In So Many Words: Building Blocks

Sometimes I like to step back from blogs about educational reform and schooling for democracy to indulge in my other love: word origins. Words have always been special to me, even as a child. Early on, I attributed magical qualities to them, believing that locked within were mysterious insights which could help guide me through life.

What you are about to read is a work of etymology from a comic series I wrote in a previous life called, In So Many Words.

Call it just so much bunk, gibberish, babble, and hokum — but do enjoy!

Building Blocks, A Comic by Larry Paros
from the comic series In So Many Words by Larry Paros
Building Blocks Page Two, A Comic by Larry Paros
from the comic series In So Many Words by Larry Paros

Text only version

Building Blocks

The major institutions of Academia are called “schools.” Their primary activity derives from the Greek skhole, “lecture, or discussion.” These roots also convey a sense of “leisure,” or “spare time,” the conditions under which learning might best take place.

This offers a clue as to their actual mandate — the need to provide a context for relaxed study, one that promotes the free play of ideas, and generates an interest in the arts and sciences. Alas, such matters are now considered academic in the narrowest sense, “dated and no longer relevant.”

There appears instead to be schemes afoot to undermine that meaning. These schemes were hatched by Skhole which was also originally a “holding back,” a “keeping clear” from skhein, “to get,” from a Proto-Indo-European root segh, “to hold in one’s power,” steps which were necessary to achieve “victory” in wartime.

This would explain the schemes our schools today tend to fall back on, such as grill and drillrote learning and test preparation — all expressions of power in their battle to vanquish ignorance. What is rote in the educational process derives from the Old French rote, from which we get our route, leading us to travel the same road over and over again; though there’s also the Latin rota, “wheel,” for going round and round.

Concerning “drill,” educators tend to confuse drilling, the relentless and repetitive nature of the tool with training or instilling what is to be learned and for later boring into students for answers, as if one were drilling into their head.

“Grill,” it of course, originally meant to broil something on a grill or griddle, as is done regularly at backyard barbecues across America. Its meaning was easily extended by likening the poor soul being questioned by the police to a helpless rib-steak sizzling over coals. It was then but a short leap from. “Where were you on the night of September 27th?” to, “Recite the quadratic formula.” All these schemes are quite elaborative and well thought out. They should all work well, providing, of course, that the metal detectors are functioning properly. And that is anything but an academic matter.

You can find more comics by following this link to In So Many Words.

Published by Kvetch Press, a Division of Neurobics, Inc.

Author Larry Paros

Illustrations by Sam Zaninovich

All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced — mechanically, electronically, or by any other means, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system — without written permission from the publisher.

All violators will be towed or forced to repeat sixth grade.


Larry Paros has worked in the field of Education and Human services for more than 30 years both as a teacher and administrator. A pioneer in the creation of alternative settings, he is best known for his work with young people from varied ethnic and racial backgrounds in contexts of his own making. His book, Dancing on the Contradictions: Transforming our Schools, our Students, and Ourselves, will be available in September of 2019.

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