State Journal: Cut, cut, cut; Balderdash; So stipulated

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Frustrated by the obscure, jargon-laden language that often fills bureaucratic reports, Commissioner of Education Thomas Sobol of New York is offering state education officials some advice that could have come from Henry David Thoreau-"Simplify! Simplify!"--or William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, authors of The Elements of Style--"Omit needless words."

Mr. Sobol recently ordered 250 high-level employees of his department to enroll in a half-day seminar on clear, concise writing.

The course is based on a 22 page syllabus that includes examples of bad writing from the department along with suggestions for improvement.

The guide also offers general rules for good prose, such as preferring the active to the passive voice, using shorter words, and avoiding repetition.

"Write the point of your message in one sentence and place it as near the beginning as possible," the syllabus urges, while conceding that its goal "is tough, but it pays off."

"Every word should pay its way: cut! cut! cut! every word, phrase, sentence, etc., that does not help make your point," the guide exhorts.

Two top Florida education officials recently showed they could use plain language to express their views.

At a press conference this month, an official of a group called Florida TaxWatch outlined a package of deep spending cuts in education and other programs that he said could balance the budget without a tax increase.

Commissioner of Education Betty Castor quickly stepped to the microphone to respond.

"This is a crock," Ms. Castor was quoted as saying. "I think [the proposal] is dishonest, I think it's wrong, I think it's unfair."

Added Charles Reed, chancellor of the beard of regents, "This is balderdash."

A recently revived finance equity challenge in Massachusetts took a major step this month when state officials conceded in a court document that money does make a difference in education.

"A public school in Brookline, Concord, and Wellesley and the communities they typify will offer significantly greater education opportunities than the public schools where the plaintiffs attend schools," the state stipulation acknowledges.

Not to give away the ball game, however, the state adds, "This stipulation does not mean that every child attending schools in the plaintiff districts will fail to thrive educationally when compared to children in the others." --H.D.

Vol. 11, Issue 08, Page 19

Published in Print: October 23, 1991, as State Journal: Cut, cut, cut; Balderdash; So stipulated
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