Teach & Serve No. 29 – Beware Edu-Babble

Teach & Serve 

No. 29 * March 2, 2016

Related Content from And There Came A Day:

Beware Edu-Babble

… there is no profession that re-writes its jargon with such wild abandon as education.

Though I don’t know how one accurately quantifies such things, I am fairly certain I am on the top of any scale for measurement of a person’s fanaticism for Star Trek. Seriously, I am a huge fan and trivia and facts about the show are deeply rooted in my mind. One wonders what thoughts I could think if my brain weren’t populated with episode titles and quotes and guest stars and alternate reality theories about the crew of the Enterprise and their comrades. I love the show in all of its incarnations (the Original Series and Deep Space Nine being tied in my mind as the best televised versions) but I came into adulthood watching Star Trek: The Next Generation. It is not overstatement to say I never missed an episode.

When you watch something that carefully and think about it is as much as I did (and still do), you begin to notice certain cracks in the veneer. Great episodes of the show are great. Good ones are good and bad ones tend to suffer from the same problems which repeated themselves over the course of the show’s seven year run. I won’t enumerate them all here (that’s a subject for a different column in my blogosphere) but I will note that I was thinking of one repeated flaws just this week when my wife – a terrific and talented high school teacher who has been wowing her students for over 15 years – and I were talking about professional development opportunities.

“All professions have their jargon” she said. She really said this. She’s smart and throws out words like “jargon” all the time. “All professions have their jargon but can you think of any profession that changes theirs as much as teaching does? Every time you turn around, it’s some new edu-babble.”

“Edu-babble.” I love it. That word should trend.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, when it got in trouble would often get in trouble because of what the cast came to call “techno-babble.” Techno-babble was made up words and concepts that became more central to shows than plots and characters. Techno-babble was hard to say. Techno-babble contradicted itself. Techno-babble became boring and use of it illustrated a lack of creativity. If the Next Generation characters could just “techno-babble” their way out of a problem, where’s the dramatic tension?


See? I know way too much about Star Trek.

I have a degree in secondary education. I was directly involved in high school teaching for almost a quarter century and taught hundreds of classes and thousands of students. I attended all manner and variety of professional development opportunities – some great, some not, most somewhere in between. I have read hundreds of thousands of words on the subject of teaching, given talks and lectures and written articles about it, thought about it with passion. And, of education and the jargon we teachers and administrators use within it, I can safely say this: my wife is right.

(I can always safely say that)

My wife is absolutely right. In terms of the “professional” world, there is no profession that re-writes its jargon with such wild abandon as education. I don’t mean adds to its jargon, by-the-way. I mean changes it, reformulates it, restructures it.

Look, I don’t mean to knock the shared language of education. I truly don’t. I do mean to simply point out that our profession changes its language far too readily. Education inspires great thinkers to think great thoughts. Education knows it should change and adapt. Education understands that it has to be studied, evaluated, written about. Thing is, it seems that every few years, the newest innovation in education (and YAY! for innovating! Keep the innovations coming, big thinkers!) is all too often accompanied by words and language that must be decoded and unpacked (cumbersome, friends, cumbersome). If one is not willing to adopt the language – and now! – one may feel on the outside looking in. When one experiences enough of these cycles, and is told often enough that they are saying it wrong, one stops engaging.

Why do we put the jargon in the way? Why is the edu-babble so important? It’s not that there aren’t excellent new ways of proceeding in education – great practices supported by new research that should be shared and tried and refined; there are wonderful new things to do as educators. It’s just that our profession all too often gets tied up in the words, in the edu-babble.

When the edu-babble doesn’t make sense, teachers – short on time, long on work – resent the time it takes to parse it out. When edu-babble begins to creep into their performance reports and teacher evaluation tools, those very reports and tools can be weakened.

It’s not about the words, friends, it’s about the concepts the words represent, it’s about the ways to help educate kids better. When we get hung up on the language, on getting the words just right, we surely lose the forest for the trees.

I don’t want to know the secret code to be considered a competent educator. I want to be one.

Beware jargon that doesn’t make sense. Beware edu-babble.