Language Games

Honesty starts with language.  No! It does not start with the language used. It starts with the way that language is used. For example, one might send a colleague an email stating, “I cannot believe you are so ******* dumb you can’t say @@@@ without screwing it up!”  Or, if the critic was feeling a bit more genteel, the email might say, “I was totally disgusted to see how poorly you represented our position before the committee today.”  In both cases, the recipient would understand the sender was not happy. Sure, his or her reactions to the two emails might be different, but the meaning is essentially the same.

Now that the groundwork is laid, where is this going?  Well, it is going somewhere I have ventured before to some degree, but before you click away, give me a second to expand on the title and why you should be interested in what I have to say.

As noted here several times in the past, the way people handle social media is an issue. In some cases, it seems to bring out the troll in us. That reaction is usually accompanied by a lack of veracity. This point came to mind recently when a meme concerning a particular school district mandating a new sex education curriculum started making the rounds. The “mandated” sex-ed curriculum reportedly covered topics some might feel are more abomination than education.

My first thought was to move on. Sex education is one of those topics the right, the left, and much of the middle could argue about for eternity. I did not however, because the meme catching my attention used the word mandated, and the school district in question has a good deal of political clout. Besides, I am always interested in the way others respond to such claims. So, I did a bit of research.

As it turned out, both sides of the issue in question played fast and loose with the truth.  If that comes as a surprise to you, please do not tell me.  I still have a bit of faith left in humanity living up to its position on the sentient being scale.

Skewing the truth, if not outright lying, is a standard tactic in many political, professional, and neighborhood debates, especially when social media is involved. I keep hoping that will change, as we become more acclimated to communicating in this manner. Sadly, that does not seem to be case. Accordingly, I wanted to see who might take liberties with the truth.

The hot button on this particular issue was not just sex education. It was the kinds of sexual activity included in the classes. Some aspects of the curriculum are considered topics one does not discuss in polite society by many folks. For the record, it does not matter which form of sexual contact or activity you envisioned reading that last sentence. The problem here is not the legality, morality, or the risk level of the behavior.  The point here is the liberties some take with language to support their point.

The piece starting the controversy was posted by a right-wing pundit who makes his living through hyperbole.1 The other side of the issue was a somewhat well respected fact-checking site. To be as objective as possible at this point, I must clarify the fact-checking entity in question is considered somewhat liberal by many conservatives.  Still, I have found them trustworthy, if one keeps their possible biases in mind when checking their analysis of a “fact.”  With that said, it is essential for anyone doing online research to keep the way language is used in mind and read carefully.

Here, the biggest problem on both sides was the term mandated.  The right-wing pundit claimed the school district was mandating students to be taught about sexual activity many adults might be embarrassed to acknowledge, much less talk about. The sometimes left-leaning fact-checking organization labeled his accusations false because he used the word mandated.  They did not, it should be noted, say his other claims were false.  Instead, they linked to the federal guidelines which essentially required school districts to establish curriculums in which such activity could be discussed. Which brings us to the crux of this matter.

The pundit claimed the ISD was forcing students to attend the sexual activity-related lectures in question. The fact-checkers claimed it was not mandated or forced participation as there were ways to avoid the classes some felt controversial. They stated the school districts did not mandate attendance as the parents had the right to file paperwork requesting alternative classes for their students.  Therefore, the pundit’s comments were false.

The pundit, and others, responded the classes were mandated because the students had to attend unless the parents took steps to remove them and request alternative classes. In essence, the students were mandated to go, unless the parents paid attention to notices the school claimed to distribute and then filed for an exemption. Whichever side of this dispute you come down on, keep a couple of things in mind.

The school district did not start this controversy. The U.S. Department of Education issued the guidelines concerning sex education. In the minds of many, the DOE is mandating, there is that word again, ISDs set up these programs because failure to adopt the programs could result in the loss of millions in federal aid, not to mention lawsuits and complaints from activists and outside parties pushing their agendas.

Another thing to consider is the impact to the children, if they are moved to an alternative class. For one reason or another, the odds are the majority of students will attend the DOE recommended classes.  This means those whose parents are paying attention, caring about the matter, and willing to rock the boat a bit will be in the minority. This will make their students likely targets of bullying or good old fashion childish behavior.  Additionally, they will undoubtedly hear the more salacious details of the classes from their fellow students.

They will not hear the, hopefully, thought out and objective presentation about the pros and cons of certain behaviors from teachers. Instead, they will hear the uninformed, what seemed funniest, strangest, or grossest sexual behaviors in which some people engage. They may hear something akin to the admonitions from my public school days such as, that’ll make you go blind, or worse.

The bottom line is this.  Everything you find on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or other social media outlets, including the piece you just finished reading, should be considered suspect.  Before, you share,  blast, or dismiss the item, do your own research.

  1. Please note, this comment is not meant to be an indictment of the individual involved. It is meant to be an indictment of the way many use social media. If one wants to make money from their writing, research, whatever through social media, click-worthy content and design is essential.  Therefore, hyperbole, distortion, and shading the truth to some extent is considered essential.  If you doubt that, click in on a post with a headline beginning “10 Shocking Facts about …”, and you’ll likely find ten yawners or slightly amusing anecdotes.

© – 2019

About S. Eric Jackson

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1 Response to Language Games

  1. oldcowdog says:

    Absolutely agree!

    Sent from my iPhone

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