A Light Shines in the Parking Lot!
We have met the enemy, and they is us. Pogo
IT is a trait of the genius that he tells us what any fool can see for himself--much later. Adam Smith told us long ago that when members of a profession consort together, the result is a conspiracy against the public. Many of us have by now come to see that he was right.
When Chief Justice Burger said that half of America's trial lawyers were incompetent, were you dumbfounded? It may astonish us that he said it, but isn't it just about what you would have guessed?
And why not? It grows clearer day by day that we are in the hands of people who say that they know what they're doing, but they don't. Our governors can't govern, our regulators can't make things work, automobiles are built with the wrong engine, sometimes you can't even get a dial tone, and we can't teach children to read and write. Everywhere we see self-styled experts failing in the work they said they could do and excusing themselves because the work is difficult.
In the last month or so we have had more than a thousand letters from citizens out in the world who have come to hear about The Underground Grammarian. Many themes found voices in those letters, and of them one of the more portentous was also one of the more frequent: At last someone is putting the blame where it belongs--on the schools and on the teachers. Many writers sent evidence in the form of documents brought home by their children. Some of the English is as bad as anything here.
We teachers like to think that we fight a desperate battle, holding the last pass against a barbarian horde. Many educated, literate, successful citizens see barbarians in teacher suits. Those citizens are not cranks; they are publishers, bankers, writers, lawyers, stockbrokers, executives, even teachers, and many just plain people who write better English than our vice-presidents. All those people are beginning to suspect us of conspiracy against the public. If we are to prove them wrong, if they are wrong, we'll need something better than pious protestations about how devoted we are and self-serving lamentations about the insuperable difficulties of the work that we said we knew how to do.
Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings, we are told, strength may be ordained. It's true. In the latest Faculty Senate Highlights there is mention of "plans to ensure adequate parking space for faculty and staff which will be effective in the near future." Let's just hope that we can find enough of them to cause a parking problem that might even justify the existence of a college vice-president paid to fuss around with parking problems.
NCATE Evaluation Newly Disclosed:
PRESIDENT Mark Chamberlain has revealed to our assistant cub reporter that Glassboro's trustees are rummaging about in their own heads in order to reach some decision on the F-------. This procedure, hardly de rigueur, is in this case faute de mieux.
At the January board meeting, members expressed the hope that faculty would wish to offer their F------- opinions, but the obstinate profs have thus far eschewed the output of input. "Not a single member of the faculty showed up," our reporter was told when he asked about the faculty meeting Chamberlain said he would call in the first week of the new semester. "Now they'll probably claim that they didn't come," our informant went on, "just because the meeting wasn't in fact called. You can't satisfy those people."
So it is that our trustees have been driven to such remote extremities. Furthermore, the recent NCATE evaluation report seems to be missing from their individualized learning resource centers, although their heads are well stocked with comfortable articles of belief on that score.
Fortunately for everybody, our research department has found a copy of the NCATE report, and our fast-breaking news department will bring you every month useful and appropriate citations from the text, and the trustees won't have to trouble to read it.
Maybe they have read it. Perhaps that explains their serene confidence. Chapter Five, which serves as a summary evaluation of the entire undergraduate teacher-training program, does conclude with these cheery words: "The team evaluates the basic program as adequate" (p. 77, italics original).
If we have achieved adequacy in less than sixty years, how far can we be from excellence? Let the scoffers pump that out of the bilge, and as for the rest of us--
Batten the Mizzen
YOU would think that a prudent dean, having once seen his prose derided in public, would mend his ways. You'd think, too, that some president might say to such a dean, "Uh, say listen, how about we implement some image-enhancement upgrading procedures?" Well, bless your hearts, you just don't understand administrators. When the blizzard blows they hunker down, hindquarters to the wind, and wait out the storm.
The prose of Kenneth R. Clay, one of our many deans, was pretty bad when we looked at it about a year ago, but it has slipped a bit since then. Here's a part of his memo to the Support Services Task Force, 1/30/78:
Issues were defined as those kinds of common concerns that in some cases affect all support services or groups of three or more offices, rather than those issues only identified by a single office. The following common issues were identified at this meeting and are presented below in draft form for your information:
The first sentence defines issues as concerns that in some cases affect all services or groups of three or more offices, leaving it to others to think up a name for those concerns that in all cases affect some services or groups of offices of any number. The latter require definition as much as the former, that is, not at all, but recognition of that truth would have shortened not only the memo but the task of the Task Force, and there'd be no getting to the water-cooler through that crowd. And so, having devised a definition neither useful nor needed, Clay blithely ignores it later in the same sentence and ends up saying that some concerns are issues but that some issues are not issues.
The second sentence, thick with passives, makes us wonder just what form draft form is and ends with the bureaucratic "for your information." Some people have to be told why they are reading a memo.
This college has been here for more than half a century. The taxpayers might notice issue number one above, which reveals that our administration has not yet discovered who should tell whom to do what. That's an issue that can be settled in thirty seconds unless you have a Task Force.
But let's not blame Clay for the last fifty years; let's blame him for the next fifty years, which Task Forces yet unborn may have to spend looking for the meaning of items two and four. We can hear them now, contending like demented Talmudic scholars: Supposing that an administrative organizational structure, supposing also that we know what that is, does in fact, at least in some other cases, adequately reflect functional relationships, whatever they are, but nevertheless seems not to: Is that an issue or merely a concern? Are we excused from concern (issue?) with location of space (physical space, at least) that does not reflect important (not the trivial) functional relationships that do not exist between various offices?
One of our favorite Glassboro writers was quoted in the public press as defending his prose thus: "It communicated, it was understood." That much, of course, can be said of a thumb firmly pressed to the nose, and we hope that those who teach his children have standards less self-serving.* Even that feeble excuse, however, cannot be made for items two and four. A detailed analysis might well cause irreversible brain-damage, but, while the meaning is clouded, the message is clear: Our administration is a mess.
We'd like to quote the next paragraph, but it's much too long.† That paragraph suggests that hundreds of expensive hours have been poured into a task which would be unneeded in a well-organized administration, and many more are scheduled. And then, after all that time and labor, we can expect an interim report. And don't bother standing around on one foot waiting for the final report. Bureaucrats don't butter any bread by finishing the job at hand. Their profit lies in pointing to all that work they have to do and that long, long time that it must take. In this case there may indeed be some justification for delay, since that final report depends, as Clay puts it, on "responses to our questionnaires which we do not have at present."
Now that we understand: Questionnaires that are required and don't exist.
Please note that nothing that appears in THE UNDERGROUND GRAMMARIAN is protected by copyright or anything else. Not only are you free to quote or reprint or circulate anything we say--we hope you will.
A former naval person has told us that the Gschmrub, as any fool can see from the size of her forward cork and the rakish cant of her stern launcher, is not an auxiliary trawler. She is a heavy cruiser. How stupid of us.
Readers often send us examples of dismal English written in the outside world, but we can't use them because we have troubles of our own. We're glad to report that there is a publication which prints dismal English and names perpetrators. Here are the rules:
For every item of Gobbledygook published . . . we will pay $10 and keep the name[s] of contributors strictly confidential. Whenever you can--Please!--authenticate the entry by sending the original or a copy . . . Address: Gobbledygook ‘78, Metro Desk, The Washington Star, 225 Virginia Avenue SE, Washington D. C. 20061
Post Office Box 203 Glassboro, NJ 08028
Neither can his mind be thought to be in tune, whose words do jarre, nor his reason In frame, whose sentence is preposterous.
Call 445-5337 and ask for a copy. Our off-campus readers should note that the area code is 609. back