As of January 2014, about 76 percent of Americans over the age of 18 said they had read a book in the last year, according to Pew Research data. But surely the other 24 percent of the population read something over the course of those 365 days. They read Google Maps directions to get to the dentist, they read popcorn-cooking instructions so the kernels didn't burn, they read Wikipedia articles as they spiraled down conspiracy-theory rabbit holes. So even though book reading isn't exactly ubiquitous, the process of mentally converting letters on a page or screen into meaning is.
Along with the divides that hamper many aspects of education, the nature of developing the basic intellectual skill of reading is also rife with contradictions. Educators and scientists alike seemingly have the same goal of helping children become high-functioning, engaged readers. And yet, according to Mark Seidenberg, a psychology professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison whose research focuses on reading and language, the two groups are not exactly in sync right now.
In his forthcoming book, Language at the Speed of Sight, Seidenberg seeks to unpack why a nation as developed as the United States is underachieving in reading ability. According to the most recent National Assessment for Education Progress Report Card, just about one third of American fourth- and eighth-graders were reading at or above a proficient level last year. And Seidenberg says this poor performance is indicative of the underutilization of reading science by educators. He criticizes the education establishment for failing to adequately address the reading gap—pointing out that, though education may not be the equalizer it’s dreamt to be, there are ways for schooling to help chip away at the effects of poverty.