My first experience with “fowl” language started many years ago when I met an old codger named T. Brady who introduced me to his game flock. A reincarnation of Dale Gribble from the animated sitcom, King of the Hill, T. would mumble and cluck when he talked to them, which I found surprisingly soothing.
That Barnyard Zen belied the fact that chickens have a rough life: they must survive a pecking order. Yes, though a flock of chickens may be a microcosm of human society, some behaving aggressively, others passively, weak birds cannot survive a bully without a human intervening.
I could see myself doing that. So, I bought some chickens, but that’s another story. I mostly wanted to help young people survive bullying. I wanted to help them become independent-minded, too, and to get along with one another. To do that, you have to communicate what you mean to say.
My chicken coop, then, became the English classroom, where I taught language skills for 32 years in high school. My greatest reward was watching my students grow to respect one another, find their confidence, learn how to rationally think about the world around them, and then shape their views to fit in that world. I was able to help them do all this by teaching them that, when you think, speak and write precisely and concisely, using the clearest and most effective words, with the most energetic verbs to defend your views, the better you communicate your meaning.
You can learn to do this at any grade level. For instance, instead of saying my little Fable, BeakSpeak, is about chickens who have trouble with communication, you say “the chickens communicate poorly because of learned, language errors” – or, when Nothing New Sue says “stop beating around the bush, Sean, you are red just like Henny Penny, and you are mad right now.” Cut to the chase with “Stop stalling, Sean. You are both red like Henny Penny and mad right now.” Of course you also need to expose general language errors, which I do by attaching young chickens to them who speak the examples.
Add to those techniques, stimulating thought with exploratory questions, which comes with my little book, and you have BeakSpeak. I even supply suggested answers.
I sorely regret having had to retire, but it eventually comes to all of us. I miss watching those young people blossom, but I merged my love for chickens and for language into BeakSpeak, hoping to create a different kind of classroom.
“I hope you find this book like fertile barnyard soil, designed to cultivate
better language skills, clearer thinking, and loving kindness!”