Pedagogy: a word that really annoys me

Definition (from wiktionary):

1. The profession of teaching.

2. The activities of educating, teaching or instructing.

3. The strategies of instruction.

The first reason that the word pedagogy really annoys me is that it’s spelt wrong. If you are in the UK writing for a UK audience then I think you should use UK spellings unless you are quoting an author who is applying their own native spelling. So why can’t we stick to paedagogy? (My spell checker is really annoying me now by viciously putting a red squiggle under paedagogy). This might sound like the trivial rant of an aging pedant. Actually it’s the desperate cry of a weak speller trying to meet the standards expected by her tutors. The vagaries of UK versus US spelling have been one of the main stumbling blocks I have contended with studying for an MSc. I have never been a strong speller but I try and employ strategies to overcome this. But are what are you meant to do when academic articles are inconsistent in the spelling that they employ. I know English is a constantly changing language and I would not want to see it ossify, but if you’ve got a word whose spelling (in UK English at least) shows its Greek roots then that’s one of the strategies us poor spellers can use to get it right. But “pedagogies” and “paediatricians” in the same spelling system – its just confusing.

What is “pedagogy”? Some awful mash-up of Latin and Greek meaning a strategy for leading feet?

Paedagog on the other hand makes sense. Child leader, teacher.

The main thing that really annoys me about the word “pedagogy” (or more often “pedagogies”) is that it’s a word that is most often used by people who are not leading children at all. It has currency in the world of higher education where it is bandied about all over the place. 18 year olds may have many child-like qualities but they are not actually children. So the teachers going on about “pedagogies” are often teaching adults, which presents its own challenges. Those challenges are not the same as the challenges of teaching children whose ability to learn difficult concepts is developing as they grow cognitively.

So why use the word “pedagogy” at all? Arguably it captures the “strategies of instruction” element of the definition. But so does “teaching strategies”. I would argue that what you lose in having to type two words instead of one you gain in clarity. I am sure I am not the only teacher who hears the word “pedagogies” and has to mentally translate it. That, I think, is the nubbins of why it gets used so widely in particular circles. It is to make the user look clever and specifically cleverer than all us poor saps having to make a mental translation. In some circumstances I am all for using long words to look clever. I have been known to use the “epistemological” without a safety net. “Epistemological” is a groovy word for something that would be quite long winded in simpler English. “Pedagogies” is just…annoying.

Its annoying because of the disconnect between what it is describing and what it does in use. It is describing a process of helping learners but it actively impedes understanding.

Can’t we stick to “teaching”?

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One thought on “Pedagogy: a word that really annoys me

  1. Hi Amanda,

    Great post – it’s actually an even worse term than you suggest. In ancient Greece, a “paidagogos” was a slave who accompanied a child to school, made sure they received the right education, but did not necessarily know anything about education themselves (see http://hoodmuseum.dartmouth.edu/exhibitions/coa/re_high_ed.html). The term was most famously used by Paul in the Letter to the Galatians (3,24) where he describes the law as the people’s “paidagogos” until the coming of Christ.

    This suggests pedagogy would be about making sure children go to school and do their work. I don’t think that’s how most people in “pedagogy” would like to think of themselves. I agree with you that “teaching” is a perfectly good term.

    Yours for the revolution,

    Daniel

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