Eduspeak Is Canned, Not Candid

by Robert Pondiscio
May 29th, 2009

Candor and straight talk are rare in education, and euphemisms abound, observes Maureen Downey, the education columnist for the Atlanta Journal and Constitution.  At one level, the jargon can be amusing, such as the habit of referring to one of the buildings at her son’s school as the cottage. “Personally, I would describe the place where fifth-graders attend class as a trailer,” Downey writes. ”But then, I’m not an education professional.”   More seriously, she notes that happy talk and edubabble contribute to parental mistrust of schools.

My husband and I once had a 10-minute sidewalk chat with a school consultant working at a local elementary school. After a conversation about psychometrics, scaffolding, formative assessments and zone of proximal development, we walked away asking one another, “What was she saying?”  The use of education jargon serves as a defense mechanism, to keep parents at bay and to establish from the onset who is the expert and who is the amateur. It becomes a way to silence questions and squelch opposition.

Downey wonders if ”beleaguered and scapegoated” educators can afford to be honest and forthcoming.  ”If principals admit to unhappy parents that a new teacher is not proving effective,” she points out, ”they may also have to tell those parents that they’re stuck with the teacher anyway, since it’s not an easy task to replace staff midyear.”