One of my favorite book titles (from the business bookshelf in my office) is The Ten-Day MBA. More than the content, I like the concept. Author Steven Silbiger, after spending his own money and time to get an MBA, breaks down the MBA process into ten easy steps and presents them to us in a book. His concept is, the degree is worthless – it’s all about the vocabulary. It’s just a bunch of high-level vocabulary words that make you sound smart. In ten chapters, from finance to marketing, he gives us the vocabulary to make us sound like an MBA. For instance, marketing people that say, “The sales person goes on site”, would in the future talk about high-involvement selling, once they get their degree. Does this sound silly?
Today’s Wall Street article on vocabulary suddenly gives this guy some credit (which I immediately gave him when I read his compelling introduction years ago). Vocabulary Declines with Unspeakable Results, The First Step to Fight Income Inequality: Do a Better Job of Teaching Kids to Read. In my opinion E.D. Hirsch (The author) has a good point. Reading, writing, and basic vocabulary make a difference in what people think you can do, and what people think you’re worth. People don’t ask me often for my degrees, but they do listen to see if I sound wise or foolish. Even a smart person, who can’t speak well or understand more complex words, will be thought of as uneducated, and therefore under valued in the marketplace.
What does E.D. Hirsch say…here are some sound bites, but I recommend reading the article. Vocabulary and reading more complex material has fallen off since 1962 (a year before I was born). He writes:
- “On average, students don’t know the words they need to flourish as learners, earners or citizens.”
- “Math is an important index to general competence, but on average words are twice as important.”
- “In the 1930s, American schools transformed themselves according to the principles of “progressive education,” which assume that students need to learn not a body of knowledge but “how-to” skills.” He then argues that study the body of knowledge builds the vocabulary…
- “Analyses of schoolbooks between 1940 and 1960 show a marked dilution of subject matter and vocabulary.” – I’ve noticed this is true of many homeschool books. My kids prefer to read Apologia over Bob Jones Biology…Hirsch is saying, this is a mistake.
- “The focus on the “skill” of reading has produced students who cannot read.” – He encourages us to learn to read simply by reading complex, meaningful material that builds around a body of knowledge, not simple English exercises. “Substance, not skill, develops vocabulary and reading ability—there are no shortcuts.”
- He concludes, “When questions of fairness and inequality come up in discussions, parents would do well to ask whether it’s fair of schools to send young people into a world where they suffer from vocabulary inequality.”
Unlike the author of the Ten-Day MBA, I don’t have my MBA – I was set on getting it until someone recommend I just hire a bunch of people that do when the need arises. In 1998 I had eight MBAs working for me…I learned that they had simply read books I had not read. I’ve since made it a practice to read the books that explain the body of knowledge I am after, written by experts in that field. Forget the text books and start reading, applying, and learning. Focus on a body of knowledge that builds, and that matters. The vocabulary will follow. If you’re a homeschool student – encourage your parents to read this before sending you off to read another watered-down text book…once you graduate you’ll realize there are largely a waste of time.
© 2012, David Stelzl