Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Etymology For Morons

I just saw Alex Trebek peddling this - WordSmart - on an early morning infomercial.

It's some vocabulary enhancer or something from what I can tell, designed to improve SAT scores....extract money from parents irrationally and frantically worried about their child's future.

It looks pretty impressive on color TV and I'm sure it can help.

But for $315 ???

Well, it's cheaper than those $1,000+ Kaplan and Princeton Review courses...

Last week I saw a young man coming out of the local government library I had seen a few times before.  He was talking with a *parent* in the parking lot and giving a progress report or something. Finally I realized that this young man (24?) was a *professional tutor* - one of untold dozens here in this ultra-wealthy town. I struck up a conversation:

CaptiousNut - So what do you tutor?

Guy - Mostly SAT stuff.

CaptiousNut - The math?

Guy - Yeah, but actually mostly verbal.

CaptiousNut - (laughing) How exactly do you tutor that? Do you just give them long lists of words to memorize or something?

Guy - (laughing) Essentially, YES.

Guy - It's kind of unfair. They study all these words and maybe only 20 of them will show up on the test. (laughing)


Guess what folks....the SAT is completely irrelevant. I scored 1480 on it, the tops in my pretty competitive high school, but almost 20 long years have passed and that *achievement* has done nothing for me. It didn't get me into the colleges I wanted to attend MIT (rejected!) and Cornell (wait-listed!). And it certainly didn't make me any money or condition my brain for future great things. It didn't help me pick up broads either - might of even hurt!

I posted a 690 on the verbal after dedicating considerable effort to improving that score. I simply started reading and memorizing the dictionary during English, History, and Spanish classes - when I wasn't poring over advanced math team content. Yeah, instead of allowing teachers to put me to sleep....I undertook *independent study*.  And I also used one particular book that I found laying around the house.

Somewhere in that process of memorizing definitions I fell in love with etymology - the study of word origins. And to this day I am continually expanding my vocabulary. When reading, not only do I take notes on almost every book and then type them up into dedicated Google Docs, I also jot down unfamiliar words, look them up, and dump them into my *words* Google Docs.

While I don't think that kids should necessarily study Latin and Greek explicitly, I do think all English-communicating students would profit from at least learning all the root words, prefixes, and suffixes.  There's really not that many of them!

And just the other day, before I saw this infomercial, I was smitten by an idea to write an introductory etymology book for young whippersnappers.

For example, my 5.99 year old homeschooled son is certainly capable of grasping and appreciating the interconnectedness of the words: report, deport, and support - and he'd be far better off learning the parts of the word than he would by simply memorizing 3 seemingly disparate definitions.

Then, armed with that knowledge, he could very easily deduce the meaning of other variations when coming across them, such as portable or export.

Perhaps books like this already exist?  I'll have to do some research.

Anyways, just as SAT geometry shouldn't be first started sophomore year of HS - a year before the exam(!)....I don't think 16 year olds should be cram-studying wordlists at the last minute either.

Every aspect of this circus, from the parents wasting small fortunes on *SAT prep*, to the societal over-emphasis on this ridiculous *test*, to how poorly the *system* prepares students would be humorous if not so tragic.

The fact that SAT prep products are running on infomercials alongside Girls Gone Wild, get-rich-quick scams, male enhancement products, and Shake Weights(!) is damning evidence of the priorities and ineffectiveness of mass government schooling.

See also - Moron Testing.


Anne Galivan said...

When I was growing up we actually did learn Greek and Latin roots (at least I did) and that is at least partly why I have always had a good vocabulary. (The fact that I read incessantly growing up certainly contributed as well).

My belief that kids need to learn those roots is why I have used (and loved) Vocabulary from the Classical Roots.

CaptiousNut said...


I've been Googling...

And there's a ton of *root word* content online these days - for free!

west coast tom said...

How is your *shake weight* program going these days?

CaptiousNut said...

Not as good as Booty Ballet!