Dr. Word says: “The State” is good, but “The Government” is bad

by David Safier

Dr. Word appreciates the linguistic distinction David Sirota made recently between the terms "The State" and "The Government." In a column about the government shutdown, Sirota commented that in our current political culture, institutions which are part of The State are venerated and have been left open while The Government is lambasted, and institutions related to that term have been shut down. "The State" equals the military, our surveillance apparatus, the Drug War, even the IRS, all of which are operating at full speed, business as usual. The Government equals the Safety Net, the Regulators and the Inspectors, all of which are on temporary (we hope) life support.

It's not a perfect linguistic construct — language is too slippery to fit neatly into simple binary analyses — but it's accurate enough to be instructive. Since the Doctor is most interested in education, he tested out the terms in his area of specialty. Sure enough, the term "state schools" has a neutral, descriptive tone. It's used more to describe state-funded colleges and universities than K-12 schools. The term "government schools," on the other hand, is a strong pejorative used by conservative "education reformers" to decry what they believe is the sorry state of K-12 public education — minus charter schools, of course, which are not included in the "government" label.

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