Wednesday, June 5, 2013

5 Words Educators Need to Forget

You can tell a great deal about education by the words and phrases educational policymakers and educators are using currently. Not too long ago, I remember educators, administrators and policymakers throwing around the words “total quality management,” “outcome-based education,.” and "Site-Based Management." You don't hear those words as often for a variety of reasons. The ideas are no longer popular, or someone decided to repackage it and call it something else, but the words and language in vogue say a great deal about the values of those determining education policy and reform. It is with this thought in mind, with a bit of sincerity and lighthearted fun, I give you my personal list of “Most Currently Mis-Used Words in Education.” 

1. Value-Added: This word, obviously commandeered from business and industry, is my personal number one Worst Word in Education for a reason. As it's used in education, it seems to imply that our students, our kids, are things to which we make more valuable in some way by the processes and “education” we subject them to. By its nature, it implies that the object to which the value is being added, has no say or part in creating that value. At the worst, it is demeaning because it reduces the kids in our classrooms to objects or raw materials. This term has no place in education, unless of course, you are educating widgets.

2. Technology Integration: The definition of integrate is “to form, coordinate, or blend into a functioning or unified whole.” Educators have been talking for years about “technology integration” as if that’s somehow going to change things and students will suddenly learn more. The problem is, if we are trying to blend technology into a classroom that is already dysfunctional, or we’re trying to unite technology into an education system that already fails too many students, we get  a classroom where students use technology but still don't learn. We also get an education system that uses technology to perhaps simply streamline the process of failing too many students. The word “integration” when used with technology, implies that we can successfully blend all these wonderful devices into the classrooms we have and "Presto," we have successful teaching and learning. This naive view of technology and education has outlived its usefulness. This term should no longer have a place in our discussions about technology's role in education.

3. Technology Infusion: I’m not sure this word is any better than the word "integration." Infuse means “to cause to be permeated with something (as a principle of quality) that alters usually for the better.” Some in education have talked about “infusing technology in the classroom” but the problem with this word, like “integration” is that it is simply taking what exists and adding technology to it. What if the existing pedagogy or educational practice is bad? Will giving it an “infusion” of technology somehow make it better? Perhaps, but only if that “tech infusion” addresses the underlying problems to begin with. Tech infusion and tech integration are words that educators need to jettison. Both impart “salvation” abilities to technology that it simply doesn't have by itself.

4. Achievement: No, I do not advocate doing away with student achievement, after all, we're in the student achievement business. What I do advocate is that we drop the use of the word “achievement” when everybody knows what we’re talking about are test scores. Why not just say “test scores?" We know that that’s what is meant when policymakers and politicians start talking about achievement. Let’s keep in mind though, achievement and test scores are not entirely interchangeable terms, because whether or a single test score represents what a student has achieved is open for discussion and debate.

5. School Executive: What's wrong with "principal" or "administrator?" Does calling oneself an "executive" fundamentally change what we do and who we are? This trend to start calling school administrators an "executive" betrays thinking that executives somehow have more power or prestige. The truth is, you can change the name all you want, but unless some changes about the role or job, it is still what it's always been.

There's a great lesson in the current verbiage used in education. If you really want to assess the current feeling of educational reform and policymaking, pay attention to the language. It always betrays what the people who are making the rules are really thinking and what their real agendas are.

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