Sometimes, teaching English to international students feels like playing an endless game of Taboo or Catch Phrase… only I don’t have the advantage of liquid courage to get me through the lesson and none of us get to snack on that delicious cheese dip with the meat in it that you often find at parties. The GOOD parties.
In spite of these minor drawbacks, it’s been fascinating to find what teaching a language has brought to light for me about words I thought I knew so well… until I had to explain them.
As the Occupy movement continues to gain momentum and media coverage, so does the curiosity of my students about what it all means. Interestingly enough, a word they have seen and heard much of in stories and wanted to know more about this week was “radical.”
When I set out to explain what it meant, visions of the word danced through my head. I thought of a friend who spoke of her days as one of the Radicatz, a group of activists in New York that used high kicks, home grown moves and clever chants to express anti-capitalistic and anti-war sentiments, as well as address labor, gender and environmental issues at protests. I thought of the NOH8 campaign. I thought of the DREAM Act. In short, I thought of all the current movements that fit the first meaning listed for “radical” in the online dictionary: “extreme; very new and different from what is traditional and ordinary.”
Then I read this second definition, which is used less but I believe represents the core of the radical speeches, marches, sit-ins, songs and acts of civil disobedience that make the minority in power so nervous: “very basic and important.”
How ironic and infuriating that those in charge and those blockading change use tear-gas to safeguard what they have deemed traditional and stamp out a call for something radical. Not something crazy, but radical—a better society built on social and global consciousness. Hell, consciousness. Something very basic. Something important.