Saturday, December 24, 2011

Name-Dropping Is Not Enough: faking it with buzzwords

Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven. -- Matt. 7:21 KJ
A graduate student asked me to recommend him for admission when I was an advisor in a university doctoral program. He was in his regular life a businessman as well as a long-term elected official in a nearby township where he was expected to decide on such things as policies and contracts.

I asked him, “Considering you’re already fifty-seven, why do you want to go to the trouble of studying to get a doctorate?”

He said, “Because I want to speak with authority on how our school district should be run, and not always be suspected of just trying to feather my nest with contracts.”

I said, “Anyone can appear to have authority if the audience is ignorant enough. And if they use impressive buzzwords. You know, both academia and the business world are full of them. I’ll recommend you with the understanding that – as much as possible – you'll convert those buzzwords into meaningful ideas and use them in a well-reasoned way. Your authority should be based on knowledge; not, BS!” He accepted and eventually became my dissertation student.

Schools and businesses are remarkably similar in many ways. Both in education and management, whether it occurs in the classroom or office, in a school system or in an entire corporation, lack of understanding, of resources, or of consensus is masked with buzzwords.

Words expressing the most profound of concepts can be reduced to a buzzword when they are used unthinkingly or merely to impress the ignorant. (Or to pass licensing examinations!) Some big concepts typically misused as buzzwords in education or business are, among many others: synergy, constructivism, team-player, reinforcer, measurement, accountability, win-win, knowledge, reward, market, research, post-modern, Foucaultian, Lacanian.

If you don’t know what something is or isn’t; or, where it might work, or won’t; or, what difference knowing about it makes, you aren’t speaking with authority.

To examine these issues further, see Using, Rather Than Merely Alluding To, Theory

--- EGR