What's in a Word?

I recently read with great dismay the College Board announcement that it was revamping the SAT. Among the changes the Board announced...
to the test is revamping the Reading section so that the vocabulary tested will be vocabulary more in the mainstream of the American vernacular. I’m thinking that is “education speak” for “the words will be easier.” That’s a shame.

Over my 30+ years of public and private school Language Arts and Advanced Placement English instruction, I have seen firsthand how vocabulary can empower students.  One of my favorite stories is of Curtis Brown, a student I taught at Gilmer High School years ago and is currently playing in the NFL.   We always had a word of the day to begin class and I tried to select words I had seen from experience continually pop up on the SAT Reading sections.  One such word was “didactic.” Curtis took great pride in learning the “Word of the Day” and he loved to show off his newfound knowledge in athletics.  One day at practice, the coaches told me, Curtis watched intently the game film featuring their fiercest rival they were to play the following Friday night.  The coaches pointed out how when a quarterback made a certain movement with his back foot, the ensuing play was inevitably a running play and went to the right side.  Curtis made a point of mentioning to the coaches afterwards that viewing the film was a didactic experience for him, admittedly sending some of the coaches to the nearest dictionary.didactic2

Words are power. Words can build a student’s self-esteem and above all, they can empower a student writer.  My students this year learned the word “sycophant” and take pride in using the word to describe anyone who obviously “sucks up” to an authority figure. So it pains me to see the College Board watering down the vocabulary portion of the SAT.  Hard isn’t necessarily bad and that’s the message I think the forthcoming changes is sending.  It makes me mad enough to dishevel my hair…

This Post was written by Edward Allen, Trinity School of Texas, 9-12th Grade English Teacher and SAT Prep

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