Home » Faculty Chronicles » Naming: What we Call Forth

Naming: What we Call Forth

Today, I was listening to one of my new go-to podcasts, Pod Save the People. Each week, the host DeRay Mckesson begins with an opening thought. Here is today’s:

“The names we call our young people. . .Today, I wanted to talk about the way people respond to what we call them and respond to the pieces of themselves that we recognize. When we call our young people, and we call each other, brave, and fearless, and thoughtful, and kind, and courageous – that is the part of them that often speaks back. And on the flip side, when we say things about our young people like they have no attention span and they’re not focused and they don’t care and they’re apathetic – that’s actually the part of them that we’re calling forth. We have a responsibility to be mindful about the language that we use to name our young people, to name the parts of them that we want to show up. And the same with each other.”

Since becoming a faculty member, I have thought about this naming in relation to those with whom we are in community. For example, I try to avoid calling those with whom I am privileged to commune in scholarly community “students;” instead, I try to use the language of scholars and human~becoming. This way of naming was inspired through an article I read in graduate school by Gert J. J. Biesta – Learner, Student, Speaker: Why it Matters how we Call Those we Teach; and the pedagogical approaches of Paulo Freire, bell hooks, Cynthia Dillard. If we are to break down the artificial power dynamics of educational systems, it does matter how we call those with whom we commune in the educative process.

It also seems to me that it matters what we name ourselves; how we name our work; how we name those with whom we work.

Earlier today I was finalizing some important projects with my mentor, colleague, and friend, Dr. Petra Munro Hendry. We were discussing how our summer months have been unfolding, and she discussed the importance of calling ourselves writers (just like she talked about with me and others when we were graduate scholars at LSU).  This is not simply useless naming – we must do the work of writing – but we have to envision ourselves as writers; as scholars; as that which we hope to be, are, and are not yet.

As I wrote this post, I began reflecting on how we name our work. Do we use technocratic language? Do we use language that minimizes the value of our responsibilities? Or do we harness and name what we do toward higher ends? Is our work teaching; or communing, thinking, and problematizing? Do we do service work; or are we serving? Are we preparing people for the workforce and professional practice; or participating in the ongoing creation of a world not yet realized?

And what about those with whom we work? Are they co-workers; or part of our community? What does community mean in a neoliberal academic environment rooted in competition, individualism, and mean-spiritedness? How can we call forth the best in our community?

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