A Dictionary is an Essential Tool for a Quality Education

Editorial by Mary French, Executive Director, The Dictionary Project

Every day, people ask me if dictionaries will be used in the future. Dictionaries will always be relevant and necessary as long as they are updated. I have studied many dictionaries, and they have evolved dramatically because language is driven by technology. Technology controls the economy and languages around the world.

The iPad made its debut in 2010. Today it is in every classroom in America. We all need to be aware that first and foremost, the iPad is an advertising medium. Companies make millions not only by providing content for it, but also from gathering information while it is in use. In the past 20 years we have seen televisions and computers installed in schools, and billions of dollars spent on these electronic devices under the proposition that our students would fall behind in education if they did not have access to this equipment on a daily basis. Sadly, after making this investment, we are further behind than ever in our quest to improve education. The fact of the matter is that reading makes a country great. If children spend more time watching television or playing video games than they do reading, they will not come close to reaching their potential. Many may even end up in prison because they will not have the necessary education and skills needed to lead a productive life. Additionally for many, especially children, it is hard to distinguish fact from fiction on the Internet. Many important values, skills and talents are being lost because electronic forms of entertainment are not a substitute for reading and writing.

In some school districts, board members are voting to replace teachers and textbooks and postpone repairing structures in order to have the money available to give every student an iPad. We cannot replace people with devices, because when we do, individuals lose their value and character in society. When I ask older people how we can improve education, they always say that schools need to teach character. Character is taught through example by showing people respect. A machine cannot give the humanity of a person. Part of teaching is showing people how to communicate and respect each other. Interacting with people gives us a chance to observe for ourselves and seize these teachable moments. Without personal contact, people are not using all of their five senses that make us fully aware of our surroundings.

We must reevaluate our relationship with our electronic devices. Various studies, including those by the Kaiser Family Foundation and Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental health, point out that each day, most people in the United States and Canada spend at least 7 hours in front of a screen (e.g. TV, videogames, computer). We need to focus on cultivating our inner resources. The one attribute that no one can take away from us is our own attitude. Technology cannot replace the human need to relate. By visiting classrooms, talking with students, giving them a dictionary and encouraging the students to succeed, our sponsors demonstrate good character, respect and leadership to those students. It is by helping others that we help ourselves grow into stronger and better people. Today’s students will learn from your example and take advantage of the precious gift that they have been given from you to become self-reliant and well educated leaders.

I am a passionate advocate for education. It is imperative that everyone in the world can read and write so that they can share their innate gifts and live to their potential. Life is shaped from the inside out. Instilling a sense of social responsibility is just as important as personal freedom and individualism, and strikes a healthy balance between personal responsibility and personal freedom. We have to instill in students an obligation to maintain civility in our conversations and respect for each other. Our sponsors are role models. Freedom requires civic responsibility. You have to engage in a democracy. A dictionary is the best gift you can give anyone, to make them self-reliant and better able to communicate. It is an essential tool for a quality education; you cannot do your best work without one.