I have noticed, especially in the past few weeks, that either my brain is tired or I am lazy. Perhaps I need to read more challenging books, or study the thesaurus, or stay off facebook. I'm not sure. Of this I am sure: my vocabulary is thinner than it once was. When I describe something or react to my kids' pronouncements, all too often I hear myself resorting to "That's cool!" or "Awesome!" or "Interesting!" and not working very diligently to dig up more descriptive words. When I recognized how often I was reaching into the same boring barrel, pulling out tired, nondescript phrases, I was shocked. And bored. Bored with saying the same things, and bored with hearing the same words on tv or in conversation.
I believe the Lighthouse curriculum refers to words like these as dead words. Dead words have been so overused or misused that they express absolutely nothing at all. "Expired" words are not encouraged at Lighthouse. We make a concerted effort to develop vocabulary from the time our students are reading until they go on to high school--by providing and encouraging lots and lots of variety, quality, and quantity in reading materials; by incorporating vocabulary exercises in our spelling curriculum; by giving students many opportunities to create and give oral presentations; by refusing to speak "down" to our students, even the smallest ones.
In the poem, "Speaking With Conviction," Taylor Mali, a former teacher and current comedian and slam poet, highlights some current cultural speech oddities and the importance (and disappearance) of declarative sentences. He performs his poem in the following video, his words illustrated by typography student Ronnie Bruce. We played this video for the junior high students today, and their grins and laughter were telling. Please take a minute to laugh a bit and learn from his point of view (Click on the photo below, click the white arrow in the window that comes up, and make sure the sound is up):
I want to find words that reflect my conviction. I want my children to believe that it matters whether or not they use deep, thought-provoking words; to believe that people will listen when they speak; to believe that it's preferable to use every ounce of intelligence they've been given, and not hide it away for fear of being called a loser. Today, I'm pulling out my thesaurus, I'm committing to less time on facebook and more time reading Bonhoeffer, Twain, and Dickinson. I'm going to pay more attention to the words my children hear when they ask me what I think.
I challenge you to do the same. Let's teach our children to speak with confidence and conviction!