Oh, Willow, Willow, Willow.

In the 2015 review of the Australian curriculum, we undermined learning. Separating STEM from HASS is reductive. We have reduced the possibilities of connections. Therefore, wherever we find revival – ‘rerooting to the living’ Maria Popova calls it – of connections, we need to grasp it, encourage public and school libraries to buy the books, and thank heavens for the dedication of Maria Popova who established this blog. Read on, as we move forward to her words about it.

Brain Pickings.Maria Popova’s introduction to The Lost Words: A Spell Book.

Imagine – words like ‘fern’, ‘willow’, ‘starling’ removed by an Oxford Children’s Dictionary!

In their place ‘broadband’, ‘cut’, ‘paste’. From the living, breathing world, to technology for a screen. Why? Meeting a deadline perhaps without thinking?  What are we losing? Possibilities for connections. quality and clarity in close observation, depth of engagement, exciting developments across disciplines.

Just consider ‘willow’. Do you see the willows that border Australia’s River Murray? Why are these exotic trees making ecologists weep at the University of Adelaide? https://www.adelaide.edu.au/news/news207.html 

Do you think of a game, of cricket bats made from willow wood in Kashmir?

What of a ‘willowy form’:  a tall, thin and graceful person!  What of Willow, the film? What of Shakespeare’s saddest song, in the tragedy Othello. “The earliest record of “The Willow Song” is in a book of lute music from 1583.  . . Shakespeare [makes] the victim in the song, a woman, making it more relevant to Desdemona.”

What of ‘Strip the willow’, the Old Scottish Dance. And “Willow, titwillow, titwillow’ in The Mikado?   All those possibilities replaced by ‘broadband’? Reductive thinking.

I thank Maria Popova for introducing me to the following book, The Lost Words: A Spell Book, feeding into connections. Here is her statement about it.

“In early 2015, when the 10,000-entry Oxford children’s dictionary dropped around fifty words related to nature — words like fernwillow, and starling — in favor of terms like broadband and cut and paste, some of the world’s most prominent authors composed an open letter of protest and alarm at this impoverishment of children’s vocabulary and its consequent diminishment of children’s belonging to and with the natural world. Among them was one of the great nature writers of our time: Robert MacFarlane — a rare descendent from the lyrical tradition of Rachel Carson and Henry Beston, and the visionary who rediscovered and brought to life the stunning forgotten writings of the Scottish mountaineer and poet Nan Shepherd. 

Troubled by this loss of vital and vitalizing language, MacFarlane teamed up with illustrator and children’s book author Jackie Morris, who had reached out to him to write an introduction for a sort of “wild dictionary” she wanted to create as a counterpoint to Oxford’s erasure. Instead, MacFarlane envisioned something greater. The Lost Words: A Spell Book (public library) was born — an uncommonly wondrous and beguiling act of resistance to the severance of our relationship with the rest of nature, a rerooting into this living world in which, in the words of the great naturalist John Muir, “when we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe,” just as each word is hitched to all words and to the entire web of being. “ Please buy the book.

4 thoughts on “Oh, Willow, Willow, Willow.

    1. Dear Kathryn, That book should be in all school libraries. It is appalling that the language of nature should be removed and replaced by the language of technology. Both are needed. Principals who got rid of school libraries undermined the future for their students. Reductive approaches limit the horizons of students, and their parents.


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