“You should never use the word ‘unique’ in your academic writing,” my PhD advisor warned me. Her reason was that this word had no meaning, thus it had no place in a scholarly work. I obeyed, but mused about the unfortunate destiny of a significant word in my daughters’ upbringing.
We don’t need a definition of the word to remind us that our child is “one of a kind; unlike anything else.” I safely assume that, like me, most mothers and fathers (Matilda’s parents excluded) are convinced that their child is unique.
But I wasn’t alone in this belief; the elementary school in Texas, in the suburb where we lived in the early 1990s, cultivated the approach that each child was unique. It did so mainly through a special program named “Project Charlie,” standing for Chemical Abuse Resolution Lies in Education.
My daughters did not speak much about their Charlie experience, but they often came home chanting "each child is unique and different.”
Reading about “Project Charlie” for this post I realize that this sentence is indeed one of the main points of the program.
“Project Charlie” is a drug prevention program for elementary school children. It is a community-based effort to combat youth experimentation and use of all drugs. This program promotes the social and emotional growth of elementary school children by encouraging a positive self-image. It seeks to reduce substance abuse by improving children's decision-making skills and their ability to resist peer pressure, their self-esteem and to increase their knowledge of the harm that drugs can do.
Research conducted in the late 1990s found that compared with children who did not receive "Project Charlie, "children who did participate in the program showed significantly lower levels of experimentation with tobacco and illegal drugs.
It seems that the rationale behind “Project Charlie” is that empowering young children would make them emotionally strong teenagers who would be able to face challenges and to resist experimentation with drugs at the secondary school level. But even if the project did not prove effective enough in preventing drug abuse, it was still a priceless program. It encouraged children to believe in themselves. And speaking of price, “Project Charlie” was an inexpensive program since the school used in-house resources; the counselor who knew the children taught those classes.
We left the US for Israel in 1994 when my two daughters were in seventh and sixth grade respectively. I could not find whatever has become of “Project Charlie,” but I read that it has spread into Europe.
My advisor was right, “unique” is not an academic word, one has to show the ways in which something is unique. Still watching Matilda in London the other night, I remembered something important about this little girl. Matilda is the embodiment of unique, and Roald Dahl’s book demonstrates how.
But after all is said and done I feel that we should not throw away this important word. Sometimes there is no other way of saying that each child is one of a kind.