Mentor Text: Denialist Glossary by Daniel Heath Justice
- Critical thought about Word Choice
- Deconstructing language use
Background – As I write this, a group of teachers at my school has been prepping a series of lessons to deliver to our student body around next week, as we recognize Truth and Reconciliation Week here in Canada.
It’s been a challenging year as we struggle with our country’s history with Indigenous people. One of the focal points of next week is Orange Shirt Day, intended to recognize the victims of our country’s Residential School system – the loss of life, innocence and culture that terrible system was responsible for.
This past summer, as the number of children’s bodies discovered in mass graves at the sites of these former institutions climbed, professor and writer David Heath Justice wrote a brilliant Twitter thread in which he explored the language used by denialists and apologists for this system. It was a powerful thread, which I captured for use in my own classroom, and would like to share with you this week.
How we might use this text:
Critical thought about Word Choice – As an ELA favoring Humanities teacher, I often find myself discussing the power of language with students. Justice’s glossary is a fine example of this. The whole thesis of his thread is that denialists and apologists use words deliberately, with the intent of framing terrible actions and ideas in words that aren’t overtly negative, and can be used to “explain away” the evil undertones of what they represent.
Creating a glossary like this would force students to do a very important thing – to critically look at the language being used in the discourse about a topic, and then, explain how that language is being used. They’ll have to be intentional in their “definition” of the terms, which serve as an explanation of how the term is being used by someone, in this case, a residential school denier.
Additionally, this may cause them to look critically at the language they use.
Deconstructing Language Use – It’s the way this glossary looks at the discourse that makes this such an important mentor text, in my opinion. It is an act in deconstruction – looking for the meaning in the language that is used.
Although the issue of residential schools is front and centre right now in Canadian classrooms, we see so many examples of difficult discourse in our news and social media feeds. Debates over mask and vaccine mandates, politics and CRT use language in a similar fashion, where the words being used gloss over a deeper, and often darker meaning. Having students deconstruct the language use may have them exploring the erasure and dog whistles that exist within so much of the discourse of our modern world.
This glossary, and its potential in the classroom, spoke loudly and urgently to me this summer. I knew that it was coming into my space, and that we would be using it to critically explore the things around us. As the discourse comes into our classroom, we owe it to our students to find ways to help them navigate it, to develop critical thinking strategies to deepen their understanding of the discourse.
What are the things that you would have students develop their own glossaries for? What other strategies do you have for them to write their way through the discourse?
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