A Leaf in the Wind and a Straw
CONSIDER Enid Blaylock. Enid Blaylock is professor of something called educational psychology at the Long Beach campus of the University of California. In a guest editorial in The Star-Ledger, Enid Blaylock chides the public for its obstinate refusal to understand "the new goals of education." She's plucky, because if the public did understand those goals and what she has to do with them an irate citizenry might just snatch her bald and drive her with whips and nettles into the Pacific Ocean.
Enid Blaylock wants us all to know that falling SAT scores are not due to any failures in the schools or the teachers. They must be blamed on the silly makers of the tests, who persist in testing "only reading and writing" and thus "fail to measure or predict much of real importance." Here's real importance:
. . . students are taught to appreciate . . . cultures other than their own and to perceive themselves in a positive light. In addition, they are encouraged to express their feelings openly and honestly, to develop and maintain good interpersonal relationships and to question basic ideas.
Squinting through the jargon (they do like inters and perceiving in kinds of light, don't they?), we can see how blubber-chewing got started. To do this stuff a teacher announces that the class will now rap in small groups while she wanders down to the lounge to leaf through a hair-do magazine and spend time perceiving herself in a positive light just as Professor Blaylock taught her to do.
do not attempt to quantify such crucial concerns as students' self-perception; their attitude toward, and relationship with, people whose culture and social class differ from their own; their ethical behavior, values, personal philosophy and moral commitments; their creativity, emotional health and sense of ethnic identity--precisely the areas* that schools have been emphasizing . . .
That disorderly parade of clumsy jargon suggests that Enid Blaylock has good reason to denigrate tests of writing skills. We must put aside grammar, however, to advise Enid Blaylock that she and her pitiable students are practicing family counseling, social engineering, psychotherapy, and mystagogy--all without so much as a mail-order license from a motel in Sarasota. Socrates thought himself not wise enough to instruct mankind; Enid Blaylock blithely proclaims that those meager intellects and indifferent talents who pass so easily through our notoriously undemanding teacher-training schools, that those placid girls who "just love children" and those inarticulate boys who finally do ask a question in class--"How long does this paper have to be?"--that those children, tutored in their trade by people to whom reading and writing and ciphering are not of "real importance," will soon be making our children into "better human beings and not simply ‘achievers'."
Si monumentum requiris, circumspice, no? Where are all those "better human beings"? How is it that America is not wondrously transformed? The students who are regularly vandalizing the schools--do they merely "express themselves openly and honestly"? The schoolchildren who beat up teachers--is that how they "question basic values"? Or might it be that those students, however mutely, muted into savagery by schools that will not lead them into the way of words, sense that they are being cheated and despoiled?
The uneducated man is like a leaf blown
Enid Blaylock may have more brass than Muhammud Ali, but she stings like a butterfly and floats like a bee. "Just consider," she crows, "that today's students have mastered the use of a wide range of communications media--television, computers, tape recorders." Mastered. After only twelve years those cunning little blighters can press Rewind and tune in Hawaii Five-0 all by themselves. By "computers" she must mean calculators, but accuracy is for mere achievers and "does not necessarily mean that a person is well-rounded." So much for Enid Blaylock.
Consider now Marva Collins, one of those few teachers who can be called professional. She has hung out her shingle, and people pay her to teach their children. Furthermore, she makes no self-serving protestations about all that lofty--and untestable--"better human being" stuff. She seems to think that children who learn to read and write might be on the way to becoming better persons. Enid Blaylock might think that a quaint notion.
Marva Collins does not whine that society is to blame that we cannot teach poor, black children to read and write. She just does it. She makes her students memorize things and write and speak in sentences. They learn.
Her pupils, many of whom do not know the alphabet when they arrive, take standardized tests at the beginning and end of each year to measure their ability. Their progress has been phenomenal. Many jump from well below to well above their actual grade level. [Time, 12/26/77]
While Marva Collins measures what her students have learned, Enid Blaylock tells us that the SAT is "a sorting instrument [that] requires revision if it is to properly gauge† present student performance in academic areas." Academic. Yeah.
The younger children at Westside, Marva Collins' answer to Enid Blaylock's "new, expanded role of the schools," have been known to hide their shoes as 3:00 o'clock approaches so that they may stay a little longer. All the students know by heart the words of Socrates: The uneducated man is like a leaf blown from here to there, believing whatever he is told. He might even believe Enid Blaylock. While Enid coos about mastering media, reading and writing excluded, of course, Marva Collins says that if some one were to give her $20,000 worth of audio-visual equipment she'd leave it on the sidewalk. Therefore, we hope that none of you will donate film-strips to Westside Preparatory School, 3819 West Adams, Chicago, IL 60624. Try to think up something more useful.
Readers in California might also write to their governor, a well-known mere achiever.
THE F------- MEMORANDUM contrived by the Dean and the Chairmen of the Professional Division wasn't meant to entertain. The covering letter reminds us that 13 people--golly, they're dedicated folk--met for 80 hours to do the deed. We can't give them all they deserve (who could?) but we can get a good start.
Their screed (no author named, of course) bristles with bizarre slashed compounds like "task/managerial" and even slashed, hyphenated (would that be "slashed/hyphenated"?) forms like "judgment/decision-making." On page 17 we find an unintended admission of the motives of the mad slashers:
The competent teacher will be knowledgeable about environmental / cultural / physical influences upon the mental, social, emotional, & physical development of children and youth.
We can note briefly how verbosity undoes the brain and causes the inane "development of youth" where the writer was unable to let stand the lonely noun, "children," but the lesson is in the slashes. If he (she?) can write "mental, social, emotional, & physical development," why not "environmental, cultural, and physical influences"? Do the slashes add some meaning lacking in the conventionally punctuated series, or does the author fancy that they make his stuff look professional? In that ghastly he/she, frequent of course in this piece, the slash must mean either, but not both, and ditto in and/or. Try that in the passage above or in "judgment/decision-making."
Educationists like to claim--and need to believe--that their language must be complicated because their ideas are complicated. In his ignorance, of course, the layman may erroneously conclude that they are gibbering. Baloney. There are no complicated ideas in this memorandum; those that aren't simply simple are simply too elementary to require saying at all. That's why these people, like frantic freshmen filling a page, pad out their compositions by festooning their statements of the obvious with garlands of superfluous modifiers. It is as though we said not that circumstances alter cases, in itself not worth the saying, but that physical, emotional, social/ historical, psychological, cross-cultural/ interpersonal mitigating factors can be perceived to frequently eventuate in disparate results/ outcomes dependent upon and varying in accordance with inputs. Anyone who finds that complicated is stupid.
The cited passage is different only in that the writer didn't know what he was doing. It says, with a firm grasp on the obvious, that a good teacher knows a lot about students. They call that a "finding" and teach required courses "centered around" it.
Into the hands of these professionals have we delivered the future. We'll tell you more about the F------- Memo next month.
Many new readers have written to ask the meaning of F-------, but this is a family journal. We neither print that word nor use it in letters. We advise the curious to address Jan Weaver, Dean of Professional Studies, at Glassboro State College, Glassboro, New Jersey 08028. She uses that word. You might ask for a copy of the memo too, so that you can read about the subsiding panacea and study Hypothesis 4.
More or Less
The prose of Lizziel Sullivan, Tutorial Specialist, was examined at length in Volume One, Number Seven. Those very few readers who were disquieted by that article may now take comfort in the knowledge that Lizziel Sullivan, having been "thoroughly evaluated," has been, upon recommendation by our President and by the unanimous vote of our Board of Trustees, reappointed.
A faithful reader and an active free-lance Grammarian, Perplexed in Pittsburgh, writes to question some tangled obscurities in the final paragraph of last month's front page. He asks what the babes and sucklings have to do with the Faculty Senate and points out that the last sentence would make sense only if there actually were a vice-president "paid to futs around with parking problems."
He deserves a reply:
Yours in English,
A reader in Florida has informed us that the nine teacher-training schools in his state offer 3,079 courses in education, an average of 342 each. He calls that deplorable.
At Glassboro we have 464 such courses. We call it protecting the troops.
The Annals of