College Quarterly
Fall 2007 - Volume 10 Number 4
Reviews EdSpeak: A Glossary of Education Terms, Phrases, Buzzwords, and Jargon.
Diane Ravitch
Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2007.

Reviewed by Howard A. Doughty

The title is attractive. It hints at a certain edginess. For those of us who have listened to educational hucksters selling “student-centred education,” “affective objectives,” “key performance indicators,” “behavioural exit standards” and the ubiquitous and generally silly concept of “mastery” for more decades than we can remember, a ribald exercise in lexicological muck-racking seems long past due. Unfortunately, in this case, the edginess ends with the first word of the title.

EdSpeak is just what its subtitle implies that it is – a useful compendium of words and definitions that may be unfamiliar outside what is now called the “education community”; moreover, it is not bad. As a collector of stodgy reference books including encyclopedias, dictionaries, handbooks and book-length glossaries on subjects from psychiatry to sports, from religion to letter-writing and from Earth sciences to Irish literature, I am happy now to have an up-to-date guide to conventional terminology about teaching and learning.

Sort of … for although there is much useful information here, I also have a few concerns. One is that many of the terms as well as the individual philosophers and practitioners of education that are identified are exclusively American. This is not a token of anti-Americanism disguised as criticism. Dr. Ravitch, after all, writes primarily for an American audience, and it would be unfair to chastise her for being inattentive to other domains. It is also to be expected, for the author is a distinctively American educator of extraordinary virtuosity. She served in the administrations of both George H. W. Bush and William Jefferson Clinton. She has eight honourary degrees. She charges a minimum of $10,000 for a speech. She is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution (liberal by American standards) in Washington, and at the Hoover Institution (conservative by any standards) in New York. She is nothing if not accomplished. The result, however, is a thorough and meticulous work, comprehensive without being pedantic that might have better informed her American readers had more consideration been given to external sources. Still, it is a volume that would be useful to keep by your side when listening to a presentation at your local school board or in a teaching and learning seminar.

A far more important criticism is the degree to which her much-praised even-handedness obscures important issues. Considering entries starting with the letter “A” I begin by worrying some about her entry on “adult education.” It is minimally adequate, but it gives no hint about the struggle to achieve educational support for working class self-improvement. Dr. Ravitch is an educational historian, but she ignores the great battle that was waged in the United States and elsewhere to bring enlightenment to ordinary people. A little more history might have been helpful.

In addition, her treatment of “academic freedom” is a trifle anemic. There is no hint that this was, is and will remain an essentially contested concept, the definition of which is a subject of deep political controversy. Dr. Ravitch, however, discusses it as if a consensus about its meaning is currently available; it is not.

There are also a few points of admittedly marginal interest. She speaks, for example, of “Afrocentric” education, which has become hot topic in some Canadian quarters as people point out that there is no “o” in Africa, and insist on “Africentric” education instead.

Similar questions and issues arise with the letters “B” and so on; they ought not, however, to colour unduly the judgment of this handy volume. Nevertheless, we shall have to wait for a book that is not only useful, but witty and wise as well.

Howard A. Doughty teaches in the Faculty of Applied Arts and Health Sciences at Seneca College in King City, Ontario. He can be reached at


• The views expressed by the authors are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of The College Quarterly or of Seneca College.
Copyright ©
2007 - The College Quarterly, Seneca College of Applied Arts and Technology