The Code is Technology              




Related Video(s):

A Brief History of the Code: The Big Bang of Literacy
Power of Writing

Why? What's Involved: Causes and Contributing Factors
Unnatural Confusion

See also: It's a Code

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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Nothing More Basic Than the Alphabet 

Nothing is more basic, really, than the alphabet. Itís amazing.

Johanna Drucker, Professor of Media Studies and Director of the Interdisciplinary Program in Media Studies at the University of Virginia. Author, The Alphabetic Labyrinth. Source: COTC Interview -

The Enabling Technology of Civilization

David Boulton: So, in a sense, writing is the enabling technology of civilization.

Dr. John Searle: It's right, as far as it goes, to say that the written language enables civilization. But I would go a further step and say it doesn't just enable it in the sense of making it possible, but rather, it constitutes it. It is a constitutive element of civilization in that you cannot have what we think of as the defining social institutions of civilization without having written language. You cannot have universities and schools. But not just the pedagogical institutions, but you can't even have money or private property or governments or national elections, or for that matter, cocktail parties and marriages. You can't even have a summer vacation or a lawsuit without a written language.

So, written language is where language acquires, not just a much greater creative power, but an enduring power, because you can create these wonderful writings that survive, that go on and on and get repeated. Think of the Constitution of the United States or the Declaration of Independence.

David Boulton: Itís the infrastructure of civilization.

Dr. John Searle: Indeed. It is the infrastructure, but it isn't just the infrastructure of roads and bridges, it's the infrastructure of human civilization itself.

John Searle, Mills Professor of the Philosophy of Mind and Language at University of California-Berkeley. 2004 National Humanities Medal for shaping modern thought about the nature of the human mind. Author of Mind: A Brief Introduction to the Fundamentals of Philosophy.  Source: COTC Interview -

Writing System is a Technology

Dr. Keith Stanovich: There's your idea of -- and I like that the phrase of "a writing system is a technology," and it's a cultural artifact that is, again, not natural in the sense that those famous articles in reading talk about things being natural.

David Boulton: And not like today's technology, where some team got together and figured it out. We would not let machine in the world run anything like this.

Dr. Keith Stanovich: Right. Now, there's it being a technology in the insight, and there's that insight. But then that's the point you just made, I think the issue is then: How efficacious a technology this is is kind of another issue. I think there are two things because there's technologies that are not as messed up, but nonetheless, someone would still have to have the insight, that you're still dealing with a cultural artifact. All I'm saying is that those are all good points, but I think there are two things rattling around in there.

Keith Stanovich, Canada's Research Chair of Applied Cognitive Science, Department of  Human Development and Applied Psychology, University of Toronto. Source: COTC Interview -

Technology Behind the Modern Mind

Dr. John Searle: People don't just get born into how to live as human beings, they have to learn how to live as human beings. Much of their learning -- indeed, almost all of their learning is by way of language. Some is by way of brute animal imitation. But once you get really going with advanced forms of civilization like falling in love or becoming a doctor, then you must have written language.

So, the forms of civilization that we think of as essential to the distinction between humans and other forms of animal life require advanced institutional structures. You and I spend our lives locked into institutional structures. I spend my life in a university. You spend your life engaged in various kinds of linguistic and technological enterprises. All of those require language, but particularly the advanced human forms of civilizations, like universities and like governments and like national elections - all of those require writing.  

David Boulton: Excellent. So, the development of writing and the complexity that's come with writing and the dimensions with which writing can refer to itself, and so forth, has actually changed the oral language.

Dr. John Searle: Oh, well, of course. It's changed the way we think and talk. I can't have the kinds of feelings that I have without language, but I can't have those without writing. So, I mentioned falling in love, but there are all kinds of other emotions that you cannot have without some way to articulate those. And that requires social forms of articulation, and they require written forms of articulation.  

John Searle, Mills Professor of the Philosophy of Mind and Language at University of California-Berkeley. 2004 National Humanities Medal for shaping modern thought about the nature of the human mind. Author of Mind: A Brief Introduction to the Fundamentals of Philosophy. Source: COTC Interview -

All But Fated by How Well the Learn an Archaic Technology

David Boulton:  Right. One of the things that gets me though, is that what weíre saying in effect is that the majority of our children, to some degree, are having their lives all but fated by how well they learn to interface with an archaic technology.

Dr. Reid Lyon: Well, by archaic technology, if you mean lousy teachingÖ

David Boulton:  No, I mean by the code itself.

Dr. Reid Lyon: Well, I see what you mean.  Weíre not going to change the code, Iím sure. 

G. Reid Lyon, Past- Chief of the Child Development and Behavior Branch of the National Institute of Child Health & Human Development,
National Institutes of Health, Current senior vice president for research and evaluation with Best Associates. Source: COTC Interview -

An Incredibly Modern Invention

One of the interesting things about reading is that itís an incredibly modern invention. I mean, in a sense, reading was invented by Gutenberg. I once heard Professor Gardner at Harvard make such a statement and Iíve loved it ever since. You could say reading was invented by the Swedish kings, who for the first time required that every child in the kingdom must learn to read and who left the local preacher, the local minister responsible for teaching them. And thatís a seventeenth century event. So in fact, this incredibly heavy exercise that weíre all engaged in, that involves such intensive learning is based on a relatively recent event.

Michael Merzenich, Chair of Otolaryngology at the Keck Center for Integrative Neurosciences at the University of California at San Francisco. He is a scientist and educator, and founder of Scientific Learning Corporation and Posit Science Corporation. 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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