Pluto, Mt. McKinley, and Other Useless Grade School Knowledge We Have to Relearn

If I’ve learned anything from being in academia most of my life, it’s that things always change.

Sometimes it is from a greater understanding on the subject that improves our knowledge; sometimes it just that we place a different emphasis on what we already know.

When Pluto was downgraded from planet status, it was an affront to “very educated mothers” everywhere — who only wanted to make pies and pizzas for their kids.

In one quick move by scientists, our entire mnemonic device for remembering the planets was destroyed, and I have yet to hear one since without Pluto (that made sense at least).

And sometimes, rarer even yet, it’s that politics gets into what we already know, and then all bets are off at the end result.

The terms of environmentalism forever changed how we viewed things — no one cared about a “jungle” or a “swamp,” but when we are protecting the “rain forests” and “wetlands,” it becomes important political work.

President Obama's move to revert Mt. McKinley's name back to its traditional 'Denali' is a two-part political move.
Likewise, President Obama’s move to revert Mt. McKinley’s name back to its traditional “Denali” is a two-part political move.

First, it’s an attempt to bring greater awareness to the environmental problems happening within that mountain range. Second, it’s an acknowledgement of the fact that tribal peoples lived in the Americas for thousands of years before the Europeans came — and with their pens, pencils, and maps, they began to rename everything in sight.

President Obama’s move won’t be without criticism, as with any renaming move he could possibly make. At this point, he could rename Mt Rushmore, “Ronald Reagan National Park,” and personally carve the likeness of Reagan along side the four other presidents, and someone among his adversaries would complain.

Renaming Mt Rushmore might not be a bad idea, but would create some work for us. The Lakota Sioux called that mountain “Six Grandfathers” for generations, a name still befitting the sight (just two “grandfathers” short).

Regardless of how President Obama’s move to revert the name back to Denali is taken, it comes at a time when the vast majority of Americans have an exceptionally low opinion of political correctness.

According to one recent poll,

The key political takeaway from all of this is that Americans on both sides of the political spectrum are becoming increasingly cautious and defensive about the terms they are using to describe the political process and/or national events.

The 2016 election is shaping up to be a word battle, one defined by such rigid antagonism that the participants are unlikely to agree on the color of an orange — let alone anything of true political importance.

And while I’m sure that I’ll forget Denali as the name for the mountain formerly known as Mt McKinley, what I won’t forget is the fact that we are in a political climate where we often have to tread very carefully and use words with caution and clarity.