Pluralites ponenda est!
IF you take hold of Occam's Razor by the blade and try to shave with the handle, you'll end up with a face full of hair and some short, stumpy fingers. It'll serve you bloody right. Some folk, however, don't care what's on their faces, as long as it isn't egg, and they worry about diminishing digits only when they have dollar signs out in front of them.
More and more states are looking for ways to find out how much the students learn in those expensive schools. The results are not encouraging. The National Education Association itself is dismayed, but not, as you'd think, because the schools don't seem to do a good job. They are dismayed with the tests being used to measure what the students have learned. They reason thus; If students can't do well on those standardized tests, we'll just have to come up some better tests, tests that will show us exactly what's wrong with these obstinate rascals who refuse to learn to read and write.
"What we need," says Dave Darland, the director of instruction at NEA, "is a new set of procedures to get at the learning problem." There. That's for all you saps who have been thinking that there might just be a teaching problem. It's a learning problem!
The NEA is now urging so-called "criterion referenced" tests that don't measure anyone against anyone else or against any presumed standard. Expensive as such tests might be to devise, they would show that all those kids have really been taught a hell of a lot, considering their learning problems, that is.
One of our colleagues, a David Weischadle, who is an associate professor of education at Montclair, was whining the same tune in an editorial last July in the Times. Well, yes, he conceded, there are some high school graduates who can't read or write. Why there may even be many more such "problem youngsters than we know." Problem youngsters.
The youngsters' problems, Weischadle discloses, are compounded by heedless parents who fail to help the schools in the "early identification of learning problems." "The parent should have," he proclaims, "complete confidence in the school." Sure.
So what's to be done? Naturally, Weischadle calls for "the acquisition of local, state or Federal monies to enact better programs." What did you expect?
What we can all expect, of course, is more of this line. Educationists don't like simple explanations except for the one that says that the schools could do the job if we gave them more monies for better programs, programs even better than the last better programs for which we gave them monies and which have brought us to the point where 17% of high school graduates are illiterate.
Pluralites non ponenda est, wrote William of Occam, sine necessitate, but these folk need pluralites lest they have to face the thought that students learn less when they are taught less. They'd rather find a way to conclude that the fault must be shared, by everyone else, but that they're still willing and able to save us if we'll just have complete confidence and fork over the monies. It's always plural.
Nobody here but us Professionals
THAT Weischadle, who is mentioned above, can be studied at length in the New Jersey section of The New York Times for July 16, 1978. His piece is called, naturally, "Educating the Parents." Mass illiteracy he easily dismisses as a matter of "problem youngsters," but those uppity parents who are beginning to complain about illiteracy--they need to be taught a lesson. They can vote! If we don't straighten those malcontents out right away, they might end up listening to demagogues and voting against some of our favorite monies.* Worse yet, and it's with this fear that Weischadle begins his finger-wagging, some of them might win those malpractice suits that they're discussing with their lawyers.†
Weischadle protests that even if illiteracy were the fault of the schools, that wouldn't mean that the schools were to blame. Here's the delicate way he puts it:
Have the critics been fair to the schools? To the extent that schools are responsible for a youngster's educational growth, the critics have dealt with the right party. However, it does not necessarily mean that professionals in the schools are inept. It does mean that educational leadership has failed to articulate the problem effectively and carry out the necessary programs.
It's hard to know exactly what Weischadle means by that "articulate." First we thought that the "professionals" had been unable to utter intelligible sounds, for that reading does reflect experience. However, in this kind of writing, no "professional" would ever waste a nifty word like "articulate" on such a simple thought. Next we guessed that the man might be saying that the "professionals" had been unable to define the problem thoroughly and accurately. That, too, we had to reject. Such inability would be remarkably similar to ineptitude in "professionals," surely, but Weischadle says they're not inept. Only one possibility remains: "To articulate the problem effectively" must mean to find some description that will keep irate parents from thinking that the "professionals" are inept. Of course! That's just what Weischadle's is up to in this piece--educating the parents.
He does some pretty fancy articulating as well. Where do they learn that language? In the ordinary graduate school, candidates are expected to be competent in a couple of foreign languages, but in those education places they know that skill in language will cripple the budding "professional" by enabling him to say things plainly. You get no monies that way. Straight talk would mean the end of effective articulation as we know it.
Here are some examples of bent talk from Weischadle's little piece. He won't say that people are talking about something; he says that "much recent discussion has focused on" it. He can't say, "Hurry"; he says that "delay should not be allowed to take place." He can't say that people should use wisely what they have; he says that "an enlightened utilization . . . must be present." He can't say that the people who deal out discipline should be consistent; he says that "the haphazard application of disciplinary action . . . must be eliminated." He can't say, "Don't worry." He says that "uneasiness should be settled."
Still, we worry. For one thing, there is no clear meaning in the settling of uneasiness. In fact, it sounds ominous. If the settling of uneasiness has the same effect as the settling of terms or plans, we don't want any part of it. For another, how can we take any comfort from a teacher of teachers who condescends, in broken English, to explain why we should have "complete confidence" in him and other "professionals," so that they may get on, unhampered by our ill-informed and amateurish complaints, with the "acquisition . . . of monies to enact better programs" that will, this time around, solve the illiteracy problem?
In these examples of Weischadle's tortured English, the grammatical subjects are things, not persons, and abstract things at that. All things that must be done by people, but we see no people. This language suggests a world where responsible agents, the doers of deeds, have been magically occulted by the deeds themselves. A weird structure of that sort, utilization must be present, for example, has the merit (?) of excusing somebody from an obligation to use something. If things go wrong, therefore, it's not any person's fault; it's just that utilization wasn't present.
Such structures, furthermore, often generate certain morally flavored auxiliary verbs: "delay should not"--"application must," etc. This is another grammatically symbolized cop-out which implies that moral obligation falls upon deeds rather than doers. It is up to those negligent deeds to get themselves done. This is convenient for those "professionals" who won't be able to do them.
Normal English, in its typical structure, a simple sentence in the active voice, implies a world where agents perform acts. There are times when we would wish it otherwise, and in our minds we can devise subterfuges that will make it seem otherwise. We do the business of the mind in language, and we make our subterfuges of the same stuff. Weischadle, in his grammatical gyrations, is not just writing bad English; he is positing a certain kind of world. In that world, one can parler sans parler like Castorp and reject in advance all responsibility for what one says. Here's how Weischadle does it--indeed, how almost anyone of those "professionals" would do it: "The pre-school years have been recognized as being important formulative years."
He probably means "formative," although he may be thinking that the pre-school years are the years spent sucking a formula from bottles--but no matter. The important thing is the grotesque contortion by which he escapes having to say that the pre-school years are formative, or, if you like, formulative. It matters not at all to the "professional" that what he has to say is obvious and banal and widely enough known that it needs no saying; he still finds a way to evade responsibility for having said it. In this timid language of misdirection and abdication, no one would dare stand forth and proclaim that a turkey is a turkey. He might mutter, tentatively, that a turkey has been recognized as being a turkey--although not necessarily by him.
Into such prose, human beings vanish. No wonder we couldn't discover Weischadle's salary. He has withdrawn into the precincts of the passive voice. He has given over all doing of deeds and drawn up about him the mists of circumlocution. Far from our ken, he has sojourned in the land of the self-eliminating application and followed the spoor of the place-taking delay. He is, by now, by gloomy night and periphrastics compassed round. He is, in short, or sort of short, no longer recognized as being Weischadle. Now we see the truth. There is no Weischadle.
[This is the complete text of a notice sent out by the people at Personnel Services at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, IL 62901.]
This is a clarification of the Learner Program on page five, in the section entitled, "University Civil Service Learner/Trainee Program." The first sentence reads:
The learner program is designed to employ persons who are not qualified for begining level civil service classification.
We feel it should be clarified to read:
The Learner Program is designed to allow access to entry level employment persons who have been pre-screened for job readiness in the absence of qualified candidates on the re-employment register.
If you have any further questions, please contact Training and Development.
Should violations occur by students which are in opposition to the health, safety, and welfare of themselves or other students, the privilege of riding a school bus by a student is subject to be withdrawn.
Any extreme clothing which directs unusual attention toward your child, or vice-verse, should not be worn to school.
Students should plan with their parents for all eventualities so that if the student misses the bus, provision by the parent to bring the student to school during inclement weather will seldom, if ever, use this excuse.
["Vice-verse" is what it says. Some folk here will decide that that must be what's wrong in the sentence.]