Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Newspeak in Howard County

Spotted in a teacher's lounge in the Howard County Public Schools:
Rigor = Vigor
Really? Now teachers have to make bulletin boards to encourage eachother to do things they already know to be false? Really?
Do you remember "Newspeak", from George Orwell's novel 1984?

Newspeak is the fictional language in the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, written by George Orwell. It is a controlled language created by the totalitarian state as a tool to limit freedom of thought, and concepts that pose a threat to the regime such as freedom, self-expression, individuality, and peace. Any form of thought alternative to the party’s construct is classified as "thoughtcrime". (from Wikipedia)

For a side-by-side comparison on the definitions of rigor and vigor, please look here. One has its roots in death, the other in life. Anyone with basic dictionary skills can work that out. The sign I saw was a part of an ongoing bulletin board project exhorting teachers to ramp up rigor. It made me sad.

And it made me angry. Teachers go to school for advanced training in the field of education, and once they graduate they go to work in a system that treats them like simple-minded children or worse. No wonder fewer and fewer college students are choosing teaching as a career. Who in their right mind would choose a field where there is so little autonomy and respect?

I have enormous respect for the teachers in our school system. We should be treating them as valued professionals and partners in our community life. We should be listening to their ideas, not asking them to commit professional malpractice by forcing them to engage in questionable "Newspeak" and making them focus their efforts around high stakes testing rather than the growth of our children.

When rigor is defined as vigor, and testing is defined as education, we know we have reached an Orwellian state of affairs. Is that what we want in Howard County, a Ministry of Truth?

Meaningful progress comes not from bulletin boards or standardized tests but from partnering with parents and teachers and empowering them to be a part of the solution. I think it's time to ask those in power to go back to school--to listen. And learn.







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