When I entered grade school (grades one through eight) in South Dakota there was a large emphasis on vocabulary learning.  And, this focus continued during my high school years in Nebraska.  In fact, one of my high school teachers was proud to say that “the larger your vocabulary, the more advanced your thinking ability.”

So several years ago, when I first encountered an article by E. D. Hirsch, Jr., “A Wealth of Words,” published in the Winter 2013 edition of CITY-Journal Magazine, that early emphasis on vocabulary made good sense. 

.  .  . vocabulary size is a convenient proxy for a whole range of educational attainments and abilities—not just skill in reading, writing, listening, and speaking but also general knowledge of science, history, and the arts.  If we want to reduce economic inequality in America, a good place to start is the language-arts classroom.  .  .  .

 .  .  . correlations between vocabulary size and life chances are as firm as any correlations in educational research.  Of course, vocabulary isn’t perfectly correlated with knowledge.  People with similar vocabulary sizes may vary significantly in their talent and in the depth of their understanding.  Nonetheless, there’s no better index to accumulated knowledge and general competence than the size of a person’s vocabulary.  Simply put: knowing more words makes you smarter.  And between 1962 and the present, a big segment of the American population began knowing fewer words, getting less smart, and becoming demonstrably less able to earn a high income.

However, just because American education has failed when it comes to expanding vocabularies (since 1962 according to Hirsch), today’s industrial skills training programs must not overreach with the use of vocabulary — if learning and longer term retention are our goals.

So many of our previous blog postings have emphasized the need in industrial skills training programs to keep the vocabulary simple and to always accompany the written sentences with optional word-for-word audio.  I’ve pointed out — many times — that almost half of our workforce cannot assimilate information written beyond a 4th grade reading level and that only about one-third of our high school graduates can form opinions from almost anything they read.

There you have it!  Hirsch (E. D. Hirsch, Jr. is a professor emeritus of education and humanities at the University of Virginia and the founder of the Core Knowledge Foundation)  is undoubtedly correct in his conclusions.  Education needs to emphasize “vocabulary” in each and every grade in order to improve the futures for tomorrow’s adults.

But, we in skills training have to realize that — for the time being — almost half of the present adult workers we encounter will need us to recognize that optional word-for-word audio is absolutely necessary for the skills training we are tasked to deliver.

I urge you to find the time to read Hirsch’s exceptional article — especially if you have school-aged children.  It is a gem of analysis and conceptual thinking.

We have ignored cultural literacy in thinking about education . . . We ignore the air we breathe until it is thin or foul.  Cultural literacy is the oxygen of social intercourse.”   — E. D. Hirsch, Jr.

More on Monday  –  –  –

— Bill Walton, co-Founder, ITC Learning
March 6, 2019
www.itclearning.com/blog/  (Mondays & Wednesdays)


 (This is a personal blog.  Any views or opinions represented in this blog are personal and belong solely to the blog owner, jhbillwalton@gmail.com, an independent consultant.  They do not represent those of people, institutions or organizations that the owner may or may not be associated with in a professional or personal capacity.)