Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Districtular poppycock: our “vision” and our “mission” and our tolerance of twaddle

     (First in a series: see District and college goals and values.)

     Gosh, what’s the SOCCCD all about?
     The district has an answer, an official one. It is contained in the district’s “vision” and “mission,” which are prominently displayed in such lurid documents as “Fast Facts.”
     Much effort went into crafting these things. Committees were formed, votes were taken, etc.
     They’re stupid. Our so-called “vision” isn’t a vision at all. Rather, it’s a purpose, which is OK, but you’d think college types would take care to choose the right word. (Perhaps we're required to use this word by the dunderheads that be.) Meanwhile, our “mission” is a “mission,” I guess, but it’s pretty much the same as the purpose—er, the vision.
     And what they’re saying is so fucking obvious and trite that, well, they’re just about worthless.

* * *
Our Vision: To be a leader in exemplary teaching and learning, student success and community partnerships.
     I'll start with an observation. First, this “vision” seems to be (largely) about what is true of the district now, not what the district hopes to achieve in the future. To suppose that it identifies hoped-for ideals is to suppose that its authors think that exemplary teaching and learning are not (yet) going on at the colleges. The authors think no such thing (and neither do I).
     On the other hand, it’s clear that our trustees, or at least some of our trustees, hope to promote “community partnerships.” That's a buzzword and it's full of undeserved positivity. That they're promoting such things implies that we can do better than we are now doing in that regard. And so this “vision” seems confusedly to mix a statement of what we have achieved (and what we intend to continue to achieve) with a statement of aspiration. Apples and oranges, if you ask me.

The word “vision”:
     OK. Let’s focus now on the word “vision” and how it is understood among speakers of the English language (so, you jargonauts can leave now). I reviewed the OED’s discussion of this word, and here’s what I found out.
     Presumably, the district’s vision isn’t literally the seeing of phenomena via eyeballs. “Vision,” obviously, can be metaphorical: seeing something but not by sight.
     What is seen by those with "a vision"? –Something “prophetic or mystical,” says the OED. Sometimes, a “highly imaginative scheme” is contemplated, i.e., something fantastic. Or something supernatural is “seen.”
     And so a “vision” is of something crazy or fantastic—or it is an occult glimpse into the future. When one has a vision, one is “seeing” what is not real. One does not have a vision of what is actual, factual, like the socks on one's bedroom floor.
     Of course, we sometimes speak of someone’s “having vision” rather than “having a vision.” Great political leaders (Churchill, L Ron Hubbard) are sometimes said to have vision. The OED defines this as an “ability to conceive what might be attempted or achieved….”
     Again, “vision” is of that which is not real or not yet real.
     But “our” (i.e., the district’s) vision is of good teaching & learning. Presumably, that’s what we’ve got now and hope to continue to have. So “vision” is just the wrong word for this blather.
     Ah, but then there’s that “community partnerships” part. Maybe that part of the “vision” is something we aspire to (i.e., we hope to have more of that sort of thing).
     Observe that, as far as the scholars at the OED are concerned, a vision is not essentially or particularly aspirational. Nothing I find in the OED discussion encourages the notion that a “vision” is inevitably or ordinarily of an ideal aspired to. Visions tend to be about the fantastic—the crazy or astounding or the metaphysical, not the merely good and desirable.
     I briefly consulted the Merriam-Webster Dictionary (online), which is American. It essentially agrees with the OED. According to MW, when one has a vision, one is seeing in “a dream, trance, or ecstasy….” Something “supernatural” appears and “conveys a revelation.” A revelation, of course, is of something surprising or fantastic. One does not have a revelation of an ordinary contemporary fact such as, say, illiterate educators.
     MW does include this meaning: “a thought, concept, or object formed by the imagination.” But this doesn’t describe our “vision.” Colleges comprise teaching and learning by definition; imagination has nothing to do with it.
     It seems to me that this thing that we are calling “our vision” isn’t a vision at all. It is what we hope to be (or to have achieved) and to continue to be (or to achieve). Perhaps it is our “purpose” (aim, function, chosen task).
     Here are two relevant meaning for “purpose” given by the OED:
1. That which a person sets out to do or attain; an object in view; a determined intention or aim. [Examples are given from c. 1300 to 2002.]
2. The reason for which something is done or made, or for which it exists; the result or effect intended or sought; the end to which an object or action is directed; aim. [Examples given from c. 1350 to 1988.]
     We’re a college district. We ought to use the right word in a declaration putatively so important. We ought not to blather or burble.

Our “mission”:
     Let’s turn now to the district’s “mission.”
Our Mission: To provide a dynamic and innovative learning environment dedicated to student success and economic growth of the region.
     I don’t get it. Isn’t this just another purpose or goal, closely related to the one above? The words “dynamic” and “innovative” are flummery. The “mission” is referring, of course, to a “good” learning environment, whether it is “dynamic” (constantly changing) and “innovative” (new) or not. ("Dynamic" and "innovative" are just thrown in for buzzitude. It's the way of morons and advertisers.) A good learning environment would be one that would yield desirable (i.e., “exemplary”) teaching and learning.
     What about this dedication to “student success” codswallop? You’ll recall that, according to our “mission” (i.e., purpose), we are to be a “leader…in student success.” Part of our mission is to provide a “learning environment dedicated to student success.”
     The upshot: our “mission” is to provide a learning environment that secures our vision. I guess.
     What convoluted bullshit. What tommyrotten tripe!

The meaning of “mission”:
     Let’s turn again to the OED. The relevant meanings of “mission” are these:
• A task, an undertaking.
• A task which a person is designed or destined to do; a duty or function imposed on or assumed by a person; a person's vocation or work in life, a strongly felt aim or ambition in life….
     Here are the relevant meanings from MW:
• a specific task with which a person or a group is charged.
• a preestablished and often self-imposed objective or purpose [My emphasis.]
     OK, so, in the English language, a “mission” (in the relevant sense) is a task or a purpose.
     According to the district, our task (i.e., our “mission”) is to provide the kind of learning environment that yields student success (and “economic growth in the region”).
     Meanwhile, our mission—which is really our purpose—is to teach well, to have students “succeed,” and to partner with the community. (N.B.: only assholes use "partner" as a verb.)
     So what does all this boil down to?
     We want to teach well. We want our students to succeed.
     Yeah, and that would be good for the local economy.
     Did we really need all those committees to come up with this insipid balderdash?
     Next time, let's just ask my niece (she's ten) to scrape something up. She works cheap.


Anonymous said...

No, we didn't need those committees to come up with this. And I suspect some will fault you for being "picky" and hypersensitive to word choice. That is just a reflection of the "anti-intellectualism" that is pervasive, although not always apparent, in American culture and that brands as "suspect" and "professorial" anyone who pays close attention to language and its usage (reminds me of Karl Rove's famous derogatory comments about "people with Ph.D.'s"). And yet, you would think that those in academia should be particularly attuned to how ideas are expressed. Isn't that what we constantly tell out students in our writing classes? Words do matter, after all. That's how we construct reality. Perhaps the next time we revisit our vision and mission statements we will dig a little deeper and come up with language that actually means something.

Anonymous said...

Don't the Accreds demand a mission statement?

Roy Bauer said...

Well, as I said: "Perhaps we're required to use this word by the dunderheads that be." ACCJC = "dunderheads that be"

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post--and especially for "codswallop"! They would've done better just to write "blah, blah, blah." But that would've required sensitivity to the ridiculous jargon and blather which you so effectively send up.


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