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A Few EduBlogs on Nonsense in Education

Each weekday I spend a few hours reading 150-200 education articles from RSS feeds in Google Reader (well, I throw in FireJoeMorgan, Curt Schilling’s 38Pitches and Mark Cuban, too). I tag some of the better articles to my del.icio.us and bookmark others I’d like to write about. There are currently 100+ bookmarked articles that may or may not see attention; there’s an ebb and flow, but I just can’t seem to pare down the list quickly enough.

The point of this post? In addition to some great stuff, I read a ton of garbage-writing about education. Sometimes it’s badly flawed in terms of logic or facts; other times the language used is utter nonsense. I wish this tripe confined itself to the internet, but last night an educational architect told me that new windows in a classroom are “scientifically proven to give a double-digit increase in education.” I forgot to give him my e-mail address so he could send me a message as soon as he could explain what a “double-digit increase in education” was (and link me to the research).

But at least I’m not alone. I found solace in two recent posts that lamented jargon, gobbledygook and nonsense in academics.

  • Mark Montgomery of Textbook Evaluator – a blog I increasingly pay attention to, as readers of this blog have noticed – challenges the meaning of the phrase “critical thinking.” We see it in grading rubrics, syllabi, lesson plans, everywhere in education – and you’d get a blank stare from 99 out of 100 educators if you asked them what it meant. Then you’d get 100 different answers. Mr. Montgomery says:

To me, the phrase “critical thinking” is empty. Let’s give it some shape or toss it in the lexical garbage can.

Read his pithy treatment to find out why. Sometimes all it takes is a few sentences.

The move from a structuralist account in which capital is understood to structure social relations in relatively homologous ways to a view of hegemony in which power relations are subject to repetition, convergence, and rearticulation brought the question of temporality into the thinking of structure, and marked a shift from a form of Althusserian theory that takes structural totalities as theoretical objects to one in which the insights into the contingent possibility of structure inaugurate a renewed conception of hegemony as bound up with the contingent sites and strategies of the rearticulation of power.

Judith Butler, a gender theorist at UC Berkeley, is proud to own that one. What’s the reason for all this?

Today’s intellectual elite — the stars of Harvard and Berkeley — speak in such gibberish precisely because if they spoke plainly, clearing the smoke from their ideas, we’d learn that their views cover the spectrum from boringly unoriginal to sand-poundingly stupid.

Goldberg might be on to something. But be careful, Jonah; they might appear crazy, but like Cosmo Kramer, maybe they’re so sane that they blow our minds.

  • And finally, there’s ScienceGeek’s Educational Jargon Generator. I love this one – all you have to do is click “Generate Jargon” and you’ll see a verb/adjective/noun combination reminiscent of what you see and hear… well, everywhere in education. Here are my first three tries:
  1. “engage metacognitive functionalities”
  2. “morph thematic processes”
  3. “benchmark site-based styles”

What are your favorite/most deeply-rued pseudo-edu-witticisms? Your gripes on nonsense? Those overused terms that just don’t seem to mean anything?

C’mon, don’t be shy.

4 Responses to “A Few EduBlogs on Nonsense in Education”

  1. Robert says:

    That Education Jargon generator is SWEET.

    And pretty soon, bloggers will realize that nonsensical jargon-filled education “research” is a vast, untapped source of blog articles. Lots of material there.

  2. What about this one?

    “Best Practices.”

    If we understood what was clearly “best” in education, we’d all be doing it. Fact is, there is precious little agreement on what is best. So give up the term, people: it’s empty.

  3. Luke Walsh says:

    A short list of the educational cliches that I have had to reflect what they really mean are students’ needs, community, inquiry based learning, and pedagogy. Words such as these have developed a stigma to where I know when they sound good in a sentence but I still have no clue what the sentence is really saying.

    Perhaps my cognitive constructivism needs a social community that critically inquires more about pedagogy. ;-)

    Nice post Matthew for I resonate with your words.

  4. Matthew says:

    I’m glad this struck a chord with some people. Few things get to me more than words that mean nothing.

    Like I said in the post, I noticed that my bookmark folder called “blog articles” was filling up with two types of content: great/interesting stuff I wanted to develop further or share… and then the stuff that was so absurdly worthless that I wanted to expose it to a broader discussion.

    I agree with “best practices,” a phrase that I encounter both in business and education. It is a huge element of consultantspeak (as I’m sure you know, Mark). It is a total sham. I think it’s even worse when used in education.

    Luke’s post made me think that there are two types of worthless eduspeak. There are the phrases that reference a specific skill/act but mean nothing – ie, “critical thinking” – and then the phrases that group concepts together like “students’ needs” and “community.” I suspect that the singular phrases are there to suggest that someone knows about individual issues and the group phrases are what’s used when they just don’t get it at all.

    Why are the words “crock” and “Shinola” running through my head?

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