Education in the Common Tongue
by Bill Lauritzen
You might recall the fact from mathematics
that pi is equal to the circumference of a circle divided by
the radius. Perhaps you have never had any use for this fact.
Or perhaps you didnt care to remember it, as it brought
back painful memories of school, tests, and quizzes.
Instead, what if I drew a circle and said that the around
of the circle (showing you what I meant by around)
divided by the across of the circle (showing you
what I meant by across) were the same for any circle.
And that we called this number pi. You might find this fact a
lot more palatable.
In fact, I taught mathematics for many years to many different
students, and I found that around divided by across
communicates the concept of pi much easier and better.
That is because the words around and across
are from what I call our common tongue. I have found that you
can teach science, history, English, in fact, every subject in
the common tongue, and with better results. The common tongue
is the language we spoke as children. Circumference
and diameter are from Latin and are not normally
used by children in their everyday play activities. They dont
say, I put the belt on the circumference of my waist.
They dont say, I threw the ball the diameter of the
circle. They use around and across.
Even thought around and across dont
have exact meanings for the circle, they can easily be given
these exact meanings.
I believe that use of the common tongue will lead to greater
application. My theory (which might be called the Common Tongue
Application Theory) is that our common English tongue, the tongue
of childhood play, is more intimately linked to activity, to
motion, to action than the tongue of the school classroom.
In school, the Latin, or French, or Greek words (the Pedantic
Tongue) are learned, as these languages were once the languages
of learning. For example, in England, in 1686, Isaac Newton wrote
Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy in Latin. However,
Latin is no longer the language of learning. English is. Circumference
and diameter and a host of other words are really
Thus, our students, in a sense, are having to learn a foreign
language in order to understand much of higher education.
Unfortunately, these imported words are often only memorized.
They are not often linked to real word activities. One can attempt
to link them by having the child do projects, manipulate things,
make things, etc.
But even if the student does link circumference,
through these various kinesthetic experiences to the real world,
I believe circumference has to displace the word around
to some degree and that this causes some internal stress. So
if someone sees the word circumference, they might
have to think for a moment, what is circumference?
There is a little bit of translation going on here. Because of
their many early childhood experiences, they would not have to
think much about the word around or across,
if these words were used with the circle.
What if all our subjects used common words from our childhood
(words that were granted more exact meanings)? This has been
done to some degree already. The subject of biology is now often
called life science. Geology is often now called
earth science. In earth science we have the Ring
of Fire. These are steps, perhaps inevitable, in the right
What if the respiratory systems were the breathing system?
Sounds unscholarly, I know. But easier, yes. Useful, yes. Practical,
What if a thermometer was a heat gauge?
What if viscosity was thickness?
If the earths rotation was the earths spin?
If the radius were the spoke?
If spheres were balls?
We might have to use hyphens at times: What if the circulatory
systems were the blood-flow system, if the reproductive
system where the baby-making system. Perhaps igneous
rocks should be fire-formed rocks? Perhaps frequency
should be how-often? Perhaps accelerate should be
speed-change (fewer syllables, believe it or not).
Perhaps a force should be a push-or-pull?
We might have to make up new words at times, such as I have done
in math, where an icosahedron is a 12-nook," and a
hexagon is a 6-nik. Believe me, this makes life a
heck of a lot easier on the math student and math teacher.
Other subjects besides math and science can also benefit. What
if biography were life-story, if the climax were
the high-point, if the prologue were first-talk?
If synonyms were mean-sames and homonyms were mean-sames?
If capitalization were big-lettering? If a conjunction
were a joiner? What if democracy were people-rule
and a monarchy were king-rule?
(There are many other examples and I have started to compile
a list. If you have some suggestions send them to me at my web
Sure, the grammar isnt always perfect, but who cares? It
wont be the first time that adjectives have been made to
serve as nouns or vice-versa.
If we all used common words, I think we would have a lot less
memorization and a lot more application. I believe if we educated
our children using around and across,
they would naturally apply the concept of pi in their adult lives,
and would not shy away from the concept because of painful memories,
thinking pi is too intellectual, or having to stop
to make a mental translation. One of the biggest complaints of
industry is that they hire graduates that cant apply what
they have studied. Using these common words can change that.
The use of common English words in the place of Latin words probably
offends some people. The common words do not sound intelligent.
Thats because we have learned that school has to do with
Latin, Greek, or French sounding words that one memorizes. However,
should we be more concerned with understanding and application
or with sounding intelligent?
So scoff if you like, scholar. But ask yourself this
question: Am I a bookish, boring person, or am I a dynamic person
who applies knowledge? Perhaps school could be a heck of lot less easier than it is.
Perhaps subjects are not really that difficult. Perhaps the emperor
has no clothes.
There is one disadvantage to using common words. One would not
be able to learn Latin, French, and Greek so easily. Those languages
would be more foreign to us. But most of the Greek, Latin, and
French people have to learn English anyway, as it is now the
language of science, commerce, and diplomacy.
Lets forget the pedantry, the sophistry, the snobbishness,
and sounding intelligent. Lets be intelligent
by making subjects more user-friendly. Lets understand
and apply subjects. Lets educate in the common tongue and
Part 8 of a series on raising
literacy by William Earth. He holds a masters degree in
Industrial Psychology/Ergonomics and has studied education for
over 15 years. He can be reached via his internet site: www.earth360.com.