Joan Didion – Thinking for one’s self involves mastery of the language

by Mr. Sheehy

They feed back exactly what is given them. Because they do not believe in words–words are for “typeheads,” Chester Anderson tells them, and a thought which needs words is just one more of those ego trips–their only proficient vocabulary is in the society’s platitudes. As it happens I am still committed to the idea that the ability to think for one’s self depends upon one’s mastery of the language, and I am not optimistic about children who will settle for saying, to indicate that their mother and father do not live together, that they come from “a broken home.” They are sixteen, fifteen, fourteen years old, younger all the time, an army of children waiting to be given the words.

That from Joan Didion’s “Slouching Towards Bethlehem.” My quoting them by themselves deprives them of the power they earn from 39 pages of descriptive set up, but the words are still profound. They continue a conversation that includes Orwell and they help justify my teaching.