Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Blowing Smoke

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Blowing Smoke

Article excerpt

We live in such a haze of information that I sometimes wonder if we ever really know where we are--much less where we're headed. And while the information that reaches me comes through variety of media, it's most often in the form of a torrent of words.

And it's not just the politicians and policy makers who are guilty of clogging up the channels with junk. The "spokespeople" are at least as bad. Here's a particularly outrageous example from the "official" response of Ford Motor Company to having its debt downgraded two notches: "We remain committed to accelerating our business plan." If that actually means anything--which I sincerely doubt--run, don't walk, to your broker and sell anything associated with the company. Wasn't the business plan in any way connected to Ford's present predicament? If so, "accelerating it" might be the worst thing to do.

But everybody reading or hearing those words knew that they didn't really mean anything. They were official smoke, like the smoke beekeepers use to quiet their hives. Happy talk to help insulate the company from any consequences with consumers or investors.

So I always find it refreshing to come across an example of people using words honestly, paying serious attention to them and what they mean. Consider two samples I drew up, not quite at random, from the media stream passing by as the New Year began.

First, the Florida Supreme Court (where have we heard about that body before?) struck down that state's voucher program for students who attend "failing" schools. Why? Because the Opportunity Scholarships Program "violates" the language of the Florida Constitution: "Adequate provision shall be made by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools." Pretty clear language, it seems.

It's possible, of course, to argue that most of the adjectives in that list aren't being exhibited in any fair measure in the public schools across many states. …

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