When I asked a student in class the other day not to say “shut up” to another student, I was given a blank stare.
“That’s just the way we talk,” she said.
I was floored. I didn’t really know how to respond. I am thinking today about the difficulty of language and what place it has in the classroom. After having thought about it, I have decided that when I become a full time teacher, I will spend an entire class period early in the semester analyzing with the students the relationship between language and social division throughout history. Since the middle ages, language has been used as a weapon to divide society. If we dislike someone, we have words with which to express that anger. If we want to show that we’re smarter than someone else, we will use words they cannot understand. We have created classes based on the way we talk. For instance, historically certain words have been considered “taboo” in Christian circles as a seperation marker. If you say certain words, you receive less respect within your particular Christian faith community. It is not about what you mean when you say it, but merely the fact that you say it.
Thus we have quite a difficult mess on our hands. How do we begin to bring students together in the classroom through language when it is precisely language that has seperated sub-cultures for so long?