The Power of Language by Donna Tarney

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We are surrounded by words in today’s world, perhaps in ways that our parents and grandparents never imagined. There are words that come from the mouths of other people. There are words that we encounter when we open our computers to take a peek at what’s happening. There are words plastered on billboards, buses, and buildings that provide constant background reading for already tired eyes. And there are the words that pop up on our phones throughout the day, pulling our attention toward the tiny screen, begging for us to just look.

In and of itself, this proliferation of words is not a bad thing, it is simply the next wave of communication saturation that has become normal. The thing that is bothersome is the tendency of students I have taught to take all of these words at face value and stop questioning their meaning or their intent. In my classroom last year, I witnessed the power of publicly hateful words. As people throughout the world began to voice more and more prejudiced and discriminatory opinions as fact, those students in my class who hold those same prejudices began to confidently use some of those same words against all sorts of “others”. Often times this led to a shortened lesson as the need to address the issue was more important than the planned curriculum. I know I am not alone in this experience. I also know I am not alone in wanting better for my students.

The Stan Greenspon Center has begun rolling out its new Becoming One Human Family Program which helps address this issue. The program builds on the story of one Jewish man who managed to exploit the Nazi system in order to rescue Jews from death. Through interactive sessions, students explore the ways in which the Nazis misused words to accomplish their goal of annihilating the Jewish people. Students also explore how we use words and prejudices to isolate one another. Trained facilitators lead students and teachers to a greater understanding of how to face the realities of racism and discrimination in order to build thriving communities where every person is respected.

In addition, we will be holding several teacher trainings throughout the upcoming year including presentations by Echoes and Reflections, Racelle Weiman, Donna Tarney, and a brand new teacher training program from Yahad-in-Unum (Fr. Patrick Desbois’ organization dedicated to uncovering the actions of mobile killing units in the former Soviet Union).

The words will continue to pour out of mouths, screens, and our own phones. They will not always be pleasant. They will not always be true. This year, let’s make it part of our ever-expanding jobs as teachers to help our students navigate this stream of syllables with confidence and courage.

If you would like to learn more about the Becoming One Human Family Program, contact Donna Tarney at

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