Double Consciousness

Even before my days with word sums and matrices, it used to frustrate me to find that published phonics word lists always – not frequently, but always – mixed up various patterns featuring two of the same consonant in a row.

"We are NOT linguists just trying to teach a 6 yo to read," spat some random Phombie on Twitter. I've heard this one before, many times, notably from Louisa Moats herself. They hiss linguist as though it's a dirty word, as though they were saying, "We are NOT drunks" or "We are not thieves."

I mean, OK, so let's consider this. It's true that most teachers and tutors are not linguists. It is also true that most teachers and tutors are not mathematicians. By the same logic as Phombies would apply, this would imply that it's totally fine for teachers to present false information to children about math. Likewise, teachers and tutors are not necessarily scientists, or historians. Does it follow that it's cool to represent mitochondria falsely? How about the Civil War?

Here. Here's a 10-foot pole to not touch that with.

It's nuts out there right now. From banning Maus and Toni Morrison to prohibiting Critical Race Theory, there's a lot of noise from the most ignorant among us. February is Black History Month, and January 27th was International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and I wanted to offer something meaningful in this space to commemorate the struggles and successes of both Black and Jewish allies, great and humble alike.

The dangerously flabby thinking we are all witnessing in public discourse, school board meetings, and politics isn't born in a vacuum.  The historical denialism, the whitewashing and censorship, the vilification of real expertise, the willful ignorance – none of this springs up overnight. It is a direct result of our failure to hold students and the teachers responsible for educating them to high standards of critical thinking. And it starts, in my estimation, with lying to kids about the most basic facts about their language(s).

The title of this post, Double Consciousness, is a hat tip to the work of W.E.B. DuBois, who recognized and articulated the dichotomous identity of Black Americans:

"It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder."

As a student in Berlin in the 1890s, DuBois witnessed first-hand both deep-rooted historical biases against Jews, and the nascence of overtly anti-Semitic political parties and the movement that would grow into Nazism in the 1920s. Throughout his lifetime, he noted similarities between populations of African and Judaic descent, including the same double-consciousness of their persecution and cultural identities.  

I came across the term Double Consciousness in my reading recently, and it resonated with my January post on "rabbit" words and "camel" words and the actual truth. It made me think of a whole other kind of Double Consciousness – one that can promote critical thinking and logical reasoning, just by studying spelling. I haven't got any magic words to offer for our many social heartbreaks, but do have meaningful words about rigor, honesty, and well, double consonants.

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