What We Observed in Teaching General Semantics

Article excerpt

THIS QUESTION has been asked: If it were possible to adapt a system of semantic training for children, could it be given at the elementary level?

Our answer to this question is based on the results of experiments conducted in Chicago schools during a three-year period. Three hundred seventh- and eighth-grade students at the Nettelhorst School were taught a series of lessons adapted from the materials and methods that have proved so inspiring to Dr. Irving Lee's classes in general semantics at Northwestern University. Our classes ranged in size from forty-two to forty-eight students each. The chronological ages ranged from 12.0 to 15.4, the I.Q.'s from 84 to 130, the standardized reading scores from 5.8 to 13.0+. There were also wide ranges in cultural and economic backgrounds.

In addition, student teachers used our general semantics course in other Chicago schools of different economic, cultural, and racial backgrounds. Experienced teachers, supervisors, and administrators who visited these classes, as well as the classes at Nettelhorst School, commented on the enthusiasm, the wide participation, the careful listening, and most important of all, the ability of the students to apply what they had learned to real-life situations.

The following paragraphs discuss some of our reasons for being so enthusiastic about teaching general semantics to our upper-grade students.

1. General semantics unified the areas of learning.

Although we placed the subject in the curriculum under the language arts division, we found as the lessons developed that we were stimulating interest in science, social studies, mathematics, and the fine arts. A keen desire to participate in the discussions provided the students with a strong motivation for study in many fields. Students observed the relationship of their subject to their total learning. As one boy said, "It makes all your learning come together and add up."

The applications of the lessons gave us an opportunity to work in human relations and in mental hygiene. We found also a place and a means for consideration of ethical and moral values.

Students were aware of the timeliness of this teaching. We did not have to justify this subject by saying, "It's a requirement for the next grade," or "You will appreciate this some day." The students were eager for self-knowledge; they gathered round the place where we came to grips with the questions and problems that were part of their everyday life.

2. General semantics reached each student at his own level of experience.

The student spoke of his own experiences when he contributed examples of real-life situations to his class. He read at his own reading level when seeking an illustration of some general semantics principle. Since there were activities and applications within the capacity of all, it was possible for each student to have the satisfaction of numerous successful experiences in communication. Enthusiastic participation was a criterion of the success of our lessons.

We had met a basic need of all children when a student had the feeling of being part of his group and of having something worthwhile to contribute. Some who had been rejected or who had been isolated by the group established a new relationship with their peers as they gained prestige through having an opportunity to report on some special interest or hobby. One uninterested boy, who was waiting for his sixteenth birthday so that he could drop out of school, was gradually drawn into the lessons until one day he approached his teacher with his little group of followers and asked, "Where can you get this stuff in high school and college?" For the first time we had reached him with what we had to offer. If a teacher is willing to pioneer in general semantics teaching, and it is a new field, he will find his reward in numerous such reactions of students.

3. General semantics led to better student-teacher relationship. …