THE UNDERGROUND
GRAMMARIAN

Volume One, Number Seven............October 1977

J. RONALD POSEY,

victim of a severe grammatical attack, wrote us, before he left Glassboro, a letter in which he applauded, although he could not share, our belief that the system could be made to work, and urged us to keep up the attack on the "make-believe scholarship at Glassboro."

He signed himself, "J. Ronald Posey, Failure in English," but his letter was a model not only of clarity but of courtesy and manliness.

Glassboro State Thousands Sold!

WHEN we devise courses that give our students what they want, we become peddlers. Few students want to read and write, and we pander more and more to their disinclination. As if by an academic counterpart of Gresham's Law, the trashy courses drive out the good, and the students pant after easy studies, faddish novelties which will shortly prove as valuable a force in the growth of the mind and spirit of man as the Nehru jacket.

Glassboro is a business with managers and employees, a business subsidized by taxpayers in proportion to the number of jobs in the shop. But everybody knows this. Unless we are content to remain an academic fast-food outlet, we must subvert the system and see to it that our students are given not what they want but what they need. We are paid to know the difference.

"The slovenliness of our language," said George Orwell, "makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts." Precise language makes it easier for us to have intelligent thoughts. In the context of any discipline, therefore, a teacher can do nothing more valuable for his students than to require of them precision of language and clarity of thought. This means that every course must require that students demonstrate in writing that they know the matter and can think about it clearly.

If our students can't do those things, we are a trade school, but not a good one, since effective trade schools work without pretense. If we want to teach trades, we can open a take-out window, but those who sit to dine must have it our way. They want to fill their bellies with a tangy snack: we are called to nourish them.

 

Let'em Eat Twinkies

If a son shall ask bread of any of you that is
a father, will he give him Wise potato chips?

HERE is the complete text of the second paragraph of a memo from a Lizziel Sullivan, Tutorial Specialist, to all department chairmen, September 1, 1977. It has not been edited; the recurrent three dots do not, as is customary, indicate omissions. They seem to be some kind of punctuation:

Upon completion of high school, it is mandatory that all perspective [sic] E. O. F. students attend a six week residential/ academic experience for E. O. F. students. During the six weeks, the students become familiar with the various offices on campus ... are oriented to the Registration Process and Financial Aid, etc. ... participates in academic skills building in the areas of Language Arts, Communications and Math. Students in the Summer Program are also exposed to the E. O. F. Tutorial Program during the summer. Along with skill building in the above mentioned areas, students are also exposed to individualized group and peer tutoring to accommodate their learning experiences in the classroom.

This is the kind of writing that makes the toughest teachers cry, partly because it has so many faults that one doesn't know where to begin correcting them, partly because simple "correction" would be useless where the writing reveals a fundamental ignorance of conventional principles--capitalization, for instance, or flaws of style or taste, but mostly because the writer probably thinks that her writing is good. We have, after all, given her the title Tutorial Specialist, for which she is presumed to have shown some competence. Nevertheless, her writing is bad.

We don't dream of "correcting" it, but we can serve a good cause by listing some of its obvious faults. (Think of it as a game--if you can find at least one of each you don't need a Tutorial Specialist. If you can't find any, you could be a Tutorial Specialist.)

Misplaced modification
Failure of subject/verb agreement
Incorrect punctuation
Incorrect capitalization
Awkward repetition
Jargon
Padding
Faulty diction
Redundancy
Weird italics

To anyone who has taught composition, this is a sad, familiar list. Except for the last item (what can it mean?), it tells us what we can expect of any poorly taught or talentless freshman. It further hints that this writer is unlikely to improve without expert teaching and close supervision. In other words, this is where we need a tutorial specialist. Somehow or other, Lizziel Sullivan has been set down on the wrong side of the desk.

It isn't her fault. She didn't seize the post of Tutorial Specialist; some one chose her for it. Some one read her application, considered her recommendations, studied her credentials, and decided that she was the one we needed to do the work of a Tutorial Specialist. We'd like to know his name.

The "EO" in EOF stands for Educational Opportunity, and the students in the EOF program would seem to have a right to that at the very least. In Sullivan's words:

. . . students are recruited* who have had a poor academic high school experience but have the potential and now are positively motivated to pursue a college education.

Obviously some opportunities are more equal than others, and these young people, however great their "potential," are now given the opportunity to learn what passes for English in the world of tutorial specialists. Starving, they come to us for nourishment, whether they know it or not, and we slip them the Big Mac of the mind, the fast food of "academic skills building." After all, how should they know the difference, doped for so long on the soda pop and pretzels of careless education? They ask bread; we give'em an English McMuffin. Our educational system--and that includes, clearly, all this EOF business--seems marvelously contrived to invert the old hymn: The rich have we filled with good things and the hungry sent empty away.

We return now to the unknown person who said to Ms Sullivan, "You, you're the one!" He was either able or unable to judge her ability to write English. If unable, he oughtn't to be allowed to choose tutorial specialists. If able, something is fishy. We have to conclude that he made his choice out of incompetence or for some reason not related to the welfare of the students given into his charge.

Perhaps, even probably, there is no such person; this sort of thing requires not only a committee but a whole chain of command--they love to be called that--and finally the place where the winded buck pauses briefly, gathering strength for the return trip. Here the last signer of papers signs the last papers, secure in the knowledge that he can always point over his shoulder and mumble, "The committee did give me, and I did eat." And only the students have anything to lose.

We don't mean, of course, to trouble anyone with this problem; presidents and vice-presidents and deans are too important to be bothered with failures of agreement. Besides, we can propose a simple resolution.

All we need do is choose a new Glassboro alma mater. We have in mind just the thing, a catchy little number which will provide an additional benefit by precluding any chance, however slight, that some dismal miasma of academic solemnity might some day dampen the just-plain-folks jocularity of our comical commencements. The plastic hamburger folks would be delighted to give permission just for the thrill of hearing us, students and faculty getting it on together, waking the echoes with the stirring "You deserve a break today. . ."

And That's Not All!

There are also some people here dealing out something they please to call Developmental Education, a self-important euphemism for remedial English and math. Here, taken from an unsigned, undated memo, is their idea of written English:

The enclosed is the complete course selections for Developmental Education courses. As of 9/6/77 all sections are closed. Please post the course selections on your bulletin board as most of the courses have been added after the Fall Schedule was printed.

The failures of agreement and tense, and the mistaken conjunction are bad enough, but if it means what it seems to mean (but who can be sure?), there was no need to send it out.

Isn't there anyone around here who can do something about this? Or even wants to?

English Lives!

Friends of Grammar give a Toot!

GUSTAVE MELLENDER is momentarily president of Passaic County Community College in Patterson, New Jersey. Don't buy stock in him. He has abolished true/false and multiple choice exams, required that even math tests include essay questions, and said in public that all teachers are to be English teachers. He has sent some students away as wasters of public money, and told many others that they must spend a year or more in remedial work before they can begin to earn credits. He actually wants to find out how well his teachers are doing by giving all students comprehensive exams.

We ask our off-campus readers, especially those in history departments, to be mindful of Mellender next spring when he goes job-hunting. There's even hope that he'll become president here at Glassboro next year, if, as seems probable, the selection of a new president is going to be left to the editorial board of THE UNDERGROUND GRAMMARIAN.

Until then, we content ourselves with saluting Gustave Mellender, a valiant friend of grammar and a man of principle.

Brief Notes

If you think we have problems, just think of Cornell University, where they have an apparatchik who is styled Dean of Writing. Splendid, you say? Wrong! He writes:

I had communicated with Dean Levin on the general problem several times, starting last spring, and the second, that of over acceptance came to me in late August.

This man, Robert Farrell, is leading a return to literacy. (N.B., Deans: "leading a return" is an archaic way of saying "spearheading a thrust.") Happily, he has been exposed and humiliated in the student newspaper.

What an idea! The Grammarian can't be everywhere, but bright young students are everywhere. We do have a subscriber at Cornell, himself a dean, but a grammatical dean. By the time you read these words, he will have had his orders to form Grammatical Guerrilla Group Alpha. Tomorrow the world.

Fran Masat has lost out to John Collins, erstwhile basketball coach. Even more than he needs editing, Lawson Brown needs a good zone defense.

We will not attack the students who write for The Whit. Grammarians teach students. In fact, we invite them to join us as Grammatical Guerrilla Group Beta.

 

* Note how this needless passive messes up the syntax of her sentence. Had she said "we recruit" she'd have found the right place for the restrictive clause. back

The good writer uses "potential" as a noun only as a precise term in physics or when it means "that which might be as opposed to that which is." E. g., Coleridge: The potential works in them as the actual works on them!" back

Here at Glassboro we give college credits for sixth grade level remedial courses. What do you think we are? Elitist snobs? back

Our union has told us that the evaluation of tenured faculty is "unsavory," which makes us wonder whether such folk as surgeons and pilots have similar views. Their work might have consequences. back


Typos and comments:

For a printer friendly version of the entire volume, go to ShareText.Com

 

Copyright © 2000 by Mark Alexander. All Rights Reserved. SOURCETEXT, SHARETEXT,
SOURCETEXT.COM
, SHARETEXT.COM, THE SHAKESPEARE AUTHORSHIP SOURCEBOOK,
THE SHAKESPEARE LAW LIBRARY
, THE HU PAGE, THE SCHOOL OF PYTHAGORAS
and others are trademarked 1997, 1998, 1999, and 2000 by
Mark Alexander, P. O. Box 5286, Auburn, CA 95604.

SourceText.Com and ShareText.Com are divisions of
Breeze Productions, P.O. Box 5286, Auburn, CA 95604.