by Bill Lauritzen
Words are a fundamental of
our language and knowledge.
When a child sees the word tree, most often that
word is linked, at some level, to a picture in his memory of
that barky, growing, leafy, branching thing with a trunk. The
word motion is linked to a change in position of
anything throughout the vast universe surrounding us. Water
is linked to that slippery, fluid stuff that he drinks and in
which he bathes.
I call this word grounding. The word is linked, latched,
or anchored to the dynamic, real world.
In our schools, thanks probably to political pressure to get
kids to read, students become word callers rather
than readers. They look like they are reading even though they
often dont understand what they are reading. This is because,
in a persons mind, words can be unlinked from the things
and actions they stand for.
The solution is to do what I call, Link the Ink and
Ground the Sound. When someone reads a word, in ink,
they should make sure that is somehow linked to things or motions
in the real world. When they hear the sound of a word, they should
make sure they ground it or anchor it in the dynamic real world.
Any word can be linked to the dynamic reality of sense experience.
The word honesty can be linked to the actions of
a person who is honest.
Sometimes, it may take a series of steps to link a word to reality.
For example, the word noun can be linked to the word
tree, which can be linked to that barky, growing,
leafy, branching thing. The word to can be linked
to the two words on either side of it (as in He walked
to school.), which can be linked to something real.
If a word cant be linked back in steps, such as the word
heaven, I would suggest that it probably doesnt
exist. Or, perhaps we could say that it exists only in a persons
mind as a belief. (So heaven can be linked only to
a persons mind.)
The mistake that is often made in schools is to link the word
to a series of words, as in memorization. The word gravity
is memorized for a test as the force that causes objects
to move or tend to move towards each other. Students pass
the test and get an A or a B and still have not linked gravity
to actions and things of the real world.
The famous American educator, John Dewey, observed this phenomenon
and strongly objected to it. Brazilian educator Paulo Freire
derogatorily called it banking education. Probably
every real educator has fought this ever since the Homo genus
first evolved speech.
Un-anchored knowledge becomes what I call floating knowledge.
It floats in the head as a mesh or matrix. When I graduated from
college, I had plenty of floating words, phrases, and sentences
in my head. It took me years to ground them to the ever-changing
Some people never get their words grounded. We often describe
them as, they dont know what they are talking about,
they are full of hot air, they dont know
what they are doing. My theory is that these people tend
to be naive or gullible, believing everything they see and hear
on TV. They would often seem artificial, false, foolish, silly,
or cartoonish. They may be a walking encyclopedia but not at
all practical. They may become UFO cult members or believe in
alien abductions. They may be hired, but because their words
are not linked to reality, they often cant take any action.
In other words, they cant do the job and this may lead
On the other hand, I think a person whose words are well-grounded
can be described as, they know what they are talking about,
they tell it like it is, they know what they
are doing. They seem realistic, down-to-earth, factual,
well-balanced, hard-boiled, sober, and practical. They get the
We are taught, In the beginning was the word....
More likely, in the beginning was the thing. Later, came the
word which linked to that thing, and still later, unfortunately,
came the unlinking or un-grounding of the word. Finally, came
the worshipping of words and books, instead of the things that
words and books stood for.
A misunderstood word is a word that is not-linked (floating)
or mis-linked. For example, some people mis-link the word noun
to a real person, place or thing instead of to a word. I have
often gone into a classroom and raised a pencil and asked, Is
this a noun? The class always has responded overwhelmingly
yes. However, a noun is a word and it sometimes takes
me awhile to communicate this to the class.
I write pencil on the blackboard and hold the pencil
in my hand and go back and forth, pointing to each one in turn,
going over the definition of noun, until they know that the word
on the blackboard is a noun and the thing in my hand is not.
Then I do the same with eraser, pen,
and desk. Then I do verbs such as, walk,
hop, and throw.
If someone thought a horse were a man, we would think that person
crazy. What about someone who thinks a noun is a thing? Isnt
that person also crazy?
Or the person could link a word to the wrong definition. Thus
a king (sovereign) becomes a coin (sovereign). A state (nation)
becomes muddled in ones head with a state (section of the
United States). Whenever someone guesses wrong at the meaning
of a word while reading (most of the time according to my experience),
they have mis-linked that word.
So, link the ink. Ground the sound. Know what youre talking
Part 3 of a series
on raising literacy by William Earth. Part 1 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.