I just finished reading the book, Letters to a Young Teacher, by Jonathan Kozol. I’ve read a couple of Kozol’s other books, but this one came a from a slightly different perspective. If you haven’t ever read anything Kozol has written, you need to pick up a book today (Savage Inequalities). He writes about the dismal public education system, and has for many years, giving factual statistics, heart-wrenching personal stories, and honest realities about the disparities in the public education system. One of his recent works, The Shame of the Nation, gives some political insight into the situation as well.
In this book, Letters to a Young Teacher, Kozol uses a personal format of letters he wrote to a first year teacher in the Boston public schools. He addresses a wide range of topics, from veteran teachers to vouchers, in a friendly, concise and personal style. I think it’s an easy read and a great primer on the education system if your looking to be educated (which every US citizen should be).
Here are a few of the quotes I enjoyed from the book.
(this one is a little long, but it’s for context, which you can read the whole excerpt here)
These suddenly fashionable phrases seem to travel the rounds of education workshops with unusual rapidity. (It’s also possible, I guess, that once we hear a term like this, we simply start to notice its recurrent use in other situations.) Only two weeks after you told me this, I was in Sacramento and the same term popped up once again during a luncheon I attended with a group of people who were working as curriculum advisers for the state. In answer to a question I had asked concerning classroom dialogue, a woman with a commanding presence who was sitting across the table from me gave me this reply: “We’re speaking of a meta-moment taking place in interactional time.”
The other people at the table seemed to be as baffled by these words as I was. They tried to change the subject to some other issue of importance they were dealing with. But she was insistent in her wish to keep on telling me about the value of these “metamoments” and, try as they did, they could not shut her down.
This kind of jargon, which relies upon the pumping up of any simple notion by tacking on a fancy-sounding prefix or a needless extra syllable, infests the dialogue of public education nowadays like a strange syntactic illness that induces many educators to believe they have to imitate this language if they want to have a place in the discussion.
One of the most annoying consequences of this trend, as you’ve observed, is a peculiar tendency to use a polysyllabic synonym for almost any plain and ordinary word: “implement” for do, “initiate” for start, “utilize” for use, “identify” for name, “articulate” for state, “replicate” for copy, “evaluate” for judge, “quantify” for count, “strategize” for plan, “facilitate” for help, “restructure” or “reconstitute” for change. The toss-in use of adjectives like “positive” and “meaningful” (instead of, simply, “good” or “real”) in front of nouns like “outcome” or “collaboration” is another common way of trying to pump extra air into a wilted and deflated intellectual balloon.
“Down with concerns about the global marketplace…. Childhood does not exist to serve the national economy. In a healthy nation, it should be the other way around.”
“Blaming the victim” is, of course, anathema to those who view themselves as liberals or moderates politically and socially. But “flattering the victim” is a favorite practice nowadays, especially in white-owned media that constantly attempt to spare their segregated cities from the odium that they deserve, and their most valued readers from the guilt they otherwise might feel, by pointing to the slightest signs of cultural or economic self-rejuvenation in the neighborhoods to which their racial outcasts are consigned.
That’s a pretty scathing thought on the last quote. Thoughts?