What is the summary for A Language Older Than Words?

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Noelle Thompson | High School Teacher | eNotes Employee

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I can't think of another book that made me more uncomfortable about the world I live in.  This book is MEANT to provide that discomfort.  It even begins with the most unnerving questions:

Do we think about nuclear devastation, or the wisdom of producing tons of plutonium, which is lethal even in microscopic doses well over 250,000 years? ... In our most serious moments do we consider that industrial civilization has initiated the greatest mass extinction in the history of the planet? ... How often do we consider that our culture commits genocide against every indigenous culture it encounters?

Even though these question remain unanswered, the truth behind Jensen's story is clear:

We don't think about them, because they are too horrific to comprehend.

Written as a memoir of his own life, a sort of autobiography, Jensen begins and ends with brutal honesty.  Most notably, we find out from the beginning that Jensen's father is both abusive (both physically and sexually) not only with Jensen himself, but with other members of his family.  Jensen relates to us how from a very early age he had a desire to "save the planet."  From the very beginning he had to go against his father to do so.  More importantly, Jensen compares his father destroying the family to our culture destroying the planet.

Jensen relates many aspects of his life in order.  First, he talks about his young life and his years as a student.  Due to his quest to "save the planet," Jensen finally decides to become a teacher, but not just any teacher: one that would help environmentalism along through his teaching (and his pastime of beekeeping).  Jensen gets much of his frustration out through sports (most notably high jumping). 

It is at this point that Jensen gets really esoteric, talking a lot about the complex issues of the major atrocities we would have considered ourselves familiar with: the Holocaust, global warming, plutonium production, space exploration, etc. 

In conclusion, this book will prove to you one simple fact that we are often unwilling to say: we are killing the world we live in.  However, what Jensen wants us to take away from this book becomes his repeated refrain within it:

Things don't have to be the way they are.

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shmindle | Student, Grade 11 | (Level 2) Honors

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A language older than words is a nonfiction book where the author, Derrick Jenson, compares his own experience with abuse with the abuse present in the world. The author talks about the our dependence on the world, and our need for communication with all living beings, be it animals or humans, or even plants. He also discusses ideas such as the negatives of isolation, his belief that animals can communicate with humans, and the necessity of public education.

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