The corruption of understanding: The inequality of meaning

The corruption of understanding: The inequality of meaning

by Cheryl Lacey

Ideas and concepts are described in words, to create meaning. When the use of words or expressions is changed from the original, meaning changes. Unless there is shared agreement and acceptance, understanding can be corrupted.

Take for example the word sick. Most adults think of it as meaning ill. On the other hand, young people readily regard sick as meaning awesome. If sick is used in conversation between adults and teens, both possible meanings must be accepted and valued equally – depending on the context.

The alternative is inequality, where one meaning is valued differently from the other.

Over the course of history, many concepts and ideas have evolved. Words and expressions, and their meaning, have also evolved. As vocabulary has increased, dictionaries provide a cognitive record of variations to original concepts, and the words used to describe them.

Reaching agreement, however, has become problematic. A lack of shared understanding has become acceptable. The meaning of inequality itself, like many other concepts and words, has been corrupted.

Inequality means not equal – implying a difference in size, degree, or circumstances – a state which might or might not be unfair, and which does not always suggest injustice.

Education is almost always regarded as the solution to society's discontent. We must not, however, confuse 'education' with 'schools' or 'schooling'. To do so would be to corrupt our understanding of the concepts they describe, and the value of all three.

Education isn’t always provided equally in schools, but inequality isn’t always unfair or unjust.

For society to flourish we must value the language of ideas and the words that represent them. This is the currency that binds us and it is worthy of our investment.

If we spend it wisely, we have much to gain. If it is squandered, there is little to be achieved.

Cheryl Lacey is a Melbourne-based advocate for education and a former primary school teacher.