Stanislas Dehaene has a nice piece in Cerebrum, from the Dana Foundation, on how the human brain must be rewired to take advantage of one of humankind’s most profound inventions: literacy.
Learning to read is a major event in a child’s life. Cognitive neuroscience shows why: compared to the brain of an illiterate person, the literate brain is massively changed, mostly for the better—through the enhancement of the brain’s visual and phonological areas and their interconnections—but also slightly for the worse, as the displacement of the brain’s face-recognition circuits reduces the capacity for mirror invariance. Once children learn to read, their brains are literally different.
Teaching a child to read literally changes her brain for survival in the modern economy of the 21st century. Would we respect teaching a little more if we called it noninvasive brain surgery? Wouldn’t we want to understand it better scientifically?
Now that we understand exactly which circuits are changed by reading education, we may start thinking about how to optimize this process, particularly for children who struggle in school.
Dehaene’s books on numeracy, The Number Sense, and literacy, Reading in the Brain, are both well worth reading to get a deeper understanding of his hypothesis that existing brain architecture is slightly re-purposed (neuronal recycling) to create new circuits for processing the symbolic languages of written speech and precise calculation.