GRAMMAR AND ECOLOGY
The betterment of fools, Goethe tells us, is the appropriate business of other fools. The Underground Grammarian does not seek to educate anyone. We intend rather to ridicule, humiliate, and infuriate those who abuse our language not so that they will do better but so that they will stop using language entirely or at least go away. There are callings in which the abuse of English doesn't matter; ours isn't one of them. When Bole Administration Building is loud with the clatter of ball-point pens falling from the trembling fingers of frenzied administrators, when semi-literate instructors furtively eye the classified ads looking for honest employment as salesmen in discount stores specializing in floor-covering, when the Faculty Senate disbands because no one is willing to risk uttering gibberish in public, then The Underground Grammarian will have reached some of its goals. If we do our job well, more and more people at Glassboro State College will emit fewer and fewer memoranda. The taxpayers of New Jersey will be spared the cost of thousands of reams of paper; duplicators will consume less energy; professors could put into teaching the effort now expended in replying to inane surveys and checking meaningless ballots that will choose one mediocrity rather than another to serve in a position of no significance; and tall trees saved from destruction will stand for long years in noble forests.
Virtues foster one another; so too, vices. Bad English kills trees, consumes energy, and befouls the earth. Good English renews it.
Consider this minor atrocity--the first paragraph of a memo to a senate committee, from Barry Loigman, November 30, 1976:
Last Spring, Dr. Chamberlain requested that the Senate hold in abeyance the guidelines for this year's committee. The reason being the uncertain implementation timetable for A328. Dr. Masat requested this of the Senate which indeed approved these guidelines and voted to hold them in abeyance.
This isn't worth much attention. Its worst technical fault is the juvenile "reason being" fragment, and the occasional incoherencies and jargon, even the faulty punctuation, might still earn a minimal passing grade for a freshman.
Consider also this sentence from Faculty Senate Highlights, December 3, 1976:
The Curriculum Committee brought to the Senate's attention that the original purpose of Intersession be restudied.
The same publication quotes a new policy:
All intersession courses, prior to being offered a second time which have not been approved as a regular course or which the sponsor does not wish to submit as a regular course proposal, may be submitted to the Senate Curriculum Committee into a category termed Intersession Only.
Do we have to put up with this? Is there no member of the senate disturbed by bad English, not one skillful enough in his own tongue to instruct his colleagues?
These examples, indistinguishable from the dismal student writing of which we all complain, come from the minds of people who take the state's money for the work of their minds. They are probably loud in praise of "excellence." Yet they seem not even aware of their incompetence in language, the mind's most basic tool.
We see why so few students can write English; few teachers can write English. The ability to write and speak clear, correct, conventional English is not an antiquated social grace; it is an indispensable skill of our profession and the medium in which teaching and learning happen. How can the teacher who can't write make intelligent judgments about what students write? How can students put confidence in a teacher whose language is imprecise, barely coherent, and sometimes meaningless or simply wrong?
We need a reading and writing competency test for teachers and administrators. Obviously, we can no longer assume that a graduate degree demonstrates, among other things, competence in written scholarship. In future editions, The Underground Grammarian will make some suggestions about such a test, especially as it might serve in the evaluation of tenured faculty and provide objective data about candidates for promotion or retention. We can call it "career development."
. . . the Committee for Human Experimentation, in a letter to Mark Chamberlain, November 4, 1976, author unspecified:*
. . . the physical design of the equipment to be used in the experiment was not detailed with sufficient specificity to ensure that failsafe mechanisms will be operative in the event of any mechanical malfunction.
What Can We Do?
There is something here called Experiential Education. No one is sure what that means. Student-teaching, apparently, causes an experience; calculus does not. An arrangement which awards college credit to the student who licks paper tape in the shipping-room of the wind-up toy factory is called experiential; learning to speak a new language is not. This seems hard to understand, but it isn't.
When we say our thoughts clearly, we often see that they are stupid. Sometimes we see that they are also self-serving. The idea behind Experiential Education is both. Experiential as used here is worthless because it makes no useful distinctions. It is used by administrators to give presumed importance to the pedestrian labors which take them so long to accomplish and for which they take so much of the taxpayer's money.
Furthermore, people who can blithely tolerate experiential can't have done much thinking about its meaning. That would indicate either dimness of mind or indifference. Thus we have to conclude that our Experiential Educationists [?] may be less interested in the meaning or doing of their jobs than in having them. And behold! All this is revealed by paying attention to one word.
Many more words on this subject can be examined in a booklet called Center for Experiential Education. Call 445-7316 for a copy. It's full of bad English. While you're on the phone, nonchalantly ask some of these questions:
And don't forget to ask for your share of "a wide range of administrative support services related to the continuing development of experiential education in all academic areas."
Wind-up Toy Award
ALAN J. DONOVAN
Dean of Arts and Sciences!
The Wind-Up Toy Award is presented to those who use advisement in public. Input and interface as well as thrust will also earn Wind-up Toy Awards. These words might be appropriate in private between consenting adults.
The award indicates our recognition of those talents best suited to sellers of wind-up toys in the streets.
* We must add that while the author's English is bad, this committee's judgment is good. The letter quoted was a rejection of an extraordinarily ungrammatical proposal by J. Ronald Posey. Our annotated edition of a part of that proposal will appear within the next two weeks. Reserve your copy now. But how? back