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View Diary: The Enemy - "Groundswell" - New David Corn Scoop (212 comments)

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    •  Interesting question as everything written (17+ / 0-)

      for the Smithsonian is as a rule supposed to be written at a third-grade level.  And I'm not actually kidding.

      •  Non-sarcastic comment (28+ / 0-)

        Fancy language neither proves nor disproves that the content of the message is intelligent, relevant, or true.

        If you have something important to say, you can probably say it in language that a fourth grader can read and understand.

        Folks who use language that only a grad student could comprehend sometimes seem primarily interested in demonstrating their membership of an elite class.

        •  Got to admit, (14+ / 0-)

          I went to do my will this week and when the draft came through my brain wouldn't/couldn't make any sense of it at all.

          I'm going to have to go in feeling like a lemon and ask them to explain it to me in words that a five year old could understand.

          I know it was a bit complicated with me doing a trust and all, but it's my will, I should be able to understand it.

          Why do they do that?

          Ron Reagan: "Sarah Palin's constituency are people who wear red rubber noses and bells on their shoes."

          by AnnetteK on Thu Jul 25, 2013 at 03:58:14 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  I helped my Dad (who is a lawyer) retype (14+ / 0-)

            and revise a land lease recently and it was so mind-numbingly repetitive and dull that I thought I might go insane about half way through the project.  Fortunately for me, I know how to cut and paste - lol.  Also, fortunately for me, I ultimately opted not to go to law school because while I can actually read these documents and the law with some ability, I find it incredibly boring and have to really work to pay attention.

            The thing is that when you read a will or a lease (and we were talking a super simple lease that was ten pages long), you have to remember that they aren't actually documents that are written to the parties as the audience.  The target audience is the court and the legal beagles.  If you don't write your text with them in mind and with the laws in mind, you won't have a very strong document when and if you need to invoke some aspect of it.

            But, I agree, there should be a "translation page" - lol.  There should have been a page in the lease that said things like, "If the lessee (that's the renter) fails to repair the fences, the lease is void."  That one idea required something like three convoluted paragraphs in the legalese required.  

            •  A not-insignificant part (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:

              of law school is learning to read and write an alternate language whose only purpose is to make sure that people NEED lawyers for otherwise mundane tasks that could be solved by plain language and common sense.

          •  A relative calls it "reverse Shakespeare." (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            They want to be the only ones who can decipher the codes.  Then they have control over the rest of us.  And a lucrative "translation" business.

        •  There's a lot to your statement. (11+ / 0-)

          PR 101 says that you speak in plain language unless you are trying to convolute or confuse your message - and that's a strategy, too.

          But, FWIW, my experience was in trying to write videos about science for the Smithsonian and the limitations undermined the objective of teaching the subjects we were addressing well.  I suggested both a bibliography and a "dictionary reference" of sorts to overcome some of those challenges and was told in no uncertain terms "no".

          That experience explained to me why I had always felt that while the items themselves exhibited at those museums were great, what I was able to get out of the experience always seemed quite limited compared to other museums I had spent time in.

          So, it was more than "fancy" vocabulary.  It was also extended to concepts that were considered too sophisticated for at or below a third-grade level - which sort of does diminish the potential for learning at a museum.

        •  not so easy (10+ / 0-)

          I'm trying to write a high school biology online course that will be comprehensive, while still being comprehensible by 10th graders.   I end up with a huge glossary for each chapter.

          The sleep of reason brings forth monsters. --Goya

          by MadScientist on Thu Jul 25, 2013 at 05:55:57 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

        •  Goerge Will (5+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          DBunn, high uintas, elwior, AnnetteK, caul

          and his fancy words & bow tie come to ming

      •  I would guess it to be higher than 3rd, (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        AnnetteK, elwior

        but I'd still put it at elementary school level. The sad thing is that they have such interesting topics, and they could go somewhere meaningful with them. But they don't.

        •  Well, really the highest common denominator (5+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          AnnetteK, a gilas girl, Kit RMP, elwior, caul

          is third-grade at the Smithsonian.  

          You "would guess", but I would have had to work within the specified parameters on science exhibits that addressed geological science that most people do not learn until they are in seventh or eighth grade.  It was an interesting conundrum.  

          •  I was at the Natural History Museum (4+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            inclusiveheart, elwior, AnnetteK, caul

            in early 2010, and spent a fair bit of time with the geology and plate tectonics exhibits. Maybe your work was among them.

            I am pretty certain that few third graders would fully understand all of the text accompanying those exhibits. This is a good thing, as far as I'm concerned: there was enough visual interest to attract younger minds, and enough information in the texts to educate even a science-literate adult. Well done.

            Reading level is a difficult thing to gauge, especially if one wants to do so objectively. Measurements such as word length, syllable count, sentence length and complexity, etc. are often used to come up with numbers such as "third grade", "fifth grade", etc.; but the truth is, the "real" reading level of a given text may be several years above or below a computed score.

            (I don't think there's even universal agreement on what a "real" reading level would be: Does a third grade reading level mean that it's at a level of something that an average third grader would choose to read for pleasure? Or does it mean that an average third grader could, with some effort, read and at least partially comprehend the text? I suspect that most people think of the former definition of reading level, while many educators lean closer to the latter definition.)

            Let us all have the strength to see the humanity in our enemies, and the courage to let them see the humanity in ourselves.

            by Nowhere Man on Thu Jul 25, 2013 at 08:00:02 PM PDT

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        •  It's an overall government policy (9+ / 0-)

          called "plain language" and the goal is to aim for 3r or 4th grade reading level.

          Not because you believe people are dumb, but because this is the most effective and efficient way to ensure understanding.  Particularly if some form of behavior change is involved.

          Studies support this.

          Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. --Elie Wiesel

          by a gilas girl on Thu Jul 25, 2013 at 05:41:05 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

      •  That is because part of their mission... (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Dirtandiron, AnnetteK, elwior, caul

        is to entertain and educate the children of the tourist families.  Unfortunately, fewer adults without children go to museums than adults with children by far.

        A person's character is measured by how they treat everyone. Not just your pet group.

        by Tempus Figits on Thu Jul 25, 2013 at 05:18:38 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  Just totally bunk assertion on your part, (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:

          I am sorry to say.

          Please provide the studies to back up your assertions - the truth is that you cannot because none that I know of support the notion that there are roving bands of children unattended by adults.

          The rules pertaining to communications being at a third-grade level are not put in place for the reasons that you assume.

        •  I don't expect you to understand or accept (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          MHB, elwior

          what I am about to say, but the scientists who work at the Smithsonian actually do believe in education - and the mission of the Institution is to educate people.

          I don't expect you to understand, accept, or even support the idea that he Institution might enlighten and expand the consciousness of people who visit, but that was the original purpose of the museum system.  It is generally, the mission of most museums.

          But what I do expect is an honest discussion about what one should be able to expect from a museum system largely funded by government.

          I worked for and achieved along with a number of other very good and enlightened people gallery space to hang the Hiroshima bomb aftermath exhibit that Tom DeLay and Newt Gingrich successfully eradicated from the Smithsonian's exhibits.  We also worked on the Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit that first the Smithsonian intended to mount, but then was rejected by right wing Congress members and also rejected by the Corcoran School of Art.

          You want to talk about third-graders and tell me that they are the only consumers of important history and art?  You want to argue that the audience is to be protected?

          All you are saying is that you agree with the likes of these conservative rightwing groups that want to keep people ignorant and detached from pretty oppressive  forces that want their knee-jerk ignorant passion and none of their smarts.

          •  Its called lowest common denominator (8+ / 0-)

            They write so that the majority of their visitors will understand.  Since most are going to be either children on field trips or children with their parents.  That is what they write for.

            On a side note...

            WTF is wrong with this place.  A person writes that a museum writes its copy so that children can understand what is being written so that the greatest number of people that visit will be able to come out with new knowledge and that person is accused of giving excuses on why it is ok for Republicans to dumb down the masses.


            A person's character is measured by how they treat everyone. Not just your pet group.

            by Tempus Figits on Fri Jul 26, 2013 at 12:00:24 AM PDT

            [ Parent ]

            •  Well said. (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              elwior, gramofsam1

              It's very tough to express an opinion in any form or fashion around here anymore without getting attacked and/or insulted. The end result is that a lot of potentially useful input goes unsaid because people are reluctant to weigh in.

          •  It is laudable that they try to be inclusive... (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            (2 fifty cent words already).  While I think this may be an effective approach for many.  I wish they also had available the more in depth explanations and descriptions for the exhibits available.  This could be in the form of a guidebook you could purchase at the gift shop.  I would have bought that book.  Now a days it could be in the form of an ebook or an internal wi-fi database to read on your tablet reader or smartphone.

            My wife and I visited DC last year and we toured several of the museums.  I was disappointed.  It seemed like what I saw was museum lite, interesting exhibits with just a smidgeon of information and nothing to reveal the significance of the exhibit.  On some exhibits, I had much greater personal knowledge of the subject and there were others where I thirsted for that additional information.

            I guess that this is the way of the world now.


            Holy Cow!!! 06/18/2013 and I've got my mojo back!!!! A new signature will be written shortly.

            by Josiah Bartlett on Fri Jul 26, 2013 at 08:19:08 AM PDT

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            •  They used to have tape decks in the 80's. (1+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Josiah Bartlett

              Which was the last time I visited DC and the Smithsonian Museums.  It used to be that you could rent a tape deck that had a recorded walking tour.  I'm not sure what was in them as I was alone, 16-17, while my Grandfather was at a Doctors Convention and only had enough money on me to either get one of those or a lunch.  I chose lunch.

              A person's character is measured by how they treat everyone. Not just your pet group.

              by Tempus Figits on Sat Jul 27, 2013 at 02:57:01 AM PDT

              [ Parent ]

      •  Smithsonian (4+ / 0-)

        That's okay because museums are about education. So making it so children, people who don't speak the language, or even people who are not super intelligent sounds like a good idea, so everyone can understand.

        Where are all the jobs, Boehner?

        by Dirtandiron on Thu Jul 25, 2013 at 06:07:21 PM PDT

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        •  FWIW, the rule constricted education (3+ / 0-)

          because the concepts presented had to go through the filter.  The fact is that the science we were working on when I was creating exhibits at the Smithsonian were also subject to that low bar.  Since geology and climate aren't taught until seventh-grade on average, the restrictions on conveying information were interesting, to say the least.

      •  I read somewhere that major newspapers (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Kit RMP, elwior, caul

        and magazines tried to keep there articles at an 8th grade level. So I just googled it.

        Very interesting text on "readability"

        "If fighting for a more equal and equitable distribution of the wealth of this country is socialistic, I stand guilty of being a socialist." Walter Reuther

        by fugwb on Thu Jul 25, 2013 at 06:36:13 PM PDT

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      •  That makes sense (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        as it does have a large number of children visitors.  I would think you would want to make the experience well suited to as many visitors as possible.  

        "You have attributed conditions to villainy that simply result from stupidity"

        by newfie on Thu Jul 25, 2013 at 07:28:39 PM PDT

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      •  well they have a lot of kids coming thru (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        and the museum should be accessible to them, too.

        "There's nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires." - President Obama

        by fhcec on Thu Jul 25, 2013 at 11:23:41 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  It's part of my success (3+ / 0-)

        I am not kidding.

        I've been on numerous panels with other authors who begin pontificating about the Campbellian journey of each of their characters and blah blah blah...

        On one such panel, where a bunch of authors were takking turns out-psychobabbling and out-cryptically-referencing each other, the moderator, noting that the audience of around 500 was now comprised of 400 sleeping people and 100 gazing out the window, turned to me and said, "Well, Bob, what do you think?"

        My reply: "I just make shit up and people like to read it."

        Thunderous applause.

        And it's not about the audience being stupid or anything like that; it's about communication and intellectual honesty and letting the messages of the work speak for themselves instead of dressing them up in a queen's wardrobe of stilted nonsense.

        •  The point of a museum is to educate. (3+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          rubyr, elwior, grollen

          Now that doesn't mean that when you go into the hall of Old Masters you create some long Freudian diatribe about the "mind of the master", etc.  But you can and should be able to offer insights that would be unfamiliar to your audience.  Learning is not about looking at something you know and with which you are familiar.  

          Actually, the best example of a Museum that really offered an educational experience that I've ever been to was Musee D'Orsay.  The curators created a storyline with the art - it was brilliant.

          But I was working on what is normally a 6th/7th grade science subject and it was interesting how challenging it could be to try to describe a concept accurately whilst sicking at the third-grade level.  I felt strongly and still do that the learning experience could be multi-tiered with the first component being  third-grade "basics" - the second being high school level - and the third being suggestions for further study.  

          If you really want to stick with the the third-grade rule, then there's an argument to be made that most museums shouldn't even be in operation because while I totally agree that simple explanations are the best course when they are available, some concepts aren't simple and can be misrepresented or simply "wrong" when they are presented in an over-simplified fashion.

          We are dumbing down our society to the point where we are losing the ability as a nation to grasp complex concepts.  Life is not a multiple choice test written to a third-grade level, but that's how we are educating our children these days.  It is shameful.

          It also happens that that is exactly why so many people are susceptible to the messaging from groups like the one described in this diary.  People are no longer taught critical thinking as a tool for survival in this world.

          •  Excellent... (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            inclusiveheart, elwior
            We are dumbing down our society to the point where we are losing the ability as a nation to grasp complex concepts.  Life is not a multiple choice test written to a third-grade level, but that's how we are educating our children these days.  It is shameful.

            It also happens that that is exactly why so many people are susceptible to the messaging from groups like the one described in this diary. People are no longer taught critical thinking as a tool for survival in this world.


            "Southern nights have you ever felt a southern night?" Allen Toussaint ~~Remember the Gulf of Mexico~~

            by rubyr on Fri Jul 26, 2013 at 06:35:14 AM PDT

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          •  There is a profound difference, however, (5+ / 0-)

            between plainly speaking and dumbing down the concepts explained.

            As for your point about the dumbing down of society, I agree, but I must point out a chicken-and-egg fallacy - if the average IQ is 100, about half the people you meet...

            Society isn't being "dumbed-down" any more than it was before (Gilligan's Island, Lost in Space, etc.), I think, but what is pernicious now is the ability to use language to obfuscate truth. Society is being CONFUSED, and purposely so.

            •  I do think that we as a society have (3+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              elwior, AnnetteK, grollen

              become limited in our thinking about what intelligence is - the realm has narrowed.  I've known shipwrights that weren't so great at reading or writing, but were brilliant at crafting pieces of a puzzle - problem-solving in their realm - and being really smart and creative about it.  They didn't have super IQs, but they were smart as hell in their own way.  Of course, most were from places like Canada and the UK where trades are still considered valuable skills to have.  We seem to think that if a kid isn't going to be a science wiz or lawyer, they're not so valuable.

              In any case, I agree with plain speak.  I used to have a client who would call this one guy who worked for him in after we presented to him to have us present to the guy all over again.  The reason he did that was because that guy was the most obtuse and slow witted guy in the company.  He figured that if that guy understood what we had done then we had a winner.  That was smart on my client's part.  

              The key to communication is knowing your audience, but at the same time you have to keep your eye on the ball and make sure that the information you want to communicate stays in and also is accurate.

              •  Yeah, we're on the same page. (4+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                inclusiveheart, elwior, AnnetteK, grollen

                I once worked for a guy who was semi-literate, at best. He couldn't begin to express himself.

                But put some river stones in his hands - this guy was an absolute marvel at building stone walls (you know, the kind you see all over New England). A true artist.

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