Literacy literally changes the human brain. The process of learning to read changes our brain, but so does what we read, how we read and on what we read (print, e-reader, phone, laptop). This is especially important in our new reality, when many people are tethered to multiple screens at any given moment. With much of the world working from home, and millions of students learning at home, developing a biliterate brain – one adapted to both digital and traditional print literacy – has never been more important. The poet TS Eliot presciently asked: "Where is the knowledge in our information? Where is the wisdom in our knowledge?"
Gov. Gavin Newsom has struggled with dyslexia since elementary school. Now he's telling his story through Ben, the baseball-loving protagonist of his new children's book who has a tough time reading, too. "Ben & Emma's Big Hit," which goes on sale Tuesday, parallels Newsom's experience with dyslexia, which he learned he had in fifth grade. The 54-year-old governor said parenting his own children, who also have learning issues, inspired him to work with Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House, after noticing a lack of picture books designed for young dyslexic children learning to read. Ben's character draws on a young Gavin, who excelled on the baseball field but whose learning issues left him anxiety-ridden in the classroom, perspiring at reading time and feeling like he wasn't as smart as other kids.
Marisa Johnson's six-year-old daughter was just learning to read independently when her Alameda, California, school shut down last year. Without solid literacy skills and lots of time stuck at home, the tot is spending much more time playing video games and watching shows than reading books. "She's definitely reading less," Johnson says. "The only way we can be alone among ourselves is with screens." As many parents know, screen time has ballooned during the pandemic.
Not long ago, a cognitive neuroscientist decided to perform an experiment on herself. Maryanne Wolf, an expert on the science of reading, was worried--as perhaps you have worried--that she might be losing the knack for sustained, deep reading. She still bought books, she writes in Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World, "but more and more I read in them rather than being whisked away by them. At some time impossible to pinpoint, I had begun to read more to be informed than to be immersed, much less to be transported." Despite having written a popular book, Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain, celebrating, among other things, the brain's neuroplasticity--that is, its tendency to reshape its circuitry to adapt to the tasks most often demanded of it--Wolf told herself that it wasn't the style of her reading that had changed, only the amount of time she could set aside for it.
Our children have the right to be AI-educated so they can thrive intellectually, emotionally, and morally alongside AI. In the next decade or so, for most children, AI will be their co-workers, drivers, insurance agents, customer service reps, bank tellers, receptionists, radiologists, in short, a natural part of their lives. That's why I am proud of our collaboration with Cloudera in making A Fresh Squeeze on DATA -- A picture book about problem-solving with DATA that encourages children worldwide to transform from passive spectators of technology disruption to active participants of positive change in their local communities and the world. We owe it to our children to help them understand and utilize the powerful tools of AI and thoughtfully weigh its moral and social implications early on. And this is what A Fresh Squeeze on DATA is all about.