Happy New Year
MANY have written
to say that The Underground Grammarian is perfect in every respect
save one--no sports column. All too true. Now to the rescue comes J.
Mitchell Morse, an old friend ("The
Sin of Clumsiness," 1:9) and widely known grammarian. His,
and our, first ever sports column appears on the sports page of this
issue, along with "Teratology," naturally. We have printed
it prettily, just in case you'd like to tape it up in your locker.
G. Burke, NJ Commissioner of Education, can be found at 225 W. State
St., Trenton, NJ 08625. When you've read this month's issue, send him
your views, and send us a copy. The writer of the best letter will win
one complete set The Underground Grammarian. All runners-up
will be sent elegant, hand-printed "Support your local Grammarian"
everybody, stop writing to Grammarians, Inc. They are spending hours
and hours answering mail when they should be earning fat and well-deserved
fees from high-ranking barbarians. Students interested in a summer internship
with Grammarians, Inc. should write to us.
DEd on Arrival
FROM Columbia Teachers
College, a lady has written to instruct us that growing illiteracy is
not to be blamed on the educators. She is a candidate for a doctorate
in education, so she should know. It is to be blamed, rather, on "curriculum
changes instituted during the late 1960's . . . focused upon affective
rather than cognitive education."
Columbia Teachers College, sad to say,
is not accredited by The Underground Grammarian. It's a pity,
because this lady has all the makings of a real DEd. Her amnesia alone
should earn her the rank of professional of education. Furthermore,
although she misspells only one word, she does think that the subjunctive
is a "case," and she speaks with easy grace of "effective
in-class interaction." She carefully specifies that by a "classroom
setting" she means an "actual classroom setting." She
even recites the comfortable creed which asserts that the "academically
accomplished" seldom prove good teachers, an article of faith essential
to the mental health of professionals of education.
It's not her fault that she wandered into
an unaccredited school. Let all men know, therefore, that we here and
now pronounce her DEd, horroris causa. Let her go forth and teach
other would-be DEds that it was not the professionals who brought
us the follies of affective education; it was the angry gods.
Life Skills and Facet Depth in Trenton
THIS MONTH we give
our readers their own minimum competence test. Take your time, for if
you can answer this question cleverly enough, you'll prove yourself
competent to serve as Commissioner of Education in New Jersey, a post
that should soon be empty. If the best you can manage is a correct
answer, you'd better give up all hope of an exciting and lucrative career
in educational administration.
First, read this passage:
The Committee acknowledges that life
skills are essential tools needed for successful social, economic,
and political survival. Skill areas are made up of sequences or hierarchies
of skills, the fundamental ones of which are necessarily learned at
the earliest stages of development.
Now, choose carefully:
This passage was written by
a) a housewife from Teaneck.
b) a member of Herd B.
c) a professional of education.
d) a hierarchy of essential tools
in their earliest stage of development.
e) a member of the Fifth Category.
The correct answer, of course, is c),
although a strong case can be made for d). Members of Herd B and the
Fifth Category do some pretty terrible things, but nothing this bad.
If you were wily enough to lay the rap on a housewife from Teaneck,
then you are either the Commissioner of Education or a splendid candidate
for the job.
That babble is from
a lively little volume snappily titled: Minimum Basic Skills Program:
Minimum Basic Skills Advisory Committee's Final Report, of which Burke
asserts: "The report itself was written by those same lay people."
Burke, as you have probably forgotten, is the Commissioner for
just now. If you believe his assertion, you're a little short on life
skills. Any time you read that things essential are also needed, either
an arrogant presumption of your ignorance or a shocking revelation of
the writer's, you know that you are following the spoor of Herd A. No
ordinary citizen would accost his fellow lay people with melancholy
tidings of areas made up of sequences or hierarchies. To perpetrate
such an outrage takes nothing less than an unmitigated professional
Since the rest of that passage is too
long to quote, you'll just have to take it from us that this "Life
Skills [!] Recommendation" never names so much as one lousy little
life skill. A call to the Department of Education elicited, after a
pause, the tentative suggestion that, uh, well, maybe a life skill was
something, like balancing a checkbook. Yeah. You would think that arithmetic
would suffice for that life skill, but recent test scores around the
state suggest that the schools aren't very good at teaching arithmetic.
It is hard, and just the teensiest bit elitist, wouldn't you
say? So they take some poor, black kid in Newark, a kid who's never
had two dimes at once and never will on the strength of that
education, and they can't seem to teach him arithmetic, but they do
have this real neat plan to teach him to balance his checkbook.
Enough. You're still being tested. Here's
a piece from the companion volume, Status of Minimum Standards Remedial
Programs in New Jersey: Final Report of Minimum Basic Skills-Advisory
Committee [hyphen original]:
The Minimum Basic Skills Advisory Committee
does not suggest that this report explores in depth all facets of
the remedial educational problems in our state. The Committee does
feel, though, that this report is a representative assessment that
contains enough information to enforce feelings that serious problems
do exist in New Jersey's remedial education program--and that unless
extraordinary measures are employed promptly we will see general conditions
worsen--and may well see our larger urban districts fall to virtually
(You will not be tested on those bizarre,
floating hyphens; we can't figure them out either. They're clearly hyphens,
not dashes, and they're not substitutes for commas, for commas also
appear in the text. In Burke's defense of this document, we learn that
"the use of commas" is "simply, [a matter of] stylistic
preferences," so he probably presumed them some sort of innovative
stylistic preferences. However, the ubiquitous hyphens are usually found,
like those seen above, where no punctuation is needed. We have to guess
that the writer just didn't know whether or not to punctuate at those
places. The housewife from Teaneck could have told him, but professionals
don't consult housewives. His pals, however, must have been equally
at a loss. Punctuation is a cognitive skill of little interest
to professionals. They're interested in affective punctuation,
what Burke would call "stylistic preferences." They apparently
decided to do what educationists always do when they find themselves
over their heads in the deep, unfamiliar waters of cognition: Innovate!
The nifty thing about innovating is that nobody else can figure out
just what the hell you're up to either.)
Now reread that passage carefully and
answer these questions:
1. In just how much depth can we explore
2. Why is it ever so much more professional
to employ measures than to do things?
3. If a virtually irretrievable depth
were in fact to be retrieved--not impossible, since it's only virtually
irretrievable--would we then have a deep enough depth to explore a
Publius called one of these reports "sloppy,
flabby, and imprecise." That's a reasonable enough judgment, but
Burke pronounced it "untrue and detrimental to our efforts in this
area." Detrimental? Well, a little bit; but Publius shows promise,
and next time he may be more effective.
While Burke is pointing
way over there at all the laymen, the Communications and Life Skills
Committee people* are congratulating
themselves for being "experts in both the communication skills
and life skills areas." Their "in-residence expertise"
was so great, indeed, that "the Committee did little outside data-gathering;
rather, it spent its time in deliberation." (Boyoboy! Those people
are going to be mad when they find out that Burke has called them a
pack of laymen!) Here's some of the fruit of their expert deliberation:
It is necessary that schools and school
districts emphasize the importance of imparting to students the skills
and attitudes which are the underpinnings of a comfortable, confident,
successful producer of all forms of written matter, including prose,
poetry, and practical narrative and descriptive and interrogatory
writing (e.g., letters, applications, requests for information, reports,
The housewife from
Teaneck wanted them to say that the schools should teach writing, but
professionals don't think like that. They must expose the producer's
underpinnings. They have to play the expert by elaborating "all
forms of written matter" into a silly and gratuitous list, as though
condescending to feeble-minded readers who wouldn't be able to think
up any examples for themselves.† They
have even contrived "interrogatory" writing, to be distinguished,
no doubt, from declaratory writing and exclamatory writing, both of
which they would surely have named as well had their expertise stretched
that far. Inanely, they specify that it is "to students" that
the important imparting is to be done. No sane teacher of composition
would give this illiterate gabble a passing grade, but it satisfied
a pack of professionals unto whom we have given our children
We do not mean to be detrimental to the
Commissioner's "efforts in this area." We intend to be destructive.
Ex nihilo, nihil, and those who brought us into this disorder
will never lead us out of it.
New Jerseyans, go to Teaneck! Find that
housewife! Bring her in triumph to Trenton. Acclaim her Commissioner
of Education. Of the false commissioner make at least a true prophet.
Let there be "lay people." Some of them will prove
to be educated.
The following is an explanatory addendum
to a document that purports to describe post-tenure review policy at
the Oregon Institute of Technology, Klamath Falls, OR 97601:
Words used in the singular include the
plural, and words used in the plural include the singular; the word
"shall" is mandatory and the word "may" is permissive;
the masculine includes the feminine and the neuter; words used in the
present tense include the future and the future tense includes the present.
New Jersey must put up with not only
a Commissioner of Education but even a Governor, a certain Byrne. Some
innocent school-children sent him, at his request, some ideas for the
new license plates. Here's one paragraph from his answer to the young
New Jersey has undergone many major favorable
changes and now has new life in a once average image. The new license
plates will add to this quality in a subtle but no less important manner.
It's too bad, of course, that this
was exhibited to impressionable children, but it does suggest a solution
to one of the problems confronting the minimum competence people. Let
them give the writing test first to the Governor; if he can pass it,
they'll know that it's easy enough to give to the school-children.
What I dislike about
football coaches is their elitism. If you're a good player, they won't
let you join the team. They don't care about your creativity. I think
that's undemocratic. As long as your holistic intention is creative,
I don't think they ought to count fumbles or missed tackles or superficial
mistakes like that. I think the snobs who coach athletic teams ought
to be required to take courses in education. Then they'd learn that
what matters is a holistic approach with understanding and appreciation,
not subskills and winning.
(The words of J. Mitchell Morse, Grammarian
Published monthly, September to May
R. Mitchell, Assistant Circulation Manager
Post Office Box 203
Glassboro, New Jersey 08028
* Two Glassborovians, Dolores Harris
and Evelyn Slobodzian, are known to have been parties to this business.
Please put to them any further questions you may have about life skills.
The interminable elaboration
of the obvious by means of the specious distinction is not a "stylistic
preference" among educationists. It is rather an involuntary twitch,
the outward sign of an inward disorder. That elaboration is precisely
what makes the "study" of "education" possible-and profitable. back