Since this is my first blog post for Prizmah, I’ll take this opportunity to introduce myself, in a different way than if I met you in an elevator or at our conference. I’ll give you a little sense of the person behind these words.
For as long as I can remember I’ve been in love with words. Back in elementary school I started out being afraid of words—they seemed to possess a magical power, and there are so many of them to choose from. How do you find the right ones, among the basket of choices like vegetables in the supermarket, and put them together into a good sentence—a sentence that the teacher will approve of? I relished the freedom that words granted, as if the blank page were a different country where I as the writer got to be king. But power and freedom, I discovered, are scary things. How could I wield them to produce something valuable, meaningful, beautiful? I don’t recall my earliest teachers offering me much help in ruling this unwieldy kingdom. Yet a part of me secretly yearned to conquer this territory. At the bottom of my desk I kept a secret notebook where I wrote a novel, based on a dream I had, describing brave and exotic adventures. There too, after the first few chapters, the limitless possibilities of plot made progress too daunting.
By contrast (≠), numbers seemed so much easier to use. The rules were so clear, the combinations so logical. Learn a few methods, memorize a table or two (4 times 6 always equals 24), and voila! The right answer, a good grade with a gold star. And best of all, there are only ten digits! The magic of numbers, unlike words, seemed entirely within grasp, like following the steps of a magic trick. The same steps always yield the same outcome. Mastery is assured!
It wasn’t until seventh grade that my relationship to language started to change. My English teacher that year taught the subject in an entirely different manner than my elementary teachers had, for whom English was just one of many subjects. He possessed the passion, vivacity and humor of Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society. Most importantly, he made us want to be readers, writers, actors; he brought words to life in a way that made us feel that we too could possess and express them. He permitted us to bring our whole, authentic selves, our emotions, brains, bodies and mannerisms, into our engagement with imaginative writing. When we read Shakespeare’s Tempest I chose to play Caliban, the monster. Every day we would act scenes in class, and I remember the joy I felt at being allowed to contort my voice and body into the character, to become monstrous. In that class, through the inspiration of a gifted teacher, Shakespeare took a room inside of me, and would never leave.
Many books, papers, classes, degrees, and jobs later…
At Prizmah, I find myself formally as the editor of HaYidion, and informally as an extra set of eyes on many of the words that leave our office. I am still in love with words. Good writing, I believe, conveys that love in every sentence, no matter the subject. Words were spoken before they were written; good writing contains words that can delight the ear as well as entice the eye and instruct the mind. Cadence, tone, perspective, word choice, syntax, punctuation: these are all magical tools put into our hands to be wielded with exuberance and care. Their power exceeds the strongest magical weapon in the hands of Harry Potter.
I like to end blog posts with a question or two, meant to assist your reflections and invite your responses. Here is my question:
- How does your school empower students to gain confidence in wielding the power of words?