school classrooms (was visibility)

Mike Salovesh t20mxs1 at CORN.CSO.NIU.EDU
Thu Sep 27 18:31:53 UTC 2001

Lynne Murphy, responding to Frank Abate's comment that

> > The younger set has become enamored of online reference tools, and
> > changing their habits will not be easy.

by writing:

> I'm not sure that we need to change their habits.  Yes, it's good to learn
> how to use books, but if they're going to use on-line dictionaries, then
> they still need dictionary skills.  (This seems to go along with the
> assumption I saw in a lot of Erin's responses from teachers--assuming that
> dictionary skills = alphabetization and use of guide words.)  My impression
> from students coming into university is that they're given very little
> training on critical use of on-line sources.  The issue of "the dictionary"
> versus dictionaries is as relevant for on-line use as for printed ones.
> Skills/knowledge relating to about you should look for in a dictionary, how
> many grains of salt you should allow, how to use part-of-speech info or
> examples or etymologies, etc. are as relevant to on-line dictionaries as to
> print dictionaries.  Perhaps the way to get more time in the classroom is
> to frame dictionary skills as information skills rather than as book skills.
> Lynne

My recent experience with  a doctoral candidate in our  College of
Education suggests  that we have a long way to go.  I joined this student's
committee at the (post-MA) prelim stage, and saw him through that, a
dissertation proposal, his research,  and the dissertation.  When
dissertation chapters started to come in, I discovered that he  habitually
looked to Webster's New World Dictionary as his first (and, usually, only)
source for definitions, etymologies, and  such.  I tried to be gentle in
suggesting that Academia prefers OED when we want to be high-falutin', but
we'll also  accept the M-W 3rd International without raising eyebrows.
When additional information seems warranted, we'll generally accept second
(or third or fourth) citations to Random House or American Heritage or
Thordike, and  specialized dictionaries when they  are called  for because
of specialized uses of a term.  But, I said, if the sole reference for
dictionary questions is Webster's New World, somebody is likely to snicker.

My student was thunderstruck twice.  His first shock came in learning that
THE dictionary doesn't exist: there are dictionaries and dictionaries.  He
had,  honest to God, never heard of OED -- but was awed  by it with his
first experience.  This guy's very bright; he was thunderstruck the second
time when he realized that he had gotten all the way to the verge of his
doctorate yet nobody had ever taken the time to tell him that the word
"dictionary" has a plural form.

I wish I could be sure that frontline teachers -- the BAs and MAs who  are
in charge at the K-12 levels, know at least a bit more than that doctoral
student. (He knows lots more now -- and he got his degree at our August
Convocation.) Too many of them are still ready to say that "a noun is the
name of a person, place, or thing", which only shows that they haven't
learned much about linguistics, either.

-- mike salovesh   <m-salovesh-9 at>   PEACE !!!

        IN MEMORIAM:     Peggy Salovesh
        25 January 1932 -- 3 March 2001

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