Harper Lee’s famous novel , “To Kill A Mocking Bird”, juxtaposed racial prejudice and the justice system in a small southern town. Readers experienced the sad truth of entrenched inequalities in the application of the law. By most measures the legacy of Harper Lee, now deceased at 89, and other pioneers in literature and politics exposing the racial inequities, the landscape has improved in legal and social areas.
Equality of opportunity can never be achieved, however unless we face the disparity of verbal knowledge that children experience on entering elementary. Copious research conducted over the past several decades shows clearly that poor single parent students enter kindergarten with roughly half the word knowledge than the two parent affluent students. This sad fact sets the stage for most of these students to drop out of school early and find themselves relegated to the lower track in life’s journey. Prime examples are the recent problems on the streets of Ferguson and Baltimore. Why is this? Why are words so important?
The Johnson O’Connor Research Foundation, Inc. found that words are not just important in the academic world. Nobel prize winners on Physics had much higher vocabularies that their peers similarly educated. Lawyers, Doctors, and 42 other occupations studied showed high earnings were highly correlated with their “General Knowledge” as he called it. Another study showed that 50% of black Americans tested at the laboratory had vocabularies below 10% of the average.
These tests were not timed, very accurate vocabulary tests. Being a scientist O’Connor would not usually speculate on why this data so consistently showed these results but when he died he was quoted as saying “Words are the tools of thought.”
In conclusion , if we are going to continue the legacy of the great pioneers for equality we need t tackle this serious inequality on the knowledge of the meanings of words.