25 April 2006

On jargon

This is not just another excuse to publicise the article the heading links to. Honest!

I passed on the link above to my brother, who responded;

Thanks for the TES web site reference - I have just had a look at it although I didn't understand much of what it was about! [...] By the way, what are 'givens'?
How could anyone not understand it? Very easily. When Richard drew attention to it, I re-read it from the viewpoint of a non-teacher, and I was surprised by the jargon phrases which pepper it. We have developed a private/professional language which excludes those who are not privy to it, but it has crept up on us, so it takes an "outsider" to draw attention to it.

This problem (?) is endemic to all occupational groups. The more we develop a professional shorthand, the more we exclude those who do not share it. We expect it of doctors, lawyers, and engineers; it is part of their mystique, and some of them cultivate it for their own vested interests.

But teachers? We are supposed to be committed to the dissemination of knowledge, rather than to corralling it. OK, there is a necessary professional jargon, largely enshrined in abbreviations, about GCSEs, NVQs, OCN, SEN, NQF levels and the like (and don't worry if you don't know what all of them mean—that merely reflects sub-divisions within the whole).

But education belongs to everyone. In the jargon (of course) of current political discourse, everyone is a "stakeholder" in education. So our language should be as transparent as possible. (That, of course, is an example of the kind of insidious jargon I am talking about; it means "everybody should be able to understand what we are talking about")

Most of the feedback (what's that? It refers to email messages about my websites—yes, I know that is jargon, too, but how far can you prune it back? That's a serious question... as is the use of gardening metaphor... My brain hurts! And that's an allusion to Monty Python...)

As I was saying before I rudely interrupted myself— Most of the feedback about my sites compliments me on avoiding jargon (or at least on de-mystifying it), but it comes from people within the teaching/learning/education community, who just don't notice the extent to which we have developed a private language.

And: "what is a 'given'?" It is shorthand for a "given truth; an idea which is so self-evidently true that there is no point in questioning it. a.k.a 'no-brainer'. 'Given' as in 'handed down from above with impeccable authority'" Self-evident, isn't it? No. Not if you are a chemical engineer.

But then, I haven't a clue what he is talking about within his discipline.

The difference is, that apart from extreme situations like public inquiries into pollution, my brother has no obligation to be "transparent" to the rest of us. But educators do.

1 comment:

  1. Good comments.

    Read my anti jargon blog at




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