Let's get personal

30th June 2006 at 01:00
Unravelling the jargon of educationspeak

There's a new piece of jargon doing the rounds: constructing personal meaning. I have no idea what it means. Presumably it doesn't matter. Taking the phrase on its own terms, it can mean anything I want it to mean. It can also mean anything anybody else wants.

Most jargon verges on the incomprehensible. That is its raison d'etre. It is often thought to be an aid to communication between those who know what it all means, but this is completely wrong. Jargon exists to impress the initiated, who can only assume that all this baffling rubbish is deeply professional and awfully clever. For some reason we humans always think that anything we don't understand must be significant. Hundreds of sci-fi B-movies have relied for their impact on the fact that when the aliens say "XcgbQqe gErtT vUbeliasSd", we understand that they are planning to demolish the planet with a diabolical death ray. But why? They could just be saying "That puce-green plastic smock really goes with your eyes, Ducky."

With "constructing personal meaning", jargon has moved to a new level. Now, not even those it is addressed to need to know what it means: they can just make it up. The next time someone threatens to destroy the planet, we can just take it they are complimenting us on our dress sense. This makes it a perfect tool for education: the Department for Education can issue brain-numbing directives in its usual way and teachers can simply construct their own personal meanings and go on their ways rejoicing.

There is a whole theory of constructing personal meaning. Picking a website at random, I find that "constructivist theory views learning as a process of constructing personal meaning from interaction with the learning environment". The title of this document is Learning Science: Constructivism Deconstructed, which tells you all you need to know, if you ask me.

Now, we at St Jude's are a practical lot, who believe in calling a cattle prod a cattle prod. As far as we are concerned the learning environment is us, and interacting with it means doing what we say and being quick about it. If anyone wishes to construct their own personal meaning out of "Release Johnny immediately from that headlock, give him back his mobile phone and bring me your homework book NOW," they will find out what the cattle prod is for.

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