Education does not communicate

The latest battle in the education wars is being waged against school librarians. Los Angeles school librarians are being interrogated to determine whether they serve any educational purpose. As absurd as I think that is, the interrogations vividly reveal the abysmal job educators—pre-school through PhD level—do at communicating with the public.

Read any education blog and you’ll come across dozens of terms that are meaningless or worse, have a totally different meaning, to the electorate.

Educators discuss PD, which the TV-viewing public interprets as an abbreviation for Police Department. What educators mean by PD may be what the non-education world usually calls continuing education. PD also may refer to students’ personal devices—laptops and cell phones—brought to school for instructional use—which the public calls a waste of time.

Educators talk about using SM, which the public may understand as service marks or sadomasochism.

Educators talk about achieving AYP. New Englanders recognize that as Maine natives’ pronunciation of yes. The rest of the public doesn’t recognize the term at all.

But acronyms are only a small part of our public relations problem. A bigger part is that the terms we use to refer to what we think of as our mission are meaningless to a significant portion of the electorate, terms such as critical thinking, higher level thinking, knowing how to learn, lifelong learning, problem solving.

That fact was forcefully driven home to me last week at a meeting of people selected to interview local school superintendent candidates. Six of the questions I prepared before the meeting deal with technology and lifelong learning. One of the other people on the community representatives committee asked me seriously why I thought it was important for the school superintendent to be continually learning. To me, the answer is as obvious as why a banker should be able to count.

The community folks, however, apparently see no connection between a school leader who learns and the education students receive or the taxes residents pay. It does not occur to them that administrators whose network is limited primarily to people they know through face-to-face meetings are severely restricted in their access to ideas that can reduce costs while improving the school program. They don’t understand that the chief school officer who is not learning constantly cannot expect staff or students to learn.

There’s a culture war going on. We educators have to do what we say our 21st century students must do: Reach across cultures.