There has been outrage from the authors Michael Morpurgo and Robert MacFarlane and the Poet Laureate Andrew Motion among others, about once-common words associated with nature being omitted from a well-respected children’s dictionary aimed at children aged seven :
They have been replaced by words such as cut and paste, blog, chat room, analogue, block graph and celebrity. Oxford University Press said that they “had analysed language children are using when developing the dictionary, while reflecting the words that children are encouraged to use in the classroom”. Read the whole article to understand the concerns, which mirror those expressed in my vision statement.
A friend who lectures in Biology at Oxford University regularly asked his first year students at the beginning of the Ecology module to name 5 UK resident British birds, 5 British trees and 5 British butterflies. This was not to identify the species from a picture, but just to come up with the names. Hardly anyone was able to do this – not even 5 British birds (robin, blackbird, sparrow, gull, eagle…..). So things don’t improve, even amongst the high fliers, even amongst those who are studying Biology at degree level, even at one of our most prestigious universities.
Do join the over 100,000 people who have signed the petition about the dictionary if you would like to, but my mission is always in the here and now, at this school, with these students. The 32 members of the Conservation Group last term had to be able to recognise several species, to be able to do their work. Ash trees – to be able to cut them down due to the ravages of ash die-back disease. Acorns (removed from the dictionary!), holly berries, beech mast, pine cones and hazelnuts in order to be able to collect the seeds to plant them as we seek to grow replacements for the failing ash. They did this the best way – out in the grounds, picking holly berries off the tree outside the
boarding house that they walk past every day, seeing hazelnuts in their shells on the ground, rather than as finished product in a chocolate bar, looking for conifers to find the fallen pine cones. They should now be able to name 5 British trees without too much prompting.
I’m not satisfied with 32 out of 450 students though. So next term we will go digital to do some stealth linking of nature words with images following a bit of cut and paste of my own. There will be a rotating powerpoint of 5 common trees, 5 common birds, 5 common spring flowers up in the hallway screen maths and science building. As the students stream in to a physics lesson, they may see a blue tit, first with a label, and then later as they stream out to history they may catch the part of the loop where the blue tit appears without its label. Perhaps some of the 450 students will absorb and be able to name some of these 15 species – subliminal adverts for the valley and for ‘nature words’. I’ll report back.