José Moraïs

Read, write and be free From Literacy to Democracy Publication date : January 6, 2016

Pr. José Morais is a psycholinguist and a professor emeritus at the Free University of Brussels (ULB). As a student in Portugal during the Salazar dictatorship, he actively opposed the regime and was forced to leave the country, later obtaining U.N. refugee status in Belgium. For his scientific contributions he was awarded the title of doctor honoris causa of Lisbon University. In France, he has been a member of the scientific advisory board of the National Literacy Observatory, since its creation in 1995. He is the author of more than 150 articles in prestigious scientific journals. In recent years his collaboration with Stanislas Dehaene, at the Collège de France, and with other scholars, has resulted in joint articles in such journals as Science (2000), The Journal of Experimental Psychology: General (2014), PNAS (2014) and Nature Neuroscience Review (2015). He is currently a visiting professor at the Centre for Research in Cognition and the Neurosciences at ULB.

The rise in literacy — the mastery of reading and writing skills — has been one of the factors responsible for the decrease in violence in the world. But the percentage of illiterates in the population has now ceased dropping, and the number of young people who leave school with unsatisfactory reading and writing skills is rising. At the same time, the democratic system, which rose with capitalism, has become increasingly unrepresentative, due to the growing power of institutions that do not rely on universal suffrage, and to the rise in abstentionism.
In this book, the psycholinguist José Morais contrasts these two factors, which far from being parallel actually influence one another in a series of reciprocal interactions. He shows why the question of children’s education is crucial not only to support culture but also for the survival of a just, living, thriving democracy.
The goal of this book is twofold: to explain how children learn to read and write and use those skills, and to show why the struggle for a real democracy — a highly topical subject — hinges on the support of literacy.

• Solid proposals, grounded on scientific knowledge, to broaden the access to literacy and, in so doing, to enhance democratic practice.