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California’s Orwellian-style thought police change how students can be described

English works just fine if you don’t try to wrestle it into submission and try to make it do something it’s not supposed to do.

Image Credit: Brett Jordan/Unsplash

I don’t want to be a pedant. After all, I’m certainly no Grand Poobah of the English language. But I do respect it and try to use it properly dependent on the circumstances. Still, some folks on the left don’t even try to use the language properly and prefer to use communication to confuse rather than clarify.

Which brings me to what I reflexively thought was another of California leftists’ stupid ideas. Then I realized the idea wasn’t necessarily stupid; it has some merit. But I had a problem with the approach to its implementation. The left’s linguistic alchemy bothered me. Why can’t anything the left does be straightforward?

California is changing their Education Code, replacing the phrase at-risk with at-promise when referring to students. I thought, would students now be at-promise for dropping out of school?

This issue involves replacing one phrase with the other to focus on the positive. Nothing wrong with focusing on the positive, but shouldn’t word usage remain accurate, reflecting their definitions?

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After all, we’re talking about how educators will refer to certain students and their adverse situations. And, one thing you’ve probably noticed, trading at-risk for at-promise literally doesn’t work. The phrases mean opposite things. Could there be ulterior motives along with altruistic intentions? Virtue signaling comes to mind. But it’s deeper than that. It’s about controlling people.

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For example, I began to think about how when you control the language, you control the conversation; when you control the conversation, you control thought. Cliché Orwellian meme? Sure. But that doesn’t make it any less true.

For example, California (where else) has appointed itself the Orwellian language/conversation/thought police. See: illegal alien (banned as hate speech). Check: undocumented immigrant (mandated by virtue).

So, California’s educators will no longer refer to students as at-risk for fill in the blank. Oh, the students will still be at-risk, but people just won’t refer to them as at-risk but as at-promise.

How can any meaningful discussion on any issue happen when the words used are not accurate? I understand the sentiment —focusing on the positive— but I have a problem with the increasing damage leftists are doing to the language as in implementing this policy.

Think about this: an institution responsible for educating California’s children, including in the proper use of English, employed this description in the new law’s text: “The bill clarifies that, for purposes of the Education Code, ‘at-promise’ has the same meaning as ‘at-risk’ [emphasis mine].” That’s some linguistic magic right there.

I understand what they think they mean, but it’s wrong. At-promise and at-risk are antonyms, not synonyms. How can anyone decree the two opposing phrases mean the same thing? They can’t, but they do. Only the left does this—manipulate the language to conform to their ideology. I believe Orwell had a word for this too: double-think. Holding two contradictory views at once.

I mean, are these kids now no longer at-risk but at-promise of dropping out of school? Or are they at-promise of not dropping out of school, even though they are still at-risk at home? But if both phrases mean the same thing, then why change them? Because they don’t mean the same thing.

The ostensible new focus will be that students are at-promise for success, accomplishment, and to pursue their happiness. Great! But no longer saying a student is at-risk doesn’t make it so. It seems like the woke person’s version of a child covering his or her eyes and saying, “you can’t see me.”

Why not have a policy that encourages teachers to focus on at-promise but still acknowledge the reality of students who are at-risk? Why pretend (and force others to pretend) the two opposing phrases mean the same thing? Kids can be both at-promise and at-risk. But don’t pretend you can make one term mean its opposite.

The folks making these decisions are highly educated people, right? So, don’t we have to wonder if they knew they were forcing people to redefine one thing to mean its opposite and did it anyway? Or did they not even think that’s what they were doing because they were so blinded by how woke and virtuous they all are?

To know it and do it anyway would show their audacious intention to transform one phrase into its opposite. I don’t like to think conspiratorially; however, the left has shown us that they often have ulterior and alternate motives for just about everything they do. So, when they tell you this means that, even though you know this and that are opposites, aren’t you right to wonder why they did it?

The leftist city where I served a career as a cop has a significant history of playing with language. I recall earlier in my career when a new police administration came to town. Phrases like “white out” were suddenly out and “correction fluid” was in. Why? Wite-Out was apparently racist. Who knew?

Strange, but I didn’t know one non-white officer offended by the Wite-Out brand so many used for decades (since 1966). But apparently someone, probably a white liberal person who sat on some word committee or phrase task force, decided to be offended for them.

Throughout my career, there was also this sampling of outlawed words and phrases:

Straight talk: made gay folks feel excluded (not any gay folks I knew, but…)

Brown Bag: as in a brown bag lunch, is a racist term—What? You didn’t know?

Citizen: makes illegal and legal aliens feel bad.

Suspect: Community Member —When referring to felony suspects in police reports.

                       When I arrived on scene, I observed the community member, holding a bloody knife in his left hand, standing over the deceased victim. The community member attempted to flee, but officers quickly caught and arrested him. I placed the community member in my patrol car, transported him to the precinct…

Once again, the left degrades the integrity of the language. Every single person who lives in a community is a community member. Not everyone who lives in a community is a suspect in a crime. A person suspected of committing a crime is a suspect. It’s almost like different words have different meanings or something.

Even when the left does something that might make sense, like focusing on the positive potential of students over the risk of negative consequences to them, they insist on clouding the issue by overreaching with their linguistic virtue signaling.

Use at-risk when it makes sense to use that phrase and use the made-up, feel-good at-promise when that’s what you mean. Don’t ban one phrase in favor of another phrase that means something totally different.

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How can teachers ever have substantive conversations about these issues when they can’t talk about a student who is at-risk by using the phrase at-risk or having to nonsensically replace it with at-promise?

I’m not offended by the phrase at-promise, but leftists forcibly using it to replace at-risk does offend me. English works just fine if you don’t try to wrestle it into submission and try to make it do something it’s not supposed to do.

I’ll close by once again waxing Orwellian: hobble the language and you hobble the conversation; hobble the conversation and you hobble freedom of thought—oh, and you also hobble the freedom to use common sense.

 

meet the author

Steve Pomper is a retired Seattle police officer. He's served as a field training officer and on the East Precinct Community Police Team. He's the author of four books, including "De-Policing America: A Street Cop's View of the Anti-Police State." He's also a contributor to the National Police Association.

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