In an amusing yet possibly telling article in Slate, Dahlia Lithwick describes the “inexorable decline of the American parent"—using her own failure to comprehend, well, much of anything while at back-to-school night for her kids as her primary example. She writes:
The evening passed in a blur of acronyms, test names, and emendations to last year's system. Which I also didn't understand. In fact, I think it's fair to say that I understood significantly less at this open house than I did at my sons' open house during a sabbatical last year, when it took place overseas and in a foreign language.
Lithwick blames, to some extent, the No Child Left Behind Act for complicating things (though her logic on why the law is at fault is not spelled out). She goes on to say:
... [S]omewhere along the line, public education became so completely overmastered by its own jargon, broad templates, and unspecified testable outcomes, that at times yesterday I felt as if I were toggling between a business school seminar and the space program; acronyms alone—seemingly random sequences of letters like MAP and SOL and EAPE—were being deployed more frequently than actual words. To be sure, the teachers seemed as maddened by it as the parents were. Even if we can all agree about the singular benefits of "project-based learning across the curriculum," I am less than perfectly certain any of us knows what it means.
While she seems to vacillate on precisely where school reform has faltered linguistically—Scantron tests? Taking tips from business professionals? The use of the word “failing”?—her point that education jargon has become all but incomprehensible to lay people is worth noting. It’s also pretty hard to argue with. We’ve had more than a few discussions around here, in fact, on what constitutes project-based learning (among other such terms). And I spend plenty of time coaxing teacher-writers to use colloquialisms—to tell their stories as if talking to a friend who does not work in education—rather than school-specific phrases in their essays.
Teachers: Are you guilty of edu-speak with parents? Or are you careful to translate? Why do you think the professional language used in schools has become so jargon-filled? Would be great to hear from you all in the comments.
Oh, and if Lithwick’s take resonates with you, you’ll also get a kick out of this “educational-jargon generator” on ScienceGeek.net that’s being passed around ed-wonk circles.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.