballots, and they lost these votes primarily because people couldnít make sense of the directions. 

Florida lost lots of votes because many citizens couldnít do the simple reading tasks on the ballot. They would spoil their vote by voting multiple times for different candidates. Even this basic franchise of whether you get to cast a vote is connected to literacy. Youíre less likely to go and try to vote, but if you do try, youíre more likely to fail and your vote will be lost. Weíre almost fifty years beyond the Supreme Court saying there wouldnít be any kind of a literacy bar to vote in this country.

David Boulton:  Of course thereís going to be. Even if you get around the instrumental simple part of it, youíve got the deeper issue of whether somebody is a competent participant.

Dr. Timothy Shanahan:  Yes. In fact, one interesting analysis done with adults who are low in literacy is that low literacy individuals are less likely to read a newspaper than a high literate person. But, of course, these folks could still participate by getting information from television and have radio. Thereís absolutely no reason why a low literacy person wouldnít be able to access a lot of the information that is available over those media. 

Except it turns out that lack of literacy has an isolating effect. What happens is low literacy people are less likely to watch informational shows on television, theyíre less likely to watch news, for example, than other kinds of television.

David Boulton:  How can they navigate?

Dr. Timothy Shanahan:  Exactly. They just donít pay attention to stuff like that which means, they miss out on information about the candidates and elections and so on, but they also miss out on the large amount of health information that is on television news and so on. They donít find out about the free pap smears down at the clinic. They donít find out about the new statistics on smoking. They donít find out about how to take care of their children better. And so their kids are at greater risk in all kinds of ways and they themselves are at greater risk.

Timothy Shanahan, Past-President (2006) International Reading Association; Member, National Reading Panel; Chair, National Reading Panel; Professor and Director, University of Illinois at Chicago Center for Literacy. Source: COTC Interview -

Literacy is a Powerful Determinate of Success

David Boulton: We were interviewing Lesley Morrow, the President of the IRA, and she made a statement which flabbergasted me. She said this was a fact: that there are some states that determine how many prison cells to build based on reading scores.

Dr. Grover (Russ) Whitehurst: Yes. Again, the predictability of reading for life success is so strong, that if you look at the proportion of middle schoolers who are not at the basic level, who are really behind in reading, it is a very strong predictor of problems with the law and the need for jails down the line.

Literacy for societies, literacy for states, literacy for individuals is a powerful determinate of success. The opposite of success is failure and clearly, being in jail is a sign of failure.

People who donít read well have trouble earning a living. It becomes attractive to, in some cases the only alternative in terms of gaining funds, to violate the law and steal, to do things that get you in trouble. Few options in some cases other than to pursue that life. Of course reading opens doors.

Grover (Russ) Whitehurst, Ex-Director (2002-08), Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Source: COTC Interview:

Underemployment and Employment at Low Levels

We know that the earning potential of a college graduate is over twice that of a high school graduate - connected to reading ability. We know that students who finish high school and have only a high school degree, but get the high school degree as a regular degree rather than an equivalency degree, earn at substantially higher levels. So again, thatís connected often with reading: reading success and reading failure.

So, itís hard to find a problem thatís not connected to reading. Certainly under employment and employment at low levels of wages is very frequently a reading problem.  

Grover (Russ) Whitehurst, Ex-Director (2002-08), Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Source: COTC Interview:

Reading Failure Costs our Whole Society

Dr. Timothy Shanahan:  It is interesting how politicized all the arguments get and how territorial people get on all of these things. I honestly believe that comes from knowing parts of it and not having the overall picture of it. I canít imagine where else it would come from.

Itís one of these deals where we can quibble about all of these things. This is one where my notion is full speed ahead on all fronts. This isnít a case of well, if you do that then we can do this. This is not that kind of a situation. We have a very big problem. These kids have a very big problem. Both on a societal level and an individual level and weíve got to find a way to solve it. My kids can read at a very high level and theyíre going to be living in society and trying to function with a bunch of folks that canít do it and thatís going to lower the quality of their lives.

David Boulton:  Yeah, theyíre going to pay for it.

Dr. Timothy Shanahan:  Theyíll pay for it in terms of whatever economic costs there are for social programs, but theyíre also going to pay for it in terms of political divides that exist. They pay for it in terms of lost opportunities that those low in literacy could have contributed. They lose in all kinds of ways. This is such a big problem. We really need to not be territorial about our solutions.

Timothy Shanahan, Past-President (2006) International Reading Association; Member, National Reading Panel; Chair, National Reading Panel; Professor and Director, University of Illinois at Chicago Center for Literacy.  Source: COTC Interview -





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Dr. Grover (Russ) Whitehurst  Director, Institute of Education Sciences, Assistant Secretary of Education, U.S. Department of Education
Dr. Jack Shonkoff Chair, The National Scientific Council on the Developing Child; Co-Editor: From Neurons to Neighborhoods
Dr. Edward Kame'enui Commissioner for Special Education Research, U.S. Department of Education; Director, IDEA, University  of Oregon
Dr. G. Reid Lyon  Past Director, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) at the National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Dr. Keith Stanovich  Canadian Chair of Cognitive Science, University of Toronto
Dr. Mel Levine Co-Chair and Co-Founder, All Kinds of Minds; Author: A Mind at a Time, The Myth of Laziness & Ready or Not Here Life Comes
Dr. Alex Granzin  School District Psychologist, Past President, Oregon School Psychologists Association 
Dr. James J. Heckman Nobel Laureate, Economic Sciences 2000; Lead Author: The Productivity Argument for Investing in Young Children
Dr. Timothy Shanahan President (2006) International Reading Association, Chair National Early Literacy Panel, Member National Reading Panel
Nancy Hennessy  President, 2003-2005, International Dyslexia Association
Dr. Marilyn Jager Adams Senior ScientistSoliloquy Learning, Author: Beginning to Read: Thinking and Learning About Print
Dr. Michael Merzenich Chair of Otolaryngology, Integrative Neurosciences, UCSF;  Member National Academy of Sciences
Dr. Maryanne Wolf Director, Center for Reading & Language Research; Professor of Child Development, Tufts University
Dr. Todd Risley  Emeritus Professor of Psychology, University of Alaska, Co-author: Meaningful Differences
Dr. Sally Shaywitz  Neuroscientist, Department of Pediatrics, Yale University, Author: Overcoming Dyslexia
Dr. Louisa Moats  Director, Professional Development and Research Initiatives, Sopris West Educational Services
Dr. Zvia Breznitz Professor, Neuropsychology of Reading & Dyslexia, University of Haifa, Israel 
Rick Lavoie Learning Disabilities Specialist, Creator: How Difficult Can This Be?: The F.A.T. City Workshop & Last One Picked, First One Picked On
Dr.Charles Perfetti Professor, Psychology & Linguistics; Senior Scientist and Associate Director, Learning R&D Center, U. of Pittsburgh, PA
Arthur J. Rolnick Senior V.P. & Dir. of Research,  Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis;  Co- Author: The Economics of Early Childhood Development  
Dr. Richard Venezky  Professor, Educational Studies, Computer and  Information Sciences, and Linguistics, University of Delaware
Dr. Keith Rayner  Distinguished  Professor, University of Massachusetts, Author: Eye Movements in Reading and Information Processing
Dr. Paula Tallal  Professor of Neuroscience, Co-Director of the Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience, Rutgers University
Dr.John Searle  Mills Professor of the Philosophy of Mind and Language, University of California-Berkeley, Author: Mind, A Brief Introduction
Dr.Mark T. Greenberg Director, Prevention Research Center, Penn State Dept. of Human Development & Family Studies; CASEL Leadership Team
Dr. Terrence Deacon  Professor of Biological Anthropology and Linguistics at University of California- Berkeley
Chris Doherty  Ex-Program Director, National Reading First Program, U.S. Department of Education
Dr. Erik Hanushek Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University

Dr. Marketa Caravolas Director, Bangor Dyslexia Unit, Bangor University, Author: International Report on Literacy Research
Dr. Christof Koch Professor of Computation and Neural Systems,  Caltech - Author: The Quest for Consciousness: A Neurobiological Approach
Dr. Guy Deutscher Professor of Languages and Cultures of Ancient Mesopotamia, Holland; Author: Unfolding Language
Robert Wedgeworth  President, ProLiteracy, World's Largest Literacy Organization
Dr. Peter Leone  Director, National Center on Education, Disability and Juvenile Justice
Dr. Thomas Cable  Professor of English, University of Texas at Austin, Co-author: A History of the English Language
Dr. David Abram Cultural Ecologist and Philosopher; Author: The Spell of the Sensuous
Pat Lindamood and Nanci Bell  Principal Scientists, Founders, Lindamood-Bell Learning Processes
Dr. Anne Cunningham  Director, Joint Doctoral Program in Special Education, Graduate School of Education at University of California-Berkeley
Dr. Donald L. Nathanson  Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at Jefferson Medical College, Director of the Silvan S. Tomkins Institute 
Dr.Johanna Drucker  Chair of Media Studies, University of Virginia, Author: The Alphabetic Labyrinth
John H. Fisher  Medievalist, Leading authority on the development of the written English language, Author: The Emergence of Standard English
Dr. Malcolm Richardson   Chair, Dept. of English, Louisiana State University; Research: The Textual Awakening of the English Middle Classes  
James Wendorf  Executive Director, National Center for Learning Disabilities
Leonard Shlain Physician; Best-Selling Author: The Alphabet vs. The Goddess
Robert Sweet  Co-Founder, National Right to Read Foundation


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The Children of the Code is a Social Education Project and a Public Television Series intended to catalyze and resource a social-educational transformation in how we think about and, ultimately, teach reading. The Children of the Code is an entertaining educational journey into the challenges our children's brains face when learning to read. The series weaves together archeology, history, linguistics, developmental neuroscience, cognitive science, psychology, information theory, reading theory, learning theory, and the personal and social dimensions of illiteracy. 




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