Volume Three, Number One............January 1979

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.

q Fred 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" posters.

q Please, 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 of education.

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 irretrievable depths.

(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 a facet?

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 facet in?

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, etc.)

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 as hostages.

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 learners:

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 and Sportswriter.)

The Underground

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. back

† 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

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