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Education Buzzwords: Image and Reality
by Kevin Killion

The late Kingman Brewster, president of Yale University, once said, "Incomprehensible jargon is the hallmark of a profession." We laugh at bizarre excesses, such as "kinetic wellness" to mean "gym class" (true example!) but jargon has a darker implication: buzzwords can be well-chosen to mask a truth that the uninitiated may find distasteful. Here is a quick guide (with a healthy dose of dry humor) of some of the wonderful-sounding phrases used in schools.

Education Buzzwords
Buzzwords What Parents
It Means
What It
Research has shown It's proven Other people say so, too click
Child-centered Your child is of greatest concern Your child does what he wants to do  
Age appropriate Challenged to take the next step further Comfortable with current level click
Expanding horizons Your child will be exposed to familiar things first Your child will be a teenager before learning any real history click
Balanced reading Balanced reading Whole language click
Emergent Literacy Teaching a child to read Watching a child guess at words
No memorization No boring stuff We don't teach facts  
Critical thinking Reflection based on understanding of facts and their relationships Make up opinions out of thin air click
Higher-order thinking Thinking Lost in the fog click
Brain-based learning Science teaches a lot about learning I believe in feng shui, too click
Authentic assessment A true measure of a child Subjective, touchie-feelie measures of vaguely-defined goals click
Portfolio assessment What a nice, fat folder! None of these projects look like much alone, but lumped together ... Click here
or here
Facts are soon outdated... ...so we have to keep up ...so why bother teaching any of them click
Multiple intelligences Every child has unique skills No one has to learn anything specific click
Discovery learning It's fun to learn Kids will spend a week learning what lively, engaged instruction could teach in a day click
School shouldn't be "a mile wide and an inch deep" Greater depth Narrower range click
Lifelong learning Children get in the habit of learning new things They won't learn much around here, so we'll show them how to look it up later click
We don't "teach to the test" No drills just for the sake of passing some test We don't like being told what to cover in class click
hands-on thorough, personalized learning yet another fun project instead of having to learn anything click
relevant meaningful obsessively self-absorbed click
teach the child,
not the subject
teach the child what was the subject again?  
collaborative projects build social skills learn how to run in packs and let someone else do the work  
technology learning about computers an expensive way to have even more projects click
Block Scheduling More time for thorough learning There's no way I can teach for 90 minutes straight, so let's make another collage today and watch a movie tomorrow click
A federal "Blue Ribbon" school A great place to learn Observes all the trendiest theories click
A degree in Education A person of great learning Shows high tolerance for mindless ed school drivel click
Education theorist Thinks deeply about education issues Able to spout opinions without any supporting data click
Education researchers People who analyze data about what actually works People who summarize the views of the theorists click
School Board Voice of the people Pass the Kool-Aid, please click

For a more serious and detailed look at the phrases used by the education industry, go to Learning the Lingo on the illinoisloop.org website.

Note: We first saw this "humorous decoder of jargon and phrases used by schools and at IEP meetings" on the Adjunct Law Professors Blog. They gave a hat tip to the The Special Education Law Blog, who thanked a dedicated advocate for sharing. This chart was published originally at illinoisloop.org.

Find a little more humor on The Lighter Side of Special Education.


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