Friday, August 21, 2015

Mssion* (for Mission*)

The goal of the New York State Education Department is literally carved in stone on the southeast corner of the broadly colonnaded building that serves as its public face. It reads as follows: "Our mission is to raise the knowledge, skill, and opportunity of all the people in New York." Elsewhere it adds that "our vision is to provide leadership for a system that yields the best educated people in the world," but that mission had already missed its mark. Though it may be apocryphal, I've heard it said that the word was badly misconstrued by at least one unfortunate passerby who interpreted mission in its non-bureaucratic, street-wise sense. The use of the word vision may be similarly mystifying to someone in need of new glasses, too, who knows? But for me the biggest problem with that clunker of a sentiment is the word raise. It sounds weirdly condescending (like the controversial mural in Chancellors Hall, in which "a slave in a loincloth" is shown "rising up with a two-handed assist from a bearded white figure"), for one thing, or even ghoulish (a colleague wryly notes that "raising people," though they didn't exactly put it that way, sounds more like something zombies, mommies, or Jesus might do). It also just sounds wrong in general. You don't really "raise" knowledge, skill, or even opportunity. Increase, improve, promote or expand, for example, might have been preferable. Although raise is loosely synonymous and perhaps the lowest common denominator for all that follows. But if this were one of those confounding questions beloved by acolytes of the Common Core, I'd be looking for the answer: "None of the above." Why do modern educators always sound so stilted, awkward, and often ungrammatical in their pronouncements? Is it because nothing ever seems to be written in a thoughtful, meaningful way, but is instead cobbled together by committee and hobbled by euphemism? Or is that our mission has failed the "people in New York" when it comes to our "core" educational values? There was only one case of today's typo in OhioLINK, and 116 in WorldCat.

(One of two sculptures on the steps of the Education Building created by Charles Keck, 1875–1951, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid

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