Should we be worried?

“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” — The Princess Bride

I attended a meeting at the school today for one of the management committees that sees parents and teachers working together to come up with specific details to implement long term strategic plans.  All of the long term goals and the details are memorialized in a document that was remarkable for its generous use of passive voice and all education jargon.  There is, of course, no reason why I should understand education jargon, because I’m not an educator.  Nevertheless, to the extent I was supposed to vote on the document, it seemed to me that I had an obligation to try to understand what it was talking about.

So, I zeroed in on one phrase and asked “What does this mean?”  There was a moment of complete silence.  Then, one of the teachers said, “I’ve always understood it to mean…” and embarked on a laborious explanation that didn’t mean anything.  Another teacher jumped to her aid with more words, less meaning.  I thanked them.

Another phrase, another question:  “What does this mean?”  More silence.  One of the teachers said, “Well, that’s something we learned when we got our degrees.”  Oh.  “Thank you,” I said, completely unelucidated.

Another phrase and, again, I sought a lay person’s definition.  “Oh, we understand that.”  “Good,” I thought, but I asked myself, “Do you really?”

I asked myself that last question again when everyone in the room assured me (no doubt to stop my questions) that, while parents and teachers collaborated on the plan, it’s purpose was to serve the teachers, and they, in fact, understood it just fine.  But as my questions revealed, the four teachers in the room did not understand at least three terms of art in the document.

The whole thing left me feeling that there is a lot of good will at these meetings, both on the part of educators and parents, but not very much clarity.  I’m with Dennis Prager, in that I prefer clarity to agreement — and I’ve often found that, when people achieve clarity, they do find that they agree, at least about some things.  To me, this meeting was rather pointless, because I didn’t understand what was going on, and I left wondering if anyone else in the room did either.

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  • greg

    Indeed. Abstractions confound the maliciously ignorant.

  • ymarsakar

    Meetings usually resolve nothing for there is no strict chain of command nor delegation of tasks.

    Thus you have nobody to hold accountable for any one thing, since everyone shares responsibility. And you have no one specializing in a problem to the extent that he or she understands all of it, because the tasks are not delegated and the tasks are not delegated for there is no chain of command to delegate it.

  • Mike Devx

    Well, I spent seven years teaching High School Math, and I did go through the education program at Eastern Michigan University. I would LOOOOOVE to get samples of the jargon that you wanted to understand. Hopefully I could tell you what some of it meant.

    Nah, that was decades ago! The lawyers and bureaucrats have had an additional twenty years to transform the documents. I probably wouldn’t understand a word either.

    My main concern, though, is: how much time was spent discussing and setting goals for educational excellence for the students, rather than socialization progress (aka brainwashing)? Did the team members at this meeting discuss things such as: How do we know that we’re doing well? How can we identify weak points? How can we address the weak points? How can we be sure that we’ve addressed them? You know: an actual plan, and metrics for measurement, and a tentative implementation schedule. The kind of thing professionals should be doing.

  • ymarsakar

    A recent ABET accredation luncheon I attended revolved around ways to improve technical college results for both students and potential employers. Employers want students that are trained in the job and ethical skills that they need and demand, while students want well paying jobs. Schools are thus supposed to be the facilitators of ensuring that both groups derive benefit from attendance.

    The how of the matter is thus directly related to dealing directly with students and employers. Thus the “metrics” used actually has some real world grounding, just in case you had some bureacratic fluff. And you will get bureacratic fluff, no matter what school there is.

    Several high school counselors were noted in the luncheon by one speaker as being hostile or simply uninterested in telling students about tracks other than College Prep. The speaker said that they have had to directly go to the students, rather than trying to run past the road block of school academic counselors. They were trying to do that in the 90s I believe.

    This is only around the Atlanta, GA area of course. Who knows what goes on elsewhere. Everybody will inevitably have their own ideas of how things work or should work.

  • babbie

    The meeting was just for show anyway. I hope you didn’t have to come up with a “mission statement.” I’ve been to too many of these to think they’re effective in any way. (teacher and former administrator)

  • Tap

    Just keep in mind that these people (education majors) were at the bottom of the barrel in college. I’m just sayin’….

    Anywho, back to the discussion held on your blog a few weeks back concerning trolls. Does the first comment add anything to this thread, other than the usual gratuitous insult?

  • Bookworm

    In answer to your question, Tap, the real vitriol is pouring in at my Glenn Greenwald post — so much so that I’m not even reading the comments. As of now, I have no idea what the comments are saying over there. It’s my little Wild West area. I’m sure they’ll calm down soon and then I can go back to being the peaceful forum for intellectual discussion that I usually like to be.

  • Heather

    Tap, not all education majors were at the bottom of the barrel in college.

  • pacificus


    Have you ever read John Locke’s “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding? Book III is all aboout language and the “clear and distinct ideas” that must underlie all language if it is to be useful and accurate. It is a wonderful read.

  • Earl

    Heather, it’s true that not all education majors were at the bottom of the barrel – there is a normal curve over intelligence in education majors, and the right-hand tail has some very bright people in it.

    But, Tap is correct that the AVERAGE on that curve is lower than the average over most other majors, at least as measured by the Graduate Records Exam that one must take in order to go on to graduate school. Education majors have the lowest average scores, despite the occasional bright light scoring in the 90th percentile and above.

    The solution is to abolish the Education major. Teachers should major in an actual subject, so they have a base of real knowledge of factual material. That would weed out a lot of folks who aren’t terribly bright, and IN NO WAY should be passing their ignorance, and lack of interest in curing it by real learning, to our kids in the schools.

  • Bookworm

    Yay, Earl! That’s absolutely the right thing. There are people like me, who have had major careers and settled down to have kids. I no longer want my major career, and have discovered that I’m a very good teacher. I’d be an asset at any elementary or even middle school. But, to teach, I’d have to go to teacher’s school and learn meaningless cant and suspect methodology. I’ll never do that, ever. So I sit here, a wasted resource.

  • Harry

    Did they use ellipses? Those leftards in the education community are always using ellipses to confuse us.

  • Sally

    You, Bookworm are far from a wasted resource. To your children you are the main educator and the teachers can’t hold a candle to you. It does not matter how great a teacher is or a school, what will matter most to a child is a loving parent who can guide the child though any obsticles. Your value is being there for your kids and your blog is a wealth of mental stimulation for all to enjoy. Education is more than what teachers can push into a classroom and it is time to rethink the whole idea of cookie cutter, T.V. attention span education!

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  • JJ

    Didn’t I understand once upon a time that was precisely what was beginning to happen, Earl? (Teachers actually being degreed in their subjects rather than the nitwit “education” degree, I mean.)

    Don’t know, it was a long-ago discussion in which precisely that point arose, and I may be mis-remembering. In fact, based on what you guys say, I clearly am indeed mis-remembering.

    But I will hold to my oft-expressed point: education is a government monopoly, complete with a government bureaucracy, staffed with untouchable and impossible to hold to account ( i.e, unionized) employees. Think “Trabant.”

  • Mahlon

    What you describe is nothing more than what Dr. Richard Mitchell might call the ramblings of educationists. He wrote a book in the late 70’s or early 80’s, The Graves of Academe, which rather viciously attacks the teacher-trainer academies and the vacuous vent scratchers they produce. I highly recommend Dr. Mitchell’s book, as well as his newsletter The Underground Grammarian – long since defunct, but still available online at a website of the same name.

    As for teachers coming from the bottom of the barrel, I would refer one and all to a paper prepared by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute called “Better Teachers, Better Schools” (1999) tends to strongly support the proposition that our teachers are not the brightest bulbs in the box. In fact, they tend to do poorly on standardized test themselves.

    I recently asked my child’s second grade teacher about how she taught writing. During the conversation it came out that she (1) didn’t know what the object of a sentence was, (2) had heard of subject-verb agreement, but couldn’t explain it; and (3) couldn’t tell me what an article was. She just got her Master’s in education.

    Bookworm – You were entirely too easy on the teachers who couldn’t explain their jargon. Show some backbone!!

  • JJ

    Can’t call to mind who said it:

    “Anyone who can’t explain what they’re doing in five minutes to a six-year old child, probably isn’t doing anything.”

    Might have a word or two wrong, but that’s the gist.

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  • Bald-Headed Geek

    A Princess Bride reference! I love it………..


  • Mike Devx

    Earl said,
    “Tap is correct that the AVERAGE on that curve is lower than the average over most other majors, at least as measured by the Graduate Records Exam that one must take in order to go on to graduate school.”

    I agree with this statement. An assistant principal at the high school I taught scored took the GRE the same year that I did (the year before I left teaching). He scored in the 7th percentile on the GRE. The bright teachers were not nearly as numerous as the dim bulbs.

    Since I am an advocate of the “On The Other Hands”, I’d like to add that teaching requires not only mastery of the subject area. It also requires: The ability to communicate ideas effectively; an empathic ability to relate cleanly to group after group of students; the ability to manage groups effectively. I expect that at least a few of Book’s readers here encountered brilliant professors who were utter failures at the front of the lecture hall.

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