Recently, my wife had a marked assignment returned from an online B.C. university course she’s doing. The assignment was for a humanities related course – something to do with Canadian history. One of her instructor’s comments was: “please make an effort to sound more academic in your writing”.
“And there’s the issue”, I said.
Why is it that institutions of “higher learning” insist that all students adopt a form of speaking that we would not use to speak to our children, nor to our neighbors, nor to our mechanic?
I get the fact that, yes, if we’re talking to our mechanic she might start using language that we don’t follow. However, I generally say “whoa, whoa, can you just show me what you’re talking about?”
“Sure, here’s your distributor cap, and under here is… bla, bla, bla.” And I get a great explanation and in the meantime learn a bunch about my vehicle.
“Ok”, I say. “What’s an immediate priority and what can we leave for a bit.”
Or, if I’m at my dentist… “yeah, before you fire up that awful sounding drill could we have a discussion about what you’re about to do… and what’s that going to cost when you’re done?”
I’m guessing that when you go to school to become a mechanic – they don’t say “please, use more ‘mechanical’ language”. Or, at dentist school, do they insist on explaining root canal in the most fog-like manner possible?
We should be teaching people – especially people in government, or any organization with a variety of ‘stakeholders’ – how to speak in plain language. No, this is not “dumbing” it down. Do you think Obama goes home at the end of the day and explains to his girls the challenges of humanitarian aid in a disaster zone through the language of logistics, economics and United Nations bureaucratic bafflegab.
Generally, the large majority of jobs in government – with the exception of many administrative positions (i.e. the folks getting the most work done every day) – require a university degree. Yet, as demonstrated by my opening – and by my own ‘academic’ experience – why use “we’ll get ‘er done” when you can use “let’s implement a strategic benchmarking indicator process that utilizes complex factoral best practices”?
Why go directly face-to-face in communities, when you can have another peer-to-peer workshop or seminar with breakout groups and PowerPoint 2011 – where everyone speaks the same language. Where, instead of falling asleep in the hotel at night with visions of “sugar plum fairies dancing in their heads”; one falls asleep with “polynomial saccharide benevolent mythical beings performing rhythmical patterned successions in the upper division of their body containing the brain….”
When government suggests “open and transparent process” – what does that mean?