Just in time for the beginning of a new school year, in a stunning and over-the-top display of political correctness that reads like an edict published by the Ministry of Truth in Orwell’s 1984, the New York Department of Education published a list of words banned in the public schools.
Elizabeth Scalia pointed this out to me on Twitter, referring to the list as asinine. I couldn’t agree more. In fact, I’ve had some days to stew over this, as the new school year invariably also includes attempted book bannings for the same ridiculous asinine political correctness.
I get it. Words are powerful.
They hurt or heal; tear down or lift; wound or love.
The right word can convey a multitude of meanings. In fact, word choice often conveys more about how the speaker feels toward the subject than the subject itself.
For the poet, the right word contains a universe. For the writer, putting the right words together, just so, can turn the piece into a work of art, or at least create one beautifully crafted phrase that sings.
I get why some educators — or possibly policy-makers more than likely — would be sensitive about certain words that carry negative connotations. The wrong word can do a lot of damage.
I’m in my third decade as an educator, so I’ve been watching this trend for a while.
It started nobly enough with inclusive language. No more assuming doctors are “he” and nurses are “she.” Honestly, I don’t take issue with that.
However, it led to a preponderance of pronoun antecedent errors in the composition classroom. Choosing the plural pronoun “they” resolved the issue of sex, and introduced the problem of agreement in number. Because who cares about grammar when political correctness is at stake?
Apparently, no one. Grammar Girl gives a great analysis of this dilemma, but even she doesn’t have a definitive answer. She does, however, point out that the singular “they” will one day be the norm. Sadness.
It’s like a gateway drug. Ok. Maybe a little bit of hyperbole there, but that philosophy expanded to an approach to language that may have been rooted originally in dignity and sensitivity, but opened the door wide-open for all kinds of crack-pottery. Is that a word? It is now, at least until New York weighs in on it.
Anyway, the preferred use of custodian over janitor may have added some well-deserved dignity to an otherwise disparaged job, but when that same position became sanitation engineer I think we started the perilous slide into absurdity.
Dancing around words, using euphemisms, relabeling things — this doesn’t change the truth, it just fools us into believing the lies.
The Ministry of Truth is a fictional construct. Isn’t it? Isn’t it?