Darrow Miller and Friends

A Word is Worth a Thousand Pictures

words are more important than images to the development of children

Words, not just pictures, are the currency of a productive life.

If children and communities are to develop, they require a rich vocabulary—a treasure of words. This reflection is all the more important at a time when images are replacing words (and feelings replacing truth). Humans thrive according to the richness of their vocabulary. Inversely, we risk serious loss in a society in which so much communication is built on images rather than words. Today’s schools are dumbing down their curriculum. Rather than using education to challenge children to grow, they are diluting the studies to match the students’ interests. In effect, the students are dictating their level of education. For the children and their communities, this can only lead to a failure to develop.

Carl J. Schramm is an American economist and entrepreneur and former president and CEO of a private philanthropic foundation. In a recent article for Forbes, he wrote about a competition sponsored by The Mayors Challenge, one of Michael Bloomberg’s private foundations. The Mayors Challenge is “a competition to inspire American cities to generate innovative ideas that solve major challenges and improve city life.” Schramm explained why Providence, RI won the grand prize:

There is a reason why Providence won.  Its idea is at the forefront of needed reforms for schools.  The plan is all about increasing the number of words routinely used by Providence’s school-aged population.  For decades schools have been running away from curricula where ideas build upon ideas, and in the course of cumulative learning students’ vocabularies are continuously expanding.  Why is this important?  The number of words in a student’s vocabulary is the single best indicator of subsequent success in college and in careers.

Simply stated, without more words you cannot think as well.

Educators have been simplifying curricula for years by substituting learning facts with teaching “ways to learn.”  The outcome is that students have become less and less creative.  Without larger vocabularies they cannot do the synthesis of facts and ideas; that is the way innovative problem solving happens.  All Americans pay an economic price for this lazy form of teaching because our students are not as ready for the world economy as a result.  Turns out my Latin teacher was right when if we didn’t know our vocabulary she would intone in an exasperated way “Child of God, you can’t paint a barn with a dry brush.”

Our dear friend, Dr. Elizabeth Youmans, is the founder of Chrysalis International and the AMO curriculum. The program has been designed to help children in impoverished communities to flourish, and become servant leaders in their communities. This curriculum is rich in vocabulary; that’s one of its strengths. It uses vocabulary development to build ideas upon ideas. Dr. Youmans writes:

AMO transcends the mediocre spirit of the pop culture with an inherent emphasis on beauty and life. Learning begins in the imagination where thought and experience come together. AMO nurtures Christian imagination through classic children’s stories read aloud by the teacher, the use of biblical imagery and vocabulary, and noble activities filled with color, music, movement and Christian ideals and virtues.

The Christian principles of self-government, stewardship and service are woven into the whole curricular structure. Coupled with a taste of Christian history, loving relationships with teachers and children’s service projects, Christian character is taught, modeled and practiced. This is how future servant-leaders are groomed for Christ.

Because words are the building blocks of ideas, AMO has an emphasis on building vocabulary. Words are defined biblically and the children receive a new word with each lesson that is tacked onto the Treasure Chest of Words bulletin board.

If you have a heart for children, read good books to them. Encourage them to read. Give them the tool of a rich vocabulary to educate them for life.

– Darrow Miller

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