Saturday, February 28, 2015

Repost: Language in America - 2

Every other week my blog will feature a reposted work. I had been a contributor on two different sites that have since closed or no longer include blogs. I will be reposting pieces that had originally been featured on one of these two sites.  

This was originally posted June 7, 2011

This is the second installment of my review of the book Languagein America published in 1969.  I would like to thank the Indiana Wesleyan University library for their book check-out policy for full time staff.  I think I’ve had the book for over a year.  It was worth every minute. 

As I said in my first set of comments on this book:
I’d like to encourage you as my reader in the ways that I was challenged through reading the book.  That challenge is, to pay attention to the words you use.  Take care to mean the words that you say in the way that you say them.  Be aware of the implications of the slang you use and what it might indicate. 

I have thought for some time now that theorists and thinkers in the areas of language, communication, and culture are the modern-day prophets.  Several of the chapters in this book made me want to reach back in time and pull the author to the present, just so I could show him how his ideas had proven true, how his warnings had not been headed.


One such chapter is the discussion of “The Language of Racism” the author talks about how the English language is inherently racist and how white people need to stop talking about “helping lift up other races” and rather be together with them in addressing systemic inequalities.  I noticed several connections to two more modern books:
Irresistible Revolution by Shane Claiborne
White Like Me by Tim Wise

Some thoughts:  how do you cognitively frame your Christian service?  How do you relate to the “other” in society?  Do the words you use perpetuate the systems that you profess to be fixing?


The chapter entitled “The Language of Self-Deception” is broken up into several sections.  Each one examines metaphors that are commonly used to give scientific or moral validity to actions.  One example is the phrase “the law of the jungle”.  
The author suggests that there is no such thing as a “law of the jungle” and that the phrase is often used to perpetuate the idea that animals are vicious beyond reckoning and any sort of dominance (hunting, capture, etc.) by man is “an act of grace”.  
The examples in the essay may be outdated but the premise is not. 
Again, I would just encourage you to examine the metaphors you use. 


The chapter on “The Language of Education” by Terence P. Moran makes the same point Neil Postman makes in many of his books, that most education does not teach one to think, but rather teaches one to answer a series of trivia questions.  Moran asserts that the format of a trivia game is the same format of many classroom tests.  That is to say, Education is largely structured as arbitrary questions to answer rather than a process of helping the student think.
He cites Karl Marx as saying that “events occur twice, once in tragedy and once in farce” and suggests that trivia games are the counterpart to the tragedy of education. 

The easy response to this looks at the state of education or the education others have received.  We lament our education with the proverbial elbow nudge at those we think need to hear this message.  
But what about the hard questions that look inward?  Do you try to help others think, or do you just want them to have the right answer?  
This is especially important for those of us in the church or Christian education, are we training people to think well, clearly, precisely in and about the world?  
Or are we merely concerned that they know our doctrinal view on the issue and how to respond to those who would argue with them?

Are you concerned with why, or merely with who, what, and when?

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...