Synonyms and antonyms
The lesson was about to start. Girls and boys, sat at their desks, were laughing, chatting and shouting. Entering the classroom, amidst the students’ cheers, Maria, the teacher, went to her desk and asked for silence. Debora, in the second row, had already opened her red notebook, the one of her favorite subject, Italian.
“Today, guys, we will play a beautiful game. As you see behind me, there are two blackboards. What is written at the top of the first one, Fabio?”
“S Y N O N Y M S”
“And what is it?”
“Almost, synonyms. What about the other blackboard? What do we find?”
“Antonyms”. Debora immediately answers.
“Then, what are synonyms and antonyms? Synonyms and antonyms are friends and enemies. Something which is similar to you is your friend; something which is very far from you is your enemy. A synonym is a word that can replace another one: friend is synonymous with companion, for example. The antonym is the opposite of the word: enemy is the opposite of friend. Let’s give some examples so that it will be clearer.
Debora raises her hand: “Miss, can you explain why if something is against you, it is your enemy?
“It is only a common saying to make you understand… Now maybe with the examples I can explain you better. So, let’s write the word CORRECT on the first blackboard. A synonym of correct is RIGHT. An opposite of correct is WRONG”.
The lesson continues without too many difficulties, except for those of the teacher Maria, who promises herself that she will never again arrive unprepared even for an easier Italian lesson in the primary school. The children’s questions are always difficult to handle because they are the most authentic ones. She looks up at Debora who has finished her homework and stares straight into her eyes. When their gazes meet, she raises her hand. “Miss, I have a bad question”. “Debora, there is no such thing as a bad question. Please, ask”. Debora gets up, she moves closer to the teacher’s desk and tell her, whispering, that she has made a discovery about synonyms and antonyms but cannot say it out loud. Then she brings her mouth right up to Maria’s ear: “So, if I have understood correctly, my brother Daniel is disabled because it is the opposite of able?” They look at each other. Maria says that this is not a bad question. She invites her to go to her seat. She gets up, takes a red chalk and writes the word “ABLE” on the first blackboard. She turns to the class and wants to know all the synonyms.
“Who can do things”.
“Can we say competent then? Right? Good, now let’s move on to its opposite. Debora, what do you think is its opposite?”
“Exactly, but also incapable, inexperienced, incompetent. Now let’s try to make sentences, I will start. I am very good at teaching, but I am disabled in football. Let’s go on! Margherita, what are you skilled in and what are you disabled in?” “Miss, I am skilled in drawing but disabled in calculations. Is it fair to say that?”
Fabio does not agree: “But miss, we are not disabled”.
Maria looks at Debora, who remains straight in her chair and continues to stare at the teacher, almost challenging her. The teacher then says that the true definition of “disabled” is precisely that of not being able to do something. This is his first definition: it is a term that originates as the opposite of something else. For this reason, everyone can be skilled in something and disabled in something else, and for this very reason it would also be wrong to use it for people in general. There are no able-bodied people and disabled people: there are people with abilities and people with disabilities. “Actually, as I look at you, I see you as synonyms, because you are friends and students and yet you have characteristics, which are opposite. Debora is blond, Marta is dark. I am very tall, Fabio is short. Andrea is curly, Luca has straight hair. There may be small contrary elements in all of us. But they are characteristics, just like abilities and disabilities”. Debora thinks about it for a moment and says: “As far as I am concerned, I can walk but my brother cannot… but I’m not good at maths, while he is, and also very good, I swear! I am terrible with numbers…”.
“Well guys, the bell is about to ring, so the homework is for the day after tomorrow. Write down characteristics that are synonyms and antonyms to characteristics of one of your family members or class members. I will give an example with my brother, in order for you to understand better. I am very nice, and my brother is very funny. This is a synonym. Then, I am very athletic while my brother is very lazy. This is opposite. I can walk, while my brother has the disability of not being able to walk, just like Daniel”. Debora stares at the teacher, incredulous. Fabio, the real fearless one in the class, asks: “So your brother is also disabled? Indeed, no sorry, does he have any disability?”. “Yes. He is also very good at maths like your brother Daniele, dear Debora. See, in the end we are all a bit synonymous”. Maria turns to the student and winks at her. Then Debora too just closes her right eye and smiles.