The Annual Report
'TIS THE SEASON to be jolly, and this month's issue is about as jolly as we get around here. Admittedly, we are taking a dim view of the minimum competence testing hoax, indicting the New Jersey Commissioner of Education for some tricky diction, and firing off the first little squib of our new campaign of public ridicule designed to expel all the "professionals" of education from the public schools, but that is about as jolly as we get.
There are some tidings of good cheer. This issue of The Underground Grammarian marks the end of two years of struggle against ignorance and inanity at Glassboro. Say not it naught availeth. Our prose has improved. It is getting harder to find examples of barbarous English except in special contexts--in the accreditation business, for instance. To be sure, more and more "drifts" appear, but it is also true that Mark Chamberlain has been writing in the active voice and that our numerous deans and vice-presidents have either given up writing entirely or taken to circulating their works only among close friends.
This is gratifying. It is true, of course, that these bloodthirsty Glassborovians complain when their colleagues go unlacerated, but, like Willie Sutton, we go where the money is. We read examples from all over the USA and Canada. They make GSC look good.
We suspect that we may have rediscovered a lost principle of pedagogy, or, as "professionals" would put it, a mode of behavior modification recognized as being outcome-enhancing. Its name is Fear, strongest of instructors and teacher of tricks to dogs of any age.
Of old, while captains and burghers concocted programs and devised strategies, the barbarians waited patiently beside their shaggy ponies. In our time, it is the smug and complacent barbarians who devise and concoct. We don't need the ponies, just the patience.
WE like to give discredit only where discredit is due. In the October issue, we printed some examples of school administrator gibberish written and circulated by person or persons unknown at the Southeast Junior High School in Guilford County, Virginia. In fact, those unnatural acts were committed not in Virginia but in North Carolina.
WE like also to refrain from giving discredit where only little, if any, seems due. Some writing is bad because it flows from ignorance or inanity or the intent to deceive. Those things cannot be excused, especially in people who take the taxpayers' money for the work of their minds. Some mistakes in writing, however, come from haste or carelessness. They are bad, but we cannot conclude from them alone that the writer is either an ignoramus, a fool, or a scoundrel.
Several Glassborovians sent us marked-up copies of a recent AFT bulletin marred by numerous typographical errors. That's bad, but they clearly are typographical errors rather than ignorance. When in one paragraph we find "grammer" three times, we assume ignorance. When "u" appears where "n" should be, we assume haste.
Maybe next time.
Make not the lesser grebe more less, dear friends, by laughing him to scorn; nor yet contempt of sloth express; nor rue the day the gnu was born. No less than you the aardvark needs his innocence presumed, unproved; like you the vile hyena pleads that all his sins may be removed. Like you, the nasty roach may need some day a friend to help him out. Upon the loathsome centipede, bestow the benefit of doubt. Lest when such creatures have their say, on Christmas Eve as midnight tolls, they speak the truth, & Christmas Day we find our stockings full of coals.
A Minimum Competence to all,
WE are now ready to explain the minimum competence testing mania that stalks the land and that our educationists have embraced as a reasonable academic facsimile of disco dancing. In this life, the frivolous nitwits seem to have all the fun. Educationists are not frivolous, but they are entitled to their fun, too.
Here's how they get it: First, you have to imagine a herd of people. Let's call them Herd A. They are different from each other in many ways, but, in at least one way, they're much alike. They are about equally literate. Here's how most of them write English:
Our school's cross-graded multi-ethnic, individualized learning program is designed to enhance the concept of an open-ended learning program with emphasis on a continuum of multi-ethnic, academically enriched learning using the identified intellectually gifted child as the agent or director of his own learning. Major emphasis is on cross-graded, multi-ethnic learning with the main objective being to learn respect for the uniqueness of a person.
A pitiful case, to be sure, and an urgent argument for a minimum competence test for someone, but it's not that simple. You must also imagine another herd of people, Herd B, equally diverse but also more or less alike in literacy. Here's how they write English:
The time capsule of the 20th century floating threw space finely reaches it's goal one hundred years later. As it is open up information of the past one hundred years is released.
The automobile one of man's greatest achievements for transportation. Now it can not be used because man has wasted all of the nature oil of the earth. It is studied and the result is that man could have develope a less wasteful type of transportation. But the need for power and speed overwhemled there thoughts.
That does have a poignant quality. Finely, indeed, is just how we might have reached our goals, if only our thoughts hadn't been overwhemled. Nevertheless, the passage has some faults. The writers of Herd B also seem less than minimally competent.
Little by little it became obvious even to the dimmest of curriculum coordinators and program supervisors that the public's alarm about minimum competence could be turned into more jobs for their ilk and bigger staffs for just about every department in the educationist bureaucracy. It is an axiom of those jaunty functionaries that there are no problems, only challenges and opportunities, and this was one of the richest opportunities since the invention of guidance counsellors.
So the thing was done. Because members of Herd A are often bigger, it seemed only right that they should test the members of Herd B, rather than vice versa. (The testing of Herd A will probably have to wait until the Day of Judgment.) The testing goes like this: That apparatchik who wrote the first passage will eventually assure us that the schools are doing a great job. He'll point to the scores. The scores will prove that many members of Herd B now do understand the colon and can often make decisions about lay and lie.
So there. Let nothing you dismay.
SPEAKING of lay and lie, here's a strange item you might have missed, buried, as it was, in the letters column of the Star-Herald of Trenton. That paper had printed a guest column by one "Publius," said to be a member of the educational apparatus. Publius commented on the quality of the written English in a summary report cranked out by the people who cooked up the minimum competency testing program for New Jersey. He did not provide quotations, but he did describe some sad mistakes of just the kind we have learned to expect in such documents.
Thereafter, the New Jersey Commissioner of Education, one Burke, set forth his understanding of the matter in a letter to the editor. Like any standard educationist, he suggested that a concern for stuff like punctuation and the agreement of subjects and verbs was "pedantic" and "picayune." So much for education in New Jersey.
Having thus implied that there is nothing much wrong with the summary, Burke, like any standard bureaucrat, hastens to put as much distance as he can between himself and the perpetrators of the almost flawless document. Nobody in his department, he says, had anything to do with it. That seems true.
He goes further, however, saying that the summary was done by "laymen" and that the deliberating committees were made up of the same. That is false.
When that crew was first collected, there were complaints that ordinary citizens were but poorly represented. The imbalance was duly corrected, bringing the membership to 108, of which only 83 were "professionals" of education. That still failed to satisfy someone, apparently, for 13 more "professionals" were added a bit later. The final score was: "Professionals," 96; Laymen, 25 (including 5 members of school boards).
At Burke's office, they say that well, maybe "laymen" wasn't the best word. What he meant was that no one in his outfit had done the deed. (That, of course, Burke had already said.) In Trenton, "professionals" of education who belong to other gangs can be called "laymen." It may be a kind of "cover." Our concern about such misrepresentation will be thought, of course, picayune and pedantic.
Is the commissioner capable of saying what he means? If so, why does he choose to mislead us? If not, shouldn't we be considering a minimum competence test for commissioners? We can clear him of the suspicion of duplicity only through granting his ignorance, and vice versa, but it must be the one or the other. Take your choice.
It is interesting that the "mistaken" use of "laymen" causes a misunderstanding so convenient for educationists. As they've tried to blame falling scores on test-makers and rising illiteracy on "problem youngsters," so they would dearly love to conclude that failures of agreement are caused by those laymen.
We have noted before that public dismay about education has been converted into job security for the very people whose failures caused that dismay. Well, that's progress. In ancient times, we used to pay the barbarians to stay away.
Lay or Lie?
IN February of 1977 (1:2), we suggested the institution of a reading and writing competence test for faculty and administrators at Glassboro. Although our various factions are contending among themselves as to which is the most devoted to excellence, none showed any interest in that suggestion. That was a mistake, for it is written that those who refuse to strain out a gnat will someday have a camel shoved down their throats. Amen. Such testing will surely come, and, however little we may care to do it ourselves, we will care much less for those who will do it for us.
Consider the plight of public school teachers in Montgomery County, Maryland. The taxpayers there aren't yet angry enough to insist that the teachers be tested, but all applicants are tested for minimum competence in their subjects. Minimum, that is. English teachers, for instance, are expected to score 80%. That's four out of five. If the tire manufacturers were that good, all we'd have to do is pray for the spare to blow up.
There's worse. The man in charge of the testing is a certain Steven Mosier, "personnel chief." His competence percentage nobody knows, but you can make your own estimate by attending to what he says: "We saw the tests as one way of improving and impacting grammatics and word usage." Yeah.
Mosier is quoted by Edward B. Fiske in a piece on teacher-testing in The New York Times, where we also find the querelous plaint of the NEA in the words of one Margaret Knispel: "Instead of going to teachers and asking them as professionals to address the issue of standards, they [?] are jumping in with tests by outsiders [again?]." Uh-huh.
We asked them; we asked them and asked them. They answered not, proclaiming that they were "professionals" committed to excellence and perfectly able to mind their shops every bit as well as the House Ethics Committee or the aluminum siding industry.
If these people were in fact being tested by "outsiders," we could applaud, but the only outsiders in the public schools are children. We are watching ill-educated administrators testing ill-educated teacher-trainees.
It seems that education can be saved only by driving out all the educators. We'll do it.
and a very Merry Christmas