My students this year seem deeply motivated by root words. It began on the first day with the root word logos and the word prologue. Students examined its connection in each subject, from biology to the question of rational/irrational and whether it’s the same logos in logical that’s in the other subjects.
It’s my first year of self-contained and hence my first year of completely blurring the boundaries between subjects. Today students ended the day by wrestling with the question, “How do literature, social studies, math and science differ in how they define truth?” A few kids convinced me to let them switch “truth” with “reality.”
Although I have a Luddite streak in me, I notice that my most careful language mavens are the tweeters who have learned to choose wisely with 140 characters. That and the kids who want to be rappers and expanded their vocabulary for the simple joy of rhyme. They might not be hooked on phonics, but they seem drunk on the same iamb that once hooked Shakespeare. And then there are the English Language Learners (aren’t we all learning language?) who thirst to learn, because unfortunately in society a lack of language often means people assume you are stupid.
So, just about every subject has turned into an exploration of language. “Cell division seems really complicated with the language hear, but the process seems simple. Do you think they do that to make themselves feel more important or to keep people away?” Ouch.
Another student picks up on the phrases used when we study “Tell-Tale Heart,” and remarks, “Why do we assume that the narrator is a man? You all use ‘he’ but we have no proof.” These moments are not constant. I still wade through a sea of sloppy syntax and listen to my fair share of misplaced words. Still, it is this intense desire of the class that feels like such a contrast compared to many of my grown-up conversations.
All of these experiences make me think that what I really want are students who understand language, not so that their essays sound pretty, but because they recognize the power in how it shapes reality. I want them to wrestle over the context and know the root and understand the relations not so that they sound snobby in a coffee shop, but so they aren’t easily duped by cable news. I want students who will never use the phrase, “It’s just semantics.”