If I’m worried about the future I see for education, I sense even more trepidation than optimism when it comes to the things I see outside the ivory tower. Here are some topics I’d like us to consider:
Everyday usage: we all use English every day (sorry, math people). One thing that complicates the effective use of English is the way that the meaning of words can evolve quickly–so quickly that communication between generations (or even races or genders) can be compromised. A case in point: people my age define racism as a form of prejudice based on race. More recently, however, I’ve noticed the claim that racism actually refers to prejudice plus power. If I understand this correctly, a member of a minority group cannot be racist, though that person could be prejudiced.
I’m not here to suggest that the evolution of the word is wrong. However, it seems to be a change that obscures meaning rather than lending greater clarity. There are logical inconsistencies as well. If I’m a white male living in a predominately African-American city, is it impossible for me to be racist? I wouldn’t think so! Yet that seems to be a conclusion courted by the “new”definition.
Another new phrase that gets my goat is “check your privilege.” I find absolutely no substance to the phrase. When used in a heated discussion, what I hear is one person judging the alleged privilege holder by what he or she looks like rather than continuing to debate an idea–a new form of ad hominem. If I hold dear the idea that supply side economics works well for everyone (and I don’t believe this, by the way!), and an opponent tells me to check my privilege because supply side economics only works well for wealthy whites, we’ve stopped talking about policy, we’ve started talking about how my opponent perceives me. This phrase ultimately encourages us to judge people by their demographic rather than their actions.
With all this in mind, I hope we can make our everyday usage more precise–more useful–in the coming semester.