The Sacred Art of Words
by Ashley Roberts
When did we lose sight of language?
Some will see my question and say we didn’t lose sight of language, but the truth is we have. In the educational paradigm shift to Balanced Literacy over 40 years ago, we lost sight of the beauty, the power, of language. Now, to be clear, some still possess the power of language, but generationally speaking, fewer and fewer do.
It is in the power of language that we can create, tear down, sway opinion, alter history, make people believe a lie, make people believe a truth, create fantasy, fly on dragons, whisper spells to change the tides, be hypnotized by Sirens, make love, murder, create devils and destroy gods. Language is the power on which humans ebb and flow.
People will argue it is in the might of the fist which drives our history, but if you read history, behind every fist was a skillful orator to either instill fear or convince the masses, because truth be told both good and evil require language to sway opinion and to dominate others.
Words are the key to all things. Words shape the world.
It is delusional, misguided, egotistical to not believe in the art of words. No one is immune to their power, for even the most jaded of us melt at the expression of love by those we love in return, or to the heart felt apology from the one who hurt us the most.
Personally speaking, I have withstood abuse, held back arguments, manipulated, condescended, picked fights both eloquently and brutishly, pushed buttons, made people cry, made them laugh, restored faith, given solace, provided companionship, forged friendships and more; but I have a well-developed sense of language through years of study not just in literature itself, but in how to shape language on the page. I was taught grammar and syntax, how to shape arguments, how to write stories. From my earliest memories I was given lessons on and encouragement in writing. Truth be told, the written word is the only medium in which I can truly express myself.
Yet, in our classrooms we do not teach the art of language. The educational establishment assumes that it is natural, an innate part of the brain, and has wrongly preached the belief that within each mind lies the ability to create the lyricism of Shakespeare’s words at will, yet it is not natural or innate. Written language, like spoken language, must be explicitly taught.
It is unjustly misguided to think that access to language is as simple as merely putting pen to paper, when in fact it takes far more ingenuity, knowledge, and skill than can be provided by simply providing a pen to a student. In the words of Nadine Gaab, when describing the osmosis that is teaching reading through Balanced Literacy stated, “it’s like playing Mozart for years for someone then placing them in front of a piano and expecting them to play Mozart.”
When we deny the access to literature, to the ability and skill to write one’s own story, one’s own truth, we create a myopic history. Across time it is words that have created and destroyed empires and nations, sparked philosophical and political ideas, and birthed religious beliefs. Societies that have denied and censored language have all fallen to new, and restored ideals which oddly enough all usually center on the freedom of thought, access to education, and the ability to define one’s own destiny. Yet, it is in our own country, in our own time, that we claim and pretend that we value education, value our children, value our future, when the truth is we do not. We pretend to provide education to the masses, but the truth is we do not. We provide the show of an education because that’s all we know to do, but in misguided pedagogies, we shame those who don’t fit inside the tiny box where only a few can learn well enough to access the words necessary to educate oneself, to expand one’s mind, to create ideas, to challenge authority, and make changes, both good and bad, for not just ourselves, but our families and our society at large.
We are in a time where we are claiming to be enlightened, yet we are willingly creating and fostering illiteracy. We are willingly denying the sacred art of words to millions of children each year, and we can do little more than pretend this isn’t the truth of things. In the denial of this truth, the failure to achieve literacy is laid at the feet of the family, while the educational bureaucracy marches forward damning child after child to the curse of illiteracy, generation after generation.
The irony is it is through the art of words that this denial is blamed on the family instead of the establishment, is the fault of the parent instead of the failure of a pedagogy. Words spin the lies that would keep a choke hold on our families, our children, while illiteracy continues to be assured year after year while parents fight a multi-billion-dollar establishment refusing to change. It is through words that they label us crazy, misguided, “that” parent, ill informed, sad, pathetic, wrong, while they manipulate the powers that be to keep themselves in charge through the endless PR machines that spin the words, constantly changing the label to stay ahead of the rage that bites at their heels.
O, for my sake do you (with) Fortune chide,
The guilty goddess of my harmful deeds,
That did not better for my life provide
Than public means which public manners breed.
-Shakespeare, Sonnet 111, lines 1-4
No, the sacred art of words will not die here, nor die for centuries to come. Eventually the masses will revolt loud enough to tear down the hypocrisy of our educational system pretending to provide literacy.
The sad thing is that until then the words and skill of the masters of language will remain…unread, misunderstood, and unmet in their challenge to rise to their beauty and create words to rival their own. To ring this point home, I will end here, but leave you with the words of Pablo Neruda:
“Then one day the boy returned the books to the Englishman. “Did you learn anything?” the Englishman asked, eager to hear what it might be. He needed someone to talk to so as to avoid thinking about the possibility of war.
“I learned that the world has a soul, and that whoever understands that soul can also understand the language of things.”