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Semantics in language Arts

Without doubt you have noticed evidence of the widespread interest of teachers in general semantics. It is indicated by the number of articles appearing in professional journals, the frequent references to it in textbooks, and the popularity of lectures and of courses dealing with the subject.

Successful teachers have always applied the principles of general semantics in their teaching methods, but too generally, the earliest opportunity for pupils to experience the benefits of a program of direct training has been at the college level. This question has been asked: If it were possible to adapt a system of semantic training for children, could it be given at the elementary level?

Our answer to this question is based on the results of experiments conducted in Chicago schools during a three-year period. Three hundred seventh- and eighth-grade pupils at the Nettelhorst School were taught a series of lessons adapted from the materials and methods that have proved so inspiring to Dr. Irving Lee’s classes in general semantics at Northwestern University. Our classes ranged in size from forty-two to forty-eight pupils each. The chronological ages ranged from 12.0 to 15.4, the I.Q.’s from 84 to 130, the standardized reading scores from 5.8 to 13.0+. There were also wide ranges in cultural and economic backgrounds.

In addition, student teachers used our general semantics course in other Chicago schools of different economic, cultural, and racial backgrounds. Experienced teachers, supervisors, and administrators who visited these classes, as well as the classes at Nettelhorst School, commented on the enthusiasm, the wide participation, the careful listening, and most important of all, the ability of the pupils to apply what they had learned to real-life situations.

The following paragraphs discuss some of our reasons for being so enthusiastic about teaching general semantics to our upper-grade pupils.

1. General semantics unified the areas of learning. Although we placed the subject in the curriculum under the language arts division, we found as the lessons developed that we were stimulating interest in science, social studies, mathematics, and the fine...

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