“The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their right names.” – Chinese Proverb

There’s an axiom in the field of psychoanalysis that says progress can be made once a problem is named. Similarly, in the field of medicine, a proper treatment regimen can be prescribed once a correct diagnosis has been made. Analysis is necessary to find out what’s working, what’s not, what can be improved, and what should be discarded. In the field of marketing, that’s called market research…or is it market analysis?

And that’s the problem. Those involved in the process need to speak “the same language” so that each communicant can understand what is meant by the other.  Further, they have to know what words or phrases really mean so effective communication can occur. It helps to have a lexicon of significant terms in order to move everyone to the same page. So much miscommunication occurs because people might be talking about the same thing, but using different words to convey their message. If those terms are not understood by the message receiver in the same context in which they were presented by the transmitter, the results can be wasteful, harmful, or worse. It’s Communications 101…but since that class was usually taught at 8 AM, many students were probably half asleep when they went to class.

There’s a famous story about former FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover and an eager young FBI agent. The agent was concerned about individuals coming into the United States illegally from Canada, and prepared a memo as such to Mr. Hoover. The FBI chief, however, was very concerned with proper formatting of any correspondence directed to him, requiring a certain margin spacing around the top, bottom and sides of the memo. Apparently the new, enthusiastic agent never received those elements of style, and prepared his correspondence differently, with text extending too close to edge of the paper for Mr. Hoover. The correspondence was returned to the agent with the words, “Watch the borders” written in red marker on it. Mr. Hoover meant for the agent to prepare his correspondence properly; the agent, however, received the message enthusiastically, and dispatched FBI agents to the US/Canadian border to, as was instructed, “Watch the borders.”

Relative to our schools, is it “tuition assistance,” or is it “financial aid?” Are they really the same thing? Or “tuition aid” and “financial assistance?”  Or is it “Scholarship?”  These words may be used interchangeably in your school if you’re associated with an elementary or high school. In higher education, these terms have different meanings.

Even the implied meanings are different. In today’s society, “assistance” implies some type of support from a government agency (such as a family that is on “medical assistance“) or help in general (“Attention shoppers…assistance is needed at checkout 5.”), whereas “aid” implies some type of support due to a formal evaluation of one’s situation that results in a calculation of “need.” In other words, “assistance” is general; “aid” is specific. Colleges and universities utilize calculations from the FAFSA form to determine a student’s “need” in order to put together a financial “aid” package. That student might need “assistance” from a tutor if they’re having difficulties in their coursework. Of course, we haven’t even discussed scholarships.

Perhaps you don’t agree with these meanings…and that’s okay. But it’s imperative that all the stakeholders (parents, pastors, community members, businesses, etc.) which impact your school seated at the table agree on the meaning of the terms you’ll all be using in your discussions and communications about your school…or is it your educational center?

© Michael V. Ziemski, SchoolAdvancement, 2007-2017 (Original Publication Date: 20070611)