Buzzword-Rich Communication Language

School District of Philadelphia Board of Education Action Meeting Testimony

November 17, 2022

by Barbara McDowell Dowdall

Having been English Department Head at Murrell Dobbins (Dobbins/Randolph AVTS) from 1997 to 2004, I welcomed the opportunity to visit back for Dr. Watlington’s in person listening session there on July 13th. First delighted by the lovely renovations in the space called “library” but noticing that its shelves were empty of books* and remembering that like almost all our schools, there was no librarian. A retired Certified Teacher Librarian was present and raised that issue. Dobbins alumni, including several who had been volunteering at the school, were there in force and proceeded to speak forcefully about the needs of the school, in particular their concern for personnel to provide and maintain order in the halls during change of classes. How ironic and poignant to read in yesterday’s Inquirer that that concern had not only not been addressed, but that additional security needs stemming from there have mushroomed, yet been met with buzzword-rich communication language rather than clear and effective action from 440. Perhaps a pause in happy SDP and administration tweets would be in order until Dobbins, and every school, has been provided the sense of calm that effective learning requires.

And it was language, dropped casually by Dr. Watlington in his remarks that summer day at Dobbins: “of course there will be a need to rightsize” that set off alarm bells. Rightsize, a term from corporate America, frequent euphemism for downsize, and as has been applied in Philadelphia public schools (in close connection with outsourcing), to the detriment of our communities. Rightsizing if used in a positive sense could mean rightsizing to smaller classes in early years, rightsizing our functioning school libraries with CTL’s back to 100%, rightsizing the number of schools to provide an educational anchor in every neighborhood.

“…and best of all, the wilderness of books, in which [students] could wander, where [they] liked, made the library a region of bliss to [them].” LOUISA MAY ALCOTT, Little Women