"Words never fail. We hear them, we read them; they enter into
the mind and become part of us for as long as we shall live. Who speaks
reason to his fellow men bestows it upon them. Who mouths inanity disorders
thought for all who listen. There must be some minimum allowable dose
of inanity beyond which the mind cannot remain reasonable. Irrationality,
like buried chemical waste, sooner or later must seep into all the tissues
1. The Worm in the Brain "The next step is not taken
until you learn to see a world in which worms are eaten and decisions
made and all responsible agency has disappeared. Now you are
ready to be an administrator."
2. The Two Tribes "There
is a curious thing about the way they use their verbs. They have,
of course, both passive and active forms, but they consider it a serious
breach of etiquette amounting almost to sacrilege to use the active
form when speaking of persons."
3. A Bunch of Marks "An
education that does not teach clear, coherent writing cannot provide
our world with thoughtful adults; it gives us instead, at the best,
clever children of all ages."
4. The Voice of Sisera "Jefferson
must have imagined an America in which all citizens would be able,
when they felt like it, to address one another as members of the same
class. That we cannot do so is a sore impediment to equality, but,
of course, a great advantage to those who can use the English
of power and wealth."
5. "let's face it Fellows"
"The questions are good ones. Who does hire teachers who can't
spell? Where do they come from? The questions grow more ominous the
more we think about them. Just as we suspect that this teacher's ineptitude
in spelling is not limited to those two words, so we must suspect
that she has other ineptitudes as well."
6. Trifles "Our educators,
panting after professionalism, are little interested in being known
for a picayune concern with trifles like spelling and punctuation.
They would much rather make the world a better place. They have tried
on the gowns of philosophers, psychologists, and priests."
7. The Columbus Gap "American
public education is a remarkable enterprise; it succeeds best where
it fails. Imagine an industry that consistently fails to do what it
sets out to do, a factory where this year's product is invariably
sleazier than last year's but, nevertheless, better than next year's."
8. 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."
9. A Handout of Material "The
propensity for borrowed jargon is always a mark of limited ability
in the technique of discursive thought. It comes from a poor education.
A poor education is not simply a matter of thinking that components
and elements might just as well be called factors; it is the inability
to manipulate that elaborate symbol system that permits us to make
fine distinctions among such things."
10. Grant Us, O Lord "One
of the most important uses of language in all cultures is the performance
of magic. Since language deals easily with invisible worlds, it's
natural that it provide whatever access we think we have to the world
of the spirits."
11. Spirits from the Vasty Deep
"Bad writing is like any other form of crime; most of it is unimaginative
and tiresomely predictable. The professor of education seeking a grant
and the neighborhood lout looking for a score simply go and do as
their predecessors have done. The one litanizes about carefully unspecified
developments in philosophy, psychology, and communications theory,
and the other sticks up the candy store."
12. Darkling Plain English "The
bureaucrats who have produced most of our dismal official English
will, at first, be instructed to fix it. They will try, but nihil
ex nihilo. That English is the mess it is because they did it
in the first place and they'll never be able to fix it."
13. Hydra "At one time I
thought that I was the victim of a conspiracy myself. I was certain
that the Admissions Office had salted my classes with carefully selected
students, students who had no native tongue."
14. The Turkeys that Lay the Golden
Eggs "The minimum competence school of education is nothing
new. We've had it for many years, but we didn't talk about it until
we discovered that we could make a virtue of it."
15. Devices and Desires "If
you cannot be the master of your language, you must be its slave.
If you cannot examine your thoughts, you have no choice but to think
them, however silly they may be."
16. Naming and Telling "Two
things, then, are necessary for intelligent discourse: an array of
names, and a conventional system for telling. The power of a language
is related, therefore, to the size and subtlety of its lexicon, its
bank of names, and the flexibility and accuracy of its telling system,
17. Sentimental Education "The
history of mankind hasn't yet provided any examples of a decrease
in stupidity and ignorance and their presumably attendant evils, but
we have hope. After all, history hasn't provided anything like us,
either, until pretty recently."
Critical Bilbliography "I
should say, for those who might think these things unusual, that they
aren't and that they weren't difficult to find."