Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

The Use of General Semantics in Teaching the Language Skills in the Eighth Grade

Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

The Use of General Semantics in Teaching the Language Skills in the Eighth Grade

Article excerpt

LIKE MANY English teachers in high schools and junior colleges I have found that the attempt to improve my students' language skills constitutes the heaviest burden of my teaching. The language problem has been given a great deal of attention in recent years; hundreds of texts have been produced which are intended to teach the student to read, to write and to 'think.' Most of these books when analyzed prove to be mere re-formulations of 'ideas' which have been recorded many times before. The method of each is substantially the same, that of objurgation, or telling the student what to do without giving him a general method and a system for doing it or an insight into the causes of his difficulties. General semantics had been reported as effectively increasing the general 'intellectual' efficiency of groups of students and it seemed apparent that it could be applied in the particular field of language operations to replace the purely verbal, hortatory methods which prevail in most schools. (1) In 1936 at the Barstow School for Girls in Kansas City, Missouri, I set out to use this discipline for a direct attack upon the various language difficulties which I found in my classes. This paper presents a brief account of the methods and procedures that I used and the results I observed, and also some objective test data for the second group of students who were exposed to this training. (2)

My first step was to make each student conscious in a very specific way of her own particular difficulties. This analytical approach seems to be diametrically opposed to the sort of 'animal learning' inherent in current educational practice. Children of twelve to fifteen have a latent ability for self-criticism and we went on the assumption that this faculty should be developed specifically as they are maturing. Before any training in general semantics was introduced, significant misunderstandings of both oral and written material and many examples of failure to communicate adequately were brought to the attention of the class, and I kept a record of them for future reference. During this time the subject matter of the course centered around the study, theoretical and historical, of language as a human function. The students were carefully introduced to the nature of symbolism and were taught to understand that language functions as a form of representation.

I first touched on Korzybski's system by demonstrating the analogy he makes between maps and language symbols in relation to territory-facts. In the science-mathematics classes, the students were constructing, at this time, a clay relief map of Europe and the Near East. Since the map was used to demonstrate the geographical factors determining racial and linguistic distribution, the danger of misrepresenting territory-facts became concretely apparent. The girls began to see that 'what they really knew' (or 'meant') was of small consequence if they could not communicate it adequately through structurally correct forms of representation. The very obvious fact that the most detailed as well as structurally similar map is the most reliable guide to a territory showed them the pitfalls of loose, general terminology, which roughly includes 'everything' and gives little clue to what they know.

Most of the application of the Korzybskian system was made in connection with the structural differential. I planned it this way for two reasons: a) The differential had been in front of the class for some time and had aroused a good deal of interest. b) It is a device around which so much of the material of general semantics may be organized. In explaining it I was able to introduce the students to the notion of the process character of 'matter,' to drill them in the realization that the object of sense-perception is not the event, nor the word the object, to bring home to them an understanding of the projection mechanisms of the human nervous system and their dangers, and to discuss the need for a structurally correct representation of the world. …

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