• Courtney Price

Building Vocabulary: Dogmatism

(Originally Posted 12/27/20)

Vocabulary is powerful. I truly believe that it facilitates deeper understanding between people. When we expand our vocabulary, we increase our capacity to understand people. If our education is not building bridges of connection and understanding, I fail to see the point. We are all trying to become better humans together and vocabulary is the means by which we can name feelings, emotions, ideas... it truly bridges the gaps.

Since we see a lot of this around us, it's good to be able to name this term:


1: the expression of an opinion or belief as if it were a fact:

positiveness in assertion of opinion especially when

unwarranted or arrogant

2: a viewpoint or system of ideas based on

insufficiently examined premises

It is obviously related to this term, but it is important to note their differences:


1a: something held as an established opinion

especially : a definite authoritative tenet

b: a code of such tenets

pedagogical dogma

c: a point of view or tenet put forth as authoritative

without adequate grounds

2: a doctrine or body of doctrines concerning faith or morals

formally stated and authoritatively proclaimed by a church

Being aware of what these words mean is not meant to entitle us to criticize other people's beliefs. The definitions above are from Webster's, but this definition from Oxford (via Lexico) is even more clear:


The tendency to lay down principles as incontrovertibly true,

without consideration of evidence or the opinions of others.

It is the act of ignoring evidence or opinions of others that is concerning. Most of the time, this happens unconsciously but sometimes, it is a choice. I think that when people are aware that dogmatism is a phenomena that has a definition, it opens their minds to the possibility that they don't understand everything with as much certainty as they might wish. When we are open to listening to other people, we are more likely to find common ground.

Treating other people's ideas and opinions with consideration is healthy. It doesn't mean that we will always agree, but it at least gets us in the mind-frame of not thinking that everyone who disagrees with us is a bad person, or morally "less than" us.

As humans, we will be much happier if we can find a way to not see everyone else's opinions as right or wrong before we have had a chance to examine and discus.

As educators, we should be striving to imbue our students with a healthy love of discourse. If anything is needed in our increasingly divided world, it is more willingness to talk. Since I am studying to be an English teacher, I know that I will have ample opportunity to teach respectful discussion. But I know that this can be applied to many different topics.

Practical application can look a little like this:

First, make sure students are aware of what dogmatism is (and isn't!). Instead of correcting a person and telling them what they should believe, ask questions. What about ______? That's an interesting thought, but have you considered _______? Depending on the discussion, it might be important to present expert opinions.

As we expand vocabularies, we expand minds!

“A man with a scant vocabulary will almost certainly be a

weak thinker. The richer and more copious one's vocabulary

and the greater one's awareness of fine distinctions and

subtle nuances of meaning, the more fertile and precise is

likely to be one's thinking. Knowledge of things and knowledge

of the words for them grow together. If you do not know the words,

you can hardly know the thing.”

― Henry Hazlitt, Thinking as a Science

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