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Is Knowing How Better Than Knowing?

By way of Ms. Cornelius at A Shrewness of Apes, we get a list of 100 words that every high school graduate should know, according to the editors of the American Heritage dictionaries.

However, is knowing the meaning of all these words after finishing high school really a sign of an educated person?

Like most of our students, I have access to a dictionary anytime I care to right-click on a word. I was able to quickly look up the words I didn’t know.

Instead of setting a standard based on memorized lists of facts, maybe an educated person today is better defined as someone who knows how, and is willing, to learn when they encounter something unfamiliar.

And no, this is not my rationalization for missing on nineteen of the words.

My excuse is that I was a math major. :-)

vocabulary, education, high school


  1. Ms Cornelius

    Your obvious “acumen” in matters technical “belies” your somewhat “facetiously” self-diagnosed limited “lexicon.” Having to look up 19 words is actually an “auspicious” achievement– and I bet you didn’t need to look up “nanotechnology.”

    But seriously, looking up a word is just one part of it (and being able to spell it comes before that). The point of this list– which I got from Mamacita at http://weeklyscheiss.blogspot.com/2007/06/100-words-that-all-high-school.html is that one acquires this vocabulary through reading in my experience, and reading is a vital tool in an educated person’s life. I doubt that many of my students are familiar with many of these words, and it hurts them.

  2. Tim

    I’m speechless… or at least wordless. :-)

    You are right that a good vocabulary comes from reading. I certainly hope most teachers are helping students build that vocabulary by helping them become better readers rather than memorizing lists of words and definitions.

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