Language both reflects and shapes society. Culture shapes language and then language shapes culture. Little wonder that the words we use to talk to each other, and about each other, are the most important words in our language: they tell us who I am, they tell us who you are, they tell us who 'they' are.
Money is a mystery. Not only is our behavior with respect to money sometimes puzzling and erratic, but our feelings about money are often contradictory, illogical, deep-rooted, and scarcely known even to our most secret selves. We are getting better at handling money, but what it means to us, how we use it to express ourselves, and how it can help us become all that we are meant to be remain murky issues.
We can go for days, weeks, and even months without saying or thinking the word 'education.' And yet, day in and day out, we are educating others and being educated ourselves. In the narrower sense of education - those classrooms and buildings and campuses where teachers and taught are brought together for purposes stated and unstated, for outcomes intended and unintended - we have all been profoundly affected by the pattern of days essentially not of our own making.
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There are complaints that it's hard to remember what you can say and what you can't, which words are 'in' for certain groups and which words are not. And yet we started out learning that the 'kitty' on the sidewalk was actually a squirrel, we learned to differentiate between fire trucks and school buses, and many people today know the difference between linguini, fettucini, and rotini. The same people who say they can't remember the 'right' terms in referring to people are often whizzes at remembering which professional sports teams have moved where and are now called what.
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At the heart of good education are those gifted, hardworking, and memorable teachers whose inspiration kindles fires that never quite go out, whose remembered encouragement is sometimes the only hard ground we stand upon, and whose very selves are the stuff of the best lessons they ever teach us. Most of us, no matter how long ago it's been, can name our kindergarten teacher. Our first music teacher. Our junior high algebra teacher. Good teachers never die.
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Absolute freedom doesn't exist and never did. Just as we don't spit on the floor at work, swear at customers, or send out letters full of misspellings, so too we might have to 'watch our language.' It is odd that the request for unbiased language in schools and workplaces is considered intolerable when other limits on our freedom to do whatever we want are not.
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Life seems somehow less shocking, painful, and lonely - and more hopeful, agreeable, and beautiful - when our experiences are confirmed by those of others. Although each of us is unique, there are familiar responses and doubts and joys that let us know we have kin. We are not, after all, too strange to live.