Friday, January 27, 2012

"They just don't have the words." Two teachers share their sorrow.

It's the end of finals week.
Students and teachers are tired.
I have a colleague, and English and History teacher, who is one of the smartest men I know, as well as one of the most dedicated teachers I ever expect to know. We were roommates for two years, and the man never went to bed before two in the morning. He is a master of twenty-first century project design.
The students adore him, keeping in touch with him long after graduation.
If you were fortunate, you may have had a teacher like him.
I talked with him today about some of our freshmen.
"It is just so frustrating," he told me. "They just don't have the words to express ideas."
Ten years ago I read about a study that compared the vocabulary of students in the fifties with the vocabulary of today's students.
The study indicated that current students use about half of the words students in the fifties did.
I do not think it is an overstatement to say that this is a crisis.
A Word Crisis.
My friend and great American writer, Andrew Smith, talks about the connection between words, ideas, and creativity a lot.
For over twenty years one of my classroom mantras has been "Words are power."
Power to communicate, power to create, power to change the world.
"Choose to wield words for good and noble purposes," I tell them.
And when my heart is dark and weary, as it is tonight, I think of Matthew Arnold, "Dover Beach", and ignorant armies, and I am afraid.


  1. Vocabulary is an amazing talent. My wife and I have never held back on using variety in our conversations and have been successful in teaching the love of reading to our kids. I am surprised at how many people I meet cannot read more than what I would call 6th grade level. This does not bode well for our society.

  2. I have heard similar things over the past few years. It's heartbreaking.