My favorite quote about writing — or anything else, for that matter — comes from George Orwell’s essay, “Politics and the English Language”: “The great enemy of clear language is insincerity.”
Orwell’s insight was that politicians and institutions use meaningless phrases when they’re trying to obscure the truth, or when they don’t really know what they’re trying to say in the first place.
I can only imagine what Orwell would have made of the nonsensical language of social justice education.
This month, The Post’s Nicole Asbury reported on the latest allegation of antisemitism at Bethesda’s Walt Whitman High School (which happens to be the school my children attend). Apparently, a member of the debate team — a parent-run club at Whitman — accused two leading members of the team of making hateful comments about Jews.
Of course, just because a student reports something as happening doesn’t always mean it actually happened, or that it happened in exactly the way it’s portrayed. But here the allegations, corroborated by at least one other student, were unusually specific.
According to the student who reported the conversation, the two more senior members of the team suggested that specific Jewish people they named should be lured with challah to the secluded Andaman Islands and burned at the stake, among other things.
Assuming that this is even mostly true, let’s give these teens the benefit of the doubt and stipulate that they’re young, that they probably thought they were being devilishly funny, and that young people saying stupid things is pretty much your average Tuesday.
That said, the incident shook a lot of kids and parents, who found out about it only by reading The Post, and especially debate club members. So you’d expect the school to address it clearly and candidly. Not quite.
School systems have protocols around this kind of thing, and those protocols, as at many universities now, rely heavily on a modern lexicon of incomprehensible blather.
According to a letter from Robert Dodd, the high school’s capable and constantly besieged principal, the Montgomery County school system initially moved to “implement restorative practices” with members of the debate team, through the convening of “restorative circles.” Which sounds like something you’d do at a spa for 300 bucks an hour.
Then, given the uproar at school, the county’s “restorative justice facilitators” decided to pause the restorative circles, so they could meet with students to determine what would be required to make them “further heal and feel safe.”
The letter went on to assure us that the school would “partner with MCPS leaders in equity and well-being” to have “critical discussions.”
I don’t know exactly what a leader in equity and well-being does, but I’d assume it involves a bunch of acronyms and maybe some other restorative shapes, like a triangle or a rhombus.
Meanwhile, while all this was going on, according to the school newspaper, the Black and White, the accused students were suspended from the debate club for a month (during which, I’m told, they missed no actual debate competitions). They offered no heartfelt apologies and have thus far retained their leadership positions on the team. That doesn’t sound so restorative to me.
I’m betting that Dodd, were he not trapped between protocols and parents and the ever-present specter of lawyers, would have condemned the incident more plainly and succinctly, encouraging everyone to move on.
But my point here really isn’t about whatever action the school should take, which is best decided by the principal and parents and which ought to be compassionate. Teenagers make idiotic mistakes, and they should have the right to learn from them.
My point is about language — and specifically the language of the cultural left. You can’t tell students, on one hand, that the words you use matter and have consequences, and then turn around and unleash a meaningless barrage of faux-academic mad-libs to make your case.
If we’re going to take the language of intolerance seriously, and we should, then we also have to take seriously the language we use in response. And, to Orwell’s point, if that language makes no sense to anyone who isn’t steeped in the new lexicon of academia, then it can only be because the people deploying it don’t want us to know what they’re really trying to achieve — or, more precisely, because they really have no idea themselves.
From what I glean, most of the students find all of this jargon to be a waste of their all-too-limited time, and I find it hard to blame them.
We’re supposed to be teaching our children to speak with care and clarity. What we keep demonstrating, instead, is a confounding lack of both.