In graduate school, I memorized material that would likely appear on examinations, and forgot it after taking them, a practice that got me through required courses, but did little to enhance my goal of leaving the university with a well-rounded education.
As a college teacher I don’t want students to cram material into their heads for the sake of passing tests as I did, and mindful that experience is the best teacher, I assign exercises that provide them opportunities to utilize, and therefore retain, learned material.
This strategy works well in developing better word usage. Many college students possess limited vocabularies, and their addiction to text messaging worsens this deficiency. To improve students’ vocabularies, I provide lists of words as semesters progress, and require that they be used in compositions.
Those who are sincerely interested in enhancing communicative skills soon realize that, just as palettes containing the complete spectrum of colors enhance an artist’s capability to imitate nature, a large vocabulary helps students to paint with words, that is, to articulate.
I do the same with figures of speech, such as idioms, similes, metaphors, and analogies, all of which boost composition to higher levels of articulation.
Of these, the one students seem to enjoy using the most in their compositions is the analogy, which often provides means of looking at something in ways that may never have been considered before, thus adding clarification to items with which their readers may not be familiar.
Recently, I read an analogy of the Hebrews’ exodus from Egypt to the Holy Land that presented it in a more meaningful way.
I had a basic knowledge of how Moses led countless thousands on a long, difficult journey, and I understood that the march was fraught with hardship and perils through arid desert regions and mountains, and across lands inhabited by hostile people. However, not once during my study of this epic trek did I consider the logistics that would have been involved.
In the analogy I read, developed by an Army Quartermaster General using data analogous to an equal number of soldiers on a long march, the logistics were, to say the least, mind-boggling.
During the Israelites’ journey, the general estimated that Moses would have needed at least 1,500 tons of food per day to keep people and animals from starving; since much of the journey traversed treeless wastelands, firewood for cooking and warmth at night would have amounted to around 4,000 tons a day; and they would have needed innumerable millions of gallons of water daily.
I am not sure that the numbers in this analogous recreation of the Israelites’ journey are accurate, but I am sure of this: Moses wasn’t concerned with logistics; he knew that God would attend to his needs.
He possessed what human beings—then, now and always—must have to complete their successful trek through mortality to the Promised Land of eternal life with the Savior who has walked beside them every step of the way: unshakable, unfaltering faith.
Oxford, Mississippi, resident, Ole Miss alumnus, Army veteran, and retired Mississippi Delta cotton farmer Jimmy Reed is a newspaper columnist, author and college teacher. His latest collection of short stories is available via Squarebooks.com at 662-236-2262.
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