Saturday, 18 November 2017

Two simple words to counterpoint an idea

I think we can simply forget the simplicity of words when describing texts. We often go for the big, meaty ideas. We love a catch phrase or a nice slogan to wrap up an idea in writing. We often use sound bites or we peg words to ideas as we teach them. Look this idea here is an exploration of the sublime. And, this one is an example of the macabre. And, that one there is a cliché. We happily peg words to our ideas. However, ideas need to bash against different ideas and shouldn’t stand on their own like at dad watching his son playing football.  

Take the words ‘superior’ and ‘inferior’. A pair of words I love to use when exploring texts. It is important to have the other word when analysing a text.

Bob Cratchit feels inferior in this setting and that inferiority is symbolised in with the image of a single lump of ‘coal’.

Scrooge demonstrates his superiority in the manner he speaks to Scrooge.

Now, if you want to go further with developing an idea you can bring out the big guns – the adverbs. Physically. Spiritually. Mentally. Socially. Morally.

Then you can develop the idea to say that Scrooge is socially superior to Bob Cratchit. Through in some social context and you have a fairly reasonable idea.

 Scrooge reflects the power structure in Victorian London with his social superiority and Bob Cratchit’s inferiority is reflected in the single lump of coal.

We want to raise the level of understanding students have of texts, but a recent exploration of the concept of the British ‘stiff upper lip’ with students made me understand that a counterpoint is needed. To explore the repression of British society, I need students to see the opposite. The emotional frankness of Americans helps to show how the British culture represses particular emotions.

Students need ideas and we need to help them develop ideas. One word and one concept isn’t good enough. Schools constantly plod through one word at a time. We waft key terminology under the noses all the times, but conceptually we need counterpoints.

Take some of the following for example:

Socialist / Capitalist

Conditional love / Unconditional Love

Requited love / Unrequited love

Obligation / Option

Rational / Irrational

Committed / Uncommitted

Nostalgic / Expectant

Active / Passive

We over burden students with ideas and cram their little heads. We know the new GCSEs have big demands, but what if in our desire to cram their brains we neglect to refine and develop thoughts. A whole lesson on requited and unrequited love would help students understand love better, and possibly, relate to the idea in life. My own daughter likes to worry and an important step for her was understanding the difference between rational and irrational fears. Once she could separate the rational from the irrational fears she worried less

I am teaching ‘A Christmas Carol’ and I am thinking about what counterpoint words I might use and then, there staring at me with this little eyes are Ignorance and Want. The two are together. There isn’t one on their own. They are conceptually linked and closely linked together - under one cloak.  It would be interesting to know what words people would use to counterpoint concepts in ‘A Christmas Carol’.

Thanks for reading,



  1. Perhaps emotion and reason for A Christmas Carol, or generosity and meanness. I really like your counterpoint idea. Thanks, Chris.


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