• The Black Magic Of Words

    May 20, 2024
    Photo credit: Dmytro Demianenko | depositphotos

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    Everyone knows the things that politicians say that are obviously lies and exaggerations — like calling someone a racist or homophobe for advocating a policy that has nothing to do with either. We’re used to those kind of lies, and can shrug them off rather easily.

    But politicians are often much sneakier — like talking about saving democracy while proposing actions that will actually destroy our democracy. Ever present in the daily speech of politicians are catch phrases repeated in the hope that hearing them often enough will convince you they’re true. Read the titles of proposed legislation and you’ll find the same misdirection. A bill titled “protecting election integrity” contains policy that will obviously, if you bother to read it, worsen or prevent election integrity. The “Patriot Act” runs right over our Bill of Rights, a very unpatriotic thing to do. And so it goes.

    For a thorough example of the abuse of language, you must read “1984” by George Orwell. Government slogans like War is Peace, and Freedom is Slavery take the practice to its absurd extreme. And yet today, the absurd is becoming the norm.

    When the Department of Homeland Security announced the formation of a brand new Disinformation Governance Board, many thought it must a sick April Fool’s joke. But it was real. The solemnly stated purpose was to counteract dis- and misinformation. Imagine the hubris of government bureaucrats, who have clearly proven themselves experts at dispensing false propaganda and who censor legitimate public voices who disagree with them, claiming the right to officially police disinformation. Sounds like the Ministry of Truth from “1984” that told only government propaganda lies.

    These same word games have spread like the coronavirus. DEI, diversity, equity and inclusion, sounds like being tolerant and treating others as equals. Good things, right? In practice it is virulently intolerant and divisive and fuels the mob-based cancel culture that crushes dissent. This sleight of words black magic is at best confusing, making truth harder to determine, which is one of its major goals. At its worst, it is evil and deceptive. Lying always is.

    The educational scene is not immune to black magic. The misuse of language and redefinition of words make it hard to see what is being done in schools. Anti-racism is not being against racism. It is reverse racism against whites. DEI when applied to school kids tells white kids they are inherently racist, black kids they are oppressed, and that neither group can understand, communicate or get along with the other. That really won’t help. But the mistakes and problems are not always so obvious.

    School officials scoff and assert that CRT is not being taught. But a close look at school materials reveals the principles of CRT being pushed everywhere.

    Take one program in Florida called Bridging the Gap. The stated intention is solving the fact that black students do so much worse in school than Hispanic, white and Asian students. Certainly a worthwhile goal. Terms like culturally responsive teaching, and social emotional learning sound innocent enough, but a close examination of materials shows white privilege near the top as a major focus. How to implement anti-racism and intersectionality is also discussed. These are two core tenets of CRT.

    Look at the new grading plan sweeping the nation — standards-based grading. It sounds like grading according to a set standard, doesn’t it? Seems good and fair. It’s not. For example, previously students who failed to do homework, failed to turn in work during class, or failed to show up in class at all were penalized in some way. Those who bothered to show up and do their work got some credit, and those who excelled got maximum credit. That actually WAS a standard. But standards-based grading, sometimes call mastery-based grading, throws all of that away. It isn’t even grading. By rewarding those who do nothing, it destroys standards and discourages mastery. Standards-based grading allows teachers to lower their number of failures by assigning easier alternative work or letting certain students take home tests, or re-test with easier questions. Rewarding students for not working or failure will, of course, encourage more of the same.

    The plan is explained to teachers as necessary because tests, due dates and objective assessments of progress unfairly favor certain students (read that as white or Asian). In other words, these long-standing and successful educational practices are racist. Yet, under standards-based grading, some students are doing little, learning less, and still receiving high grades. On the contrary, that practice is what is racist. That is how you get an entire high school graduating class who cannot read or do math. Standards-based grading is actually the soft bigotry of low expectations. Another sneakily worded program is CMF, the California Mathematics Framework. Sounds innocent enough, with a goal to reduce achievement disparity among different student demographics. Look closer and you’ll see social justice and equity are goals. That should set off alarms, and rightfully so.

    Here’s how it works. Because some students are advancing in math and others aren’t, the plan is to stop offering advanced math courses to higher achieving younger students so they won’t get ahead of the others. And subjects like calculus and higher algebra may be dropped altogether. You follow that? Good students will be stopped from advancing so poor students don’t fall so far behind. Equity. I can tell you one thing for sure. Other countries will not be dumbing down their best students.

    So while words do matter, beware. Like the Wizard of Oz, things aren’t always as they appear. Just because something sounds good, or even has a good stated goal, does not mean that it is good. You must pull the curtain aside. You must look, not listen. Look closely at how teachers are instructed to teach, at the curriculum and the actual materials given to students. Even then you have to observe it in practice to know the outcome.

    That’s no easy task, but it is the only way we will stop the insanity.

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    Ed Thompson

    Ed Thompson has worked in education for over 25 years, both tutoring individuals and teaching classes. He has helped students from three to seventy-three years old, and in subjects from beginning reading all the way to MBA classes and postgraduate biology. Students ranged from severely challenged to gifted and advanced. This work has given him a unique perspective and has led to insights on what’s broken about our educational system and how we can make it better. He is the host of the Basic Education Series podcasts and author of educational books. Learn more at https://basiced.substack.com.

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