Words matter. The message they send through their selection is crucial to understanding someone’s point of view. The message they send through their placement is also quite revealing.
The Port Washington School District promoted a film about what it calls the “free play movement”. District Resources endorse and advertise the perspective advocated by this production, explicitly saying that “every family, teacher, administrator, school board member and policy maker should watch it.”
Such use of government authority to present a special interest group borders on propaganda, but that’s not even the main concern here.
Included in the promotion of the district is a quote, presumably from the producers of the film. Part of it reads that “In a world of structure, alien danger, helicopter parenthood, and an emphasis on achievement, foundational learning today is all but erased.
Now, honestly, that “In a World” makes me smile. It’s so cliché as a movie trailer that I really enjoy the laughter. Everything that follows is considerably less fun. “[S]structure, alien danger, helicopter parenthood and focus on accomplishment ”is the dark cloud that descends on an idyllic childhood. I assume this because “alien danger” is the term we all use with our children to warn them about pedophiles and serial killers.
So this is the level of terror that these other specters are presumably supposed to summon. This level of melodrama makes “In a World” sound positively whimsical.
Look at these other words, however. Along with the fear of pedophiles and serial killers, this lists “structure,” “helicopter parenthood” and “achievement” as parallel bogeymen. Let’s take these one at a time.
The “structure” seems relatively harmless. Any parent who has set a bedtime or meal time has imposed a structure on a child. Yet the word’s direct positioning next to “stranger danger pedophile serial killer” suggests something nefarious. I guess any parent who has set a bedtime or a mealtime is an accomplice.
Equally negative is “helicopter parenting”. Its uniqueness as a conspicuous parentage implies, moreover, a wider scope. No other type of parenting deserves notice.
It may not be a subset. The disturbing conclusion is that all parenthood is unfortunately sensitive to the epithet of helicopter. Ergo, parenting is diabolical on the same level as, and underlined by its syntactic proximity to, a pedophile serial killer with foreign danger.
Finally, after building rhetorically through these various evils, the peroration reaches its climax in the ultimate evil, “fulfillment”. It is fear. This is the summit. It is the cataclysm from which the stranger danger the serial killer pedophile is only a spark. This is what the schools in Port Washington seem determined to prevent at all costs.
Being a parent is bad. Achievement is bad. Those in charge of the school will be the arbiters of these facts. I get it.
Any school district official is perfectly within the rights of free speech to defend any philosophy that pleases him. Every policy maker has a duty to explore a liberal range of philosophies when developing a plan to be pursued by the school district.
But any government official, of any level, who uses the authority of a public office to advance a single personal agenda hostile to the public himself demeans that office. Any school district that equates the most basic acts of parenting with violence against children is guilty of more than just abuse of foul language.
Words matter. The context in which they are used is important. We should all be more careful in our speech. We all need to be careful that our words do not destroy the schools that some claim to protect.