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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: February 5, 2006
Latest Update: February 5, 2006
The No Child Left Behind program starts it reframing of linguistic appeal to values right with the title. As Lakoff reminds us, language is paramount. Failing Children, Ending that Tax Guzzling Public Education, Making Children Toe the Line, none of those titles would automatically capture public support. Our espoused values in America involve loving and caring for our children. These alternate titles are negative, punitive, and/or selfish. (A lot like the strict father paradigm, coincidentally.) These alternate titles don't appeal to American values. But "No Child Left Behind," now, that's American.
Notice that I keep saying, American, not U.S. Of course, Canada, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, and so on are all American. So why don't I say "U.S.?" Because we are arrogant enough to assume that America is us, and to use it as though it were. I can't imagine how many people in this hemisphere that must piss of. Mexicans are just Mexican. Canadians are just Canadian. But we're American. So the use of American goes along the Arnold Schwarzenegger strong man, not "girlie man," strict father frame. American instead of U.S. citizen is so attractive that we don't even have an adjective for citizens of the U.S. That should tell us something about our abuse of the "manifest destiny" slogan. It says we're the whole megillah. At one point we all conscientiously tried to stop using American in place of U.S. citizens, but we eventually gave in. I still remind myself every time I type American, but I seem to have been on the losing side of that language battle. Just notice how powerful this frame of nation-state patriotism was. It has almost completely wiped out the fight against such arrogance.
If you think I'm dramatizing the importance of this adjective, take a look at what Republican consultant Luntz has to say about it in a PBS interview:
"On Monday I will sit down with a Washington representative of Florida Power & Light and I will tell him that what he wants to do, his goal for his company, is the goal of America; that if he uses this language to explain his principles and his policies, not only will the company benefit, but the public will be appreciative of what they're trying to do. [Emphasis added.] This is a good company, this is a clean company, but it's got all the baggage of every other electric company, of every other power company. We as Americans assume that big companies are bad, and big power companies are even worse. This language, what we saw tonight, is a demonstration that a single company can differentiate itself, can improve its public image."
From PBS Interview with Frank Luntz. . . Backup.
Given that the very title of the program suggests that it shares our values of protecting and educating our children, it not only is received well, but when you like its reliance on standardized testing, it assures you that the program as defined and promoted supports your value of caring for all children and for equality that won't let you lose a single child. It subtly and erroneously assures you that it means what its title says. That makes you feel good. And now, anyone who disagrees with you is labeled as UnAmerican, as being against equality for children, as hurting our children by having no standards, and so on. The language game defines the debate, and there is no real debate. You "know," because the title told you so. You have been manipulated.
Either you've been manipulated by the assurance you accepted because the title has bonded to your values, that this program, primarily of standardized testing, provides good and equal education for all our children. That is not what the program does.
Or you've been manipulated by not knowing how to get past the refusal of those who believe that standardized testing is the answer to consider the research and knowledge we have that disproves that. Even though you can show that standardized testing harms all our children, they who have been manipulated won't listen. You are frustrated, angry. You lose your cool. They are reaffirmed in their assurance that they're right and you're just mad because they are right.
That is the importance of framing, of language, and of the appeal to values. If you can frame your validity claim in language that appeals to values, people may not notice that it's really just the rhetoric of reaction. Of course, if that is done purely for manipulation, and there is dishonesty in the language and value appeal, then we have a morality and ethics issue, which brings us right back to our current political situation. When lies can hide behind rhetoric, they sometimes win.
Two can play at this game. Bush was so confident at how well it has worked in America (sic) that he tried it in Palestine. Hamas won. But Hamas spent a great deal of time and money on that election. Fatah didn't. The game is expensive. It takes long-term investment in research on cognitive linguistics and complex understanding of values as perceived by the differing perspectives of the electorate. It takes experience and training in the skills of marketing ideas and products and people. Unless the other side, like Fatah, doesn't make the effort.
Hamas' victory in the election doesn't mean that Hamas will better serve the infrastructure needs of the Palestinians. It does mean that Hamas listened to their validity claims and understood their values, and succeeded in getting them to bet that Hamas would thus be more likely to work at that infrastructure than Fatah. That's exactly what the radical right-wing conservatives have done to liberals. They've convinced half of us that their "new" idea in "No Child Left Behind" will solve all the problems in education that everyone else has failed at in the last 50 years.
The Palestinians will need to monitor Hamas as carefully as we need to monitor our administration to be sure that their "strict father paradigm" doesn't produce greater harm than good.
Elections don't mean democracy if the politicians have access to the means that money can buy to manipulate us into voting against our own self-interest. Maybe it's a little easier to see when it's Hamas and the Palestinians than when it's liberals and conservatives. But it's basically the same language game and the same values. Whenever people vote against their own self interest, someone has obfuscated the real issues, or failed at producing governance discourse, or both. We need to dig deeper and discover the real issues, and then take the time to hear one another in good faith and not let leaders with their own agendas lead us into competitiveness and violence that can destroy us all.
We all want our kids to succeed. Let's settle down to illocutionary discourse and discover what the real issues are here and find ways to work together to lead our kids to a better world.
love and peace, jeanne