Oracy, Alzheimer’s, and Literacy as Candidates for Congressional Consensus

School Days, Robert Oliphant, EducationNews.org

Our most agreement-friendly target is that of improving our nation’s listening and speaking skills — measurably so.  Sometimes lumped together as “oracy,” these two skills are explicitly identified as major areas of concern, along with reading and writing, in the Common Core report, a multi-state document recently approved by President Obama.

For Republicans the importance of improving oracy skills is trumpeted by the outsourcing use of Standard Worldwide American Dictionary-pronunciation English (SWADE), especially in tele-salesmanship.  Certainly any voter who asks for the geographical location of the voice at the other end of a trouble-shooting call (often morphing into a sales pitch) will be impressed by the SWADE-talk emanating now from cubicles in Manila, Calcutta, Shanghai, Seoul, etc..

What’s important here is that today’s low level of American oracy is an economic threat to us, not just an educational concern.  Judging from the resentment that Carly Fiorina’s outsourcing of Hewlett Packard jobs (including tele-marketing), some productive oracy legislation might well get near-unanimous support from both Republicans and Democrats — surprisingly so and a major step forward.

Our second agreement-friendly target, Alzheimer’s disease, now has over 50% of us worrying about it, according to a Harris poll. Even worse, the National Institute on Aging predicts more and more cases as more of us grow older and start going blank on proper names, ordinary words, and figurative expressions like “the head of a procession” or “two heads are better than one.”

Right now we can take comfort in the terminological shift of “Alzheimer’s” to “senile dementia,” along with recently legislated equal support status for both mental health and physical health programs.  Overall, though, the probability of achieving consensus on an anti-Alzheimer’s program is rather low.  If researchers disagree, after all, how can we expect legislators to reach consensus on where to spend the taxpayers’ money?

Our third target, the improvement of reading and writing skills, has a high level of first-impression attractiveness — is there any American legislator who would vote against literacy?  But the measurement of those skills, apart from the New York Times daily crossword puzzle, has been and continues to be a legislative nightmare.

As far as measurement science (metrology) goes, dictionary-based authoritative calibration of measurement standards offers some hope, especially to supporters of W. Edwards Deming and ISO 9,000.  But the sheer magnitude of special interestedness would probably crush any legislative coalition, however well intentioned and eloquently prosecuted.

Practically considered, then, a consensus bill centering upon the measurable improvement of American oracy may not seem like much.  But it would certainly be an impressive start, along with signaling the voters that our legislators will be able in time to imagine and implement other consensual measures.

Certainly the possibility of reaching consensus has always been a tribute to the American legislative process and its noble practitioners like Franklin and Clay, enough so that each of us — bruised by the election or not — should wish our Congress well as it faces up to the future and its endless debates.

Used with the permission of EducationNews.org

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