LESS THAN WORDS CAN SAY

by Richard Mitchell

Chapter Eight
The Pill

Thought control, like birth control, is best undertaken as long as possible before the fact. Many grown-ups will obstinately persist, if only now and then, in composing small strings of sentences in their heads and achieving at least a momentary logic. This probably cannot be prevented, but we have learned how to minimize its consequences by arranging that such grown-ups will be unable to pursue that logic very far. If they were at home in the technology of writing, there's no telling how much social disorder they would cause by thinking things out at length.

Our schools have chosen to cut this danger off as close to the root as possible, thus taking measures to preclude not only the birth of thought but its conception. They give the pill to even the youngest children, but, just to be on the safe side, they give it to everybody else, too, especially all would-be schoolteachers.

Now find a comfortable position and read this miniature museum of contemporary American writing. These little essays were produced by college graduates applying for jobs as schoolteachers. The applicants may not have those jobs yet, but they do have certificates that attest to their competence and assure us that they have satisfied stringent requirements.

A. The use of behavioral objectives in a classroom are good because they help the teacher to see a more clear path for her/his teaching. He/she is able to predetermine what he/she will teach and hopefully at the end of that session the students will have learned what was outlined for them. Behavioral objectives can help the teacher evaluate her/his teaching by looking at them to see what has been accomplished in class. So many times, a teacher can get off of a subject and not realize the students are not learning the material they were designated to learn. If the students are aware of what they are to learn then they can make a greater effort to learn the information. The teacher may use the objectives as a form of evaluation for the students so that she/he may see how far they have progressed and whether or not the topic should be reviewed or more information can be added. Behavioral objectives are an overall good idea to help students and teachers see what direction the learning should be going in and how progress is being made.

B. In the process of teaching science to students there will be preassessment test to determine what the student already knows. From the finding of the preassessment test objectives, teacher and students will be designed. Concepts to be taught will be listed. If the subject area being covered is weather, than the different aspects of weather will be introduced. There will be worksheets and experiment to prove and evaluate the objectives for the activity. The activity children will be given activities that they will have to do on their own example collecting date of the formation of clouds and what weather usually follow certain cloud formation. The project must be flexable so that it meets the need of each child and is meaningful for them.

C. If I had a self-contained classroom with various children on different level, I would try to group them according to their abilities when working on certain subject matters. I would use behavior modification in my classroom in order to motivate the children. If we were working on math for example--If we were playing the bingo game (a game to help them recognize numbers) I would reward one person with a reward for bingoing if they could call out their numbers to me or if they couldn't remember a number I could help them and still they would bingo. I worked with some children in this and it really motivated them to learn because of the reward.

D. start with basic ways of setting & bumping the ball & controlling it--use drills of how many times before missing & others. set & bump ball against the wall--how to bump & set ball properly. demonstrate

start with different types of serves, find the one that suits them best & stick with it. keep eye on ball--Then start serving over the net. After that start placing the ball (determining where it's going to go. demonstrate so they'll know what I mean

start the spikers for taller individuals to spiking & setters in to setting ball close to net. Use fun games through out to keep them interested. demonstrate spiking

Cover the rules and go into game situation. Teach them how to dig for the ball & how to fall & avoid being injured.

Devide into equal teams & play games of volleyball best 2 out of 3. Use a tournament type play so that all teams will get a chance to play each other & if they're pretty equally matched it will result in some very close & exciting games

Cover any questions the students might have & give them a handout of material that would be covered on a test. handout will include the things not to do & how to do them right.

That's what happens when you've spent four years popping little pills of jargon. Try to put down that nasty suspicion. It's just too much of a coincidence that all four of these teachers could have taken jobs in your local school system. One, maybe. Perhaps, just perhaps, even two. But all four? Impossible! Rest easy.

All of these passages are curious but instructive mixtures of ineptitude and technicality. Writer A, for instance, tells us that the use of behavioral objectives are good, revealing at one stroke a subtle knowledge of pedagogical theory and an inability to match subjects and verbs. The same writer shows an admirable abhorrence of sexism in all those slashed forms, even going so far as to give precedence now to one gender and now the other, but she/he seems confused about prepositions. The importance of this passage, however, is not to be found in such trivia.

Writer A may be confused about the rudiments of English, but he/she-she/he has clearly heard and practiced some jargon. This little essay is built on the assertion that there are such things as behavioral objectives and that they are "an overall good idea." If you've never before heard the term "behavioral objectives," count yourself lucky, but you certainly won't be mystified. Obviously, if we want someone to do something, that must be a "behavioral objective." In schools, adding up a column of figures is thought of as "a behavior," and getting students to do that is a behavioral objective. It's important to notice that adding them up wrong is, of course, also "a behavior," so that to teach children to add correctly becomes a matter of "behavior modification," but more of that later. There are lots of things that A didn't learn in college; some of them we can see, and from them we can infer many others. She/he-he/she did, however, learn a kind of vocabulary of special terms, each of which is used to conceal an emptiness of meaning and to make the obvious sound important. To what things or events in the world of experience does the term "behavioral objective" point? They are countless. If we persuade five-year-olds to latch their galoshes or convince a whole nation to convert its schools into gambling casinos, we have accomplished a behavioral objective. Should we fail, we have nevertheless promulgated behavioral objectives. In the language of the school people, an alarm clock would be called a mode of behavioral objective implementation, but so would a Christmas bonus or a thumbscrew. A term that means almost anything means almost nothing. Such a term is a convenient device for those who have almost nothing to say. We have to conclude that A heard about "behavioral objectives" very often in the teacher school--and somewhat less often about clear, precise writing and thinking.

Writer B cannot spell "flexible" or even "then" but has no trouble with "preassessment," a tricky word with lots of s's. He cannot, however, make any sense of the word. Who could? "Preassessment" is something that can only happen before we have done any assessment, and we can preassess something just about as easily as we can pre-eat our breakfasts. The test referred to in B's first sentence might imaginably be called, if you must call it something fancier than just a test, a "pre-teaching" test. In contempt of sense, the "pre-ness" has been transferred to the assessing because it creates such a handsome word. The same principle, by the way, was at work in A, who promised to "predetermine what he/she will teach." You either determine something or you don't. Our language permits us to say things like "predetermine," or even "undetermine," and "subdetermine," but it doesn't let us mean anything by them.

Words like "preassessment" are paradoxical. They evoke an imagined world in which there is no sense or logic. To tolerate such words requires dullness of mind; to embrace them, lunacy. Most jargon, however, is something less extreme. We can see its normal attributes in B's use of the word "aspects"; "the different aspects of weather will be introduced."

Can't you just hear teacher B in class? "Dear children, I will now introduce an aspect of weather." What does he do then? What is an aspect of weather? What idea of the meaning of "weather" must we have if we are to separate it into its "aspects"? Is an aspect of weather a kind of weather--rainy, sunny? Is it a particular event like a hurricane? Is it an attribute of weather? Nice weather for ducks, for instance? Leaving weather aside entirely, what exactly is an aspect? Is "aspect," as so many seem to think, just another way of saying "phase" and "factor"? Is phase, perhaps, just one of the factors of an aspect? Can we divide just anything up into aspects or only certain kinds of things?

And, by the way, presuming against all odds that B does know what he means by "aspect," just what is involved in "introducing" it? To introduce an aspect, do you name it, or describe it? Do you, perhaps, as the word in fact suggests, stick it in? If "rain" is an aspect of weather, and that's probably what the poor fellow means, how do you go about "introducing" rain? And, for heaven's sake, why?

Writer C introduces--sticks in, that is--something called "behavior modification," an ominous aspect, no doubt, of the consequences of the preassessment of behavioral objectives. Teachers still put up with being called teachers, but they seem reluctant to admit that humble teaching is what they do. They prefer to modify behavior. Take a moment to go back and read again what C has written. Could you rest quietly, in the still watches of the night, knowing that C has been unleashed to modify the behavior of your children?

Aside from the obvious, which is far too comprehensive to have much meaning at all, what could "behavior modification" possibly mean? C says that he/she would "use" it to "motivate" the students. Is there some difference between behavior modification and the use of behavior modification, as there is a difference between a hammer and hammering? If so, how is the use of behavior modification to be distinguished from the act of modifying behavior any more than the use of a hammer is to be distinguished from a hammering? Isn't "motivating" itself a kind of behavior modification; and doesn't that sentence say that C will use behavior modification in order to modify behavior?

What it means is that C had come out of teacher school with his/her-her/his head full of empty terms. There is no doubt that C would also spell "preassessment" correctly, although she/he-he/she has a little problem with sentence structure.

There's no point in commenting in any detail on the words of D. It is worth remembering, however, that D is also a college graduate and a certified teacher. What's interesting is his touching faith in the "handout of material," a handout that will include, you will recall, "the things not to do & how to do them right."

Handouts of material are big business in Education. A typical class in Education starts with a handout of material, which handout provides nifty terms like "preassessment test" and "behavior modification." Then the class breaks up into small groups so that the students can rap and reach for themselves the conclusion that behavioral objectives are "an overall good idea." After four years of this, every graduating student walks into the world clutching thick sheaves of handouts of materials made up almost entirely of words and phrases that have little or nothing to do with real things or people or events in the world of experience.


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