Fair warning: this post might be too political for some. I try to avoid politics in this blog, but sometimes I feel it’s applicable to our life and our education to discuss it.
For most purposes of this blog, I write about how I apply lessons from my first major in college: art. I rarely discuss the second (not a minor, a second major): journalism. It’s important because I basically trained to be a journalist, yet never went into the field itself.
Still, I stick to those standards in many ways, and it’s why I always include sources, write acronyms with a spelled-out version, and do a little more than just musings on some random blog. Journalism is one of those long-standing, much-hated professions that are slowly falling out of the job market in a society that desperately needs more investigative journalism.
At its core, journalism is about truth-telling. Sometimes that means describing what’s happened, sometimes that means exposing the truth in a nasty situation. In this case, I want to describe what’s happening with an added fillip of opinion.
You’ve probably heard about the list the CDC was given with 7 prohibited words already. For clarity’s sake, those 7 words are “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.” (From the Washington Post article linked above.)
Now, it doesn’t matter how you feel about the meanings of those particular words. It doesn’t even matter how you feel about the administration who directed this ban. Nor does it matter what the CDC has to say about it. All that matters is that someone decided the way to deal with things you don’t like is to pretend they don’t exist.
That is scary.
Words have power – they have meaning. For anyone to suddenly decide that they can manipulate that meaning without consequences shows a major disregard for the truth. Because the concepts behind the words don’t cease to exist, we simply lose the power to describe them easily. We can still say “not strong,” “weak,” “exposed,” “defenseless,” or any other combination of words that means “vulnerable.” We can still share the meaning of the word – it doesn’t disappear. Prohibiting the use of “vulnerable” is like a toddler hiding their eyes for peek-a-boo: do I stop existing because they can’t see me? Of course not!
I’m a realist. I’m probably a bit of a pessimist too, because I can see how this kind of prohibition can jump so easily from one thing down the slope to another. Don’t like the words? Ban them. Hey, don’t like the books those words are found in? Ban them from anything funded by the federal government. Want to see them eradicated completely? Force publishers to stop selling them. No problem.
How long is it until someone decides that the word “gifted” might offend someone? Let’s get rid of that one – change it to “intellectually abled” instead. What about “twice exceptional?” Get rid of it. Go with “intellectually abled and disabled” so it doesn’t offend anyone.
Oh but wait! If there are no “gifted” individuals, then why do we have funding for a “gifted” program? Get rid of it, we need the funds for something else.
Sounds like fear-mongering, but if we allow someone to eliminate words from our language we give them absolute power over everything. Because words describe everything we do, learn, know, and think. Banning the words does not change the reality of the thing itself – it simply shuts down any conversation about the thing. The thing exists – but it’s powerless without words.
I do not approve of this tactic, obviously, but I think it has massive ramifications beyond a mere political spat. It has “totalitarian” written all over it. It’s a step exactly in the wrong direction. And worse, it’s a blatant slap at the intelligence of the average American. What do you think we are? Toddlers?
Grow up. Face the words you don’t like and do something about it. But don’t pretend they don’t exist. That’s nuts. That’s insane. That’s scary.