Archive for the ‘English.’ Tag


In case it isn’t obvious, I’m making fun of the way academics talk. I think it’s OK for me to do this because I’m one of them. In plain English, what I mean is, “Academic words can cause trouble because they have a special meaning not clear to most of us.”  In case it’s not obvious, this post is a rant about the confusing and therefore toxic words “Critical Race Theory.” I’m driven to do this because the wide-ranging, angry, hysterical, downright mean, responses to those words are producing in me an awful stomach-curdling, heart-shattering, sleep-disrupting, stress reaction. And just when I was becoming hopeful that we might broaden the scope of study of American History to include all of it.

I’m sure Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw, a highly respected law professor at the U.C.L.A. School of Law and Columbia Law School and her group thought they were making perfectly good sense when they coined that term to describe their work. And they were! — if you realize they were talking to people with years of training in talking their jargon, “special words or expressions used by a particular profession or group that are difficult for those outside their group to understand.” Almost any profession has its jargon. Listen to a group of lawyers, or medical people, or architects, or electricians or plumbers , or even artists or writers …. I’m quite sure you will hear jargon. The problem is that academic jargon often derives from English words that sound enough like “real” English words so folks think they know what they mean. You know, the words that have people fighting – sometimes literally coming to blows – at schoolboard meetings and other places.

Jargon is a handy shortcut when you’re communicating with others who use the same language but obfuscating for others. (To obfuscate: render obscure, unclear, or unintelligible.)

Before we get down to the nitty-gritty of “Critical Race Theory,” please join me in playing a bit with what I have experienced in my former life as a psychology professor.

Decades ago, when I was about to begin my career as a college instructor teaching “Introduction to Psychology,” a more experienced friend of mine said, “You’ll be surprised how long it takes for your class to understand what it took you only five years to learn.” So true!

Way back when my children were small. my big sister explained to her husband, “Mona’s a psychologist. They talk funny.” It was funny when she said it, but true.

I want to believe, for example, that my students came to know and understand the specialized meaning of words like:

Reinforcement: In plain English it means “strengthening the rickety steps to the back porch.” In psychological jargon it means “strengthening the connection between stimulus and response.”


Rationalization: In plain English it means “applying rational thinking to a problem.” In jargon it refers to the action of attempting to explain or justify behavior or an attitude with logical reasons, even if these are not appropriate. –  a defense mechanism.

One last example, Denial: In plain English it means “I didn’t do it.”  In jargon it’s “refusing to admit to oneself the truth or reality of something unpleasant.”

And, beyond jargon, I learned something else that’s important. Words evoke emotions, or interpretations one may not have predicted.

So what’s this got to do with “Critical Race Theory?”

Commonly when people hear the word “critical” they hear “You are being criticized because you did something wrong.” That presumed attack creates a defensive, often angry, sometimes screaming reaction.  In academic jargon, on the other hand, “Critical” refers to “an effort to see a thing clearly and truly in order to judge it fairly.” (Go ahead. Check me out. Google it.)

And the word “race?” Holy smokes, what does “race” mean? That’s what’s in need of study “in an effort to see it clearly and truly in order to judge it fairly.”

And that final word, “theory.” I confess I can only guess at what the theory is that the “Critical Race Theory” folks intend. What I do know is I’m upset that people haven’t stopped to ask before they began screaming and passing laws. And I’m bothered any time I hear someone say, “It’s only a theory,” apparently thinking it’s just some idea that popped new-born out of someone’s head. For scientists, “theory” has nearly the opposite meaning. It’s honored with the word “theory” only after a long history of study, experimenting, and fact checking.

So, the best plain English translation I can offer is, “Critical Race Theory” means “Let’s examine race through careful research and study in an effort to see it clearly and truly in order to judge it fairly.”

 Now can we get down to the business of whether we are willing as a nation to examine race through careful research and study in an effort to see it clearly and truly in order to judge it fairly? And how should we do part of that through our educational system? Can we just take an honest look at our history, being prepared to incorporate both the good and the bad? Or are we too scared or set in our ways to take a careful look?

End of rant for now….


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