THE UNDERGROUND
GRAMMARIAN

Volume Two, Number Five............May 1978

EVERYONE KNOWS that the reading and writing skills of high school graduates have declined regularly for about the last fifteen years. Few know, however, what we can now reveal: As the median verbal scores of students fell only 10.25% in the last decade, barely more than one measly per cent a year, the median IQ of professional educationists fell more than twice as fast, from 114 (an all-time high) to about 92. Take comfort from this news, for it does at least provide a rational explanation for a perplexing fact of life.

For at least ten years, every American who is not a professional educationist has understood why students read and write worse every year: The schools teach less every year--that's all. The very wind-up toy salesmen in the streets could have told you that silly electives and gimmicky mini-courses had driven out the teaching of reading and writing--and ciphering, as well--and that school had simply become too easy. They could have told you, too, that while such stuff made life easier for teachers and brought in barrels of federal money for nonsense like role-playing and consciousness-raising,* it assured that each graduating class would be more ignorant than the last. The wind-up toy salesmen knew that. Jockeys and Roto-rooter operators knew that. Parents, of course, knew that; all educated people knew that. So who didn't know that? Who kept telling us that television was to blame, or maybe integration, or maybe Society, or even the Zeitgeist? Who was sure that schools and teachers, at least, were blameless? Who? You know who--Educationists. That's who.

Well, it's a long worm that has no turning, and now even some professional educationists may know. You must understand that those folk are snappy indeed at what they call noncognitive learning, but when rational thought is needed they have to be told what "studies have shown." Now, at last, they have their own "findings." The National Association of Secondary School Principals now releases a startling report that concludes, from a study of some high schools where scores have not fallen, that all we need is a strict, demanding academic regimen. Gosh! What'll they think of next? What will they do, now that they've had to learn what everyone else has known for years? Something? Nothing?

We can make a good guess by looking at our own experience. Like the educationists at Glassboro, they will launch into the future those leaky tubs that foundered in the past--here a patch, there a patch . . . They will, à la Westmoreland, call for more money, more troops, more required courses in education. They will, at the expense of the taxpayers, hire other educationists as consultants and announce themselves "perfectly satisfied" by their credentials, as the cuckoo was satisfied to have the jackass for a judge.

There is no reason to expect that those secondary school principals will prove any more enlightened than our own professionals, who emit, in their putative search for "excellence" as teacher-trainers, long pages of hypotheses and abstract speculations and socio-cultural/ethnic/ economic generalizations decked out in pseudo-psychological jargon. (It must be said, in fairness, that there isn't any more of that "demonstrated excellence" talk around here nowadays: all they claim now is that if excellence is what we want, why, of course, they can provide that. This makes us wonder what that other stuff was, the stuff they used to call excellence, and further to wonder why we should now trust those who were, by implicit admission, unable to provide excellence in the past and, by simple logic, either ignorant or mendacious about what they couldn't do. But enough--their new stance, however reluctantly taken, may be only a small step for a man, but it's a great leap forward for a Division of Professional Studies.)

Ten years from now we'll remind you that we gave a problem that almost any one can solve into the hands of the only people who can't solve it. It won't matter, though; few will be able to read what we say, and even fewer will care. The rest is non-cognition.

Good English . . .

. . . needs more than elementary correctness. Even more reprehensible than the danglers of participles are those writers who darken counsel by words without knowledge and pervert our language in an attempt to deceive.

We expect perversion of the language from those whose advantage lies not in a precise expression of their thoughts--politicians, hucksters, criminals. Scoundrels they may be, but the thoughtful know that and are not duped.

We expect perversion of the language from those whose minds are out of tune--fools. The thoughtful are not duped.

Even the thoughtful may be duped, however, when those we suppose honorable or wise prove scoundrels or fools. When a professor perverts our language, he does so either as a scoundrel or a fool and outrages the truth and his calling.

We remind our readers that it is not for their delectation but rather for the discomfiture of the perpetrators that perversions of our language are made to seem laughable in these pages. There is nothing funny about vice and folly.

Laugh, but laugh little, remembering that the perpetrators smart, but smart little. If we are ever to do some good and useful work, it will be out of not the mirth of our readers, but their wrath.

By Fons, as Told to Origo

WE'RE TIRED, too, of playing with the educationists. We'd rather idle away an hour with some of our highly paid and unusually educated administrators. For instance, there's Leo Beebe, Dean of the Division of Administrative Studies. (In other schools it's a Business Department, but we have so many serious scholars around here that the refugees from the marts would feel a bit déclassé without a Studies title.) Beebe writes in public about being "obsoleted," but that's natural--he was, after all, involved in the production of the Edsel. We'd also like to discuss his "twin thrusts," but this is a high-class sheet. We must forgo Leo Beebe.

How charming it would be to dally with Marguerite Stubbs and Betsey Wriggins and explore their darling little proposal to offer a kollege kredit kourse titled "Who am I?" Enid would be so proud. We'd better not mess with them, however; nobody on our staff can handle that existentialism stuff.

Leo and the ladies are probably just trying to sound academic. We're not after the little guys who push gobbledygook in the schoolyard; we want the big shots, the syndicate, the founts and origins of jargon and inanity. We know where to find them, too, although they're doing everything they can to cover their tracks. Their latest big shipment isn't even signed, but that's all right--that means we can collar them all for peddling junk.

The F------ Memorandum was composed with great care on the mistaken assumption that all it takes to make good English is the absence of things like failures of agreement and comma faults. That our English must be conventionally correct is obvious; making it so, however difficult they must have found that, earns no merit. It is also necessary to say something and make sense.

"Teaching," says some one or other of our professionals, "is the application of a systematic series of actions directed toward specific ends." (Original italics.) That's a very useful description, just as illuminating about fraudulent conversion and vacuum-cleaner repair as it is about teaching. The subject and verb do, however, agree, and the diction is surely professional, so the writer must have decided that the inanity didn't matter.

Perhaps, however, it was just one of those stupid generalizations that we all need from time to time to start a line of reasoning; but in the next sentence we read that "Within the general system of teaching acts are many subsets of actions and processes." If you have the knack of writing like that--it isn't hard--you can fool some of the people some of the time into thinking you are an expert. Try it yourself in those two sentences, replacing "teaching" with "hydraulic engineering" or "open-heart surgery." Sounds neat, doesn't it?

It gets worse. In the next sentence, we are meant to see that the author is as learned as he is professional:

For example, based upon developments in philosophy, psychology, and communications theory, teaching and learning are now seen as reciprocal relations within a special system of information processing.

Wouldn't you like to take hold of this chap and require him to describe precisely those "new developments" that have brought him and the other slow learners to the knowledge that teaching and learning affect each other? Wouldn't you like to know what he means when he says that teaching and learning are "relations," and how a "special system" differs from a mere system? "For example," he says, as though about to provide the names of some "subsets of actions and processes." So where are they? And that "based upon" phrase, what exactly does it modify? Does he mean to be cagey in saying that teaching and learning "are seen" as "relations"? Does he see them as relations? Do his pals? What do we pay him for this kind of work?

This is the document of which Jan Weaver boasted, tartly reminding us that 13 people met for more than 80 hours to concoct it. It would have served her better to say that her Bulgarian graduate assistant had scribbled it out between classes. There isn't a page that doesn't show either inanity or duplicity. You can open it at random and put your finger on bunk. Not only the teachers of our children but also the teacher-trainers of the future will be trained by these teacher-trainers.

We turn now to Hypothesis Four on page 10, but first a little comic relief in the form of a silly misplaced modifier:

Hypothesis 2: That students who complete the fifth year residency of the experimental program will differ significantly [how else?] in ability to make and implement appropriate educational decisions from a control group of teachers who have completed one year of employment.

This hypothesis not only entertains us with its funny dangler, but it refreshes as well with its naive distinction between a "year of employment" and the equally possible but less credible "year of teaching." Perhaps, merely perhaps, deep, deep in their hearts, in the still watches of the night, perhaps they do suspect that there is a difference. That possibility we gladly grant, but we cannot grant the utility of Hypothesis 2. To test it would need some one who is able to recognize an "appropriate educational decision" when he sees one.

With our customary restraint, we will now refrain from expressing an appropriate educational decision about Hypothesis 4:

All participants in the experimental program, preservice [sic] or experienced teachers, will show similar shifts in responses on the Concerns Inventory from undifferentiated unrelated, through personal concerns, to logistical/ collaborative concerns, and to impact and effectiveness concerns as each change is introduced and developed.

Imagine, if you can, that somebody was not ashamed to have written that. Twelve others read it and found it good.

If the author of the F------ Memorandum knew what he was doing, his intent was to darken counsel, and he is bad. If his intent was good, then he just didn't realize that his prose was deceptive and insulting, and he is foolish. It is good that his name is not given, for that demonstrates that his colleagues assented that he might speak for them all, and thus what we can find in the writer we can find in those who empowered him.

We cannot wish that the traits to which the
F------ Memorandum bears witness will be passed on to future teachers; at the least, we require in a teacher clarity of mind and goodness of heart, so that whatever evil the former might work the latter would forbid, and whatever beloved folly the latter might embrace the former would unmask. The one alone, knaves have; the other, fools.

But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgement. For by thy words thou shalt be justified and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.

We now say Goodbye for the Summer. To our non-Glassborovian readers we here repeat the instructions in the enclosed supplement, although in brief: Do those things. You can reach us all summer at the usual address: Post Office Box 203, Glassboro, New Jersey 05028.

* There's no end in sight. In the public schools of Pitman, New Jersey, where SAT scores are even worse than you might expect, they are spending tax money for an enterprise in which "breakfasts will be prepared for [the students] to show man's interrelationship with all men." Antipasto? Kielbasa? Blubber? back

† You think this is a joke? We don't make jokes. At a meeting of the F------ Steering Committee of The Division of Professional Studies, Marion Hodes moved that the education requirement be increased to 60 credits, one half of an incipient teacher's training. The motion was passed unanimously. back

‡ We have divisions and task forces and deans who spearhead our thrusts and classes at 0800 hours. This helps our administrators by preparing them for what they want to be when they grow up. back


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