Dialog and Words

I always say - words matter. 

Dialog matters (although Charlie rightly points out the fallacy of "finding common ground" when it means "you come over to our side but we won't move an inch OR admit we aren't being fully truthful in our claims.")  I concur because this has happened to me as well.  

To that end, Trish Millines Dziko has set up a thoughtful Facebook page about "I-1240 Discourse."  If you use Facebook, please "like" this page to encourage this kind of dialog.

Also, over at the "Living in Dialogue" blog at Education Week Anthony Cody has been speaking with and thinking about the Gates Foundation and their ed reform. 

Part 1

At The Answer Sheet blog at The Washington Post, Valerie Strauss examines jargon used in ed reform.


In many states teacher evaluations will now include the results of value-added assessments.

Meaning: Teachers will be judged in part by comparing students’ current test scores to those of the previous year. To what extent the teacher is responsible for the gains—or lack thereof—is debatable.

Our newly published reading program is research-based.

Meaning: Perhaps only one study supports the program’s methods, and that may be a study conducted by the author or publisher. Another possibility is that the program only superficially follows the methodology found effective by many studies. 


Anonymous said…
here is a link to a Thu. 21 June dkos diary.


I hope the link comes through.

Too bad the D.C. centric NEA headquarters can't use the google and can't use the internet, and can't put some of those 500 people at headquarters to work providing soundbites and analysis against the lies of Gate$ head honchos.

Too bad the politically incompetent WEA NEA Jay Inslee crowd are still using the LIE

"teacher effectiveness"

Anonymous said…
The "what's best for kids" one is the most detestable to me. It's offensive to think that the speaker is the only person who knows what's best for kids. It's a conversation ender and a cheap argument.

Jan said…
n: I agree that the "what's best for kids" phrase has been badly abused -- but I don't think you should concede it -- because in my opinion, it is one of those touchstone words (like "freedom" or "civil liberties") -- that is, in fact, the "whole enchalada." In the end, that is what the debate is, and must be, all about. In the end, our education system is, and should be, ALL about -- what is best for kids.

But I think you win if you hold your ground on the point. Because what is best for kids is ultimately best for all of us. What is best for kids is focusing on their learning (not tying their teacher's retention to some high stakes test score that is imperfect at best, and wholly illusory at worst). What is best for kids is a core of teachers passionately committed to learning how their kids best learn, and adapting their materials and methods to best use the time they will have with those kids to maximize learning (not following scripted lessons and maintaining "fidenlity to implementation" with respect to a generic, one size fits all curriculum, without regard to whether the kids are actually mastering concepts, or enthused about learning). What is best for kids is knowing that most of the dedicated, committed teachers in their schools, the ones taught by and loved by their older siblings, will be there next September, when they show up, to be THEIR teachers.

I am not saying that the "what's best for kids" analysis preserves the status quo. I think that in some cases, it DOES take to long, and involve too much effort, to reassign a teacher whose kids are not learning effectively at a specific grade level, or for specific subjects. I don't think that "what's best for kids" involves giving teachers carte blanche to never be available outside of class hours, to reduce kids grades to zeros for failure to bring pencils to class, or to retain all of their graded work in folders for resubmission at the end of the year (the latter happened to one of my brothers).

I think we need to start "calling" people on the misuse of the "what's best for kids" mantra -- because the anti-ed reformers win that one, if they will just stick to their guns and call out the untruths and spin of the ed reform crowd.
Janvi said…
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said…
Jan, that phrase is a generalization. I prefer specifics. That's why I dislike it so much. It is not only abused by sophistrists to win their argument, it doesn't mean anything really. What is best for kids is what works for each one individually and that is highly individualized to student, to topic and to situation.

Generalization generally do little to revolve issues.

You made a good argument. You always do.

Anonymous said…
Okay, someone figured this thing out. Probably because Aurora Lora's off doing her new thing...


seattle citizen said…
"Data-driven innovation standardizing every child for college and work."
Anonymous said…
Jan - you're making 1 of the mistakes the too educated make against soundbites -

you're applying logic and rationality,

which means you've lost.

To counter 4 syllables, you've written 2 paragraphs with lots of big sentences and big words. you lose.

for the few people amenable to your rational persuasion, there are 10 or 100 who are listening to the soundbite.

I don't know what the right counter soundbites are - I already have a busy job. When you consider that there are hundreds and hundreds of NON-at-school site teacher union employees - maybe they should do this job?

Jan said…
NotMyJob: You are right, I guess. The reason I found n's comment so compelling is that I do the same thing (consider things a "conversation ender") when I hit certain trigger words. "Ilk" is one of mine -- to me, it is a flat out code word for arguments that glump a whole bunch of people or concepts together, and then trash them. I stop reading, or discount what I read, when people start flinging around "you and your ilk. . . ." I am not sure that is justified, but it is sort of a visceral response -- and I suspect that is what n has to "what's best for kids." What I meant to say is that I think the "what's best for kids" soundbite ought to be ours -- it ought to belong to people like n who lay it all out every day, striving to teach our kids -- not to the ed reform crowd. Because what we are striving towards is what is truly best for kids. What they are striving for is what is best for business (weakening unions and collective bargaining/exchanging valuable experience for inexperience (with energy! - and a script), shifting public property and tax dollars into private, unaccountable hands, reducing learning to scores on high stakes tests. None of these things are "what's best for kids." They are what is best for Wall Street.

To me, the soundbite I struggle with most is the "giving families a choice" one -- because I do think we give many families few real choices (implying schools they can actually get to and from, which alternatives in pedagogy and materials so that kids who learn differently, or need different environments to thrive, can actually do so). Charters plausibly promise this. They don't deliver -- and their version of "choice" comes with loss of control. But to me that is the soundbite I struggle with the most.

How many Seattle kids get to "choose" language immersion, or Montessori? How many can "choose" a school with a nationally competitive music program? How many high schoolers who don't live far north or far south can choose IB, unless they own a car?

How many elementary and middle school kids can "choose" Singapore math, or Saxon, instead of ED or CM?

And "choices" for Special ed kids? Hah! Don't even THINK about it!

The hope they dangle is illusory, but rebutting the choice illusion DOES take a lot of words. It takes people willing to read about the failures, nationwide, of charters in other states. And people willing to invest time and energy in Innovation schools, alternative schools, alternative pathways to graduation and learning in regular schools, etc. We don't need charter schools, but we do need to wrest responsiveness, innovation, and creativity away from the central administrators, and give them back to schools (AND to do this, we need to improve our principal pool so that principals are inspring leaders -- too many currently are not).
Anonymous said…
Jan at 9:00

you do need several layers to rebut their evil doer crap.

I'm purposely using the language of 1 of the GREATEST embarrassments to ever sit in the White House, and I'm applying to people like him, both sides of the aisle, and his ilk. ;)

you need great counter soundbites, and you really need the policy papers behind the soundbites - even though few will ever read them.

what is that evil doer soundbite about choice so effective? it takes you paragraphs to deconstruct all your mixed feelings - all the hot buttons it has hit. as soundbites go, it is out of the park.

meanwhile, back in the upper middle class cocoon of the D.C. bubble union politics, and back in the back rooms of senior state union political ... professionals (ha ha ha)

NOTHING is happening!

Let me take that back a little bit - I'm sure the in-the-know-crowd are busy busy busy commiserating that evil doers aren't nice, don't play fair, and always play to win --- but other than waiting for mid October to come out with the typical drippy whimpy pathetic campaign, after the evil doers been been defining the terms of the debate and defining the rules and defining the play field ...

well, right now, it sure looks like evil doers own the

Anonymous said…
Jan and notmyjob, you are defending the soundbite. That's my problem with your arguments.

Yes, one can continue the conversation if one is able. And if one is not considered argumentative with superiors or parents. But it isn't usually a conduit to further discussion. At least, it has not been in my experience. It has been used as the gateway phrase to the newest "best practice.

No one is really conceding the sound bite. I just dislike it immensely. That's my opinion and you certainly don't have to agree nor judge me or others who dislike it as being either irrational or unreasonable.

And to repeat: "what's best for kids" is not always easily identifiable and certainly changes as do "best practices" with time and situation.

To defend any generalization is supeficial in my opinion including "freedom" and "civil liberties" for each of those concepts have boundaries. There always have to be boundaries otherwise nothing means anything.

No big words here. Just sound reasoning from my point of view.

And I honestly agree with most of your specifics. Just not the soundbite.

Anonymous said…

while I don't spend all kinds of time proof reading and re-writing BLOG COMMENTS,

I don't see myself defending the lies of that soundbite at all - oh well -

calling it effective just means it is an effective lie -

and you really miss the point that when someone has to spend sentences and paragraphs to reason against a lie, in the big picture, you're losing. (How well did all those erudite responses to Ronnie Raygun or GWB Sr. work ?? )

Anonymous said…
You win. :)

Jan said…
Ah, NotMyJob -- you make good points. There is a "reality" that goes along with the psychology of soundbites. And the fact that I don't like it, the fact that I think it is lazy, dishonest, superfluous, and inimical to the workings of a healthy democracy -- none of that really matters, does it?

If I hear you right, you are either saying that UNLESS we are talking to people like n (and others like him/her) who can identify and refuse to be pulled in by soundbites), our choices are to either somehow "educate America" as to the shortcomings of soundbite politics (and that certainly hasn't happened to date, as you point out), or come up with our own, better soundbites. It is a dilemma indeed.

So -- am I finally getting the point (even though I hate it)?
Anonymous said…
jan @ 1:15

I think many or most of us define soundbite in such a way that the soundbite engages fear and is some kind of flavor of negative and stirs negative passions.

one 1 hand, shouldn't there be soundbites which engage fear and passion when a few at the top rip off tens and hundreds of millions of us, fear from the millions such that few wouldn't dare attempt their typical rip offs? Of course, when we carry that model far enough - WHO will be in charge - HOW will they be accountable - we end up where we are now - new masters, same crap.

is it not possible to achieve the same for the community against the few without the revolution eating its young???

while 'positive' soundbites haven't really taken hold to accomplish good for the community the way 'negative' soundbites have worked to empower the few to rip off all of us -

it seems like it should be possible to make soundbites to at least neutralize the negative.

finally - life is freaking complex - soundbites, advertising - they can serve to pack a lot of information into a short easy to remember package - that isn't a bad thing ;)

any-hoo ... I'm sick of losing to soundbite liars, and, sadly, erudite explanations don't win enough votes to beat the soundbite liars. What are all those union and Democratic Party 6 figure a year communications people doing, other than keeping their jobs feeding us excuses ??


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