Saturday, September 5, 2009

Is it possible to "pay tuition"?

I was reading an op-ed last night about a new compulsory education law in India. The author wrote that students from middle-class families would do better in this system than would the poor because, "they get private tuition in the evening," whereas the poor do not.

This certainly isn't the way we use the word "tuition" in American higher ed, where it simply means "the money you pay to go to school." It turns out that the common usage of the word is historically new--dating only to the 19th century. Before that, tuition more commonly meant, "instruction or teaching" and at its origins in the 13th century it meant "guardianship." (For the etymology visit this site.)

You can trace the history of education through the history of the word "tuition." Today's usage suggests that at some point a word that described a key facet of learning--guardianship linked with instruction--came to mean simply the money we pay to get into school. And given the difficulty that many face in paying tuition, it also points out the risen centrality of money in the work of education.

I'm not a linguistic purist. But as a reminder to myself of the deeper meaning of tuition, I'll try from now on to speak of "paying for tuition," not just "paying tuition."

No comments: