Volume Two, Number Six............September 1978

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 wrong.

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."

The Works
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 Hail):

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 implements. (Implements?)

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. Electronic!

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 better--maybe two:

. . . [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 implement.

And just look at these daring departures from stodgy tradition. We're so old-fashioned that we almost thought they were mistakes:

. . . 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 it be?

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 of attention?


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 down;
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 and wanted.

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. There.

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.

...and Bad

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 and older.

. . . 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 hear?

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.

The Underground
Post Office Box 203 Glassboro, NJ 08028
R. Mitchell
Assistant Circulation Manager

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,
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.