Words matter, use them wisely

18th June 2010 at 01:00
Education, just like every other area of our society today, is suffering from the oil slick of linguistic pollution

Education, just like every other area of our society today, is suffering from the oil slick of linguistic pollution. It is choking in "gobbledegook" and "twaddle".

How is it, for example, after so many years "journeying" to "excellence" (is this a place or a state of being?) so many teachers, parents and students remain unclear about this curricular development?

Today's jargon, sound bite and spin are all designed to avoid or divert reason. Language that obscures, obscures deliberately, sends us all to sleep. That may be its prime purpose, so that the desired change happens under a complete lack of understanding - but happens nonetheless.

Two of the most pervasive terms today were used in the last issue of Teaching Scotland: "stakeholder" and "fit for purpose". Both are New Labour in origin, but their use is now endemic. The former term is designed to suggest we are all included, consulted and agree to support something. It is a term framed for our acquiescence and passivity, our participation and belonging.

The latter term has even been used with regard to schools and the curriculum, viz: we do not want "bog standard comprehensives", we want schools that are "fit for purpose" in the 21st century. This new century already worries me more than the time I spent in the last one.

Words matter. They enable thought to take shape and argument to form. They can be used to liberate us or oppress us. We should think about the words we read and hear. We should ask for clarity about what is written or spoken. And if we keep failing to relate to the language others use in pursuit of their contrived "collegiality" with us, we should challenge them eloquently or, better still, develop our own ideas through our own choice of words. Now that would be "excellent".

James Aitken, Craigmount High, Edinburgh.

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