THE entire editorial
staff of The Underground Grammarian was shaken to read, in the
Philadelphia Bulletin for July 3, 1978, portentous words from Representative
Aspin of Wisconsin: "It's popular to say the volunteer military is
a failure because it's taking too many dummies. [But,] in fact, it looks
like the services are taking too few of these men."
Sure enough, there were the statistics.
The republic stands in peril because its guardians just can't seem to
attract enough volunteers stupid enough to find happiness in the dull
and interminable routines of military life. A hell of a note--and on the
eve of Independence Day, no less.
The military services sort recruits into
five categories, the first containing those whose intelligence puts them
in the smartest 7% of the population. Category Five is made up of people
too stupid to do anything. The shortage is in Category Four, those stupid
enough not to mind doing the few things they're not too stupid to do.
We have been saying that clear language
is not only the expression but the very origin of clear thought, and that
clear statements in ordered sequence are the substance of all knowledge.
We still say that. We have said further that training in the skills of
correct language is therefore training in the ability to think. That,
too, we still say. We also said that to give as many people as possible
the ability to think would be a good thing. Now there, we may have been
Things are suddenly clearer. There is only
one chairman of the board at General Motors; let him be literate. There
are thousands and thousands of nut-turners; so what if their participles
dangle a little? You let one of those guys start worrying about where
to put his participles, the next thing you know he'll be picking up on
non-sequiturs. From that it's a small step to sniffing out unstated premises,
and our Chevette hatch-backs will crumble into junk because all those
ex-nut-turners will be busy with proxy fights, and that will be the end
of civilization as we know it.
How blind we've been, castigating patriotic
educators who are simply doing their duty in providing recruits for the
fourth category. They have known all along that if everyone were taught
clear writing and clear thought there would soon be no more sweepers and
wipers, no more hewers and drawers, no more vice-presidents, no more deans.
That's some category, that Category Four.
As Thomas Jefferson lay dying--it was Independence
Day of 1826--he asked with his last breath, "This is the Fourth?"
Naturally enough, everyone has presumed that he was referring to the anniversary.
Not so. The spirit of prophecy was come upon him, and he saw the future
of the Republic. Columbia had opened to him a vision--a tawdry horde of
the dulled, drab peasantry of the America to come, the Fourth Category.
"This," he asked her--a thin whisper,
his last, "this is the Fourth?"
"That's nothing, Tom," she replied.
"Just wait till you see the Fifth."
He wanted to warn us, but his chance was
past. We have to remember his words for ourselves: "If a nation expects
to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never
was and never will be."
Scriblerus X. Machina
WHEN the Communications
Department blasted off into the unknown regions of interdivisional space,
its chairman left us to mull over his now famous Farewell (sans
But in the sober light of day after the
intoxicating elixirs of self-delusion have begun to fade, after the
sonorous tones of your voices have begun to sound hollow, after the
technicolor hues of your dreams have begun to mute into the blacks and
whites of reality--then you may perhaps face these details of reality.
He was reminding us that we had not yet
entered the twentieth century, so he must have chosen that quaint and
antiquated tone of purple fustian for ironic emphasis--don't you think?
How subtly he reminds us of our enslavement to outworn tradition by his
innovative use of mute as an intransitive verb and that multimedia
metaphor in which our elixirs fade before our very eyes!
Now the Communications Department re-enters
our atmosphere, blazing like another Kohoutek, and bringing no faded elixirs
but a heady draft proposal for a F------- of its very own. We looked at
the part where they tell all about the teaching of writing, twentieth-century
style. Here's the plan:
The communications Department proposes
to establish an ideal classroom for the teaching of the basic writing
course. . . . While there is no single classroom prototype that could
be considered ideal for all circumstances, there is a concern that different
approaches be taken. One of the keys in suggesting an ideal classroom
is that traditional classrooms have a way of perpetuating traditional
approaches . . . By bringing together in one room a large variety of
audiovisual implements, creating a relaxed atmosphere by having the
room carpeted with pictures on the walls and easy chairs and tables
and by having duplicating equipment and a variety of newspapers and
magazines readily available, we can encourage attempts to change both
students' perceptions and teachers' approaches to the task of learning
how to write.
Now why couldn't we have thought of all
that neat stuff? Because we've been hung up perpetuating traditional approaches--things
like drill and practice, writing and rewriting--that's why. Even desks!
Now we see. What we need is a dentist's waiting room redone by Radio Shack,
magazines and Muzak, comfy chairs, and a shiny new Xerox so the scholars
won't have to fight over the latest number of Popular Mechanics.
Notice a refreshing absence
of flat, empty surfaces where a thoughtless student might accidently write
words on a piece of paper and set the whole class back a century. That's
the hard part, all right, putting the words on the paper. That's why hardly
anyone was able to write before the advent of that large variety of audiovisual
The proposal itself seems to have been put
together in just such an innovative, relaxing setting. Notice, for instance,
the creative (or easy chair) treatment of punctuation in that bit about
the pictures. The room is carpeted with pictures on the walls. The pictures
are on the walls and easy chairs and tables. It's a split-screen effect.
Elsewhere we find:
A second prong in the outreach of the
department would come from a Communication Consultancy Center. This
would be created as an umbrella from which many different kinds of services
could be offered to the community.
Stunning. No fuddy-duddy of the age of paper
and pencil could ever have accomplished prose like that. The secret is
vision. Only a writer who has learned his craft from long hours
of assiduous (but relaxed) scrutiny of a twenty-inch color implement could
hope to develop a vision modern enough to see that outreaches have prongs,
prongs coming from their Centers, and that a prong, or maybe a Center,
can be created as an umbrella, an umbrella from which services can be
dispensed, services that can help us all to learn how to communicate in
just this fashion.
Well, you can just bet your Bearcat scanner
against a busted quill pen that all our staff writers will be standing
at the door the day they open that Communications Consultancy Center.
We're mired in traditions. We could never, for instance, have come up
with these spiffy structures that go the tired old passive at least one
. . . [the] Department can provide leadership
that will cause it to be viewed as a resource.
. . . few of the courses . . . have been
able to be offered on a regular basis.
. . . needs should be able to be filled
. . .
You just can't hope to master that smooth
modern style without spending hours, whole seasons probably, in
the old easy chair, beer and pretzels at hand, studying the styles of
the greatest play-by-play and color men to be found on the audiovisual
And just look at these daring departures
from stodgy tradition. We're so old-fashioned that we almost thought they
. . . the advantages the computer offers
. . . lies in continuous availability.
. . . the equipment needs . . . is appended.
. . . there needs to be provisions made
. . .
All of this is encouraging for anybody who
worries about the teaching of writing here at Glassboro. It shows that
the Communications Department is perfectly willing to put some of the
taxpayers' money where somebody's mouth is--in a collection of machines.
Time was when your basic model communications teacher would rather watch
reruns of Washington Week in Review than teach a writing course.
Now they'll be clamoring to twiddle the dials and leaf through Cosmopolitan
and rap about nontraditional approaches to interpersonal communication
in the easy chair.
Well, it's obvious that a F------- program
in communications is just what we need to solve the writing problem at
Glassboro . . . and yet . . . and yet . . . something is wrong. What can
Hmm. There is something unsettling
in the bit about the speech courses. There's a sentence that says: "The
needs in the latter area can be best described as a lack of attention."
Good heavens. Do you suppose that that was meant to mean what it means?
Can it be a subtle clue, an unconscious admission, an inadvertent invitation
to sniff about and find some other things that need exactly that--a lack
Pshaw. We're just getting too suspicious,
reading meanings into every little thing. Why that sentence is probably
nothing more than a simple mistake! Any writer is entitled to one
tiny little mistake.
So not to worry. We can all go down to the
launching in good conscience, sing in our hollow tones one chorus of "Anchors
Aweigh," smash a fifth of faded elixir on the prow of the refitted
Starship Triad, newly home from one uncharted deep, sallying forth into
yet another, carrying our hopes and dreams, ere they mute, our tuners
and amplifiers and, of course, the prongs of our outreach.
The Sallying Forth
It may be that the gulfs will wash us
it may be we shall touch the Happy Isles.
SOME of the stuff we
have to read causes cramps and vertigo and defies rational commentary.
Here's an example from a booklet describing courses in Industrial Relations
at St. Joseph's College, City Avenue & 54th Street, Philadelphia,
PA 19131. It was written by two persons--one to aid, the other to
abet--Edward J. Mullaly and Dennis J. Comey. We suspect that they broke
off their incisors while kissing the Blarney Stone.
Count a probe into the why and wherefore
of organized labor as evidence that the St. Joseph's College program
is unique and distinctive, daringly innovative. A scholar may lament
the handicap that authors and publishers have not enclosed a philosophy
of unionism within the covers of a tightly chaptered textbook. That
gap, however, will be closed by a resourceful teacher, equipped to offer
a broad brush survey of labor history, thus to uncover patterns woven
by tradition, to evaluate tried and tested practices, to capsule ongoing
guidelines melding into an unformulated but operative philosophy, needed
If you send for your own copy, you'll see
a scholar niche a factor as foibles shamble an ultra-logical approach.
This next chap works alone. He's Herbert
H. Wong, Assoc. Professor of Environmental Education at Western Washington
University, Bellingham, WA 98225. He writes:
The general "classroom culture"
and "school system culture" are in the majority programmed
with prescribed perceptions, attitudes and values which characterize
a quasi-stationary culture or at best, a metaphorical industrial model.
A topian educational system of values and its existing isomorphic, formulated
goals and means can be traumatically challenged by EE and its evolving,
diverse-goal system as EE functions as a catalytical non-discipline
to prepare and facilitate people to move through a meta-transition into
the phase of non-stationary culture . . .
We can't account for that, but, we can help
with "topian." It means: having something to do with wall decorations.
Maybe our schools are just facilitating
too many people to move into these catalytical non-disciplines.
Good News from Texas...
Dave Allred and Ron Coleman are members
of the Texas House of Representatives and subscribers not only to The
Underground Grammarian but to good English and good education. Let
all Texan readers know that these gentlemen intend to pay attention to
your concerns and suggestions. Please write them--if only, for now, to
greet them--at the Texas House of Representatives, Box 2910, Capitol Station,
Austin, Texas 78769. If you live in Dallas, you can depend on Representatives
Allred and Coleman for a vigorous response when you tell them how you
feel about the story that comes next.
For any of our readers who may have been
away on vacation, we reprint these excerpts from The New York
Times for July 23, 1978:
. . . the Dallas Independent School District
was forced to disclose that half its new teachers had failed a competency
test ...that is used to test the intelligence of persons 13 years old
. . . Administrators... did even worse
than the teachers and . . . both groups did worse than a sample of high
school students at a private school in affluent North Dallas
Of the 535 teachers tested, 11 correctly
answered 10 or fewer of the 60 questions. Of the 77 administrators who
took the test, 16 scored 10 or below.
Our office calculator (from Texas Instruments)
says that 2 percent of those teachers and almost 21 percent of those administrators
are too stupid to make it into Category Four and contribute to the preservation
of the American way of life, so they may as well stay right where they
are where no one will get hurt except some kids who don't pay taxes or
vote. Of course, if the standards at Texas Instruments are similar to
the standards for teachers in Dallas, then our figures may be a bit off.
It must be said, however, that somebody
down in Dallas had both the sense and the audacity to have such a test
given. We send congratulations and this bit of advice: You take care--you
For an evening of adventure and excitement,
why not go to the next meeting and urge such a test in your town. Stay
close to the door.
Post Office Box 203 Glassboro, NJ 08028
Assistant Circulation Manager