Unacceptable Language

There are many vomit-inducing consequences of the marketisation of education systems across the world. One of the more pungent is the continued use of inane vocabulary applied to nuanced and complicated situations.

Now, I’ve come to expect it in the UK; in the public services, we surrendered to manager-speak and jargon many years ago. But I’ve been shocked by its increasing use here in the UAE.

In particular, I bring the word ‘acceptable’ to the courtroom for (hopefully) a long jail sentence in solitary confinement.

Does anyone use the word ‘acceptable’ anymore?  Rather like the equally emotionless term ‘adequate’, its chief use is in its antonym form – ‘unacceptable’, and ‘inadequate’. That says a lot already – words with largely negative consequences. How would you feel to be labelled publicly an ‘acceptable person’, an ‘acceptable mother’, or an ‘acceptable friend’? You’d feel pretty rubbish, I reckon. Talk about being damned with faint praise.

My great friend, Musa Bangura (pictured above, and a very acceptable friend), who is both wonderful company and possibly the most unreliable teacher in pedagogical history, gives true meaning to the word. Musa was busy munching through a huge burger during a barbeque in honour of my son’s football team and their families. The assembled mums and dads noticed that Musa had a look of intense concentration on his face, oblivious to the frivolity around him. The team coach called out, ‘You look like you’re enjoying that, Musa!?’, to which his reply was, following a trademark dramatic pause,

‘It is acceptable.’

Case dismissed.

Away from the UAE, and back in the UK, my other candidate for immediate death by stoning is the phrase ‘coasting school’.  It describes a school where examination results have stayed the same for several years, and progress is ‘acceptable’. Whichever bright young SPAD invented this phrase, he or she has clearly never worked in a school. Perhaps it harks back to a Govean world when the headmaster threw his feet up on the desk and opened the Daily Telegraph, puffing away on a pipe as he read. Or when clusters of masters would abscond to the pub on a Friday lunchtime to welcome in the weekend, leaving their pupils to complete exercises from their Haydn Richards textbooks.

It just doesn’t happen anymore. Schools are more like factories now, stuffed full of people working extremely hard on the production line – they may be doing it wrong sometimes, but they will not be ‘coasting’.

The use of crass terms like acceptable and coasting school serves only one purpose. To drive creative and intelligent risk-takers out of education and into something where their work is free of lazy, managerial jargon.

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