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bertrand-russell-fools“In all affairs it’s a healthy thing now and then to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted.” Bertrand Russel

Sarah showed me the matrice she had voluntarily created over the weekend, around the bound base ‘cluse’ one of their discovered twins from Latin claudere to shut, to close. We were examining the matrice and had stopped at ‘exclusive’ when Valentina questioned me and accepted wisdom!  What have these word investigations unleashed? Farewell passivity and mute acceptance!

When I told Valentina that “No English word ends in a v, use ‘ve’ instead”,  I had anticipated a nod, a smile and ‘Absolutely” or “Oh Yes..I see that now! ” Instead, Valentina’s immediate response was a somewhat doubtful, “Really?” And immediately she checked out my statement through word-searcher. At that point the bell rang and she and Sarah were off to another class.  At the end of the school they were back in the classroom to record for their peers, the ‘how to’ and the tools used to build a matrice based around the word ‘exclusion’. This is a mad scramble before catching their bus but listen carefully to Valentina who can’t let go of her question!

I love what this exploration of morphology and etymology has unleashed:”Im questioning that” and “but still..”. Valentina is not intimidated by what’s in print. I have not convinced my interrogator …listen to her persistance, how she continues to bounce back. I applaud her questioning spirit, her suggestion about the convention regarding ‘v’ and ‘ve’ in her demand for precision. These students are not passive consumers of generalizations or whatever I say… they expect sense and order, they examine the evidence and most importantly ask questions.

Of course I have since the girls’ departure, read again the theme 1K from Real Spelling toolkit and spotted my error : ‘No complete word of English origin may have a final <-v>; we write <-ve>’. By stating complete, we can account for the seven other suggestions the girls found in wordsearcher- ‘guv-governor’, ‘lav-lavatory’,’rev- revoltion’, ‘perv- pervert’ all ‘clips’- clipped at a point that does not reflect the word’s morphemic structure. The other examples are slang or acronyms: ‘spiv’ is regarded as informal perhaps from ‘spiffy’– smart in appearance ( Mac Dictionary) and ‘derv’ apparently from an acronym originating in the 1940’s for diesel engined road vehicle.

This 2010 animation by Jeanette Norgaard illustrates leitmotif (leitmotive)

This post ends with a final salute to Bertrand Russel and his recognition  of what constitutes the ‘scientific temper’. I think these students through word investigations are on their way to developing this temper.

Neither acquiescence in skepticism nor acquiescence in dogma is what education should produce. What it should produce is a belief that knowledge is attainable in a measure, though with difficulty; that much of what passes for knowledge at any given time is likely to be more or less mistaken, but that the mistakes can be rectified by care and industry. In acting upon our beliefs, we should be very cautious where a small error would mean disaster; nevertheless it is upon our beliefs that we must act. This state of mind is rather difficult: it requires a high degree of intellectual culture without emotional atrophy. But though difficult it is not impossible; it is in fact the scientific temper. Knowledge, like other good things, is difficult, but not impossible; the dogmatist forgets the difficulty, the skeptic denies the possibility. Both are mistaken, and their errors, when wide-spread, produce social disaster.‘ (On Education, 1926)

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