Once upon a time there was a writer who suffered through graduate school in English literature. Eventually deciding that theoretical terms like “logocentricism,” “metanarrative,” “subaltern,” and “hegemony” were not his cup of tea, he turned to the more exciting, if less glamorous, profession of a Serious Education Journalist.
But every now and again the training I had in that year of grad school does come in handy, as it did in a debate that emerged at the RA today about the term “school turnaround.”
“Turnaround schools is an example of language loaded with negative baggage,” said a new business item sponsored by a Hawaii delegate. “ ‘Transform’ is clean, meaningful, and powerful.” (It was also the word that NEA President Dennis Van Roekel used in his keynote, rather than “reform.”)
There’s been a lot of theory written among English-majory types that posits that those who control language control cultural power. So in education, we constantly get different people claiming the mantle of “reform,” whether it’s vouchers or performance pay or more funding, for instance.
I think it’s not too much of a stretch to say that something similar’s going on with school turnarounds. “Restructuring” sounds punitive and, under NCLB, allowed districts to replace teachers, the sponsor said. Transformation carries more of a partnership feel.
The item didn’t end up passing. But the issue of branding still stands, and it’s coupled with this yet-unresolved question: Whatever we end up calling it, does it work?
A version of this news article first appeared in the Teacher Beat blog.