Banks County Opinions...

AUGUST 20, 2003


Column

By: Jana Mitcham
The Banks County News
August 20, 2003

The words of worlds
I heard a radio discussion recently about how parents can be “friends” with their teenager. Or, in other words, “What to do so your teen will think you’re cool...”
For starters, drop words and phrases into your conversation like “dude” and “playa hater” (playa hatah? I don’t have a clue how to spell that), and so forth.
Sounds pretty pitiful to me.
Talk the talk. Play the word game.
Uh. Yeah. Right. Cool, dude.
Sure, words can be used as a bridge, a link, a connection, but sometimes they are the lingo-istics that shape a world and make its inhabitants comfortable. Sometimes visitors are welcome and sometimes (parents of teens) they may not be.
(No, no, I’m not saying parents shouldn’t try to understand their kids’ language, but, really, dude, are you going to have another go at being a teenager?)
It’s about “being in the loop.”
What are the words of your world?
I got an email from a friend the other day about a game I’ll call Meeting Bingo. That’s not really what it was called, but the word — for which I’m substituting Meeting — however apt, is not appropriate for this publication (hint: it starts with a B). So, Meeting Bingo it is.
The context for the game was likely of the corporate world, I’d guess, where phrases and catch words like “synergy,” “strategic fit,” “win-win,” “paradigm,” “think outside the box” and “result-driven” apparently bounce off the meeting room walls with regularity. The idea behind Meeting Bingo is for meeting-goers to keep a “bingo card” marked off with typical meeting words and phrases. Each time one of those words is dropped into discussion, it can be marked off on the card. Those who reach bingo first stand up in the meeting and shout out — again, not such a nice word, so I’ll substitute — “BINGO!!”
According to the quotes from some of the “real” Meeting Bingo players, meetings became a lot more interesting when speakers were startled by attendees popping up and shouting from time to time.
As many meetings as we attend for the newspapers throughout a month, it was hard to resist adapting the words to our world of meetings. What examples would we use as typical meeting verbiage? What would happen if we, and others at the meetings, stood up and shouted? That’s all very frivolous, of course, and our attention is always fully directed at the business at hand, of course, but....
Anyway, the collective phrases of a group, of a world, are interesting to note. It’s like a password or a code to being a part of things. I belong here; I know the right words.
When I was in graduate school, I had a class in theory, or some such thing, on how words and writing are used. We looked at different types of writing, such as “legalese,” which is certainly not meant for anyone to understand — and that’s the point — except maybe by legalees.
It was determined that we would write clear, cohesive and easily read verbiage. No misconstruing, misconstructing or misleading for us.
Understand that the communications field had its own academic language, of course, with some of the favorite words of that day being “dichotomy,” “deconstructionism,” “juxtaposition” and “semiotics.” There was the expectation that any thesis or oral examination discussion would be liberally peppered with such terms and train of thought.
Easily read? Easily understood? I resisted. I succumbed. I wanted to graduate.
If there weren’t such words, how would a discipline, a study, a group, a field, a world, be defined?
More clearly, possibly, but then again, that diffusion is sometimes the point, right? (I belong here; I know the words. You don’t. Or do you?)
Talk the talk. Play the word game.
Maybe nobody really knows just exactly what those catch phrases and “big words” mean, but they nod as if they do and the “world” is perpetuated. The language within may change with the times and trends, but the shaping quality is still there.
So, what does your Meeting Bingo card look like, dude?
Jana Adams Mitcham is features editor of The Jackson Herald and a reporter for MainStreet Newspapers.

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Column

By: Zach Mitcham
The Banks County News
August 20, 2003

Whoomp, there’s ‘No Child Left Behind’
Like every pop song, every education reform initiative needs its hook.
I hear “No Child Left Behind” and I don’t think of kids suddenly smarter. No, I hear the education catch phrase of the day and think of “stadium rock.” You know, the stuff you hear between innings or during a halftime dance routine, those wonderful diddies like the Tag Team’s post-modernist call of sudden epiphany, “Whoomp, there it is” and The Baja Men’s neo-classical expression of American narcissism, “Who let the dogs out? Woof, woof, woof, woof.”
Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the federal initiative has more substance than I see. Maybe it’s better to compare this reform package to Brahms, not The Baja Men. But as “No Child Left Behind” assessments were released recently, I couldn’t help but shake my head with a “woof, woof, woof, woof” as I heard others question the validity of the reviews.
Because both federal and state education reform programs seem like ear candy to me, things that sound catchy but mean little.
Let’s face it. Analyzing groups is a difficult and often misleading endeavor.
Can we not all recognize fundamental problems with collective assessments of student performance? Is it not obvious that for every A and B that is evaluated, there is an X factor that throws a hitch in it all?
That’s not to say that collective performance on standardized tests is totally irrelevant. Such results can be a tool in determining curriculum and areas of need.
But why the mania from on high?
Must federal and state education reformers of both parties so readily engage in flawed branding games?
Do politicians grasp at utopian education reform measures believing that they will really make a difference? Or is it simply better to sound like you have a course of action, whether it’s substantive or not?
Pardon my cynicism, but it’s the appearance that matters. Those who deal with education at the macro level must look like they’re doing something constructive. Those at the micro level – the teachers, the students, the school administrators, the local school boards — must simply deal, act as if the macro plan matters, even when it seems to present more problems than answers.
Schools and teachers need to be held accountable. That’s the theme of the day. But where’s the accountability for the judgment system?
Election time, perhaps.
But is this simply a time to trade in one flawed plan for another?
The link between the classroom and the ballot box is a distinct weakness of our educational system. Those who actually spend their days in schools are suspect to the whims of political promises before cameras.
When the reports are in, do parents actually believe that the “adequate yearly improvement” reviews in “No Child Left Behind” accurately measure the quality of the school staff or student body? Or does it seem like yet another tag game?
A child’s education is a lengthy and complex process involving many adults of varying talent and commitment, who with hard work will help the child become a well-rounded, critical thinker, with sufficient skills and resolve to support himself or herself — along with their dependents — in the future working world. (Yes those are my words, not some borrowed mission statement.)
So in the face of such overwhelming responsibilities, must we accept such dumbed-down assessments that do little more than demoralize teachers, students and parents with a “whoomp, there you fail?”
How much longer will standardized test mania pass as normalcy?
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.


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