Friday, 22 February 2013

The uses of jargon



Yesterday, we saw a regrettable outbreak of jargon being used in the comments on this blog. I have not the time to go deeply into the reasons why people use jargon. One common reason is to obscure the meaning of essentially simple ideas and so muddle up those who wish to debate them. Often, as a by-product, those listening to a discussion feel a little confused and overawed; thinking perhaps that because they cannot fully follow what is being said, it must all be very clever and above their heads.

Two assertions were made in the comments to yesterday’s post. One was an obvious, but misleading statement of fact; the other a wholly unwarranted conclusion which was presented as leading logically from the first premise. Needless to say, this initial premise was not stated plainly, but supported by  expressions such as;



‘intrinsically motivated process of identifying one’s impressions in conceptual terms, of integrating every event and every observation into a conceptual context,’



‘expanding one’s knowledge into an ever-growing sum’



‘no way of either knowing or controlling what knowledge is integrated nor how it is integrated’



‘driven by someone else's desire to create my inner map of a particular shape.’


What was being said, may be put in far clearer terms than this. What it boiled down to was that when teaching children, we cannot be absolutely sure which parts of the material being taught will be learned and subsequently remembered.

Now this is of course true. The conclusion which was reached though was an astonishing non sequitur. We cannot be sure which parts of what we teach children will be learned and remembered, therefore we should not teach children anything. I have seldom seen such an weak argument in all my life! Of course an equally valid conclusion would have been; we cannot be sure which parts of what we teach children will be learned and remembered, therefore we will take greater care with our teaching methods and try to modify them so that they are more effective. No wonder it had to be disguised with a lot of fancy language, so that that it looked impressive! In any case of course, even the first statement is irrelevant. We cannot, it is true, be 100% certain that the material we set before children will be absorbed, but we can vastly increase the chances of this happening. Let us conduct a little thought experiment. My aim is to cause thirty children to absorb thoroughly the approximate value of Pi. I also wish to ensure that they understand the concept and do not forget it.

If I announce in a quavering and reedy voice, half way through a maths lesson, that Pi is roughly 3.14; then I doubt many children will learn the fact. Suppose though that I set up a large picture, showing how Pi is derived from the ratio of the radius of a circle to its circumference? If I show this visual aid, while talking clearly about Pi and its significance, more of the children might pay attention and remember the lesson. What if I got the whole class to chant ‘Pi equals three point one four’ for half an hour? Does anybody doubt that the information would have a better chance of being retained? Or here’s an even better idea! Suppose that the pupils knew that those who recalled the figure for Pi and could explain to the teacher about how it was calculated, would be rewarded at the end of term with £1000 each? Does anybody doubt that we could make it more likely that this piece of knowledge would be absorbed by the children? What if they knew that their mothers and fathers would be shot if their children failed to learn about Pi? Would this help it stick in their minds better?

I am not of course advocating seriously any of the above ideas. Rather, I am pointing out that while it is impossible to be completely sure of getting a child to learn some information, the process of fixing it in the mind is not, as was suggested here yesterday, random. There are ways of making it more likely that what is taught to children will stay with them; sometimes forever. We only need to examine our own memories to see that this is so. I have information which was presented to me as a child, fifty years or so ago, which I have been unable to forget. It has truly become, to use the jargon, 'part of my inner map'! I never wanted or needed to know that the Plantagenets came before the Tudors, but under the threat of the cane; I managed to do so. I am sure we all have similar knowledge.

The real question is not an educational one, but an ethical consideration. It is not, ‘Can we teach children effectively, so that they retain much of what they are taught?’ It is really, ‘Should we do this?’ Is this better for their development and future lives than not teaching them?

34 comments:

  1. Simon wrote,
    "We cannot be sure which parts of what we teach children will be learned and remembered, therefore we should not teach children anything."

    That's not what was said, unless you only include instruction that has been solely determined by the parent within ‘teach’, since AE can clearly include teaching if the child asks for it (and mine did on occasion). I suggest that you read the comments again and query any particular points you are having trouble understanding or following. I think though that this is a perfect example of people attempting to teach something to someone who has not intrinsic motivated to learn it.

    As to jargon, it looks more like analogy combined with plain English meaning to me. I can't see any jargon, as in vocabulary peculiar to profession. As to the other meaning, language that is characterized by uncommon or pretentious vocabulary and convoluted syntax, I found their writing easy to understand and it has a reading level of about grade 13. Since a score of 22 and over is graduate level, I don't think we should have any trouble with this if we've provided a suitable education for our children up to school leaving age.

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  2. 'As to jargon, it looks more like analogy combined with plain English meaning to me. I can't see any jargon, as in vocabulary peculiar to profession.'

    'individuation issues' is a good example of the jargon floating around in the comments yesterday. Individuation has the ordinary meaning of selecting one thing from an array of similar things. In Jungian psychiatry, it has a specialised meaning; it is a jargon word. You say that the words used bore only their plain English meaning, then perhaps you would care to explain to me what is meant by a person with, 'individuation issues'? If, as you say, this is plain English, then this should not be hard.

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    1. Ahh, I see your point. I looked only at the main comment about learning, not the very short, single sentence comment by someone else that followed. I found the main comment very interesting - the short comment didn't really provide enough information to take futher. Did you have any trouble following the main comment? The one actually about learning rather than about the teacher.

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    2. And I notice that this is a newly introduced phrase. I responded to your blog post which only appears to quote from the main comment and a further response by the same writer. You appear to have moved the goal posts.

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  3. Simon wrote,
    “The real question is not an educational one, but an ethical consideration. It is not, ‘Can we teach children effectively, so that they retain much of what they are taught?’ It is really, ‘Should we do this?’ Is this better for their development and future lives than not teaching them?”

    I would say the real question is both educational and ethical. Is it ethical to provide an education in such a form that the child will retain less information and often reduce the desire to learn (as described so well be Einstein) when you have an alternative that encourages a love of learning and also tends to result in better retention?

    If you have decided you are going to teach some children some facts, then clearly a well presented and interesting presentation will be better retained and as you say, even fear can be effective. However, if the child has freely chosen to learn the material because they are interested in the topic at that point in time, they will retain even more information. Research into intrinsic motivation and my own experiences of mine and my children’s learning support this case. I suspect your own daughter’s education will too.

    This covers the effectiveness of learning, which leaves your apparent fear that leaving children to effectively select their own curriculum will leave dangerous or damaging gaps in their knowledge.

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  4. 'I suggest that you read the comments again and query any particular points you are having trouble understanding or following'


    Well, we could begin with the statement yesterday that;

    'Nobody can teach anything to anyone who is not intrinsically motivated to learn it'

    This is demonstrably untrue. My teacher managed to teach me the order of the royal houses of England without any intrinsic motivation on my part to learn them. The motivation, fear of the cane, was purely external and yet astoundingly effective. Half a century later, the knowledge still sticks! The statement that 'nobody can teach anything to anyone who is not intrinsically motivated to learn it' is a false one. I am sure that you know this as well as I do.

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    1. It may be untrue, but it's not difficult to follow!

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  5. 'I responded to your blog post which only appears to quote from the main comment and a further response by the same writer. You appear to have moved the goal posts.'

    There were no goal posts. I was talking of the use of jargon in debates. This is how I began the post;



    'Yesterday, we saw a regrettable outbreak of jargon being used in the comments on this blog. I have not the time to go deeply into the reasons why people use jargon. One common reason is to obscure the meaning of essentially simple ideas and so muddle up those who wish to debate them. Often, as a by-product, those listening to a discussion feel a little confused and overawed; thinking perhaps that because they cannot fully follow what is being said, it must all be very clever and above their heads.'

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    1. You clearly thought the writer you quoted was using jargon. I'm debating this particular point and disagree with your interpretation.

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  6. 'You clearly thought the writer you quoted was using jargon. I'm debating this particular point and disagree with your interpretation.'

    When somebody talks, as did the writer of whom you speak, of extending his or her, 'inner conceptual map'; then this is jargon and not plain English. The author means something quite particular by the expression 'inner conceptual map' and unless you are familiar with her philosophical beliefs, you will not really know what she is driving at. In other words, three ordinary English words have been combined to form a specialised term which most readers would not understand in the way that the writer wished them to. This is jargon.

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    1. I read it as an analogy. Knowledge being built up in the mind, like the gradual drawing of a map.

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  7. What an outrageous mis-statement of the commentator's position, selectively quoting and jamming statements together to arrive at an arguments the commentator never made in order that you can take it apart. You are shameless Simon, are there no depths to which you will not sink?

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  8. "The author means something quite particular by the expression 'inner conceptual map' and unless you are familiar with her philosophical beliefs, you will not really know what she is driving at."

    Absolute piffle.

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  9. "The motivation, fear of the cane, was purely external and yet astoundingly effective." You really are a silly, silly man. If you have remembered this teaching it is because you unconsciously valued it, and that being the case, you would have learned and remembered it anyhow, without the teacher and without the cane. The real question is - what other knowledge did you integrate at th same time. All kinds of messages about violence, coercion, authority that I suggest you would do well to bring to your conscious awareness. Your aversion to "touchy feely" may well have been unconsciously learned here.

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  10. "The motivation, fear of the cane, was purely external and yet astoundingly effective. Half a century later, the knowledge still sticks" y

    You do spout the most ridiculous nonsense. What triggers the recall is the strong emotional fear that is associated with to the knowledge. Something happened around the time of those facts being presented to make you fear the cane more than usual. It was not the mere presence of the weapon, otherwise you would remember 100% of what you were taught in school and I'd bet my last dime that you do not. A recall of circumstances around a strong emotional trigger is not "learning" in the sense that information integrated under normal circumstances is learning. A child with an interest in learning about the royal houses of England would not merely absorb a list of facts as you did but would put this learning into context, creating new concepts and deepening and extending existing ones. An inner map of reality. The knowledge would become part of the sum of knowledge that makes him who he is. And "who he is" would not be someone with an aversion to touchy feely engendered by violence or fear of violence. Have you considered therapy for your unresolved childhood trauma?

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    1. Along with those bald historical facts a whole raft of other knowledge and values were integrated. Knowledge about power and powerlessness, coercion and authority. Simon's attitude toward authority and toward learning as well as toward touch were internalised and formed at this time and it's very evident from his writing.

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  11. '"The author means something quite particular by the expression 'inner conceptual map' and unless you are familiar with her philosophical beliefs, you will not really know what she is driving at."

    Absolute piffle.'

    Well then, perhaps we could be told just what is meant by extending one's inner perceptual map; apart, that is, from the obvious meaning of simply learning something? If that was meant, than why not just say so? But hey, what do I know? I am clearly a man with individuation issues!

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    1. The inner conceptual map is not just knowledge but knowledge that has been integrated into self - one's internal map of reality. When one learns something new it is not simply added on to one's existing knowledge like an extension to a house, the brain has to wire in all the conceptual connections to everything it has previously learned - knowledge of some concepts becomes more extensive some more intensive extensive and more intensive. Earlier-formed concepts are integrated into wider ones or subdivided into narrower ones. The new knowledge literally becomes who you are...unless you think one's self-concept exists independently of all other concepts? The main reason for not having an agenda to "teach" is, imo, a moral one, and it is indeed connected to individuation. I do not wish my children to internalise a specific set of facts chosen by me or anyone else. Rather I wish to lay a feast before them and equip them with the critical and rational skills to choose according to their own inner promptings and aptitudes.

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  12. Once again, readers will probably have noticed that when the debate becomes brisk, those who disagree with me start being rude and turning to personal remarks.

    'are there no depths to which you will not sink?'

    'You really are a silly, silly man'

    ' You are shameless Simon'

    'You do spout the most ridiculous nonsense'

    Note also the attempt to portray me as somebody whose views are suspect because of some incipient psychiatric disorder! We saw this yesterday of course, when it was suggested that I am somebody with 'individuation issues' and now today it is followed up with, 'Have you considered therapy for your unresolved childhood trauma?'

    I will cheerfully return to debating this topic, once those commenting have calmed down a little. As far as I can see, there are two strategies at work here. One is to use peculiar and long-winded expressions such as are calculated to make things sound very grand and complicated. When this fails, personal abuse is resorted to. As I say, this really is becoming something of a leit motif on this blog lately!






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    1. Perhaps you should stop misrepresenting people and they then maybe they'd stop being pissed off with you.

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    2. From your comment above:
      'Note also the attempt to portray me as somebody whose views are suspect because of some incipient psychiatric disorder!'

      From your post of 2nd January:
      'for now I will say that nearly all the people one sees representing themselves as speaking on behalf of home educators either have, or claim to have, some kind of learning difficulty or mental illness. These range from dyslexia and attention deficit disorder to being bipolar and autistic.'

      From your comment above: 'this really is becoming something of a leit motif on this blog lately!'

      It certainly is! You began this leit motif on 2nd January. Now you are complaining about it?

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  13. 'Simon's attitude toward authority and toward learning as well as toward touch were internalised and formed at this time and it's very evident from his writing.'

    Yet another piece of cod psychiatry!

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  14. "Suppose though that I set up a large picture, showing how Pi is derived from the ratio of the radius of a circle to its circumference? If I show this visual aid, while talking clearly about Pi and its significance, more of the children might pay attention and remember the lesson. What if I got the whole class to chant ‘Pi equals three point one four’ for half an hour?"

    You over estimate how powerful you are. Research indicates that children retain only about 5%-10% of what they learn when "taught" this way and I'll bet that 5%-10% was exactly the amount that caught their interest.

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  15. "you might be able to discredit an opponent's views by hinting broadly at psychiatric disturbance" ROFLMAO, do you honestly think your views have any "credit" amongst your readership? I'm so sorry to disappoint you but as people have already told you, they come here for entertainment.

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  16. 'You over estimate how powerful you are. Research indicates that children retain only about 5%-10% of what they learn when "taught" this way and I'll bet that 5%-10% was exactly the amount that caught their interest.'

    You seem to be saying that if children are taught their multiplication tables by chanting them out loud, over and over again, then between 90% and 95% of them will fail to learn them by heart. Is this really what you are claiming?

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    1. What will cause these children to open their mouths and engage their voices against their will?

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    2. The only knowledge I have retained from school was what connected with existing interests and what is associated with emotional triggers. For example I was punished for getting my 8x table wrong and I can recall it vivdly - the punishment and the 8x tables. I came from a background where a lot of books and high quality journals were available and I would devour these so I had plenty of "connection points" or interests for school lessons to plug into. It was still massively inefficient imo. I forgot by far the most of what as taught and would have done much better left to my own devices. Almost everything I know now I learned by myself outside of school.

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  17. I am the parent of the calculus child and I thought I'd mention that my child freely and voluntarily learned and remembers times tables up to 100x100 just for the enjoyment of working with the numbers and the satisfaction of doing it.

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  18. 'the calculus child '

    It's probably a silly question, but who or what is the Calculus Child? I'm sure you are not really the barker at a carnival sideshow, but I have this vision of somebody crying, 'Roll up, roll up and see the original infant prodigy; the one and only, the amazing, the unbelievable Calculus Child!' Seriously, who is this?

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    1. Your memory is failing you, or maybe it's just an example of how little attention you pay to other peoples comments here. Here's a reminder:

      "My totally autonomously home edded child is studying A level calculus at college and is a straight A* student averaging 97% so far. Yes my child was completely self taught and no my child didn't do any GCSEs. Maybe Einstein is telling us that he could have done even better without formal teaching."

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  19. 'What will cause these children to open their mouths and engage their voices against their will? '

    That is, I think, a separate question. The contention is being made that if children are taught by being made to chant things out loud, then between 90% and 95% will not retain the information. This means of course that only around one in fifteen adults who were taught by this method will be able in later life to recall their multiplication tables. I am simply trying to find out if this is what is being suggested.

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  20. It isnt a seperate question at all. For a start those who did not fear you and did not wish to chant would not chant. Those who feared you but did not wish to chant would probably chant but then their fear of you and their emotional response to being so coerced would be integrate right along with the times tables. Those who wanted to learn their times tables would chant anyhow without your force. So which group are we discussing?

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    ReplyDelete