Liberal language guy George Lakoff has an insightful column in The Washington Post this weekend that is recommended reading to those who want to get the word out and have it understood.
Words not only have meaning, they are political action themselves, Mr. Lakoff said. The terms we use can get people thinking and prompt action. As he said:
The more we repeat the language of equality, freedom and social responsibility, the more those ideas come to dominate the public conversation. In turn, the character of public discourse determines what the news media promote and criticize, and what the candidates for public office must pay attention to. In this way, speech is political action.The part that stuck out to me was the line that education "is what makes us free and equal." What a great way of putting it in these times where we're told that teachers are worthless moochers, private schools are better and home schooling is best, particularly if it includes intelligent design for its science curriculum.
What are some other deep truths we can promote through words? That individual initiative is possible only with the infrastructure and human capital the American public has provided for all of us. That health care is inseparable from life. That education is far more than taking tests or competing in the global economy; it is what makes us free and equal. That the environment is not just outside; it is inside us, with polluted air and water and pesticides destroying our health, now and tomorrow. That women’s rights are human rights. That great disparities in wealth destroy opportunity.
While I was thinking of all the ways education makes us free, I was reminded of a time I was in the Parker's grocery to pick up dinner ingredients. The store was the closest supermarket to the downtown area of my city, but still quite a hike or bus ride for most who lived there.
I was in the frozen foods section, reaching for some vegetables, when I was approached by an older black man who was leaning on a cane wearing an overcoat and a well-used fedora. He stopped several feet away and took off the hat. "Excuse me, ma'am. Could you help me? I just can't find this kind of ice cream I'm supposed to get."
I deposited the veggies into my cart and followed him to the ice cream section. In a moment, I reached in and pulled out his selection and handed it to him. He bowed slightly and put his hat back on.
"I'm beholden to ya, ma'am. Thank ya." And he wandered off.
I went back to my cart and pushed it past the ice cream section. I glanced at it and wondered what was so hard about finding chocolate fudge brownie? Then I realized he mustn't be able to read and the pictures on the packages wouldn't guarantee he got the right kind.
He'd had to embarrass himself in front of a stranger to ask for help. He was beholden to me.
Education makes us free and equal, even in Parker's grocery.