Rethinking Theory

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A Bridge Between Worlds taken by Gianna Goldfarb fo Rethinking Theory by Leah Frankel

It becomes easy, especially as a young person, to underestimate one’s perception of complicated topics when discussing theory or literature. How are we expected to discuss political and class theory when the words are simply indigestible—when famous theorists clutter their writing with overly complicated academic words and confusing syntax, making each sentence a struggle? The process of dismantling power systems is only attainable if a fierce wave of education comes first. But we lose that potential if the people most affected by discrimination and marginalization can’t puzzle through these wildly inaccessible texts. I’m not implying that marginalized people are not capable of understanding complicated theory. Instead, I’m stating that academia should not be about using a wordbank when more simple words will not only suffice but also push to inform a larger audience. Using needlessly complicated academic vocabulary is not a sign of a sophisticated style; it’s just bad writing.

When something becomes unnecessarily complicated the outcome is confusion, and we cannot simply assume “commonly known” information is the baseline for many. Scanning dictionaries and sifting through materials does nothing but take time away from the central goal: change. But as long as average parents, teachers, students, and working-class families don’t have access to it, it remains simply theory and can’t be acted upon. In turn, it is not put into practice, therefore serving no realistic purpose. A famous quote by Dr. Albert Einstein is, “In theory, theory and practice are the same. In practice, they are not.” If a revolution requires an advanced degree from an elite university, it is not revolutionary. This work cannot be put into practice in real communities unless those communities can readily access it, understand it, and put it into action.

Sixty percent of college-level education is not attainable for those who need financial aid (even if they achieve that financial aid), according to a study from the National College Attainment Network. The expectation that the only way you will become a “well-rounded” individual is if you’re privileged enough to afford college is unreasonable. Sure, some may study literature, social science, and critical race theory once in a widely upper/middle class, predominately white, English-speaking school. Still, the information gained is only helpful if it relates to real life. Educating yourself on the lives and struggles of others is the baseline, but there is no point in awareness unless an actual change is made. And how will we understand one another unless we communicate in ways that seem fit? Allowing palatable information into mainstream movements limits the gatekeeping of specific data. Modern academics are based around complexity, but ideas should not be held back by convoluted phrases.

Previously published in The Owl. 

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Leah Frankel is a member of the class of 2023 at Boulder High School in Boulder, Colorado. Outside of school, she participates in the Boulder JCC High School Culture Club, the district-wide Youth Equity Council, engages in a national teen Jewish feminist group Kol Koleinu and attends Ramah in the Rockies during the summer. Leah is a middle child of three girls and has been interested in both social justice issues and writing from a young age. In her free time, she loves to sing, make art, read, hike, and listen to music. "Contributing to the world through writing allows me to both grow as a learner and share with my community!"
Accompanying photo: “A Bridge Between Worlds” by Gianna Goldfarb