Tossing Out the F-Bombs

You can trying tossing these things out, but be careful it's not around anything fragile.

If you’ve followed the traditional route of learning, then you’ve more than likely taken numerous courses, classes, and possibly an internship or two that have helped cement certain vocabulary within your cortex that allows you to function competently and professionally when you embark on your career. While your head may be filled with intellectual thought and theoretical buzzwords, many newcomers to any profession, including teaching, often don’t have a good idea of the practical vernacular that you quickly pick up on, or how certain terminology is twisted, thus taking on new meanings or even euphemistic trappings that are used to signify something that you’d rather not say.

Take for example, the “F-bomb”. Tossed out liberally at many sporting events, the mainstay of one of George Carlin’s most infamous comedy bits, and generally a “nice” way of describing someone’s language that was laced with obscenities, this euphemism is particularly effective at painting a very vivid aural experience of what a conversation might have been like. However, despite its ability to be used with a much wider audience than the actual term it refers to would allow, it’s still a heavily charged euphemism.

Which is where I think the educational world (both professionals and edu-industry) is much more devious than it is often given credit for. We use euphemisms such as “assessment”, which has long been stripped of many of its definitions in most educational settings, and instead is used heavily as a veil for “high stakes testing”. When I hear the word “assessment” at school, more likely than not it’s being used to describe our annual state standardized test that relies almost exclusively on testing the most basic and lowest level of learning and critical thought. Why can’t we just use the word “testing” to describe such tests? Let’s stop tossing out that “f-bomb” of a euphemism, and toss it in the proverbial garbage can, leaving the word assessment for ways in which we assess the quality of a students understanding, and leave the word “testing” for the quantity of how much a student has learned.

RTI (Response to Intervention) is another term that I’ve seen used both honestly and effectively as well as in an “f-bomb” like way. Developed as a means to identify and respond to students who struggle to meet benchmark levels, I’ve seen many vendors and schools simply toss out the term “RTI” to refer to the fancy new computer program that they plunk their students down in front of for 30 minutes a day. That’s not to say the application isn’t doing what it’s supposed to, but when you understand that RTI has at it’s core an entire systemic model for educating students effectively, it becomes to be a farce when you hear a vendor tell you that their amazing new program is a perfect turn-key way to implement RTI in your school. In that case, an RTI program can be an “f-bomb” that’s understood as “just sit the kid down in front of a computer screen for an hour a day or so”. Why not toss out that terminology and simply use the word “help”?

Perhaps, in the grand scheme of things, I’m being a bit too naive, and displaying my proclivity for trying to oversimplify a problem. I understand that euphemisms in all professions will exist, and that when we become overly comfortable with one term, another will come to take it’s place; help becomes assistance, which becomes remediation, which becomes RTI, which will in turn become something else. There are just certain “f-bombs” in the educational world that I would rather do without, or at least relieve a bit of the charged emotions and thoughts behind them.

If you could, what “educational f-bombs” that are tossed out each day in your school would you love to toss in the trash?


    1. Especially when it’s used in the context of “we want everyone to know and participate”, but then it’s made available only through a convoluted avenue, and no one besides those actually making the decision get to offer any input.

      I’m all for real transparency and inclusion though.

      1. I agree! I’ve actually found that the more my admin uses the term “transparency” the more I realize how little we have here. And any “transparency” that is given is in the form of simply handing down the orders that have already been decided behind closed doors.

  1. I don’t think engagement, research, learning, education, community, PLC/PLN, PD, communication, vision, leadership, or quality mean much of anything anymore.

    1. Engagement for me isn’t so much a charged euphemism, but I can see how it would be easily mistaken for a variety of different meanings. Engagement as I see it means students are preparing themselves to think critically about something, while engagement for someone else might simply mean “paying attention”.

      You’ve tossed out a nice tidy list there, Tom. Is there one in particular that you cringe to hear because you know what insidious euphemism it really stands for? For example, I was told via Twitter that “Operational Excellence” is being tossed around at UC Berkeley in order to promote a certain image of..well, excellence, but instead is actually a euphemism for downsizing and budget cuts.

      1. 99% of the time around here engagement=compliance or the appearance of compliance. Quiet, still and eyes open is often the goal.

  2. “Success”, as in, “Why don’t you share a success you’ve had in your classroom”.

    Come to think of it, “share”.

    1. I like the idea of tossing out “success” from a teacher standpoint. So much focus is on us, that I don’t think there’s as much room for student “success”, or whatever word you might use to identify students’ learning and achievement.

  3. I’m only junior in college that is studying to become a childhood education major that is dual certified in special ed. After reading this entry, I agreed that these with Ben Rimes that these “f-bomb euphemisms” aren’t necessarily the best or most appropriate way to describe something. One example of the “f-bomb” euphemisms that I particularly don’t like is claiming that a student “failed” an assignment. The word fail is such a strong word, and with it comes a distinct attitude. Having a teacher tell you that you failed a test, or failed to complete the homework assignment, can bring about such an awful feeling of disappointment that it’s no wonder the students who “fail” continue to fail. Telling a student that they didn’t meet the requirements to pass a test, or that they might need to come in for some extra help might be a better way to go about telling a student that they haven’t grasped the concepts of main ideas, rather than just telling them they failed.

    1. Bingo, great one Jake!

      Failure on a test is not failure of mastering or understanding a new concept. Fail is a word that really needs to be tossed out of the lexicon in most examples, save for the ultimate failure of a hypothesis or theory, but only when presented in context with what was learned, or what was gained during that same process.

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