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Dictionary exercises

May 24, 2011

I remember a particularly boring homework assignment once given by my 4th grade teacher, in which we had to find definitions of certain listed words from the dictionary and write them down verbatim.   All of them.  Sometimes words have various meanings and they mean different things in different contexts so I was impatient with the rote nature of the assignment and with the cramping of my hand as I copied the definitions. Most of the words were ones already in my vocabulary, so I found that the exercise confused rather than enhanced my understanding of them because it somehow muddled my mostly-accurate sense of context for each of them, contexts I had gained through natural use of language and by reading lots and lots of books.  (I wonder what the reaction was of the kids who didn’t care much for language…)

Later in my public school education, I read Orwell’s 1984 with its Ministry of Truth, Newspeak and other  notions of societal control.   I’m thinking Orwell couldn’t really have predicted the things that are happening in contemporary society, but all the same he nailed part of the issue we’re facing in public schools.  I refer, more specifically to the part where sinister, nebulous entities appropriate and manipulate language to serve their own purposes.

Here are some of my own school-related dictionary entries, with a tip of the hat to 1984 and a probably snarky tribute to that long-ago 4th-grade teacher; I guess it would be fair to say that she was a retiring teacher who had no patience for my high-needs.  If I’m being mean, I could say she actively disliked me and didn’t want to be bothered with the fact that I had some troubling issues going on in my home life.  Either way, I confess that she was one of my least favorite teachers of all time.

Disclosure: Sources for my abridged definitions are partially obtained from Random House Webster’s College Dictionary and some symbol sources from Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary  (please, don’t get on my case, linguists, I’m working with the characters I have at my disposal).

charter (chär´tɘr) n. 1. an authorization from a central or parent organization to establish a new branch, chapter, etc. adj. 2. available for lease or hire by private individuals. 3. a semi-private school, presumed to be of greater worth than a public school despite mixed statistical results indicating otherwise.

doublespeak (dub´ɘl spi­­ːk) n. evasive, ambiguous,or high-flown language intended to deceive or confuse.

effective (i fek´tiv) adj. 1. adequate to accomplish a purpose; producing the intended or expected result: effective teaching methods (which, in most states, have not been defined independent of standardized test-score results.) 2. producing a deep or vivid impression (see “expert”); striking; 3. prepared and available for service (see dubious entry for TFA)

expert (ek´spûrt) 1. a person who has special knowledge or skill in a particular field. 2. possessing special skill or knowledge. 3. (education) one who declares or is presumed to have the possession of special knowledge or skill with minimal actual work or study in the field that would assure its acquisition.

failing (feɪ´ling) contemporary adj. Usually in reference to public schools, refers to one that is proving to be unsuccessful, based on inappropriate use of expensive standardized testing to declare its worth.

human capital (hyuː´mɘn kap´i tl)n. 1. In one interpretation, refers to the value of humans who can contribute to a work-force, namely schools. 2. In another interpretation, refers to the equation of human beings as entities to contribute to overall capital, rather than as beings of otherwise intrinsic worth.

innovation (in´ɘ veɪ´shɘn) n. 1.  something new or different introduced. 2. the the act of innovating; introduction of new things or methods. 3. the act of introducing old methods that haven’t worked in the past, using a fancy new, label or of introducing unproven methods in public schools expecting great results (usually without buy-in from the greater community.)

turnaround (tûrn´ɘ round´) n. 1. change of allegiance, opinion, mood, policy, etc. 2. a recovery as in business sales; change from loss to profit 3. an action performed on schools deemed to be unsatisfactory whereby the school community of students and employees are subjected to drastic change, usually imposed by forces from above. adj. A school on which this action is performed, or predicted to be performed.

unsatisfactory (un´sat is fak´tə ri­­ː) [or, in Newspeak: unsat] adj. 1. not satisfactory; not satisfying or meeting or meeting one’s demands; inadequate; 2. Pertaining to a school that does not provide adequate test score results to prevent a turnaround (see above); 


That’s it for now. Perhaps I will attempt some other definitions later but now I sense the grumpy phantom of that very teacher breathing her hot breath of displeasure on my neck, and am reminded of my whiny nine-year -old self completing the aforementioned homework. Double shudder!

One Comment leave one →
  1. May 25, 2011 7:26 am

    WOW, For me this describes my 5th grade (1968) teacher, Mrs. Hoy (whose silly eyebrow archs were painted on, who overtly favored the boys and who encouraged brown-nosed suckups).

    Luckily, once I moved into middle school I got an English teacher who appreciated my highly-developed inner world, as you say –a reader’s contextually driven understanding of words and meanings.

    He also had us reading Orwell and he asked to have me in his class two years running –to bad I can’t remember his name. !!

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