OCTOBER 30, 6:30-8:00 PM; Reception 6:00 PM

Presenter: Institute Fellow Dr. Diana Senechal

In a culture of buzzwords and takeaways, it takes study and cunning to keep language alive—and thus to sustain public and private life. In Mind over Memes: Passive Listening, Toxic Talk, and Other Modern Language Follies, Dr. Diana Senechal lifts up words, concepts, and phrases, shakes away their errors, and proposes durable meanings. Drawing on literature, philosophy, music, and technology, Dr. Senechal dissects clichés regarding change; praises the virtues of a “good misfit” (as opposed to a “good fit”); questions the omnipresence of the “team”; upends the adjective “toxic”; argues that “social justice” must take its place among other justices; and more. Combining criticism, lyricism, and play, Mind over Memes argues for judicious and imaginative speech. Dr. Senechal will present her new book, engage the audience in discussion, and end the evening with a book-signing.

Read a delightful Q&A with Dr. Senechal below. 

$10 Admission, $5 Educators and Students

Dr. Senechal’s book will be available for purchase.



DR. DIANA SENECHAL is a Dallas Institute Fellow, winner of the 2011 Hiett Prize in the Humanities, and a regular faculty member of the Summer Institutes for Teachers.








What is Mind over Memes about?
It examines words and phrases that have been misused or overused in workplaces, schools, and everyday life. One chapter is devoted to “passive” listening; is it really true that when people listen to a lecture, they’re listening passively? Or does that kind of listening demand intense concentration and thought? Another chapter takes up the adjective “toxic.” Why do so many books and articles tell you how to get rid of “toxic” people, and what might be wrong with this descriptor? Another chapter takes up the “team.” You hear people refer to all kinds of groups and associations as “teams”; this was not always so, nor is it necessary or helpful. The book’s point is to question, not prescribe.

How did you get the idea for the book?
It came out of years of working with words—but more recently, out of an assignment I gave my students in my philosophy courses at Columbia Secondary School in New York City. I asked them to select a word or phrase that they thought had been misused or overused. In three paragraphs they were to explain how it was used, explain what was wrong with such usage or understanding, and propose an alternative. Students wrote on courage, happiness, “well roundedness,” “college and career readiness,” and much more. Mind over Memes does something similar, but in longer form.

Is this a book for teachers, then?
It is as much for teachers as for anyone else. There’s a mistaken assumption (at large) that teachers should not be part of the general conversation on intellectual topics—that they should focus on pedagogy, “strategies,” etc. Conversely, if something is for teachers, then it can’t possibly be of interest to anyone else. One of many things I admire about the Dallas Institute is that it refutes such assumptions through its daily work. Teachers here are involved in dicussions of language, literature, mathematics, music, theater, history, philosophy—and everyone reaps the benefits. So it is a special honor to be here.