From the Publisher: Up in Michigan

Where you stand depends on where you sit, as we well know. But now something else is becoming increasingly clear: Where you sit also can determine how you talk. And say what you will, how you talk does matter.

Just ask Timothy Boomer, a 25-year-old computer programmer from Detroit. Sitting in a canoe last summer got him in deep water–or rather, not sitting in it. As he was paddling down Michigan’s remote Rifle River last August, he managed to fall out of his boat and into the drink. Last month, a Michigan jury found him guilty of violating a 102-year-old state law against swearing in front of children.

Boomer, his attorney conceded, had been tippling a brew before tipping the canoe. As he spluttered to the surface–a torrent of obscenities flooding from his mouth–a sharp-eared local deputy nabbed him. At least one other boater had been drifting by, it seems–along with the wife and kids. That’s all the deputy needed to invoke the 1897 law. In spite of a spirited defense by the American Civil Liberties Union, Boomer was found guilty on June 11 by a jury in Michigan’s rural Arenac County. At press time, he was facing up to 90 days in the cooler.

Dripping with larger meaning, the case of the cussing canoeist should be a lesson to us all. It’s high time we watched our mouths. I sometimes worry that information technology (IT) directors in education might be America’s most endangered speaker species.

The eloquent Trevor Shaw, author of eSchool News’ brand-new column on the rigors and foibles of network administration (see “IT Happens,” page 26) knows this all too well. His inaugural column offers much-needed counsel to IT directors (and others) on the perils of communicating with the technically challenged.

In education, it seems to me, IT directors face the threat of a double whammy. That is, they bear twin linguistic burdens: Being both technologists and educators, they risk falling into the murky depths of either educationese or technospeak (or both!) — tongues widely considered obscene by a plurality of peers both within and outside of Michigan.

Fully initiated educators long have possessed the power to cloud the minds of those outside the order. For instance, just give this passage from an educational journal your best metacognition: “General cognitive processes make up the substance of the thinking enterprise. . . . One especially important cluster of processes is metacognition, the self-monitoring and self-adjusting of the ongoing thinking process by the thinker.”

Now add the magical mystery of technospeak, as in this lyrical excerpt from a web site for network administrators: “One specification. . . provides a common interface through which front-end analysis tools and programs can access OLAP engines. . . . The second specification, the Open Information Model (OIM), is a metadata classification and organization standard that was developed as part of the Microsoft Repository 2.0 effort.”

A truly gifted practitioner might be tempted to blend “metacognition” into a “metadata classification.”

Be careful, though. If you try saying something like that up in Michigan, you just might find yourself with Boomer–looking at hard time in the Arenac County pokey.

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