LESS THAN WORDS CAN SAY

by Richard Mitchell

Critical Bibliography

It's hard to know what to call the citations that I have used in this book. Except for a few minor entries--the imagined beginnings of some memos and letters and the facetious but not unlikely grant proposal--they were all written by human beings in the course of their labors. I would like to characterize them, therefore, as "real," but somehow the word seems to suggest either too much or not enough. They are real, real writings of real people, to be sure, and real pieces of paper bearing real bunches of marks, and yet to call them "real" and to leave it at that seems at least a mild abuse of language. Authentic? Genuine? I just don't know. Let it be. Real they are, and yet unreal.

The chair of the EEOC is, of course, the real chair of the real EEOC, and her words are taken from an article purporting to describe a "reform" of some kind in that agency. Her writing should make us wonder just what sort of reform we can expect. Could clients and charging parties be eliminated as effectively in fact as they are in grammar, the work of the EEOC would surely diminish. That would be, I suppose, a kind of reform.

The third-grade teacher, of course, is a real third-grade teacher, and the teacher candidates who are quoted at length in Chapter 8 are every bit as real as she. Furthermore, those candidates must have been doing their very best. Those little scraps of writing were done in the hope of gainful employment. In the text, I have called them "essays," but they aren't any such thing. They are disorganized and ill-remembered recitations; an essay is a weighing and testing of thought and idea in discourse. "Essaying" is a trying-out; these little scraps are trottings-out.

The provost at least used to be real. He may still be real, but he is no longer a real provost. He was the chief academic officer of a large branch of a large state university. His departure from provosthood seems not to have been because of his language. Inane language has never blighted an academic career.

The forester was, of course, applying for a grant. He wanted--and who can blame him--to wander around in the woods at our expense, stopping awhile here and there and saying, "Gee, wouldn't this be a great place for some picnic tables." So what could the poor fellow do? If he had put it that way, no one would have shelled out tax money, so he had to talk about sub-variables and the existing physical status. For that we give money. I know another woodland wanderer who says, in his Ph.D. dissertation: "The purpose of this section is to examine part of the valley infrastructure of seemingly vital importance to the success of the Project as a recreation facility: accessibility by recreationists." I will considerately say no more of him, except to assure you that he got his degree and a choice appointment. I like to imagine these two outdoor types meeting by the shores of a mountain lake and exchanging views. The one would speak lyrically of groupings, both physical and socio-economic, and the other would urge "ground-truthing" one of his favorite activities.

The definition of teaching as a "systematic series of actions directed toward specific ends" has an interesting provenance. Who wrote it I don't know. It was put forth with the boast that thirteen people had labored for eighty hours to produce it. That's one thousand forty hours, and the laborers were all highly paid educationists, so the document must have cost much more than seven maids with seven mops for half a year. Neither group could get it clear. Sad to say, the passage is from a proposal to establish a program for the training of excellent teachers.

The dervish of Chapter 11 is also real, although he makes that word sound even less appropriate. The stuff that he writes he also teaches, at public expense, in a state college in the Northwest. Some people have found his work so ludicrous that they thought it must have been made up by me. Impossible. Some kinds of bad language can be faked, since they are rigidly formulaic, but only a true believer can dream up on-site/off-site, bipolar, entities and dyads. If you find yourself laughing at this writer, try to remember that every two weeks when he picks up his paycheck the laugh is on you. If it would make you feel better to imagine that he is the only one of his kind in American education, go ahead and try.

The words of P were chosen because they ought to be familiar by now. Unlike the other examples, they have been widely quoted in the public press. P is, maybe was, a high school principal in Texas. P's companion in misery, the young man who wants to be an insurance adjuster, is, maybe was, also real, a recent graduate of a middle-sized middle Atlantic university. I wonder where he is now.

The Learning Resources Centrist does his centering in the South in a prestigious institution of higher learning. (They do call themselves "centrists" sometimes, but it seems to me that a centrist, like a communist or formalist, ought to be not one who does something about centers or centering, but one who is committed to the principles of centers or centering. Well, no matter.) His letter was, in fact, an objection to my objection to the term Leaning Resources Center for library.

The educationist quoted in the last chapter, and also in the context of "values clarification," is a professor of educational psychology in Southern California. "Educational psychology" is possible in language, so why not in Southern California?

The source of the other citations is suggested in the text.

I should say, for those who might think these things unusual, that they aren't and that they weren't difficult to find. They were chosen from among hundreds of possible examples, almost any selection of which could have been used to make the same point. Especially in education, government, psychology, and the social sciences, but to some degree in every sort of thoughtful endeavor, such writings are not exceptions; they are the rule. They also suggest the rule under which we must all live someday unless something changes.


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