Some television reruns of old programs are classic. You can watch the same episodes as time goes on and still enjoy them. Some are nostalgic like "The Waltons" or "Little House on the Prairie" and some just make you laugh such as M*A*S*H. Set during the Korean War, the antics of the cast of characters are well known in the latter such as when Colonel Blake and Radar O'Reilly are caught in the shower because of a sniper; another is the time when during frigid weather, Hawkeye's long underwear makes its rounds, and yet another when interviewed by a war correspondent, Hawkeye says in his deadpan humor that the dictionary is his favorite book because he figures it has all the other books in it. This one-liner is memorable and is personally what comes to mind when thinking about "word of the day" vocabulary books and sites, teaching the craft of writing to students or when analyzing authors, and certainly when some Rotary Clubs traditionally give personalized dictionaries to elementary students when they graduate to the middle school.
Although the electronic age lets us look things up instantaneously, there is still something to be said for holding a real book in one's hands, including the dictionary. A few weeks ago at the end of the school year, fourth graders at Fredonia Elementary School were each presented a new dictionary with their names embossed on the cover. Given by the Fredonia Rotary Club, it is a collegiate level book that can be used into adulthood. Also known as Rotary International with roots from the early 1900s, this is just one activity of this service organization. With the motto of "Service Above Self," the primary purpose of the Rotary Club is to "bring together business and professional leaders in order to provide humanitarian services, encourage high ethical standards in all vocations, and help build goodwill and peace in the world."
The Fredonia Rotary is about 85 years old and in the school community they also provide a reading program for primary students, name and honor a high school 'student of the month' during the school year, give two scholarships to graduating seniors as well as an ambassador scholarship, and sponsor an exchange student program. This year's dictionaries came from The Book Nook with the Rotary and the school's PTA each contributing to the total cost of about $3,600.
The Rotary Club of Fredonia presented all fourth graders with personally embossed dictionaries at the end of the last school year. Pictured, from left, top row: Joe Reyda, Jim Holton, Phyllis Jones, David Dengler and Stephen Keefe. Bottom row: Caydin DeJohn, Cassandra Velez, Gabrielle Aldrich, Dalton Gardner, Hessen Bahgat, Jamerez DeJesus and Ryan O’Neil.
So what's in a word? One student commented, "I love this book! It has so many words that I don't know but want to learn." Hawkeye Pierce said the dictionary had all the other books in it and students certainly proved this by working all year as young authors piecing together the right words to create their own texts in a variety of genres. As students move from "learning to read" to "reading to learn,"' they also learn new vocabulary in several academic areas that is as varied as "impressment" during the study of the War of 1812, 'commutative' in the study of mathematics, 'bioaccumulation' in science, "idiom" in language, and so on. So often it all comes down to understanding specific words and using the right one in the right context. As one Rotarian said at the presentation, much success comes from "the ability to speak and know the right words." Of course, it was Mark Twain who has been credited for saying, "The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug."
As a side note, the natural proclivity of children will lead them to look up some words that adults do not wish them to use. Yes, "ain't" is in the dictionary, but when found will say that it is most often considered nonstandard and habitual speech of the less educated. Other typical 'bad' words can be used as a calm and an age appropriate teaching or learning opportunity because they provide multiple meanings of words where one is acceptable in certain contexts such as "hell" as in "heaven and hell," or in other circumstances give the real meaning behind some words, thus an understanding why using them is offensive and inappropriate.
Make it a good week and enjoy the rest of our beautiful summer weeks. Consider having some fun by increasing your own vocabulary. While not in the prescribed fourth grade curriculum, somehow the old-time words "davenport," "credenza," and "veranda" came up last year and some 10-year-olds in your midst know how to properly use them. As a fun bonus, it would be interesting know how many readers know the word "fresnel" and what is has to do with the Dunkirk Lighthouse. Hint: It's very valuable in more than one way and can be seen up close for those who take a tour of the grounds.
Send comments on this column to firstname.lastname@example.org