Changes in the SATs

 

                Commentators have been discussing the change in the SATs this week.  At least I’ve heard the test will drop the essay and will use different vocabulary words.  The examples of words deleted are sagacious and prevaricated.  One news person laughed and said, “And what do we need more in the world today, more sagacity, and less prevarication.” 

I don’t know much about the testing world, if the ACTs or a better determiner of success in college or not.  A friend who got a PhD in education did her thesis on this subject, i.e., of forecasting the success of prospective students in college.  She told me that the high school ranking was a better predictor of college success.

But the whole controversy made me remember my tenth grade English teacher, Miss Lessor,  who asked us to bring in new vocabulary words.  She chose two words per week, and we studied them, used them in sentences, joked around with each other, using the words.  That year prompted a lifelong interest in words and their meanings. 

I remember one of the few times I connected to the assistant dean of men from my college that I dated the summer after graduation.  We had caravanned together to the West Coast where he would attend grad school, and I would teach.  Mostly we bickered over everything except his wonderful basset hound who sat in the passenger seat of my VW.   But we had a harmonious dinner in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, sharing our favorite polysyllabic words, trying to stump each other. 

In my husband’s and my trip to Philadelphia last week to do a school event and to babysit Raya (who is very sagacious with an enormous vocabulary, by the way), we listened to an audio tape of Edith Wharton’s The Custom of the Country.  We heard so many stupendous words, like oriferous,  that neither of us could define, (and Bob’s usually impossible to stump), that I think I’m bemoaning the SAT’s decision. 

Replacing sagacious with synthesis just doesn’t give the same delight.  I remember reading Fielding’s Adventures of Tom Jones and deciding that sagacious and all its forms had to be Fielding’s favorite word, since it repeated so often in that book.

I know writers should leave the flowers in the garden and use strong five cent words instead of fifty cent ones.  But From the age of fifteen, one teacher made me love words, big and little, contemporary or arcane, sagacious or not.  Thanks, Miss lessor.  No prevarication–you’ve made my quality of life a little greater.

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About Sally Hobart Alexander

Blinded at the age of twenty-six, I left California and elementary school teaching for life in Pittsburgh, Pa. There, I met my husband, got a Masters' degree in social work, had two kids, now 35 and 32, and became a writer. Surprisingly, the writing career led me full-circle to teaching, and I teach in Chatham University's M.F.A. program and lead two writing critique groups. Always, since the age of 26, I have traveled, not in the stereotypic darkness attributed to blindness, but a mist. My blog then, "traveling through the mist" will deal with issues in my culturally different life as a blind writer, teacher, speaker, and human being.
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