Social Pathology              

...Every public major concern has a much higher incidence of reading problems attached to it from juvenile delinquency to teen pregnancy to failure to graduate from high school to drug problems. You take anything that we say is a major concern and there is a higher than expected incidence, by far, of individuals who have struggled with reading or have a frank learning disability.  Dr. Paula Tallal. Board of Governor's Chair of Neuroscience and Co-Director of the Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience at Rutgers University.  Source: COTC Interview -


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CLICK TO GO TO CHAPTER: We Have A Problem: What's At Stake
Social Danger

See also:  Index of all topic pages related to shame - Juvenile Injustice  and our Interview with Dr. Peter Leone, Director, National Center on Education, Disability & Juvenile Justice

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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Low Literacy Skills and Social Pathologies

I think the main thing to emphasize for anyone who has worked with a child or with an adult who has a reading problem, either who is low literate or is just struggling with reading, is that it is very apparent that it is the lost human potential, the lost self-esteemÖthat is the most poignant.  And, in the end itís the most significant, because the loss in self-esteem is what leads to a whole host of social pathologies that are very difficult to look in the face. Crime, substance abuse, and the school drop out rate -any of those things - they are very difficult to face. And there is a line to be drawn between low literacy skills and those social pathologies.

There is a twenty-seven percent drop out rate of students with learning disabilities; that is more than twice the rate of the general population Ölost human potential. And there are problems with substance abuse and juvenile justice problems.   And certainly looking at the general population of students that drop out, one can go to prisons and see that it is very apparent the majority of inmates lack reading skill.

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

Higher Than Expected Incidence of Struggling Readers and Learning Disabilities

The statistics on the negative sequalea of failing to read are horrifying. And we continue to think about this as a small problem. Itís not life threatening, thatís for sure, but it can be life destroying for a lot of individuals and we tend to forget that.

Itís remarkable thatís thereís no insurance coverage for most of the families who have children with these problems. There are very few physicians who are more than just aware of the problem. There are very few individuals who specialize in this problem. Many parents have said to me, 'If I had a child with any other problem I would have some high level professional with a medical degree to take this child to  to deal with the problem. But if my child has an educational problem Iím on my own with the teacher' - who are very well meaning, but many times donít really know what to do with the children who have a lot of difficulty in this area.

At the same time, we know remarkably well that if you know a childís reading ability by the third grade you generally have a very good ability to predict whether theyíre going to graduate from high school or not and what their abilities are going to be and what their future is going to be. Thatís the reason we hear all children will read by the third grade, we know thatís highly predictive.

What are the rest of the statistics? I donít know if you want to hear the horror statistics, but itís quite remarkable.  I had the opportunity to give a report to the Congressional Bio-Medical Research Caucus so I went into looking at the statistics.  Itís something like every public major concern has a much higher incidence of reading problems attached to it from juvenile delinquency to teen pregnancy to failure to graduate from high school to drug problems. You take anything that we say is a major concern and there is a higher than expected incidence, by far, of individuals who have struggled with reading or have a frank learning disability.

It costs twice as much in real dollars to educate a child in special education than in regular education and yet through the history of maintaining statistics and all the additional money that has gone in we have seen a flat line in terms of the actual effectiveness of our current ability to remediate these issues. And yet we know that all these other problems are on the rise as we have more and more children who are having difficulty in learning to read. We do have a national crisis, well probably an international crisis, but we do have a major crisis in the United States.

Paula Tallal. Board of Governor's Chair of Neuroscience and Co-Director of the Center for Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience at Rutgers University.  Source: COTC Interview -  

Literacy and Social Pathology

David Boulton:  This plays right into the National Institute for Literacyís upcoming report on the state of adult literacy and the strong correlations between the patterns that we see at the NAEP level and how they seem to play out in adult society. That high percentages of inmates in prison are people of color and people that canít read, and similarly in welfare and health care. Thereís such a strong correlation between literacy and all these other social pathologies.

Dr. Timothy Shanahan:  How aware you are of whatís going on in your society is correlated with it. How often you vote, whether youíre registered to vote Ė thatís connecting to literacy. Whether youíre working, what level job youíre working in, your likelihood of getting employed Ė all those are connected. Not all low literacy people commit crime, but it does appear that the largest percentage of people who commit crime are of low literacy. Every social pathology appears to be related to literacy attainment. Every good that we distribute in our society seems to be related to it. Literacy is a great enabler.

Letís be honest Ė a child who comes out of an impoverished background in terms of what his mother or father can provide materially Ė if that kid does well in learning literacy he is much more likely to live at a higher standard than his parents, he is much more likely to be able to participate in any number of social activities that his or her parents canít participate in. But the deck is stacked against that kind of a child, and the statistics suggest that he or she will probably end up more like their parents in literacy attainment (and the outcomes that can buy).

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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