Tuesday, January 11, 2011

"The World Depends On Saying"

Whether it is one little word or an entire speech, the power of language continues to move me.

Last week, I shared the One Little Word concept with my students and asked them to choose words for themselves.  A difficult task for some, but later in the week when I had students create "rationale cards" depicting their words and explaining why they had been chosen, I was reassured that this was a valuable exercise.  Most of them were quite conscientious and sincere as they shared the motivations and hopes that guided their selections.  Words like balance, passion, trust, horizons, courage and explore revealed the vision they have of their 2011, the year they graduate high school and begin to live the lives they have dreamed. Even my principal has joined in the fun.  He wrote about making his OLW choice on his blog and in doing so communicates to my students that words are important, they have power in our lives.  Plus, his kind words for me always give me the courage to keep learning and growing.

The power of language is not always demonstrated through positive circumstances, though. 

The safety of the world depends on your saying ‘no’ to inhumane ideas. Standing up for one’s own integrity makes you no friends. It is costly. Yet defiance of the mob, in the service of that which is right, is one of the highest expressions of courage I know. -- Gabrielle Giffords

These words were spoken by Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in her 2009 commencement address to her alma mater (and mine), Scripps College.  I shared them with many of my students on Monday morning following the tragic shooting in Arizona.  What struck me, in addition to the truth of her statement, was that she spoke these words without knowing that in less than a year and a half, her life would be defined by them.  From the Scripps webpage to the news coverage to Twitter, these are the words we keep coming back to for a sense of who Ms. Giffords is. And in this precarious time, as Gabby fights to heal, and the hearts of those who lost loved ones break and begin to heal as well, words continue to be important.  On the Scripps College website, a Letters for Gabby page has been established so that people can send their thoughts to her in a forum that inevitably allows for us all to be encouraged. 

I try to push my students to harness the power of language to represent the truth of who they are.  We need to be careful about the words we choose, but we also need to be willing to put ourselves into words, to communicate with honesty the truth of who we are.  When we do this, we impact others -- we support, we inspire, we matter.

Though the situation is tragic, Gabrielle Giffords's words of conviction have already become woven into the fabric of our country's history.  The One Little Words my students and I have chosen have already become woven into the fabric of our personal histories. Language does that; it lives in us.  It can move an entire nation and a single heart.  Words can keep a woman breathing.  I know.


Carlos Schmidt said...

Hi Mrs. Elliott:

I really like how we are doing this OLW thing. Although I am not a big fan of words because I tend to see the negative and manipulative aspect in them, your activity has increased my appreciation for words and has allowed me to see the good side of words, rather than their manipulative side.

Thank you!

Lauren B. said...

The One Little Word assignment has shown me that words are more than a bunch of letters put together to make a sentence. They have an impact and can imfluence our actions. The word I chose was Faith. As I am entering a new phase of my life called college I am learning that having faith in my future and the decisions I make keeps me from the stress that comes with this transition experience. I want to enjoy the process of awaiting college acceptance letters and the fun activities that come with senior year. Faith in my actions and aspirations for my future is what motivates me to enjoy the ride.

High Ceilings said...

Mrs. Elliott =]

Your the best. Your fresh. That was my word, fresh. To most, fresh is only used to define foods. To me, it can be used to classify a person and their ideas. Someone dressing trendy or hip, while maintaining a souce of independence is fresh. Someone who has interesting, innovative, and easy to understand ideas is fresh. When I call you fresh, I don't mean you are ready to be picked off the apple or orange tree. I am implying that you are a creative individual with the gift of teaching. I learned all of this by the one little word assignment you gave us, and I do not doubt its significance for a second.

Cameron Tagge

Melanie Nadon said...

Mrs. Elliott,

Sometimes, it's just a little terrifying when I think about what words can do. Mitchell Washington did a speech on it last year, your post reminds me of it. Some people don't realize that one sentence can make a person happier than anyone could imagine while another could send someone tumbling into darkness. We, as people, wield a tremendously powerful tool. I am glad that you are helping us explore this idea and learn to control this tool - it helps me grow (and growth is my word!) and understand more of how the world works.

The Other Team said...

This One Little Word assignment has really shown me the impact that English has on our lives. Prior to this, I was unsure about how exactly English was necessary as a class after learning the basics: however, I see now that I was sorely mistaken in this. This assignment has given me a push towards making my own footsteps (my word) towards a better future, and to remember the significance that this assignment had in pushing me on my way.
Byron C

Keana said...

The last four lines really struck me and stuck with me; I actually already wrote them in my planner for my quote od the week for next week. The way you depict language is how I do and it is beautiful to me to see this in someone else. I love this assignment; I even explore it outside class in my personal blog. In all honesty the passion I see in you is what convinced me to pick passion as my word, so I can explore passion within myself. The passion you brin to class everyday is the only reason I push through school days everyday. What you teach us daily is something that I know I will use in my future. Every word you choose to say and write is impactful to some degree, and it is blogs like this one that make me even more excited to grow beyong the walls of Osos and discover my future. Thank you for teaching language the way I see it- passionately beautiful.
Keana M.

Dominic H said...

This particular post, was amazing. It is true, words are the strongest form of communication. Words have the power to create peace or even start wars. Words can be the start of a nation, or the end of one. This OLW activity is one of the most enjoyable activities I have done all of my high school education because it is something that will last. Because for the next year, my word is really something that represents my life as things progress (thats my word). Thank you for starting this with us and I will always remember it.

Taylor C. said...

This assignment truly opened my mind to the impact words can have on a person. I have learned that simple words we seem to understand completely have depths that we have never before reached. My word not only relates to my life, but to past experiences. I have learned that I need to do exactly as my word says, accept things for what they are, even though the process is difficult. Your post and Gabrielle Giffords' inspirational story have shown me the true meaning of language. I feel that through this assignment I will not only learn from my word, but from language as a whole. Thank you for that.

Allaura said...

Hi Mrs. Elliott,
I really like the OLW assignment. It allows me to explore words and see how words can have many different meanings. I am also really excited for the new assignment, the collaborative essay. My table and I were talking about all of the different possibilities for the essay that we plan to write. I am super excited!

Emily T said...

I really enjoy this assignment, Mrs. Elliott. I had previously been aware that words as a collective had an impact, but I am now seeing that even a single word can have a more significant impact. My word, poise, is guiding my year. As I struggle through the mire of scholarship applications, the realization of leaving friends, and typical high school drama, I really want to be poised. I want to be graceful in the way I handle situations. This assignment has truly allowed me to inquire about who I am and who I want to be.

Crazy Monkeys said...

I am very much inspired by Gifford's quote because I think it holds a lot of truth. It has given me a better understanding of an idea that I have always held as true: that it is important to stand up for what you believe in, even when everyone else seems against you. Although I have always thought of this virtue as a personal choice to maintain one's own integrity and not something that "the safety of the world depends on," which I now understand as very true.
The quote has also given me a better understanding of the OLW assignment and has encouraged me to do a good job with it and use it as a means to understand the affect of my own words better.
-Bobby R

High Ceilings said...

Mrs. Elliott (:

The OLW assignment has taught me that words are important in many ways. Important for communication, important in expressing oneself, important to one another. One little word can have a tremendous impact on a person, whether it may be to hurt another or to love one another. A word can guide a life to its full potential.
So I would like to thank you Mrs. Elliott, for this assignment has opened my eyes to the world beyond me; to accept myself and embrace the SHENANIGANS I intend to fulfill this year!

-Amy Lie

Kool-Aid Brigade said...

When I sluggishly walked into class the day you assigned us the rationale card, I really had no idea what word to pick. To be honest, I found the assignment unimportant, and had no enthusiasm to learn from it. I thought every word in the English dictionary had as much impact on me as the next word, until I remembered why I felt so horribly. That was when I decided to choose death as my word for the year, and to pick at its carbon skeleton until I discovered why it hurts and what it really means. I learned that death not only means loss of life, it also means physical absence, confusion and emotional pain. However, to say that I can't feel my grandpa would be a lie. After reading a few poems about loved ones dying, I learn that in the end one must be selfless in order to be happy for the dead, for they no longer have to suffer on earth with us. They remain among us spiritually, and will always be in our memories. I can happily say that my grandfather's death no longer makes me question the purpose of life; he did all he had to do here. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to apply what I learn in class to real life. - Brenda Samaan

Susan Yang said...

Hi Mrs. Elliott,

I also agree with you that this was a valuable exercise for us. It really made me think of which word to choose. I decided on "creativity", reflecting on my recent (and not so pleasant) college application experience.

It is interesting that words can have effects of both extremes. They can hurt or praise people/things. It just reinforces words' power in general. Words do have great power.