John Kincaid, a school board member in Colorado, sent me the following list of education terms that he would like to see banned from schools in 2002. The comments following each term are mine.
"Real life or real world used as adjectives--e.g. real world math problems." The need to add the term real world to any educational assignment so that it will be relevant and interesting to students has resulted in the attitude that if we can't make an assignment relevant to students, they shouldn't be asked to do it. Well, there are lots of things I learned in school, the relevance of which wasn't immediately evident. Sometimes you just have to learn something because you have to learn it.
"Global." This word is used as an adjective everywhere you look in education. Students are global citizens. We need to have global awareness. The curriculum needs to be global. It is most often found in the mission statements of schools and districts: "Our goal is to create global citizens for the 21st century." Teaching students reading, writing and math is far too pedestrian for today's educators. Besides you can't be held accountable for creating global citizens because there are no standardized tests to measure global citizenship.
"Higher-order thinking skills." This term seems to mean thinking at a higher level. What it really means is anything that requires memorization or rote learning is inherently evil. It fails to take into account, however, that in order to use higher-order thinking skills, one must have some content or knowledge about which to think.
"Diversity." The UofA is planning to hire someone to be in charge of overseeing diversity, indicating that the term is just as popular in higher education as it is in the public schools. This term is really just a code word for making sure that every special interest group is well represented and that everyone is as politically correct as they can be. Seems to me that what we really need is someone to be in charge of cohesiveness, coherence, articulation, coordination and cooperation. We have enough diversity and divisiveness.
"Integrated curriculum." This term is supposed to mean that every discipline is connected to every other discipline during the school day. We no longer teach math, reading and writing. We teach a unit on apples, Native Americans, the rain forest or the Civil War and we integrate instruction in all of the subjects during our unit. We read books about the rain forest, write poetry about the rain forest, calculate how much rain falls per day in the rain forest, and write letters to our elected officials asking them to pay more attention to the destruction of the rain forest. Teachers and students love integrated curriculum, because no one really gets held accountable for learning anything specific. Everyone just assumes that if the curriculum is integrated, it must be fabulous. Of course, no one is worrying about whether this integrated curriculum is integrated throughout the school. Therefore, we have teachers doing units on apples, the rain forest and Native Americans at every grade level.
"Self-esteem." If we spent less time worrying about students' self-esteem and more about how much they know, they might have higher self-esteem. I can't imagine anything more damaging to self-esteem than not knowing how to read.
"Bully-proof." There has been a big push to "bully-proof" schools. Log on to amazon.com and put the word bully in their search engine and you will find dozens of books on how to bully-proof schools. As a former teacher and principal, I can assure you that this goal is as elusive as trying to bully-proof the world. Of course, we keep on trying to eliminate bullies on the playground with tolerance education, character education and values education. These programs are not nearly as effective as building a strong academic program that keeps everyone so focused on learning and being successful in the classroom, they won't have time to be a bully.
"Place-based education." This term refers to any learning that happens somewhere other than in school. Place-based education is thought (by some educators) to be inherently more meaningful and longer-lasting than school-based education. So, if you can just get everybody on a bus and take them to Sea World, they will learn more about whales and dolphins than they will by staying in a classroom and learning about them there. Of course, you will have to keep dragging the kids out of the concession and souvenir stands long enough to teach them anything meaningful. Once again, you may note the inherent prejudice against learning that isn't hands-on, integrated, and higher-order.
Thanks to John Kincaid for his list of terms to be eliminated from the lingo of educators. I'd like to add a few more to the list.
"Character education." There is something ironic about the concept of a teacher teaching tolerance to her students at 2 p.m. and then at 3 p.m. during the faculty meeting, ripping up a colleague with whom she doesn't agree.
"Balanced." This term is most often used to describe reading programs that are anything but balanced. It was adopted as a smoke screen by teachers who didn't want to give up teaching with a whole language philosophy and decided to change the name of what they were doing to confuse parents.
"Developmentally appropriate." This term is a code word for not teaching a child something he may have a difficult time learning. It places the blame on his not being "ready" to handle the stress of learning and suggests that waiting until he is "ready" will make the whole experience much less stressful for the child. There's no question that it's less stressful for the teacher.
Do you have any education jargon that mystifies you? Were you totally confused by your last conversation with an educator? Send in your question and we'll answer it in a future column.
Elaine is a former teacher, librarian, principal, and district administrator. She has an Ed.D. in educational administration and is the author of more than two dozen books for parents and educators. You can visit her web site at http://www.elainemcewan.com.