August 3, 2006

Tower of EduBabble

Newoldschoolteacher is guest blogging at EduWonk this week and compares and contrasts the course title at KIPP Summit 2006 with those given at the April conference of the American Educational Research Association (AERA). First a few course offerings from the Kipp Summit:
  • Basics on Advising College-Bound Students
  • Analyzing Test Scores
  • Activities and Questioning with Bloom's Taxonomy
  • Informal Assessment of Reading Difficulties
Now a few from AERA:
  • English-Language Learning in a 3-D Virtual Environment: Native/Non-Native Speaker Dyads Co-Questing in Quest Atlantis
  • Resisting Resistance: Using Eco-Justice and Eco-Racism to Awaken Mindfulness, Compassion, and Wisdom in Preservice Teachers
  • The Formation of the Subjectivity of Mail-Order Brides in Taiwan and Their Educational Strategies Toward Their Children
  • 'Ho No Mo': A Qualitative Investigation of Adolescent Female Language Reclamation and Rejection.
Welcome to the world of impenetrable edu-jargon. Edu-jargon is not your garden variety jargon. Normally, jargon is used by practioners as a shorthand to simplify complex ideas or things to avoid excessive verbiage. In contrast, edu-jargon is used to obfuscate simple ideas using overly-complex and high-falutin terminology to give the impression that what you're saying is more important than it really is and to disguise soft-headed thinking.

I have a simple rule when it comes to edu-jargon:

Anyone who uses edu-jargon has nothing serious to say.

It's quite a time saver. Once I come across edu-jargon in a paper, I stop reading; it's a waste of time to read any further.

The rule doesn't just apply to the field of education -- it applies to all scholarly fields. The more "edu-jargon" a profession uses the less it has to say and the less usful it is to society. Compare the writings in a serious field like computer engineering which continues to pump out useful ideas and inventions and generally has made life better for all of us to the writings in any of the liberal arts which has failed to generate anything useful to society in the past 50 years at least.

Here is an excellent takedown of some constructivist nonsense by Martin Kozloff:

"From this perspective, learning is a constructive building process of meaning-making that results in reflective abstractions, producing symbols within a medium." (Fosnot, 1996, p. 27). "Reflective abstraction is the driving force of learning." (Fosnot, 1996, p. 29).

First, notice the circularity in the line, "learning is a constructive building process of meaning-making that results in reflective abstractions, producing symbols within a medium," followed by "Reflective abstraction is the driving force of learning." One moment reflective abstraction is the result of learning (meaning construction). The next moment reflective abstraction is the driving force behind learning. Well, which is it?

Second, the excerpt contains examples of reification: learning is not said to be like a building process; it is a building process. Likewise, reflection is said to be a driving force. But what is reflection? Reflection means talking to yourself. What kind of force is that? How can talking to yourself drive learning? Do you talk first and then learn? Nonsense! [But in the field of education, this sort of piffle is commonly seen as wisdom.]

Third, notice how the author connects phrases into what comes off sounding profound, but means nothing. What, after all, is "meaning-making"? Is it something persons do alongside acting? "I'm writing a paper. Occasionally I stop to make meaning." And the phrase "producing symbols in a medium" is simply incomprehensible. What medium? A dish of agar?

As they say, read the whole thing.

7 comments:

Mr. McNamar said...

I like the term. Nothing like a good Biblical allusion. Computer lingo and Education lingo are the two most confounding languages for me. It is why I try to avoid any meeting that is run by people outside of the classroom

Dr. P. said...

Sometimes the jargon gets so bad the experts don't realize what they're reading. In a famous experiment, Alan Sokal, a professor of physics, submitted a paper to Social Text entitled ``Transgressing the Boundaries: Toward a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity''. It was a meaningless parody of jargon. The Social Text editors didn't realize it. They published this gibberish as a serious paper. Google "Sokal Hoax" to find out more.

KDeRosa said...

I have heard of the Sokal Hoax. I believe the publishing journal were reluctant to retract the paper even when it was revealed it was a hoax.

Dr. P. said...

In his follow-up article Sokal had this gem: "Social Text's acceptance of my article exemplifies the intellectual arrogance of Theory -- meaning postmodernist literarytheory -- carried to its logical extreme. No wonder they didn't bother to consult a physicist. If all is discourse and ``text,'' then knowledge of the real world is superfluous; even physics becomes just another branch of Cultural Studies. If, moreover, all is rhetoric and ``language games,'' then internal logical consistency is superfluous too: a patina of theoretical sophistication serves equally well. Incomprehensibility becomes a virtue; allusions, metaphors and puns substitute for evidence and logic. My own article is, if anything, an extremely modest example of this well-established genre."

Laura said...

People abuse jargon, no question. "Dyads"? "Pairs" would have been fine. But tell me how else you would want "'Ho No Mo': A Qualitative Investigation of Adolescent Female Language Reclamation and Rejection" rephrased? Qualitative tells us it is not one of your favored quantitative spins. Would Study be better than Investigation? Do you want them to say "girl" instead of "adolescent female"? It's too broad! I cannot think of another way to say language reclamation or rejection that wouldn't take longer or sound dumb, like "taking back language." I'm stuck at rejection.

It is prejudice, plain and simple, to judge something based on its language. Clearly, it indicates you're not willing to dig deeper. Yes, some terms obfuscate and reify, but others are aimed at precision so people know what they're getting into--and whether or not it's a topic that would interest them.

KDeRosa said...

I don't necessarily have a problem with this particular title, though the content of the paper seems to be a tad less useful than the presentations at the KIPP meeting, don;t you agree?

It is prejudice, plain and simple, to judge something based on its language. Clearly, it indicates you're not willing to dig deeper. Yes, some terms obfuscate and reify, but others are aimed at precision so people know what they're getting into--and whether or not it's a topic that would interest them.

I made the distinction between good jargon and bad jargon. There is nothing wrong with the use of good jargon as a means of simplifying complex ideas. But, a paper muddled with bad jargon also tends to be muddled with bad ideas too.

rightwingprof said...

No, "qualitative" tells us that it is not research in any sense of the word but nonsense.