Language shapes the way we think, and determines what we can think about.
Benjamin Lee Whorf
Linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf ‘s insightful quote about language and thought has always struck me as one of the most accurate descriptions of the limitations of human thinking. Anyone who has learnt a language other than their own understands that speaking another language allows you to understand, not only what foreigners are saying, but also the way they think and the reasons for their actions.
Speaking a foreign language therefore allows you shift from one paradigm – one way of thinking – to another.
As people we are all limited by the way we think and are sometimes unable to see beyond our thoughts. As teachers and educators, however, we should aim to understand such limitations so that we are able to overcome them.
But we are not always successful in doing so, especially when it comes to teaching and learning with new technologies. Thinking inside more familiar paradigms makes us see the world as it was, rather than as it is. Thinking inside these paradigms is what makes us mock the tweeting teacher and the texting teenager.
New technologies have changed the nature of work and business by revolutionising the way we communicate. In doing so, they are challenging the way we do education. As teachers and educators we must endeavour to learn this language so that we are able to understand the needs and expectations of today’s students, how they think and why they act.
For example, inside the old paradigm it may make sense to ridicule the youngster tapping furiously into his mobile device and accuse him of seeking instant gratification from pointless social networks. We all know that teacher. We’ve been in that staff room.
However, shift your paradigm and you begin to understand that the only thing that youngster is indulging is his desire for communication. Social media is the 21st century expression of humanity’s desire and need for communication.
And social media and the technologies enabling it are here to stay, so we had better stop laughing at the ridiculous horseless carriage and start learning the new language of education if we wish to remain relevant in our students’ increasingly digital lives.
What do you think?