Semantics, AKA What the heck are they talking about??

M and I have a long-standing disagreement of sorts over the word "strive". He finds it somewhat distasteful. I live by it. As our relationship matures - or perhaps as we tire of having the same arguments repeatedly - I find myself reflecting on the nuances of the language I use. While sitting around a neighborhood association board meeting recently, I listened to an exchange that sounded on the surface as if they were disagreeing. As it went on, it became clear that they actually seemed to share the same opinion. It was the language chosen by one party that turned a common vision into an argument.

Strive has two definitions in the Merriam Webster dictionary...."to devote serious effort or energy" and "to struggle in opposition".

Strive has a positive context in my internalized definition. It's about working hard and accomplishing things, perhaps things that scared you. Perseverance. Pushing limits. Striving is a way to get substantially better at something in a timely fashion.

Now, in examining the second part of the definition, I was surprised to find the word opposition. Struggle made sense, because when I think about hard things, like hiking the Appalachian Trail, or moving to a far away state and teaching poor, learning disabled students to read, I remember the tears and confusion and feelings of almost-ready-to-throw-in-the-towel that happen along the way. But opposition? A force working against you to prevent you from reaching your goals? That's a whole other story. So, even though I really like the word strive, and all the schema I have built up around it, maybe I'll just use another word, like "endeavor" or "bang away" when I'm talking about it with M.

I got an email today advertising for this summer book club for teachers. I don't know Mike Schmoker. This is not a book review. Maybe his book is actually awesome, and the description doesn't do it justice. Maybe I'm the ridiculous one for being tired of books about education using phrase like "in no uncertain terms". I think it's funny that he calls standards documents "bloated". My interest is piqued enough that I will probably add this to my library request list. I tire of the endless parade of experts pushing their solution to school reform when none of it does anything to actually rethink schools. Kids don't grow up to work in factories anymore, so why do we school them in factories?

My point here is that maybe teachers should work to increase their own content knowledge. Less on how to teach. Don't even worry about your content area. My overall content knowledge of math is far broader than what I will ever talk about in class lectures, but without that understanding, I would fail in my ability to talk about the number line. Taking in new content (aka "stuff") puts you back in the experience of a learner, which is probably a highly valuable activity, and would probably teach you more about building understanding of unfamiliar topics than listening to yet another blow-hard describe the "essential" elements of instruction. Look beyond books. Look for some TED lectures online or go to a thesis defense at your local university or take a welding class.

And now I must go and take my own advice...

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