Insights from Morton High
July 12, 1994
Words, Words, Words
The room is quiet. Several students sit at tables taking the writing section of the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills Test (TAAS) I'm proctoring the exam. The state of Texas requires all its high school students to pass the TAAS in order to graduate from High School. I can hear the air conditioner and the occasional sound of a student erasing what they've written....as they're engaged in creating an essay.
"In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was on the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God SAID Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good." Many of you could quoote this scripture from memory. Aside from its deep significance, it is beautiful poetry in its own right.
It is humbling and awe-inspiring stuff this creation story. There is an old Jewish tale that says in the beginning God sent his word forth but it returned to Him saying, "Great God of the universe why have you sent us to dead men? For they are all dead! Indeed, it was so. The Word of God was so powerful that his creation swooned before it. Then the great God of the universe took his word and formed it into stories and sent it out that we might live.
The importance of words in creation has never been lost on me. Words have comforted me when I needed comfort, they have corrected me when I needed correction, they have caused me to laugh when I was downcast, and they have helped me understand myself and my world. When students ask why they should have to read and write with proficiency, my answer is clear. Without words our lives are severly limited our thoughts are stunted and our share in creation is diminished. It is no accident that scripture reports that God Spoke the world into being.
When I was in high school, an essay by Aldous Huxley, about the power and importance of a good vocabulary changed me. He advocated learning words as a means of learning to think. Since I wanted to be a clear thinker, I began adding a new word from the dictionary to my daily vocabulary. I would use the word at least five times each day and then I would review all the words I had added to my vocabulary at the end of the week.
Let us encourage one another to use words wisely; to make our use of them part of a creation of the kind of world we want to see. Let us read to each other, to ourselves. Let our children see us reading, talking about issues, sharing the excitement that using words to communicate can bring. Then students will breeze through the TAAS writing test, recognizing what a marvelous gift words can be.