Monday, July 6, 2015

Watching Your Language

This summer I've had the opportunity to take part in the development of a math curriculum. ...One thing I have to carefully watch for and monitor is the language used to describe mathematical concepts. One simple phrase might make sense to a teacher, but could create confusion or lead to a misconception for students. (Mathematical misconceptions are responsible for 99% of all struggles understanding math. That's a made up statistic but that's how it feels--as a former struggling math student and as a teacher.)

As I've had to watch the language used in this curriculum carefully and as the colleagues I'm working with continually talk about using "precise language" I've become very aware of the language I use and I hear around me. I realize how quickly certain things can lead our minds to true misconceptions about our agency and consequences for actions.

"I had to use my credit card."

"My husband made me so angry that I went on a carb-loading spree!"

"I had no choice."

"It's free, we might as well use it/take it!"

And I've really picked up on some words that I really think are misused. Sure, we might just chalk it up to semantics, but just as I feel mathematical misconceptions hugely contribute to most struggles with understanding math, I feel that the language we use contributes to misconceptions about our own powers, abilities, and responsibilities.

your thoughts become your actions quote

Here are some big ideas that I've noticed lately that come from word choice and really reflect a lack of understanding and accountability. 

No Choice
While there are many things in this life that are beyond our control it still astounds me how much is in our control that we don't recognize or give credit to. Rarely if ever do you have to go into debt for something, there are always choices even if those choices don't allow you to continue living the way you currently do. You don't have to eat something because you had a bad day or because you are stressed, you might want to eat it, but most of us (thankfully) get to choose what we eat. You don't have to do every extra thing someone asks you to do--you might have agreed to it, but you aren't in a perpetual state of obligation--it's your choice. I'm just as guilty of the next person of saying things like, "I can't have brownies in the house, or I will eat all of them." But I've recently been doing a few things to change that attitude and stop using those words. I say that as if I have no control--which isn't true. Instead it's really more like, "I shouldn't keep brownies in the house because I am always tempted to eat too many and often I choose to give into that temptation." We weren't born with a stamp of limitations and circumstances. Yes, the environement and health conditions we are born with/into do play a large part, but I think we've become too busy seeing that as our destiny. We do have choices and those choices have consequences that we must be accountable for. We largely determine our destiny.


It honestly baffles me beyond anything how quickly people will accept something that is proclaimed free without a second thought about where that money might be coming from and who is footing the bill. That "free lunch" that you take your child to during play dates at the park, is not free. You may not have to pay for it, but someone else is.  It's designed for people who really can't afford lunch and was put into place by agencies worried that students on free/reduced lunch at school wouldn't be adequately fed during the summer. Those agencies are funded through charities, donations, and often times, tax dollars. It's not free. Next time you gladly accept some service because it's "free," you might consider where that money is coming from and how you accepting the service impacts the world beyond you.


From blaming our morning from being too chaotic, to blaming our career for our money woes, to blaming our parents for struggles we have--we've become very gifted at shifting accountability. Do chaotic mornings tend to lead to grouchy attitudes and tardiness? Most likely. But our language around that can change. "I'm in a bad mood because I didn't handle the craziness that went on in our house well this morning." Take the responsibility. Your career determines your income, yes, but the way yous spend that money is entirely up to you. I know people that make more than Zach and I, but still struggle financially. I also know people that make less than Zach and I that have disposable income and more financial freedom than we do. Your income only plays a part in a much bigger picture that is mostly made up of choices you've made. I'm a big believer in nurture over nature, personally, but a lot of time we allow the problems we have to grow and fester because we are not responsible for them. While our upbringing does play a huge role in the things we struggle with, we still have the amazing opportunity to overcome those struggles and take control of the future.

I have always been a big believer in self talk and looking forward to the future with hope and with a drive to make choices that will get you where you want to be. Thoughts are powerful and words are powerful. This week, I'm making it a goal be careful with the way I talk to myself and about the things that are happening in my life right now.

Are there any trends with language that you've picked up on? Do you believe that your thoughts and words become your destiny? 

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