language · student engagement · teaching

Ten-cent budget

My grade 9 homeroom teacher, the fearsome Mr Uzwyshyn, taught me to eschew obfuscation. Actually, that’s not exactly true, because he taught me never to use a ten-dollar word where a ten-cent word would do.

(Also, he taught me to avoid cliche, so I should probably reword that last sentence.)

The point is: Mr Uzwyshyn, may he rest in peace, would have a stroke if he worked at the university today. And by “university” I mean mine and, I’m willing to wager, yours too.

For one thing, Mr Uzwyshyn did not believe in actioning things. In those days, we barely accessed things, and we certainly didn’t incentivize behavior. I cannot imagine what would he make of trending toward research constellations (a group of stars?) instead of hiding in our traditional silos. We did not blue-sky in grade nine homeroom. Low-hanging fruit was an insult, not an easy win. A win-win in Mr Uzwyshyn’s class meant explicitly not ramping it up, since taking things to the next level meant a visit to the principal’s office. (You can bet we hit the ground running.) He would not have understood the concept of synergy nor the constituency “stakeholders”; he was entirely uninterested in cultivating success on the bleeding or any other edge. His idea of competency was to teach us to speak in a way that did not cause anyone to shudder unpleasantly. That was, you might say, his vision and his mission.

Mr Uzwyshyn explicitly taught me to distrust the verb enhance. I can still hear him. He’d call one person up to his desk to read their essay aloud (sorry, Mr U, but non-sexist simplicity trumps noun-pronoun agreement) while the rest of us beavered away at grammar exercises on our own – yes, you read that right: no deliverables, just quiet grammatical work. In the midst of this silent toil, his impactful voice: “Say what you mean!,” he would boom at some luckless classmate. “How does the diction ‘enhance’ the meaning of the poem? Does it make the meaning clear? Say so! Does it make the poem stronger? How? Does it improve the quality of the writing? Demonstrate! Enhance is an empty word. Go back to your desk and rewrite your essay from the beginning!”

Good ole Mr Uzwyshyn. Never big on student engagement. But a helluva teacher.

2 thoughts on “Ten-cent budget

  1. Ha! I'm using the concept (and the term) 'silo' in my research a lot lately (identity silos) and I”ve been looking and looking for definitions and confirmations of it being used the way we all use it. Nope.

    That's what makes it extra jargony.


  2. The word “enhance” is just as used and abused these days at the UN! I come across it all the time and from now on I will always have Mr. Uzwyshyn in my head. Equally suspect: “comparative advantage”, “capacity building”, etc.–and you can see all used in one sentence combination in some programme's “Expected Accomplishment”: “Activity X will build on the organization's comparative advantage will enhance the capacity of member states in…”. Aid money at work!


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