If you are a frequent reader of the blog, you’ve probably realized I’m kind of obsessed with the words we use in Education. This is my 2nd installment of words that I believe contribute to some of the negative perceptions about Education, but reveal a startling glimpse into larger cultural problems.
One of my favorite types of clips on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show, is when they splice together a montage of talking heads from the “news” saying the same word over and over again to describe the same event. While these clips are certainly entertaining, the fact that The Daily Show has a clip like this just about every day is testimony to the sweeping power of language. How easily it is to unknowingly incorporate cliches, exaggerated metaphors, and often times harmful language to describe events or experiences.
If I was a writer or producer for The Daily Show, the education equivalent of this type of word play would be the way we describe teaching and the classrooms we do that teaching in.
Here’s the first example, a blog title, “Common Core and Higher Education: A View from the Trenches”. Guessed the word yet?
Maybe this Google search snapshot will help:
Why do we relate the uplifting power teaching and learning with the awfulness of war? In what possible way could the classroom ever be like the trenches? And the fact that the language is so prevalent in our vernacular, it can’t be an accident.
Here are a few other examples of:
”As a former high school history teacher, I spent three years “in the trenches” developing methods to design effective and engaging learning experiences.”
"Eight tips from the trenches"
I get that we are using the word trenches to imply experience, but why do we associate classroom experience with being on the front lines of a war.
Oh, did you catch it? I slipped another in. Another word synonymous with teaching in the classroom “frontlines”. Again, the act of teaching and learning being compared with warfare.
Here are a few examples:
But, you are saying to yourself, “Well of course we don’t really think classrooms are battles in a war”. In my mind, the casual use of this type of language means that the pervasiveness of the sentiment has created a much more harmful effect than we even know.
If WE, as educators, call our experiences and classrooms, trenches and frontlines, how is the greater community supposed to understand our work?
If WE, view ourselves in a battle, how does that subconsciously impact the way we work with students?
If WE, see ourselves digging in, how are we supposed to inspire and uplift?
Maybe, I’ve exaggerated the problem. Maybe I’m hypersensitive to words. But before completely dismissing my claim, I challenge you to listen for these words in your work with your colleagues. I would guess that the words have always been there, but that we have just become immune to hearing them.
So, how should we talk about our experiences and work in classrooms? What language would create the picture for others to fully understand our work? How do we communicate the power of teaching and learning? I think the words we decide to use matter. Choose wisely.