Saturday, September 14, 2013

What happens when vocabulary stays "relevant"

From what I can tell, the pending change to the vocabulary section of the SATs isn’t just one of simplification (from “compendious” to “concise”), but of associated genres. Specifically, the sample changes suggest a switch from words found mainly in literary classics to the words that dominate contemporary nonfiction: from “redolent” to “relevant;” from “treacly” to “transform."

In this Age of Distraction, teachers already have had to assign texts that are mostly “relevant” to kids’ daily lives; K12 authors already have had to dumb down their vocabulary (and sentence structure); No Fear Shakespeare already often substitutes for Shakespeare; pre-20th century novels have already largely vanished from the classroom; and kids already do less and less unassigned reading. The pending changes to what’s now called the Critical Reading section of the SATs will only further fortify the barrier between today’s generation and the literary classics.

After all, for better or for worse, the SAT vocabulary lists do have some influence on which words the more ambitious students bother learning. And if terms like “redolent” never become familiar, that's all the more reason for even the most ambitious of students to steer clear of the classics.


Auntie Ann said...

Our 7th grader's reading list this year (at a very good school): Romeo and Juliet (teens falling in love), A Step From Heaven (Korean kid moves to the US), Persepolis (teen growing up in revolutionary Iran), and This Boy's Life (more teen fiction), and Cyrano de Bergerac (??). They all look like good books, but with the exception of Cyrano, they are all about teens. The theme is apparently major life changes, and that lends itself to early-teen fiction. They're doing Cyrano right now, and are kid really likes it.

But, it drives me nuts that schools always assign books that are, in one way or another, about the kids themselves--especially for teenagers. Teens spend so much of their time inward-focused, that pulling them outside themselves and showing them the wider would would be a very good thing! I would think the last thing teens need is to think even *more* about themselves.

Anonymous said...

Agreed, Auntie Ann. It's a test of maturity to be able to keep going with a novel about someone in a different age group and in a different world -- Moby Dick comes to mind.

Anonymous said...

I read Moby Dick to my 8 year old son as his bedtime story over the course of months. He loved it. I expect that years in the future he'll read it himself and love it again.

Anonymous said...

Auntie Ann, it could be worse. My sophomore daughter's allegedly advanced English class is reading Persepolis.