I’ve been teaching college economics for a little over two decades now. Years ago I learned that I need to watch very closely my choice of language in the classroom. For example, early in my teaching days I would lace a “hell” and a “damn” or two into my lectures. I can’t say I pondered the reasons very carefully. I suppose I was just trying to be relatable and have an effect. But soon I realized that my words had set a tone for the class, one that students would themselves adopt and carry even further.
At first I became a little surprised when they started dropping an occasional “bullshit” or “fuck” in addition to my seemingly innocuous “hells” and “damns”. My naivety wore off when I internalized the fact that, at least in the little micro society of my class, I am a leader. And people will follow my lead. So I quickly stopped cussing in the classroom, and ever since I’ve consciously tried to keep an elevated and respectful tone, one where students can be productive and decent with one another.
Our Whatever-in-Chief needs to learn this lesson, because like it or not people follow his lead, and his words are degrading our society.
This blog grew out of Wayne’s and my 2013 book, Madmen, Intellectuals, and Academic Scribblers. In that book we take seriously the effect that ideas have on social institutions. Words matter. Words of leaders especially matter. And when their words are unfitting of their leadership positions, they make themselves unfit for those positions.