When something stinks, simply changing its name doesn't make it stink any less. Over time, you just create another synonym for "stinks."
Take remedial education, for instance. As a two-year college writing instructor for the past 23 years, I've taught numerous sections of remedial composition for students who failed to master the basics of written communication while in high school. And I've encountered plenty of other students, in my college-level courses, who should have been in remediation.
Only we don't call it "remediation" anymore. Over time, the word "remedial" came to mean "really stinks," so we changed the name to "developmental." But it didn't take long for that term to become pejorative, too, so we had to change the name again, this time to "learning support."
Don't get me wrong I don't mean the courses themselves stink. A lot of first-year college students really need remedial courses in writing or math or both. They're fortunate to have an institution like Georgia Perimeter College nearby that does such a great job teaching those courses and helping them acquire the skills they need to move on. A surprising number actually end up graduating from college, or at least running for public office.
I'm just saying that, from the students' point of view, finding out that you need to take a "learning support" class instead of going right into college-level course work would really stink. It doesn't matter what you call the class itself.
Another example that we're all extremely familiar with is the epidemic of trailers at public schools. While teachers and students no doubt make the best of a bad situation, I think everyone would agree that it kind of stinks that some kids have to attend class in trailers except maybe the school principals, who in some systems (rumor has it) get paid hefty bonuses when enrollment spills over into the parking lot.
Of course, for that very reason the fact that they stink we can no longer refer to portable classrooms as trailers. They're "modular learning environments." For those who don't speak educationese, allow me to interpret for you. It means "really stinks."
Now we have the Obama administration calling its latest round of proposed government handouts a "jobs bill." Gone is the term "stimulus package," not only because it manifestly failed to stimulate anything except, perhaps, Nancy Pelosi's facial muscles, which is no small accomplishment but because it basically kept reminding people of just how bad the economy stinks these day.
But jobs? Who doesn't like jobs? And a bill that creates jobs why, what could be better than that?
Except that, as most of us realize and the rest probably suspect, it won't produce a net increase in jobs. And the billions we spend on the attempt will merely make the situation stink that much worse.
How's that for remedial economics?
Rob Jenkins is associate professor of English and director of The Writers Institute at Georgia Perimeter College. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.