College of Education > News and Publications > News: July - Sept. 2010 > Teacher Leadership Can Offset Student Use of Degrading Words

Teacher Leadership Can Offset Student Use of Degrading Words

Article about Jeanine Staples' research

by Joe Savrock (August 2010)

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - Pop culture media is littered with linguistic violence--language aimed at oppressing specific social groups. With the powerful influence of the media, hurtful words easily find their way into the everyday talk and writing of many children and adolescents.

Teachers of reading, English, and language arts (RELA) are uniquely positioned to squelch children’s use of unchecked, media-fed “words that wound,” says Jeanine Staples, assistant professor of language and literacy education. RELA classrooms, after all, are the principal venue by which students learn to command language.

Staples devotes a segment of her research to identifying ways RELA teachers can intervene and offset the prevalence of nasty language. She has written on the topic in the journal English Leadership Quarterly as well as Teacher Education Quarterly.

Staples hopes her work will diminish what she calls the demeaning “kooning identity trait.” She describes a person who “koons” as “an individual who assists the perpetuation and standardization of a particular group as superior by submitting to wounding words and images.”

Staples has identified what she calls the “agitator identity trait,” which contradicts and undermines kooning. “I have conceptualized an agitator as an individual who repels censorship of self and ‘others’ by renaming, critically questioning, and transforming wounding words, images, and practices that are rendered valid by senses of superiority, twisted humor, or titillation,” she says.

Staples suggests that RELA teachers engage their students in positive, constructive activities such as using new words to describe the meaning of demeaning words, as well as participation in round-robin talks, journaling, and critical questioning.