66/365 Stop Hacking Things (If that’s What We’re Doing at All)

Image from the movie Hackers

My first hackers

Remember about a week ago when we could talk about “innovation” and be cool? Those were the days.

I’m not sure what the half-life of a buzzword in education is these days, but I’m thinking, as private companies start to catch up with the markets opened up by new media in education and their marketing departments start to push out more glossy 1-pagers at conferences, the life of an edubuzzword is likely to be diminished.

The next word on the chopping blog…er…block is likely to be hack. Look at the next conference program you’re handed and chances are some panel or another will be hacking curriculum, professional development, assessment, recess, technology, school lunches…

It’s as though education has been given a shiny new ax and been set free on language to hack as we please.

I don’t mind all this hacking. I’ve been known to profess doing a bit of it myself. What concerns me is that we might not be hacking when we say we’re hacking, and we might not be hacking what we say we’re hacking.

Such uses are bound to dillute the terms as we’ve diluted 2.0, read/write, next generation, and 21st century before.

I suppose, in an era when pundits, politicians, and other leading personalities bandy language around as though it has no meaning, such a carte blanch approach is to be expected.

I also understand the arbitrary nature of language. The word tree and an actual tree have no inherent connection. But, this fragility of vesiles should mean greater care in our use of them, not less.

Yes, hacking is a simple term, and no great harm will come from its dilution into its mass application outside of context and thoughtful use. When we do this to words, we dimish what they can do.

21st century barely made it to its namesake with any of its spirit intact. At this rate, we’ll be making the case for 45th century skills by 2025.

Hacking is a thing, and hackers do a thing. Saying we are hacking a subsection of education like classroom management when we mean questioning classroom management approaches, researching proven effective practices of classroom management, and developing plans for the implementation of those practices of classroom management misleads others about what we hope to accomplish and makes it more difficult to call hacking hacking when we truly intend to do it.

Language will change, and we will always ask words to do new things. Applying those words because doing so is in fashion is not engaging the full set of tools with which we are equipped. It is not even a race to the bottom. It is a race to the popular.

One thought on “66/365 Stop Hacking Things (If that’s What We’re Doing at All)

  1. Interpolated by this blog post, so here I am…

    And yes, as someone who has “hack” and “education” as part of her online presence, I do think about this a lot — the messiness and the precision (or lack thereof) of what we might mean by the term.

    I think too about the ways in which this phrase “hack education” has spiraled far outside my “brand” — it’s used for a Facebook and Gates Foundation-sponsored hackathon, it’s used by books whose theses I opposed, it’s used on t-shirts and slogans and conference headlines (I didn’t trademark it so… yeah… whatever… hack away…)

    When I think and talk about “hacking” — and I hope I recognize this sufficiently on my own site — I know full well that it is a term that has so many meanings: from cutting to the core (I like that definition — it is, um, “radical” which also means “to the root”) to the shoddy and sloppy and unsanctioned writer (which damn, i am that too some days).

    I do agree that we need to examine closely who is hacking and why and how and what we mean when we say “hack education” or “hack school” or “hack the system” or “hack the dissertation.” The verb “hack” is just a verb — it doesn’t include all the adverbs and objects and subjects that I think you and I would want it to. As a verb, it doesn’t encapsulate enough of the thrust of our action, our politics, our diagnosis, our disassemblage, our building, our production…

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