What's that in newspeak?

9th January 1998 at 00:00
In exclusive private schools in New York, children are no longer flops in the classroom. Parents who have paid huge fees are understandably upset when their offspring are given grade F for fail, so a number of schools have decided to abolish the category.

Apparently the F-graders of the wealthy are now being given marks like NS (needs strengthening) and NGA (not grade-appropriate). One school has even adopted the label RT (requires training), which I suppose must apply to every human being on this globe. Whether this little charade fools the parents, or the pupils, is not known.

It is a common approach to problems nowadays. If something is unpalatable,never mind the reason, simply change the image. If you want to improve the image, then alter the language by substituting a novel and high-sounding phrase to cover up the awful reality.

History is littered with well-intended euphemistic labels which in turn became offensive. What could be more positive-s ounding than "approved schools"? The word "approve" is a term of appreciation and commendation. Yet these institutions for the badly behaved eventually reacted against the very name that was meant to dignify them.

Some hospitals call their morgue "Rose Cottage" to avoid any association with people being dead - or presumably, in more politically correct form, NB (needs burying) or NLRT (no longer requires training). I suppose it is preferable to be transported to what sounds like an idyllic rural retreat, than to be carted off to the "corpsorium" or "slab lab".

Political correctness on its own is often comical. The reason for this lies in its very detachment from action. Everyone knows that to substitute a new label for an old one is not a cure. It is often a cheap device aimed at hoodwinking people into thinking that action has taken place when none has.

The current fashion of preferring image over substance should end before it does any further harm. Nothing is gained by the mere dry cleaning of labels.

It is like removing a "Polluted beach" sign and replacing it with one that says "Visitors are advised not to bathe in this water", instead of cleaning up the sewage. Given a choice, I would prefer the more direct "Swim here if you like vomiting".

The trouble with the find-a-euphemism solution to difficulties in education, therefore, is that it has a short shelf-life when the root causes of the problems are not addressed as a top priority. If the climate in a school is wrong anyway, then, before long, being labelled NS, NGA or RT will soon be just as insulting as being called "thick" in the playground.

The sole justification for euphemism is if there really is no feasible solution, and the unpalatable must therefore be made as inoffensive sounding as possible. Only then would a mere change of name be defensible.

So perhaps we should investigate extending the use of euphe-mism in schools. I am tempted to set up my own company, dedicated to dry-cleaning unfortunate labels in education. We at BILGE (British Institute of Language for Gentrifying Education) will be working hard to eradicate politically incorrect terminology.

No longer will there be any "incompetent" teachers. No sir. BILGE officials will be working hard to assist those who are CRAP (clearly require additional practice) or TRIPE (transplant radically improves professional expertise).

Pupils will not be labelled "badly behaved" or "delinquent". These somewhat patronising and old-fashioned terms will be outlawed in favour of the more caring "ladlass inclined to transmit less educational sophistication or determination" (LITTLESOD).

At the end of the week, teachers will no longer feel "stressed". This word has now become greatly over-used and is in any case too dramatic a statement of the minor irritations that occur in any job, so we are excising it. In future the new politically correct term will be that a teacher is "professionally incapacitated, starts thinking of funny farm" (PISTOFF).

Parents and governors who complain must not be spoken of in derogatory language. The cleansing department at BILGE will ensure that only approved labels are ever employed in staff rooms. Parents and governors with complaints will be in one of two categories, namely PAIN (presents adverse information nicely) or MENACE (makes excessive noise about children's education).

While we're on with it, we at BILGE may consider diversifying into other branches of the language-cleansing business. One phrase I should like to see the back of is "zero tolerance". Its origin was in the obliteration of crime. Fair enough in that context, but it should not be used in education. It sounds smug and smartass and, like other catchphrases, it could one day explode in the face of its users.

"Performance indicators" is another one for the chop. Teachers and pupils are not circus chimps, nor are they calibrated along their edges. We are exploring possible alternatives, such as MUPPET (monitoring useful proficiency pointers in education and training).

At the risk of offending my accountant friends, I have to say that the term "cost-effective" has run its course. It was handy for looking at inanimate objects, but became a deadly phrase in the human domain.

In the callous, money-mad world in which we live it would not be regarded as "cost-effective" to give extra help to children with special needs, rather than boost the able-bodied and improve one's league table standing. The only answer is to find a more acceptable label.

The BILGE thought police have come up with a politically correct alternative term for attitudes towards money. In future, therefore, instead of "cost-effecti ve" substitute "Be upbeat, give generous extra resources in teaching", or BUGGERIT in newspeak.

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