Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Special Bonus Sunday Reading: ‘Keywords for an Age of Austerity’

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On Twitter Adam Kotsko pointed me to a great blogging series from John Patrick Leary: “Keywords for an Age of Austerity.”

1 – Innovation

2 – Stakeholder

2.5 – Learning Outcomes

Like the other words in this series—innovation and stakeholder—learning outcomes is a superficial concept that crumbles under even slight scrutiny. But its empirically verifiable meaninglessness conceals the zeal for empirical measurability that it demonstrates. And in the education world, these kind of measurements are only ever about cutting back.

3 – Nimble

4 – Entrepeneur

5 – Curator

The word’s combination of moral purpose and creativity aligns it closely with the “innovator” and the “entrepreneur.” In the most enthusiastic celebrations of each, marketing ingenuity and aesthetic imagination are scarcely distinguishable from one another.

6 – Conversation

7 – Silo

8 – Accountability

Measurement is key in enfocring the notion of accountability in schools, and it is what many critics of NCLB fixate on: the high-stakes testing regimes, teacher evaluations,  school grades, and so on. And yet there is something persistently vague about its usage. In my cursory reading of the text of NCLB, the term is never defined more clearly than it is above, except to specify that it refers to common standards and enforcement provisions. The law at times also seems to conflate the sanctions for failure—that is, being “held accountable,” or punished—with meeting the standard itself, or “being accountable,” a big difference.

9 – Content

10 – Sustainability

As a lifestyle and marketing term, “sustainable” can paradoxically express the same capitalist triumphalism—of an ever-expanding horizon of goods and services, of “growth” without consequences—that the conservationist concept was once meant to critique. “Sustainable development,” fuzzy as it is, was intended to remind us of the limited supply and unequal exploitation of natural resources. But if “sustainable” most literally means an ability to keep on doing something, its popularity as a consumerist value suggests that there is a fine line between “sustainable” and “complacent.” We can “sustain” grossly unequal cities—that is, they won’t fall apart utterly—with Lyft and Airbnb, rather than mass transit and affordable housing. For a while, anyway. Whether we will sustain our desire to live in them is another question.

11 – Civility

12 – DIY

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