Stepping inside the Franklin School these days is like walking into a surround-sound of onomatopoeia! Buzzing, clanging, banging, and whooshing envelop us as we finish base-building work and the final exhibit installation. The entry courtyard and green roof have been planted, the construction fence removed, and the last coats of plaster and frescoes applied. Last week we passed our final building inspection, so we should soon receive our Certificate of Occupancy. Then in August we will begin testing, debugging, and stress-testing the exhibit software to ensure it works as intended. At long last, we will get to see and experience the exhibits we’ve only been imagining for the last two and a half years!
But we’re not satisfied with stopping there. We’re taking this extra time — “thank you,” Covid-19 — to develop some additional activities for the Planet Word line-up. Supplementing our 10 main gallery experiences, we had already created 17 interactive activities about important word-related topics, such as forensic linguistics, animal communications, taboo language, linguistic bias, constructed languages, and more. Now we’ll add two more interactive activities: an exploration of news literacy, to fill a void created by the closing of the Newseum, and the timely and fraught topic of hate speech: What it is? Why do people use it?
With the museum doors still closed to visitors, we recognize the urgency of fulfilling our ever-more important mission: renewing and inspiring a love of words, language, and reading in order to bolster democracy — especially now that we see the inequities and shortcomings of distance learning, particularly regarding early literacy. To that end, we are planning more online programming, working with partners who share our values, especially inclusivity, to promote literacy and to share the joy of words. And since there might not be many in-person field trips in the fall, we are developing some bite-size virtual field trip options for language arts teachers, featuring guest appearances by our very own Ms. Wordy Nerdy (think Ms. Frizzle from the Magic School Bus series, but sharing language rather than science lessons)!
Just like our language is always evolving with the times, Planet Word is, too. So, as noted by our Advisory Board member Deborah Tannen in a June 21 Washington Post op-ed, we’ll leave you with the newest goodbye phrase: “Stay safe and healthy.”
—Ann Friedman, founder, Planet Word