Beware of the Bumfalo

When Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable defines a creature such as a griffon, a basilisk, or a gorgon, it usually opens by describing it as a ‘fabulous monster,’ that is, a monster found in fables and tales. Fabulous monsters can be scary, but scarier by far are factual monsters. At one point in The Importance of Being Earnest Jack at first describes Lady Bracknell as a gorgon, but then changes his mind: ‘she is a monster without being a myth, which is rather unfair.’

Teachers will identify with Jack in his despondency because they are also plagued by monsters that are not myths. We may be grateful that some, like the Secretary of Education, exist in only one (highly destructive) specimen. Others, I am sorry to note, have multiplied in the field of education till they have encroached on or endangered ‘competing’ species such as teachers.

As I reread details of an Education Department grant application that takes 2735-1/2 hours to complete (I love that extra half-hour!), the name of another factual monster came to the Didact’s Dictionary: the

bumfalo, n. [from British bumf or bum-fodder: useless administrative paperwork]: a factual monster endemic to educationist ecologies. Its usual habitat is administrative offices and five-star hotels, but never classrooms. Its chief prey is teachers, whom it destroys by force-feeding them data and paperwork until they perish from explosion or inanition (e.g., sightings are attested of bumfalos requiring teachers to spend twelve hours on a single lesson plan and then rejecting it). It sometimes paralyzes its prey before killing it by displaying PowerPoint presentations and pie charts. It has a number of characteristic calls, repeated at random: “articulation”; “robust”; “curriculum alignment”; “hard data,” etc. The US government is in the process of granting it ‘protected species’ status even though the government has not yet declared the teacher an ‘endangered species’.

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