First, extra points to anyone who gets the cinematic reference in the title. Gold stars all around.
Words are my tools. That’s not an exaggeration. I use them all the time and I use a lot of them. I try not to use too many of them, but that’s not always the case.
I also know how powerful words can be and how words can have different impacts based on the context and usage. Words can be used and abused. They can express beauty and sheer terror. They can build or destroy.
So you get it – I hope. Words are powerful and need to be used responsibly. They should not, however, be feared. If we use them the right way, there shouldn’t be any problem.
The problem is people (as usual) get offended by words. Even if the word is used correctly and not meant for harm, people can still feel insulted.
Which brings up one of those events that really makes me worry for the future. A report came out this week that the chancellor for the New York City schools has a list of 50 words (and phrases, just to be clear) that he feels should be “banned” from the city’s standardized tests. Why? Well, in case the use of such words offends the kids taking the tests.
Now, I will admit that is been a fair spread of years since I’ve taken a test. The last standardized test I took was the SAT back in high school. However, I feel certain in saying that I was too concerned with getting the answers correct than whether or not any words were offending me. I suspect children taking such tests these days have pretty much the same mentality – get the test done and do well (in that order, too.)
By now, you may be wondering about what words could possibly be on this list that could halt a student in mid-test, a test they have undoubtedly been told is life-or-death in relation to their academic career, and say “Whoa! I’m offended!” Wankel Rotary Engine, maybe? (That’s an actual engine, by the way, used in Mazda cars.)
Readers of a more sensitive nature may want to avert their eyes for the next paragraph.
Among the words (phrases) suggested to be banned: birthday, celebrities, Halloween, any and all religious holidays, homelessness, homes with swimming pools (that’s my favorite), divorce, crime, hunting, junk food, bodily function (no notes on specific ones here or if it’s just that phrase), rap music (okay – I approve of that one), and computers in the home – although computers in a school or library setting is acceptable.
Okay, those who averted their eyes can look back now.
This is obviously only a partial listing. You can find the full list with a quick internet search, although a quick search of that finds that the word “internet” may also be offensive to those who do not have the internet. Um, sorry, then, to anyone I offended in that last sentence.
When pressed, the chancellor of the schools gave an explanation of why some words or phrases are on this list. And, quite frankly, his explanation only made the whole thing that much sillier. The basic gist of it – children who come from backgrounds that, for example, don’t observe or participate in Halloween might find a question with the word Halloween in it offensive. And really? Children in New York City would be offended by the word “crime?”
Birthday made the list because a religious group does not celebrate birthdays. Which does make me wonder what the BMV would make of that idea. Other words were on the list because they indicate wealth or poverty.
Politics was also noted, and perhaps the discussion of politics should be left off tests. Those tests are scary enough as it is.
Are these children hermetically sealed for their protection the rest of their lives? Do they not see/hear/say/read these words elsewhere? Will New York seek to protect our sensitive eyes from these damaging words?
As someone far smarter than the chancellor of the New York schools noted, using those words can help kids adjust and consider different viewpoints. So what if they don’t celebrate a specific holiday in their household? Does that mean they should remain ignorant of all others?
Should we then begin separating people into groups based only on what may or may not offend them? If so, we already have – it’s called “an individual.” I would posit that it is impossible to have two or more people together that can’t find a way to offend each other, given enough time.
You meet people all the time. None of them will think exactly like you on every single topic in life. Some of what they think/say/write/do you may find offensive.
You have a choice.
You can acknowledge the difference and continue to communicate/associate with that person (I even call some of these people my friends.)
Or, you can run away, fingers plugged into your ears and going “Na, na, na! I can’t hear you!”
I think the bloke who came up with that list would pick the latter.