Bad Word in Education

Educational bureaucrats are now at war with the word “to understand.” Who knows why? There’s never any reason behind these fads.

We now have a group of paper-pushers who pore over syllabi and other paperwork, culling out phrases like “the goal of this course is to understand how ABC interacts with XYZ.”

In case you think this is arbitrary and absurd, remember that that’s precisely the goal.

13 thoughts on “Bad Word in Education

  1. It’s been that way for a long time at my school. I can write literally anything except “understand” in a curriculum document and it will be fine.

    Good: “Students shall be able to solve problems in optics.”
    Bad: “Students shall understand optics.”

    The first sounds more concrete, but there’s such a huge range of possible problems to solve in physics, and such a huge range of ways to solve problems and levels of difficulty, that in fact it means absolutely nothing to people in the field. Those of us who know the field know that it’s an empty statement, the most minimal of possible summaries. But those outside the field don’t know shit and think I’ve achieved some great enlightenment, using an Action Verb instead of the dreaded U-Word.

    I called it out several years ago.

    My favorite part:
    “Also, when you’re evaluating rubrics and learning goals for programs outside your field, and it’s 2 a.m. and your report is due soon, are you really paying attention to anything besides the presence or absence of “action verbs”? Be honest. Are you truly interested in assessing the students’ learning of my subject, or are you really just checking my competency in the use of those verbs? If my mastery of parts of speech is all that you care about, can’t you just peruse my publications? Or should I also dig up my GRE verbal score from 20 years ago?”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was also told today I’ll have to use “rubrics.” I have no idea what they are and a strong suspicion I won’t enjoy learning about them.

      Thank you for confirming my story. I have a feeling people outside of the American education system believe I’m inventing these things. As if somebody without strong sociopathic tendencies could invent something this bizarre.


      1. “I’ll have to use “rubrics.””

        Some years ago when we had visiting Fulbright teacher aides I remember one was purely crazy about the word ‘rubric’ and used it obsessively about any kind of guideline or instruction or…. lots of other things too. It was very odd….

        Liked by 1 person

        1. My favorite is “negotiate.” One job seeker I met kept saying things like, “My research attempts to negotiate the many meanings produced as we negotiate the complexity that is negotiated among these different groups.”

          She wasn’t hired.


      2. A rubric is usually a one-page list of evaluation criteria. Not a terrible thing in principle, but the biggest enthusiasts for rubrics believe in surrendering your professional judgment and living strictly by what’s on the page.

        They also insist that we need to be flexible and open-minded so we don’t exclude anyone who doesn’t fit our “conventional” notions of merit.

        And they don’t know what cognitive dissonance is.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. ” can write literally anything except “understand” in a curriculum”

      It’s like they have no theory of mind…. what an odd turn for educational bureaucracy to take….

      Does Bauman have anything about that? It seems everywhere…. as someone pointed out in the 1960s Black people were described in terms of Soul and now it’s just bodies…. words cause physical harm (and what the person using them was thinking is irrelevant)

      I am just hating so much of the modern world…


  2. Oh, they’ll have their knives out for all of those horrible Japanese books that are used to teach Japanese at American universities …

    Nearly every one of them starts out with that “yo entiendo” thing I mentioned previously, and so they’ll start with hating “wakarimasu” early in their dysfunctional Japanese learning pursuits.

    “Wakaridenai deshita yo!” 🙂


  3. At my place (in UK), initially “understand” became bad but “analyse” was good. Then “analyse” became bad but “problematise” was good. Then “problematise” became bad but “articulate” was good. Then… you get the picture.
    Last month I had a new course proposal to submit and actually dedicated zero effort to writing


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