Archive for the 'Word' Category

Word of the Week: Community

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

The word of the week is community.

It’s a word I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, as I’ve been doing a lot of leaning on my own community over the past few weeks. I’ve also been thinking about how new technologies and changes in society affect our idea of community.

Today is Wednesday. Since last Wednesday, I…

  • attended a Bris for my cousin’s son.
  • ended my 30-day mourning period for my mother.
  • participated in a live reading of The Comedy of Errors with a group I found online.
  • reconnected via e-mail with a close childhood friend I lost touch with 15 years ago.
  • participated in a learning community seminar about 21rst century schools with my work colleagues.
  • was called for an aliyah at the Bar Mitzvah of another cousin’s son.
  • visited my sister in the hospital and held my 10-hour-old niece.
  • conducted a day-long data workshop that helped a school identify a pervasive student learning problem.
  • began teaching The Merchant of Venice to an 8th-grade class who will be creating a video project based on the play.
  • joined Facebook.
  • was invited to present at a conference at the Folger on teaching Shakespeare in the elementary school.
  • participated in a webinar, cosponsored by the Folger and PBS, that brought together 176 Shakespeare teachers from across the country.

Traditional community structures such as family, school, religion, and professional networks are supplemented and even augmented (though never replaced) by technology and an increased focus on interconnectivity and collaboration. What I learned this week, though, is that there’s no substitute for being there in person.

Welcome to the world, Elena. You have big shoes to fill.

Word of the Week: Smarter

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

The word of the week is smarter.

That links to the word “smart” but I deliberately chose the comparative form. Here it is in context:

Are You Smarter Than A 5th Grader?

Forgetting that the show in question tests knowledge and not intelligence, it may seem at face value to be a very silly question to ask in the first place. I would, however, argue that it is completely nonsensical, based on what we now understand about human intelligence. Making glib statements about who is smarter than whom ignores the wide range of ways that people can be smart.

In 1905, Alfred Binet, a French psychologist, created a diagnostic test to identify students who needed extra help in school. It was the misapplication of this test that led to the highly-flawed concept of IQ. Over the past century, the IQ has been used for purposes that range from merely misguided to downright ugly. For more on that, read The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould.

We really need to get past the idea that intelligence is something that can be ranked in a linear manner. In his landmark 1983 book Frames of Mind, Howard Gardner makes a case for the Theory of Multiple Intelligences, the theory that there are distinct and identifiable areas of intelligence that exist in the human mind, that are “independent of one another, and that … can be fashioned and combined in a multiplicity of adaptive ways by individuals and cultures.” Gardner identifies seven such intelligences, though he allows for the possibility that there may be others, and the conversation surrounding various other possible intelligences continues today. His original seven — Linguistic, Musical, Logical-Mathematical, Spatial, Bodily-Kinesthetic, and the two personal intelligences commonly referred to as Interpersonal and Intrapersonal — have gained wide acceptance among learning theorists and educators in the field.

And yet, as a system, we still judge student achievement solely from test scores in literacy and math, and cling to IQ as a meaningful measurement of a person’s intelligence.

After everything we’ve learned about the human mind, we should be smarter than that.

Word of the Week: Support

Wednesday, March 19th, 2008

I’ve been troubled for some time about the careless use of certain words in public discourse. In some cases, it’s pure laziness about language. In other cases, words can be twisted as a deliberate obfuscation or to reframe the terms of debate.

With this feature, I intend to reclaim for the English language and civilized discourse a few of the words that have been hijacked for political and/or other nefarious purposes. I’m thinking that this will be a weekly feature to replace the old Headline Game on Wednesdays.

The word of the week is support.

Here it is in context:

Ryan Gill, operations director for Move America Forward, said he disliked the anti-war groups’ strategy and said groups like his that support the war and especially support the troops didn’t plan on adding to Wednesday’s “circus atmosphere.”

Do you support the war in Iraq?

Before you answer, ask yourself what it means to support the war. Does it mean that you are rooting for our side to win? Does it mean that you think the war was a good idea? Does it mean that you think we should keep our troops there longer? Does it mean that your tax dollars are paying for the war? Each of these meanings could be intended by “support the war” and yet we use the term like it has a uniform meaning for everyone.

I was against the war from the beginning. I am not in favor of pulling our troops out immediately. I am not in favor of leaving our troops there for a hundred years. My tax dollars most certainly are paying for the war. I would like us to be successful there. I think President Bush is not a good president. I am disappointed by those on the left who seem to gloat over failures in Iraq. I am disappointed by those on the right who use successes in Iraq to attack the patriotism of those on the left. I am in awe of the bravery of our troops and want them to succeed in their mission and come home safely.

So with all that in mind, do I support the war?

The word has a different meaning in “support the troops” as it does in “support the president’s policy” and the current administration has a huge stake in using language like “support the war” which seems to conflate the two. Let’s stop doing that.

And reading back over this post, I can see already that “war” needs to go on the Word of the Week list. Yeah, this needs to be a regular feature. We’ll see how it goes, but I’ll probably keep this going at least through the election. Things are going to get very silly, very soon. Words will be used as weapons, and we need to stay vigilant.