Keep Two Thoughts

Personal essays

Language - Essay from Newsletter 133

When name calling becomes the norm

The Chair

My first job out of college was teaching high school math at Newton North High School just outside of Boston.

It was a wonderful place to teach with a department filled with people who were passionate about math and about teaching young people. They were great colleagues and always willing to help.

In college I remembered people fighting about language - should we call the head of a committee a chairman anymore?

I’d argued that it was more important that we make sure that women were equally represented in these roles than that we spent time worrying about what they were called.

I was wrong.

Both matter and each informs the other.

The department Chair at Newton North was Mary Sapienza and both the name of the position and the person filling it were perfect.

One of the two teachers who had been my supervisors when I student taught at the school the year before was a woman who, once I was hired by the department, made sure I understood the important things about teaching.

She called me a couple of days before school started and had me meet her at school. She took me down to the book room and had me count out the books I would need for my classes and helped me carry them back to my office.

They sometimes run out of books and she wanted to make sure that a first year teacher wasn’t caught short.

When Massachusetts passed a law that cut property taxes, I was warned that all police, fire fighters, and teachers under five years would be let go.

My department chair told me that if I wanted to stay, there was a high chance that at the very last minute I would be hired back but she also encouraged me to look for other jobs and wrote me a very nice recommendation.

Mom too

A friend encouraged me to fly home to interview at a small private school outside of Cleveland where he taught and so I did.

I don’t remember much of my interview at Laurel School for Girls.

I’m sure I met with the department members and certainly taught a class so they could observe me.

I distinctly remember meeting with Barbara Barnes, the head of school.

Spoiler alert - I got the job and really liked working with Barbara over the next two years but there was a moment in our first conversation that stuck out to me. I should have paid more attention to it at the time.

She offered me coffee and she asked me what my dad did. I told her that his field was Philosophy of Education and he was on the faculty at Oberlin.

We chatted about my teaching in Newton and my thoughts on teaching in a single sex school.

I’d read and thought a lot about gender issues in math and we talked about that too. There was a study that compared the way middle school teachers responded to work by boys and girls.

If a girl did poorly she was told she did poorly and didn’t understand. If she did well she was praised for the neatness of her work.

If a boy did poorly he was told that his work was too messy. If he did well he was praised for his achievement.

Most girls who later said they hated or didn’t do well in Math could name the class in which it happened and it was usually in middle school.

She talked to me about how important girls education was to her and talked about the mission of the school.

As she was wrapping up she asked me if I had any more questions.

As Ron White says, “I had the right to remain silent. I just didn’t have the ability.”

So I asked her why, as the head of an all girls school, she had asked me what my dad did but not what my mom did.

I told her I was proud of my mom. She taught first and second grade and was way more important to the development of these people than my dad was as a college professor or than I was as a high school teacher.

There wasn’t much she could say and actually my question told her as much about me as her omission had told me about the school. She probably shouldn’t have hired me - though I’m glad she did.


I was thinking of this last week when I saw the news that Herschel Walker paid for an abortion.

Let’s be clear - I don’t care that Walker paid for an abortion. It’s not my business that he had four kids with four different women. Generally, I don’t care that three of the mother’s were women he wasn’t married to.

It bothers me when the GOP promotes themselves as the family values party and they find ways to excuse all of this.

It’s the people we talked about last week who almost ruined fishing for so many of the rest of us when they were caught shoving lead weights in their fish to win a contest.

For most of the competitors the fishing was the point and winning was a nice bonus to have.

For those guys - winning was the only thing.

Dana Loesch almost ruined democracy for me when she said “I am concerned about one thing, and one thing only at this point. So, I don’t care if Herschel Walker paid to abort endangered baby eagles. I want control of the Senate.”

I may have been ok if she left it there.

They’ve been telling us abortion is murder. They’ve been passing laws to punish anyone who aids or abets in an abortion even if it’s an Uber driver who provides a ride for a woman to a clinic.

They’ve told us gay marriage is wrong because a marriage is a sacred bond between a man and a woman with the purpose of having and raising a family.

I think it was Justice Ginsburg who asked if then it was wrong for a couple beyond child-bearing years to get married as it could clearly not be for having and raising a family.

Adultery was wrong, they argued aghast at what Bill Clinton had done, but arguing for redemption and forgiveness when it was one of their own.

Loesch said out loud, none of the stuff we’ve said matters to us matters to us, “I want control of the Senate.”

Many people noted the hypocrisy.

It’s one of the games that those of us on the left play and think that winning gets us somewhere.

“Caught them out again,” we think.

It doesn’t matter. And anyway, that wasn’t what bothered me.

Name calling

Nope. It was the next part of her quote.

It was when she said, “you’re telling me Walker used his money to reportedly pay some skank for an abortion and Warnock wants to use all of our monies to pay a whole bunch of skanks for abortions.”

Whether Walker did it or not, Loesch concluded, “I don’t even care.”

In any case, I was more bothered by the word “skank”.

Up above when I mentioned “police, fire fighters, and teachers” under five years were let go, you probably didn’t notice. At the time we would have said “policemen, firemen, and teachers.”

We realized that words matter and we don’t say policemen or firemen anymore.

Skank is also gendered.

The most charitable definitions will say that it refers to a person of low character but most will acknowledge that it is usually used in the context of women.

So Loesch calls the woman “skank” but wants to call Walker “Senator”.

Why do we do this?

When two people have sex out of wedlock why is either of them a skank?

This is on the list of things that is none of my business.


Until you call the woman a skank and not the man.

This wasn’t a casual encounter. The two dated for years.

She’s the mother of one of his children.

Walker reportedly encouraged her to abort that child as well.

My issue here isn’t with Walker. There are plenty of reasons he’s not fit to be a Senator.

My issue is with us - at least some of us.

I mean the some of us questioned Obama’s faith but not the faith of the man who came after him with multiple divorces, children from three women, evidence of sex outside of marriage, multiple accusations of rape, and bragging about grabbing women by the …

Words matter.

The questions we ask matter.

The standards we set matter.

I’m fearing the end of democracy when one side says, actually none of that matters as long as we win.

Essay from Dim Sum Thinking Newsletter 133. Read the rest of the Newsletter or subscribe

See also Dim Sum Thinking — Theme by @mattgraham — Subscribe with RSS