Humpty Dumpty and Alice. From Through the Looking-Glass. Illustration by John Tenniel.

‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass


Remediation, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary,  comes from the stem of the Latin remediare, and remedy comes from the same root. It’s been educational jargon since about 1975 and means to set something straight, or put something right. It implies that there is a fault or deficiency that needs to be addressed. In some circles remedial is a synonym for stupid.

Unless you are taking part in #CLMOOC. In that case, we are told, the word is being used differently:

Remediation—as we’ll be thinking about it here—is unrelated to another use of the term in education: we are not talking about “remediating kids” as in “remedy”-ing them. Here, the focus is on media, and ways in which moving from one medium to another changes what we are able to communicate and how we are able to do so.  Email

Ok, so I get it. It’s a play on words. Except I don’t think it’s a very clever one. I think that whoever came up with the idea of using remediate this week didn’t really think it through. I tried to ignore it, but it’s been bugging me more and more as the week has progressed. Kevin tried to convince me in a comment on an earlier post of mine, but I am digging in my heels, sticking to my guns, folding my arms firmly and saying just gonna NO.

This is reminding me of folk who try to “reclaim” words like b**** and c*** However they choose to use them within their circles, there are going to be others who are not party to their use, and it is going to confuse or upset. So either use one of the many words we already have for the purpose: remix, repurpose, hack … or make up a new one.

By Goldmund100 (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC BY 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Unless you’re Humpty Dumpty. And we all know what happened to him.

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3 Responses to Remediation

  1. fmindlin says:

    You’re being a frivolous pedant–you missed what I see as the most important drawback to the word play, although you did highlight what I think is the most potent association I have with the word, which is remedy. You say that remediation is used in education to mean “to set something straight, or put something right.” The most important aspect of the word is the implication that what was done before was wrong, that somehow the prior teaching the student got was bad teaching, as well as the counter-excuse of the earlier failed teacher that it really wasn’t her fault, since those kids came to her already spoiled, afflicted with an irremediable malady…If we want to take an essentially unrelated word and cleverly apply it to our Connected Learning work, I nominate “disintermediation.” Looking up the word in various dictionaries, I see it used only in relation to finance. But I think it works very well in its core meaning–cut out the middle person and go direct–as applied to our work, to find the essential and relevant bits of meaning in the flood of cleverly targeted and subliminally laden messages with which we are bombarded, and to enable our students to do the same.

  2. I’ve always wanted to reclaim the word remediate — it meant so much failure and extra work, another day of drill and missed art or dance or drama. I love reMEDIAte because that means the student can show understand in his/her way — or use strengths to pull forward, instead of focusing on deficits. I say, reclaim the work and let’s reMEDIAte!

    Thanks to @dogtrax for saying:

    So I could say:

  3. I have been struggling much of the week as I have been at a loss as to its purpose, though I do find that writing the term as reMEDIAte is helpful.

    Agreed, that when I think of remediate I otherwise think of learners who struggle or prisoners somehow learning a skill for when they are released . . .

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