Why pedagogy will never work for people of African descent.

The true meaning of words has been taken for granted, as the general semantics movement has had a profound impact upon human perception. The general semantics movement, is a field of study that focuses on how language and symbols (names, labels) influence human perception and behavior. It was founded by Alfred Korzybski in the early 20th century and was fully articulated in his book “Science and Sanity” published in 1933.

General semantics proposes that our perceptions of reality are shaped by the way we use language and symbols to represent the world around us. It emphasizes the importance of understanding how our thoughts and behaviors are influenced by the words we use and the meanings we assign to them. By becoming more aware of how language shapes our perceptions, general semantics aims to help individuals develop more accurate and flexible ways of thinking and communicating with a Eurocentric worldview.

The movement promotes the idea that through increased awareness of language and its effects on perception, individuals can improve their ability to navigate the complexities of modern (Eurocentric) life, reduce misunderstandings (as terms are defined within the context of the situation), and enhance overall well-being for individuals who choose to function with a Eurocentric worldview.

The true meaning of the word pedagogy, as defined by The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymological, referred to a slave who escorted boys to school and supervised them, typically serving as a teacher or trainer. The word pedagogy originates from the Greek word paidagōgós, was derived from “pais,” meaning “child,” and “agōgós,” meaning “leader” or “guide.” However, the Greek word “paidagōgós” does has a focus on the concept of a male child. The term “pais” in Greek specifically refers to a male child, so “paidagōgós” was originally used to describe the slave who accompanied and supervised boys on their way to school in ancient Greece.

In ancient Greek society, education was often segregated by gender, with boys and girls receiving different types of education. The role of the “paidagōgós” was primarily associated with escorting and supervising boys, as they were the ones who typically received formal education outside the home. A “paidiskē” was a female slave or attendant who looked after the home, as women were not typically given a formal education.

So, while paidagōgós was predominantly associated with the education of male children in ancient Greece, the term paidiskē was used for the supervision and care of female children by female slaves. Over time, the meaning of pedagogy has evolved to refer to the theory and practice of education and teaching methods, rather than just the act of escorting or supervising male students. This is where the general semantics movement redefined the connotation and denotation of the word pedagogy.

True meaning of words are essential for fostering understanding of reality. The general semantics movement created an opening for human cognitive and social perception that permits stereotypes and biased thinking when language was moved from its denotative meaning of words to its connotative meanings. The denotative meaning of a word is its literal, dictionary definition, while the connotative meaning includes the neologisms, emotional, and associative implications that go beyond the denotative meaning.

The general semantics movement teaches the consciousness of abstracting, the awareness that our verbal and non-verbal representations are not the things they represent. Neologisms serve as a reminder that language is a tool we use to abstract from reality, and that there is a continual need to refine and develop that tool to better fit our experiences and understandings. Neologisms are manifestations of the dynamic and adaptable nature of language and thought. This permits the continued power of the oppressor, allowing for the the malleability of neocolonialism to reinvent itself as needed. In the context of neocolonialism, neologisms can play a role in its reinvention and perpetuation in several ways:

1. Creating a New Vocabulary for Old Practices: Neocolonialism often replicates the unequal power relations of classical colonialism in a contemporary context, where control and influence are exerted through economic, political, and cultural pressures rather than direct military or governmental control. Neologisms can provide fresh terminology that masks the exploitative nature of these relationships, presenting them as new or innovative when they may simply be the same colonial dynamics under a different guise.

2. Legitimizing Economic Practices: Terms like “free trade,” “globalization,” or “economic partnership” can be used to describe relationships that, in practice, might result in the economic domination of one country over another. These neologisms can serve to legitimize and normalize economic policies and practices that reinforce neocolonial structures.

3. Technological and Cultural Dominance: In the digital age, neologisms related to technology often emerge from the dominant cultural and economic powers, which can lead to a form of digital or cultural neocolonialism. Terms like “digital native” or “information superhighway” can be seen as part of a narrative that privileges certain forms of knowledge and communication, potentially marginalizing non-Western or indigenous ways of knowing and interacting with the world.

4. Rebranding Intervention: Political and military interventions by powerful nations in less powerful ones are often framed using neologisms or euphemisms. Phrases like “nation-building,” “regime change,” or “humanitarian intervention” can serve to provide a more acceptable face to actions that may be driven by neocolonial motives.

5. Soft Power: The concept of “soft power” itself is a neologism that describes how countries can influence others through cultural or ideological means, rather than through coercion or force. The spread of language, media, consumer culture, and values can be a subtle form of neocolonialism, with new terms often emerging to describe the supposedly benign spread of ideas and lifestyles.

6. Sustainability and Development: Neologisms related to sustainability and development, such as “green economy” or “sustainable development,” can sometimes be used to continue extractive economic models under the guise of environmental consciousness or progressive development strategies. This can allow neocolonial relationships to persist while ostensibly adopting a more ethical approach.

In essence, neologisms can be a powerful tool in the reinvention and maintenance of neocolonialism by framing exploitative relationships in the language of progress, partnership, and innovation. This can make it more difficult to recognize and critique the continuation of colonial patterns of power and influence in the modern world. Understanding the implications of these newly coined terms is essential in critically assessing their role in global power dynamics.

Korzybski’s famous dictum, “The map is not the territory,” encapsulates the idea that our perceptions and descriptions of the world (the map) are not the same as the actual world (the territory). This means that the words and symbols we use to represent reality are inherently limited and can never fully capture the complexity of the external world.

Stereotypes are oversimplified and generalized beliefs or ideas about a group of people, which can lead to prejudiced attitudes and discriminatory behaviors. Biased thinking is the tendency to make judgments based on preconceived notions or preferences, often leading to unfair treatment of individuals or groups. The general semantics movement acknowledges the limitations in human cognition and the propensity for abstracting processes that can lead to stereotyping and bias. In essence, the movement recognizes that our attempts to simplify and categorize the world around us using language can inadvertently create a fertile ground for stereotypes and biases to take root.

Through the lens of general semantics, we understand that our language can both reflect and reinforce stereotypes and biases. For instance, the labels and categories we create can become entrenched in our language and thought patterns, making it difficult to see individuals or situations with fresh eyes or from different perspectives. This can result in a feedback loop where language not only expresses our existing stereotypes and biases but also perpetuates them.

In essence, the term pedagogy has come to signify the ongoing failure to address educational challenges faced by Africans on the continent and those in the diaspora. Consequently, terms such as critical pedagogy, revolutionary pedagogy, ubuntu pedagogy, resistance pedagogy, and fugitive pedagogy have emerged as concepts associated with identity politics. We cannot wait for a more human form of pedagogy (Asa Hilliard, 1998). Pedagogy falls short in its ability to truly liberate African people.