“What makes the human unique in all the animal kingdom?” This question was asked by King Solomon, the wisest man of his age way back in the 10th Century BCE. Since then the question of how humans are different from other animals has occupied the best minds of science and philosophy ranging from Plato in the 5th Century to the molecular biologists, neurobiologists, neuropsychologists of today. There are many reasons that can be cited, including our intelligence, communication, self-awareness, and empathy; however, all of these traits are still being explored by experts today and, to varying degrees, they are seen in wonderful creatures like elephants, whales, and the great apes. Is there anything else that makes us and our children truly unique and different?
“Language is the Rubicon that divides man from beast,” declared the philologist, Max Müller, so perhaps what really makes us different and unique are our words. Some experts in language believe that the limits of one’s language are the limits of one’s mind, and that we can only “know” what we have words for. As a school for children, our work with words is an important part of our mission.
Of course it can be argued that there are many different types of “languages”. The language of music, dance, mathematics, and science are several examples. Each has its own purpose and power and, if used properly, helps people express their full humanity. But what about the language of vulgarity or profanity, sometimes likened to curses, swear words, expletives, or obscenities? Does this type of language make a person more fully human?
Generally speaking, the use of foul language, while sometimes crossing the lips of the best-intentioned adults (…ever stubbed your toe while making the bed in the morning?!), is considered an undesirable and socially unacceptable trait. This is especially true in schools for young children, so, like you, we work hard to model respectful and well-mannered speech for our children and students each school day.
Do kids always do the same thing? We know that experimentation with language is a hallmark of learning and development, so children – young and old – can fly a bit too close to the sun and let the occasional “choice word” escape their lips! As their mentors, parents, and guides, we help them to understand that their words have power, impact, and consequences.
In schools, we support kids in learning this lesson from a young age and count on your support when lessons of decorum and good manners need reinforcement.
Ultimately, we want all of our children to learn the lessons of the ancient Chinese philosopher, Lau Tzu: “Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions; watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.”
Some of the best stories in the world tell us that human beings grapple with the mystery of life by trying to find words to say what it is. They tell us that we must never take for granted the power of language and our responsibility to make sure our children are making the best use of theirs.
This is a joint responsibility and we are grateful for your support when there is the occasional “slip of the tongue”!
Ric Anderson, Head of School