Posted by: turtlebella | 1 April 2006

Surely a sign of the downfall of our civilisation

The sqvirrel teaches prep courses for the GRE, the standardized exam for graduate schools in the United States.  The GRE is not really that grueling of an exam, it's no MCAT or LSAT.  At this point it's more or less like the SAT but with easier math (not kidding).  However, this does not mean that students are universally doing well on this exam.  At least not the students the sqvirrel teaches.  And while am generally loathe to conclude that standardized exams reflect any kind of general intelligence or even whether someone will do well in graduate school, the sqvirrel and I have been shocked to find just how bad these kids do on the verbal section.  The kids that take these classes generally have a poor grasp of words, what they mean, what they signify.  I don't know what – if anything – they are reading in their college classes.  They apparently never read any newspaper that doesn't come with color pictures so you don't have to read text.  As far as novels that might have some of these words in them?  Never been opened.  They don't know words like,

corral

quail

pompous

agile

Those are actual examples of words that students have not known and claimed never to have seen or heard.  Of course, there's not much the sqvirrel – or anyone – can do to help these students.  There's only so many words you can memorize.

As you may know, I am an avid reader. I was always convinced that I did really well on the verbal portions of such tests because I was always reading, absorbing new words, learning how to figure out the meanings of words. What with the sqvirrel's experience in these prep classes, I decided I would go back to a book that I read as a young'un and see if this hypothesis might be true.  I found *the* single book that transformed me into a reader.  It was Silver Woven in my Hair by Shirley Rousseau Murphy.  I was in 4th grade (9 years of age I think).  And sure enough, here are some of the (truly wonderful) words I found within,

frippery

hewn

wantonly

gleam

chagrin

lollop 

Of course, mostly I just find it sad that so many people will never be able to revel in word quite the way that I do. How can anyone say or see the word "lollop" and not smile in pleasure? 


Responses

  1. I admit it: I had to look up “lollop.” My FPU (Fancy Pants University) education only took me so far.

  2. Those are all great words. I do think it’s sad to realize that there are so many people out there who don’t hear the music in words. Of course, I’m probably ignorant/missing out on a lot of the power of images with which these kids seem to be inundated, but I’m not convinced they realize the subtleties there, either. I think we should teach more about visual literacy, but more importantly, I wish these kids would read more!

  3. Phantom- to be fair, I think lollop is pretty old-fashioned, but in this particular case it was describing an old mare’s movement.

  4. Surely a sign of the downfall of our civilisation « Slow but Steady

  5. Nice site!
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