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Blog #3: Invisible Doesn’t Mean Weak

When reading the first chapter of Choice Words I was struck with how significant Johnston really makes language in shaping our lives and how we relate to each other.  I’ve always believed this about words, but at the same time I never thought of just how much impact they can have.  I guess in a glib way, I understand that words can “move mountains” or some other cliche, but Johnston helped me see the huge endeavors words take on, and how successful they can be.

One passage that I am particularly struck by is when he gives examples from the classrooms he observes, and he mentions, “I watched as a student, who had been classified as emotionally disturbed, was systematically made undisturbed” (3).  This observation made me sit back and stare for a long time.  I reflected on how wonderful it is that words and reading can help young people shape themselves and even love and understand themselves.  I also worried about how many children suffer from classifications like Johnston describes, simply because they can’t read well and are subjected to a poor learning environment.

I relate to that passage because without reading I would have never considered becoming a writer, and writing gave me an outlet to express myself in a time where I felt like I had no one to talk to.  Reading Johnston’s recollections about the classrooms, it is easy to see myself in a lot of the kids.

Another passage I am fond of is when Johnston states, “…if students need to know something, they shouldn’t be reduced to guessing by their teacher’s assumptions about what they “should” already know” (7).  I relate this quote to the anecdote from Calkins’ textbook, where the instructor asks a question and then impatiently calls on students, pronouncing them wrong and growing frustrated with each “incorrect” answer.  Sometimes I think that teachers get so overwhelmed by the curriculum schedule and the need to keep their job, that they forget what their job is really all about:  teaching people, young or old.  It saddens me that a lot of teachers rely on the Q&A, when there is an entirely different set of people in the world that can’t learn by repetition or memorization.

I hope that as a teacher I never forget that creating a safe, welcoming, and encouraging classroom is one of the easiest ways to help students and create scholars.  I feel as if when teachers assume what students “should already know” they do themselves a disservice, and they stifle the curiosity that is so important for learning.

Finally, a quote that hits home with me is Johnston’s statement, “Speech is as much an action as hitting someone with a stick, or hugging them” (8).  I think Johnston means that we forget how speech dictates (pardon the irony there) almost everything about our lives.  It happens while we are unaware, going about existence, and speech is so ingrained in us that it becomes an unconsciously wielded weapon.  If teachers forget just how powerful words are, they are essentially handing (or not handing) students with invisible weapons of mass destruction.  We have a responsibility to respect words and how they affect us, how they allow us to understand our world and make meaning of our emotions.

I know that this is very hyperbolic, but I wonder if behind every terrorist is a lack of respect for just how powerful your words, and not your actions, can be.  If all teachers, like the one that Johnston writes about in his first chapter, aspired to end murder with their lessons of words, would people be so hasty to eliminate humans instead of convincing humans to see their point of view?


About somethingsamish

Writer. Reader. Lover. Dreamer. Singer. Dancer. Taking-Chancer. Listener. Talker. Sitter. Walker. Just like you, just a little new.

6 responses to “Blog #3: Invisible Doesn’t Mean Weak

  1. Dude i just love reading your posts and hearing your stories. somehow reading this just opened my mind further than what johnston already had done. I’m intrigued and can’t wait for more. keep up the excellent work

  2. I love your line about words and responsibility: “We have a responsibility to respect words and how they affect us, how they allow us to understand our world and make meaning of our emotions.” I definitely agree. Words have to be respected because they come from humans. They have to be respected because they are what ultimately links us to one another. Whenever we need to communicate, words are there for us to allow such communication to exist. It makes a huge difference whether one uses the word “student” or “writer.” To me, the latter has a stronger impact.

    Lastly, I really like the image. It makes me think about how amazing it is that, though an author may not live forever, his or her words may survive for a long time. Even better, an author’s words come to life and “hug” the reader.

    The image, in a way, reminded me about one of my many favorite quotes:

    “Every book, every volume you see here, has a soul. The soul of the person who wrote it and those who read it and lived and dreamed with it. Every time a book changes hands, every time someone runs his eyes down its pages, its spirit grows and strengthens.”
    ― Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Shadow of the Wind

  3. leggylulu

    I think words can heal. Especially after reading that book. Its funny because the power of language is always something I’ve known but like, on an unconscious level, because when I read it I was all, “holy crap, I knew that!” I also agree that reading and writing can change people, for the better. There is a reason why most people who write are awesome, or at least interesting…just saying. Its a point we need to consider. Its probably because, like Amanda told me, writing is a form of therapy, and ongoing therapy can only be helpful.

  4. Sam,
    I’m the same way when it comes to writing being an outlet. Many times, especially in my younger years, if I felt I had either no one to talk to, or simply didn’t want anyone knowing what I had to say I would turn to writing. It’s an amazing tool to utilize and that’s the main concept I hope to pass down to my students.
    On a side note, I LOVE that picture. I’ve seen it floating around Facebook before and saved it myself. I think it would make for a great poster!

  5. Sam,
    I really likes the picture you used for your blog and the message that connects to what you have said: people need to embrace writing as more than a school prompt and more for a daily basis on any event being important or making french toast. It wasn’t until last year that I turned to writing for everything, and I have no regrets, only solely that I wished I had began sooner.

    • notyourordinarycatwoman ⋅

      Sam, thanks. Rich post. It’s a treasure-trove of quotes and reflections. I like the way Johnston makes us all pause and reconsider the words we use and their intended and unintended effects.

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