September 17, 2013

"I used to believe that public school open houses required little more than the obligatory clean shirt with buttons and a swipe of lip gloss."

Says Dahlia Lithwick in a piece titled "Parents Left Behind: How public school reforms are turning American parents into dummies."

That made me wonder: Did I miss a memo about buttons?

I get "clean," and obviously one's upper body must be clothed, but is there a thing about buttons? Do buttons mean something?!

25 comments:

tangurena said...

You're about my age, and when I was a kid (I was a rotten example of one so perhaps you should delete this post), t-shirts were for gym class and not for regular school functions. And parents were supposed to come looking like they went to work, not like they came from the gym. The only people at my office who wear shirts with buttons are our age. Everyone in their 40s and younger wears t-shirts and hoodies. Oh lordie, I've turned into my parents. When did that happen?

I suppose the complaint is really a backhanded remark about how we've "declined". And how today's parents don't really seem to care what happens at school, as long as their little rug rat is not causing enough trouble that the parents have to talk to the principal.

Amy said...

i think she means button-down rather than a tee shirt.

Ann Althouse said...

I don't get it.

Lithwick is much younger than I am.

Ann Althouse said...

I rarely wear shirts with buttons.

I've been teaching in law school for almost 30 years.

Ann Althouse said...

"i think she means button-down rather than a tee shirt."

But there are many respectfully nice tops that don't have buttons.

To make buttons the symbol of respect... that amazes me! That seems like something from the 1950s.

Ann Althouse said...

It's a bit like in golf, emphasizing the collared shirt.

So old-fashioned!

John Lynch said...

The article is right about language drift. Educators now feel they have to cloak their activities behind a wall of jargon that's impenetrable to all but members of the guild.

I periodically go to my son's IEP meetings (there's an acronym right there. In English it means "progress report") and the various teachers, therapists and social workers are often surprised that I seem to understand all the big words they use. Apparently most of the parents do not, which makes me wonder why the confusing language is used at all. Why have a meeting with a parent if nothing can be understood?

That's exactly the wrong approach to take toward parents who aren't well educated themselves, let alone their children. It isn't really a meeting but a way to use power.

What I think is happening is academic drift. Increasingly educated teachers are bringing academic terminology into K-12 education as a way of asserting their status. Our society values verbal agility more and more, and educators aren't about to give up an opportunity to show that they are smart enough to teach our children, certainly smarter than parents are. Since no one wants to seem dumb, everyone goes along with it.

Lydia said...

Here are some photos of Lithwick -- she does seem partial to buttons.

Wikipedia says she Canadian, so maybe it's a Canadian thing?

Conserve Liberty said...

Thank heaven my youngest is 25.

Unfortunately she is a Ph.D. candidate in Eng. L&L - a 19th Century Americanist (you know, Melville, Emerson, Crane, Whitman and a bunch of other Dead White Men) - and is learning how to teach undergraduates.

DavidD said...

Just homeschool.

By the way, what do you call it when a homeschooling mother talks to herself? A parent-teacher conference. ;)

Carol said...

OMG, they're still pushing project-based ed, study groups - ? They were doing that a long time ago. Thirty years ago they were dissolving grade barriers and making the older kids teach the young, make them move their desks into circles and all that shit. Dumb kids coast along on the smart kids' work. Teacher friend told me it was bloody chaos, and so she retired.

Mark said...

That isn't what I saw at ours last Thursday.

I get the feeling that regarding all school systems as equivalent is the first falacy here. My kids school isn't perfect, but it is a far cry from hers.

Jane said...

Buttons, eh? This makes sense for men -- in the same way as I tell my boys to wear a collared shirt to church, but dressy/respectable blouses for women don't necessarily have buttons. I suspect she doesn't necessarily wear "shirts with buttons" but found that a convenient way of saying, "look respectable."

With respect to the article this isn't my experience at all. Guess I should be grateful.

wildswan said...

Maybe she meant "with [all the]buttons [sewed on] and no safety pins closing strategic gaps. That was always an issue in the days of buttons.

Ben Calvin said...

Apparently most of the parents do not, which makes me wonder why the confusing language is used at all. Why have a meeting with a parent if nothing can be understood?

The point of the jargon is to establish the authority of the teacher over the parent. You are expected to submit, not understand.

The U.S. spends more per student the any other country. But much of it gets sucked up in new programs and materials as well as the consultants, administrators and technology to implement them.

That is why your school may have a grand new "reading across the curriculum" or "project-based learning" scheme yet the teachers are still shelling out their own money on classroom supplies.

southcentralpa said...

"that amazes me! That seems like something from the 1950s."

This from the woman who wore a ballcap for the first time this past weekend and has declared short trousers for men anathema?

Something about that plank in your eye... ?

Joan said...

I usually detest Lithwick, but that one was good for a laugh. She's right about all the acronyms, but none of them are particularly impenetrable if you're smart and paying attention.

John Lynch, it's a stretch to call an IEP meeting a progress report when the fact that your kid has an IEP means his Education Plan is Individualized. I know a lot of kids have IEPs these days but still, the majority do not, and as a result, they don't get those team meetings. The majority of my students with IEPs need the accommodations to succeed (esp the accommodation for more time), but there are a couple where we all know that the IEP is in place because the parents are unhappy because their offspring can't make straight As.

A project-based curriculum if well planned and well executed could be brilliant. I haven't heard of one yet below college level.

Julie C said...

My favorite teacher jargon is "rubric". Jesus, I have heard that word only at school functions for the last ten years. Even the freaking PE teachers use that word.

Teachers. They want to be treated like professionals and paid like teamsters. What a world.

Freeman Hunt said...

I'm all about the collared shirt, and I haven't been on a golf course in at least a decade. Buttons all the way down can be problematic, unless you're going to have your shirts tailored.

But enough of shirts.

This article made me especially glad, for a moment, that I've bailed out of all that, and I don't have to attend anything like that, ever.

Some bureaucratic mazes one can solved by not going inside.

Henry said...

My approach to public school is to check that my kids are learning math and grammar then complicate all the other ideas they come home with. In their formative years they read Captain Underpants, so they are receptive to skepticism.

I worry about the jargon not a wit. There are certain forms they have to jump through. The school can set up the forms. I'm more interested in the learning.

Larry J said...

John Lynch said...
The article is right about language drift. Educators now feel they have to cloak their activities behind a wall of jargon that's impenetrable to all but members of the guild.


Within a group, acronyms and jargon become a shortcut to streamline communications. I've worked most of my adult life in or supporting the military (Army and Air Force). Even within the same branch of service, you'll find acronyms that have different meanings and different acronyms for the same idea. People think space is a vacuum but it's really filled with acronyms. Within the group, this is useful but it becomes a barrier to communications with communicating with others.

I periodically go to my son's IEP meetings (there's an acronym right there. In English it means "progress report") and the various teachers, therapists and social workers are often surprised that I seem to understand all the big words they use. Apparently most of the parents do not, which makes me wonder why the confusing language is used at all. Why have a meeting with a parent if nothing can be understood?

Basic communications theory says that there is the sender, the message and the receiver. If the receiver doesn't understand the message, it's the fault of the sender. If teachers can't translate or drop their jargon, the communications failure is their fault, not the parents. I don't expect them to understand my job-related jargon so they shouldn't expect me to learn theirs.

Peter said...

Well, Lithwick is trying to be witty and amusing, I guess.

But if she wants to get in a little deeper, an (appropriately sarcastic?) Edutalk-to-English glossary would be more informative (and probably more amusing).

lemondog said...

Yesterday at the mall at about 4 pm or so, I saw 2 boys, ages 8-10 range, in unusual dress of white shirts and black trousers playing in the parking lot. They were Asian and mom who came out minutes later looked somewhat strict. I was engrossed in wondering whether the boys went to a dress code school, or if the family had a self-imposed dress code.

re: buttons.......this ok?

Sam L. said...

Buttons: I'm guessing it means a shirt/top that buttons up--an adult shirt.

Educratese is designed to be impenetrable to parents.

paminwi said...

Teachers/educators use fancy words to make it look like they know stuff you as parents don't. It is to put themselves on a pedestal so you remember the hierarchy when you enter the school.

The best parent/teacher conference we ever went to was where you were to bring your child so he/she could hear the conversation about how things were going. We happened to be right after one family who had a very bright girl who was quite often bored and we found out that she actually told the teacher that (we did not find out till later in the evening about the comment). So when we went into the conference w/o our child and told the teacher our son was bored in class and that the project he was given to writing 1 million zeros to see what a million looked like was something he was not motiviated to do. He was given the project because I did not allow him to "teach" other students. Things didn't really go very well from that point on to say the least.

The kicker was the next day I received a phone call from the school principal and was told that we made the teacher cry and that we needed to come in and have a conversation with the principal included. To our amazement, the family that had been there before us the night before was before us in this special meeting to make the teacher "feel better" after our conferences the night before.

I remember thinking, really? we have to make the teacher feel better when he is failing our child? This among many others is why I hated public education and sent my kids to a private high school where standards were high and BS projects were not given when you were motivated above and beyond the regular curriculum.