Becoming a skilled user of language... is not fast or easy.– E. D. Hirsch
A few words, used with care, can destroy a person —or create a world!
Language is amazing. With language, we enter into each other's minds. With language, we can fine-tune our own thoughts, and spread them across continents and down generations.
But most people graduate from high school barely able to type an e-mail.
What if a new kind of school could help all students fall in love with language, and delight in using it brilliantly?
To cultivate readers, our schools —
- nurture pleasure reading by turning classrooms into libraries, devoting whole periods to free reading, and organizing book tastings.
- teach beginning reading through a combination of synthetic phonics and delicious literature.
- train older children to read difficult nonfiction analytically, and read authors against each other.
- teach kids to speed read, so they can shift their reading into multiple gears.
To cultivate writers, our schools —
- practice storytelling and public speaking.
- train children in calligraphy, penmanship, and touch-typing.
- unveil the secret origins of words and harebrained spelling rules.
- help kids master fussy ("Standard English") grammar, but also a profusion of different dialects, accents, and styles.
- train kids in the art of dissecting sentences.
- lead kids to identify and emulate authors they love.
- engage in meaningful writing projects — assignments that help kids think better about questions they value, and that other people actually want to read!
- go beyond the oversold "five paragraph essay" model, and have kids read and write poems, letters, short stories, songs, scripts, novellas, parodies, and so on.
And to cultivate people who can read, write, and think in more than one language, our schools —
- don't teach young students a foreign language, but teach young children in a foreign language.
- teach older students a foreign language using a system of learning in harmony with contemporary cognitive psychology, so kids master accents, remember words easily, and actually approach fluency.
Susan Sontag (writer, filmmaker, activist, philosopher) was once asked if there was anything she thought writers ought to do. She responded:
Several things. Love words, agonize over sentences, and pay attention to the world.
Through all this, our schools cultivate students who love words, and use them expertly.