I am doing my practicum in an elementary school classroom where the word “chose” is banned. This would be an easy feat if we were speaking English. Unfortunately, we are speaking French (some of us struggling more than others) and the word in that language is ubiquitous. It means “thing.”
Now, I’m all for language. I like it. In fact, I am writing a novel where I use it with great care. However, right now I’m pretty occupied with trying to learn how to teach. And I’m doing it with the added barrier of also learning how to speak French. But I get interrupted every two minutes or every two sentences (depends which sentences) with a shouting crowd of students interrupting me like I swore at them. I am always taken aback for a moment, retracing my linguistic steps, thinking of what I said before realizing I said the forbidden word.
Today I became a little frustrated. I explained to a small group of students that the word “chose” is actually a real word. I repeated it several times in my sentences to be sure. I asked the students to stop yelling out and instead place their fingers on their noses to alert me of my mistep. This has now become instinct to them and has simply been added to the yelling.
It has become so that if a fully-formed adult walked into the room and saw children jumping angrily out of their seats with accusatory fingers on their noses when I seemed not to have done anything to provoke them must think I did something else, something really bad.
I think I might do a small sidebar lesson on language. Of course their rule must stick: it was established between them and their teacher, both parties whom I respect greatly. I even think it’s a good rule. The word thing can always be replaced by the actual thing. I might go as far as to say I like the rule were it not to so personally affect me. But I want to teach them something.
Language is a convention. You cannot invent a new language in your classroom and expect others to come in and speak it immediately. You can teach it to them. You can help them. You can give them lessons and tools and small nudges, but you cannot expect everyone to conform. We all meet each other with baggage, language not the most visible but the most important of the baggage as it is our means of communication. Just because a language was invented in a collaborative space between a specific set of people and that those people agreed to its conventions, it does not mean the world has also changed to work that way.
If each person in that classroom truly believes in the word “chose‘ being the worst word ever, then they can go teach that, slowly, to the rest of the population. That’s how things get changed. Things don’t get changed by fingers on noses and really loud yelling. I’m just trying to teach you math! Ça n’a pas rapport!