Mere words

Liam Julian

Three cheers for Sean Cavanagh, who pointed out in a recent, long Education Week article that ?A set of stock phrases, sound bites, and buzzwords has come to dominate the public discourse on education, summoned reflexively, it often seems, by elected officials and advocates who speak a shared, accepted language.? Laudably, Cavanagh doesn't spare his own clan, journalists, from censure, noting that ?the pervasiveness of today's education language, often echoed uncritically in the media, is striking.? But public figures receive, and deserve, the most blame: e.g., the president, his education secretary, New Jersey's Governor Christie, and Michelle Rhee, among others. This sort of coverage of the ed-policy-world lexicon is belated and necessary, because a significant percentage of the words spoken and written in this realm are wholly empty. In my own scribbling, I often place quotation marks around ?reform? and ?reformers,? precisely because those words have been drained of meaning and now exist as shibboleths and emotional signifiers. And it's not just the ?reformers? who engage in this semantic subterfuge. Listen to Randi Weingarten talk for two minutes and then ask yourself if anything she has just said is logical, precise, or testable, or if her emanations aren't just one vague utterance attached to another. Weingarten does not use words to clarify but to befuddle. When we unthinkingly, uncritically accept the impoverished language bandied about the ed-policy world we allow ourselves to be taken by Weingarten and her word-warping ilk. Not good.

?Liam Julian, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

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