Emerging utilizations of twaddle Doublespeak: A change process in the language of educators has facilitated frameworks of nonsense, outcomes of gibberish and core actions of malarkey. Why won't they speak plain English?

The Education Beat

June 19, 1996|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

WOULD A SCHOOL board adopt a policy knowing full well that it would make the board a national laughingstock?

We wondered that recently when the Clark County (Las Vegas), Nev., school board eliminated traditional letter grades on report cards and replaced them with words such as "emerging" and "extending."

Clark County students who used to get D's and F's are now characterized as "emerging." Top students -- the old A students -- are "extending." Those in between are no longer C students. In Las Vegas, they're "developing."

The Quarterly Review of Doublespeak, publication of the nation's English teachers, pounced on Clark County, as well it might have. But there are numerous examples elsewhere, including the Baltimore area, of nonsense from the mouths and word processors of educators.

For example, the Review of Doublespeak for April cites a memo from a Baltimore City assistant superintendent to three principals.

Titled "Key Elements of Systematic Restructuring," the memo reminds the principals that instruction is linked to "curriculum frameworks" that are "balanced across all subject matter." Principals manage the "change process" by "facilitating core action teams," and the "systematic change process will be continuously monitored and revised through collection and reporting of data including student outcomes."

It happens at the school-parent level, too. Recently, Katheryn May, who is raising her grandson Jordan, contacted Education Beat about Jordan's first-grade report card from Westowne Elementary School in Baltimore County.

What is the meaning, she asked, of "utilizes problem-solving processes," one of the skills on which Jordan was evaluated? (Moreover, why not use "use" instead of "utilize"? she asked.) And what does "applies place value concepts to add/sub problems," another category on Jordan's report card, mean to the parent or guardian of a first-grader?

Why do they do it? Why do educators excel at such gibberish? There are two reasons. One is Orwellian. The other is that educators feel "professional deprivation."

Half a century ago, minus a year, the English writer George Orwell, in his great essay "Politics and the English Language," explained why writers use euphemism: "to defend the indefensible," to make the negative positive.

"The great enemy of clear language is insincerity," he wrote.

Orwell was talking about political language, but he might as well have been talking about education language. So half a century later, kids don't flunk in Las Vegas; they "emerge." And conservative hero Rush Limbaugh has great fun with the "New Age education" that encourages self-esteem above all else.

In education, everyone has to be at the same level; the schools can't point out the outliers in either direction. Kids who can't control their emotions have "disorders." Kids with limited intellectual ability can't be called slow. Bright kids can't be identified as bright, lest it make the mediocre feel bad.

Last week, a liberal organization that monitors testing criticized the Johns Hopkins University for using the Scholastic Assessment Test to determine admission to its 15-year-old Center for Talented Youth.

Meanwhile, as The Sun reported a few weeks ago, a number of high schools, public and private, no longer honor the single "best" graduate, preferring to lump honor students as a group. In some schools students vote for their valedictorian, an exercise that Albert Shanker, the philosopher-president of the American Federation of Teachers, says is akin to a basketball team deciding to elect the high scorer for the year.

The other reason many educators don't speak plain English is that they desperately want to be professionals.

Obscurantism is practiced by the other professionals, who earn the right to utilize gobbledygook through years of university study and the passing of bar, accounting and medical examinations. Why not educators?

We used to argue that point with the late Samuel Banks, a wonderful and sorely missed Baltimore educator who prided himself on using 25-cent words where nickel words would do. Sam would tell us we didn't understand; he had a deep need to sound erudite.

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty instructed Alice in Wonderland, "it means just what I choose it to mean." But the question, Alice asked, is how can you make words mean so many different things? No, he replied, "The question is who is to be master of words."

LEAP adult program honors students

Since it began in 1988, a union-management effort known as Project LEAP, for Labor Education Achievement Program, has quietly helped more than 4,000 working adults in Baltimore improve reading, writing, math, thinking, communications and teamwork skills.

Many of the LEAP students make sacrifices to attend classes in union halls and other locations, usually after work hours. Their rewards: promotions, improved job performance, satisfaction.

LEAP, co-sponsored by the state Education Department and metropolitan AFL-CIO unions, honored more than 100 students last night at the IBEW hall on Patapsco Avenue. Student of the year awards went to Floyd Neal, a Baltimore City carpenter, and Icylee Adams, a city school paraprofessional.

Pub Date: 6/19/96

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