The English Language is At Hope

Carter Tibbits: Whoa! Whoa! Stealing to impress your father! You know, Rory, I run a program for at-risk youth, such as yourself…
Paul Hennessy: He's not at-risk!
Carter Tibbits: If I had a dime for every parent who ever said that…

8 Simple Rules…For Dating My Teenage Daughter, “Every Picture Tells a Story” (2/25/03)

————————-rosa franklin

I heard a news item yesterday that state Senator Rosa Franklin, a legislator in Washington State, apparently feeling the pain of her less-fortunate constituents, is proposing that children or families who are currently considered to be “at risk” have to bear the unfair burden of a pejorative term used about them, specifically: “at risk”. Her suggestion is that it be replaced by the softer, more positive, almost New Age-y, “At Hope”.

See, this is why Washington State hasn’t made any significant contributions to the nation since Cobain blew his brains out.

Franklin apparently nicked the idea from the name of a national organization called “Kids at Hope”. Oddly enough, the director of that group isn’t thrilled with the idea because KAH is more inclusive that just the poverty-stricken.

Now, I understand the need for some political correctness these days. Sometimes a word will become pejorative and no longer acceptable. “Retarded” is one of them. It’s become a catch-all and a word so laden down with meaning that many jurisdictions have begun to abandon it. So, “retarded” is out, “intellectually disabled” is in. Parents who would balk at their child being considered mentally retarded are perfectly all right with their child being “intellectually limited” or “intellectually disabled” or even a “slow learner” (a handy phrase we like to use for the youngsters with the low IQ who don’t meet the standard for retardation intellectual disability).

But “at hope”? No.

Let’s start with the fact that it’s a semantically null phrase. It means nothing whatsoever. For whatever faults it may have, “at risk” (which replaced “disadvantaged”) at least has some kind of meaning behind it. Something needs to happen to these youngsters, because they’re at risk of some kind of danger, usually multiple kinds. So there’s a certain necessity in the vagueness, because some kids are at risk of abuse, some are at risk of hunger, some are at risk of violence, and some are at risk of all of the above, or perhaps even something else.

weneedfoodAnother problem is that it’s misleading. If you hear that a child is at risk, you’re likely to take some action if you can. If they’re “at hope”? Hey, help is already on the way; what do I need to do? Nothing, that’s what. So my suggestion to Senator Franklin is that she concentrate on something that matters, not intellectually disabled (heh) stuff like this.

Ooh, and here’s an interesting detail: as of 2008, only 20% of people living in poverty (in the US)are children. (Details can be found here.) What are we supposed to call the other 80% of those people?

In the end, the difference comes from what we actually do for these folks, not the labels we apply to them.