The Porseffors of Eglinsh
PITY the Porseffors of Eglinsh, bearing through throngs of foes, of labourers and shop-boys, the chalice of sweet speech, language pure and undefiled. Dumb as old medallions, but not mute, they hear, in a place of disaffection, a grating roar of new men, other minds, hailing the only emperor, the emperor of ice cream. Ambiguities of seven sorts they understand, but from inservice aspects of remediation, shrink. Objective their correlative may be, and their fallacy pathetic, but parameters of inputs, outcomes, data-based transpersonal perceptions, they eschew. By rabble ringed, they stand and wait, bravely singing as they shine, but with so dull a cheer, their glittering thoughts struck out at ev'ry line. You should have it so good.
So here's how they sing: "The latter poet, in his own final phase, already burdened by an imaginative solitude that is almost a solipsism, holds his own poem so open again to the precursor's work that at first we might believe the wheel has come full circle, and that we are back in the latter poet's flooded apprenticeship, before his strength began to assert itself in the revisionary ratios. But the poem is now held open to the precursor, where once it was open, and the uncanny effect is that the new poem's achievement makes it seem to us, not as though the precursor were writing it, but as though the latter poet himself had written the precursor's characteristic work."
Of course. "And," out of the revisionary ratios of a bailed-out apprenticeship, another self-precursing poet explains, "everyone will say, as you walk your mystic way, ‘If this young man expresses himself in terms too deep for me, why what a very singularly deep young man this deep young man must be!'"
That turgid, pretentious prose, however, is not the work of a deep young man. It is the work of a mentor of deep young men. He is a distinguished scholar and Porseffor of Eglinsh at Yale University, a school in Connecticut. (We'd tell you his name if we could, of course, but the reader who sent in this example did not provide it. We have no way to discover it, either, since all members of our staff are forbidden to read PMLA, to say nothing of the insightful, trenchant, and seminal volumes of literary ruminations produced with no base thoughts of profit by the university presses. Let'm publish and perish, is what we say around here.)
Imagine, if you can, the contempt such a Porseffor must feel for a misplaced modifier. Conjure up his long exhalation as he averts his gaze, but delicately, from failure of agreement between subject and verb. Hear him pronounce, so subtly, the quotation marks by virtue of which he can say "feedback" with impunity.
We have said of the Professionals of Education that their language is inhuman and so all the more reprehensible in those who boast of their "humanistic" values. The inhuman language of the Porseffors of Eglinsh, loftily proud of their selfless devotion to the "humanities," is no less reprehensible. From the least intellectual inmates of Academe, we hear about catalytical non-disciplines facilitating us to move through a meta-transition. From the campus aristocrats we hear about imaginative solitude, probably to be distinguished from some imaginable imaginary solitude or perhaps from an imagined solitude--or both. Where the Professional twists our minds by centering his studies around, the Porseffor assaults our reason with an almost solipsism, no more understandable than an almost pregnancy. (Sure sounds neat, though, don't it?) He further asks us to accept--by faith alone, obviously, for nothing else would suffice--his oh-so-sensitive distinction between the poem now held open and the same poem when it merely was open. And, in the center of this pretentious mess, we find a shabby banality in that wheel coming full circle, just the kind of cheap cliché we might expect of the erstwhile wrestling coach who has taken a few courses at the local teacher academy and worked his way up to the rank of guidance counsellor.
Most of the barbarians who trouble these times can be easily identified by their native costumes--white belts, polyester double-knit leisure suits, sometimes even love beads. But the subtlest barbarian of all generally wears pure wool, a refined form of sheep's clothing. For pulling over eyes, wool has that polyester stuff beat all hollow.
A Communications Major
Contemplates the Future
"I'm trying to experience many segments of the communications field while I'm in college. Then, I'll be better able to pinpoint what facet I'd like to pursue upon graduation."
THERE is something or other called ERIC/SMEAC.* It is harbored by the Ohio State University at 1200 Chambers Road, Columbus, Ohio 43212. ERIC/SMEAC sends out, or emits, we might say, an impenetrable annual newsletter, of which we have the issue of December 1978. It suggests (but who can be sure?) that this outfit is in the business of telling teachers (here called "educators") all about nifty new gimmicks and boldly innovative thrusts in the teaching of science and math and the pop pseudoscience, Environmental Education.** E/S is not at all ashamed to admit that it published From Ought to Action in Environmental Education.† Nor does it seek to deny its interest in some things it calls "information products" or that "a major effort of the clearinghouse is the production of a variety of information analysis products." The manufacturers of gadgets and kits and "packets of materials" love ERIC/SMEAC.††
All of that we learn from Robert W. Howe, but other hands that might better have rested idle have also found work in this sheet. One of them tells us all about "the challenge confronting schools and colleges created by emerging energy realities." (Misplaced modifiers we can handle, but the thought of an emerging energy reality is just too scary. It could even be Godzilla.) The same hand calls teachers the "education clientele" and brings us word of "the development of adaption identification." Next we hear of "the Center's functional activities," a nasty thought, which include "maintaining access to a core [that's what it says: core] of personnel . . . so that programmatic aspects of the program thrust is appropriately coordinated." Well, those who are busy with important stuff like the appropriate coordination of the programmatic aspects of a program thrust certainly can't be bothered about trivia like appropriate coordination of plural subjects and plural verbs.
Worse is in store. This SMEACer speaks also of "new energy conservation supplemental curriculum materials focusing on the interrelationship of Energy, Environment, and Engagement." In educationistic prose, it is not a surprise when materials focus, but that stupendous noun pileup will call forth awe and envy in all professionals of education. That last bit, furthermore, is not entirely without wisdom, for many will surely testify to the curiously amiable interrelationship of energy, environment, and engagement, or something like it, at least.
At E/S they do things not when asked but "on a request basis." They promote phases, and one of their activities has conjured an effort. They do even better when they write about some bureaucratic boondoggle called the National Education Practice File.
This "practice file" (their quotation marks) has "generated a variety of ‘ideas' [ditto] within the practice-related information domain." (They do love a domain.)‡ And how were these "ideas" generated? They "were generated through group and individual contact with a variety of educators." Educators have principles, you know. They will never, for instance, do anything except as individuals or as groups. And they love contact, but again only with individuals or groups.
This Newsletter reports that one Patricia Blosser, a SMEACer, went before a regional meeting of the NSTA. (That could stand for National Science Teachers' Association, but they probably wouldn't use the apostrophe.) There she presented a paper on "reading as a survival skill." We'd admire to have heard that. If the SMEACers know as much about reading as they do about writing, which seems inevitable, and if that paper was written no better than the rest of their stuff, reading it to an educated audience would have led to a demonstration of running like hell as a survival skill. The Newsletter, however, does not suggest that Blosser barely escaped with her life, and that tells us something about those science teachers.
Of course, we could have guessed it from the Newsletter. No one who cares about skill and accuracy could ever have written such shabby trash, and no one committed to disciplined intelligence could bear to read it. That the SMEACers do write it, and that science teachers do bear it, should disabuse us of the quaint notion that our science teachers have been trained in science.
No more would the math teachers seem to have been trained in mathematics, except, presumably, in the way that the teachers of Environmental Education are trained in environment, probably by hearing all about its importance often enough so that they reach a state of what the teacher-trainers would call enhanced environment awareness. Math and science have it in common that they are, before all else, habits of mind, and that they can find expression only in clear, conventionally correct utterance. Those incapable of such utterance cannot be teachers.
Well, who cares? With a little help from a core of personnel and a few file "ideas" from the practice-related domain, they can be educators. That's already a better job. Not too much work, automatic membership in a nifty education clientele, and no lifting.
We recommend to our readers the Council for Basic Education, a league of concerned and thoughtful people working hard for sanity in the schools. The CBE has been around since 1956, dogged-paddling upstream all the while, and that "basic" has nothing to do with the zany simplifications of the "back-to-basics" enthusiasts. What's more, CBE is not supported by hapless taxpayers. Those two things should sufficiently commend the CBE to our readers, but we must say also that its monthly Bulletin is a small treasury of clear thought and good prose. (Can there be either without the other?) You can find the CBE at 755 Fifteenth Street, N. W., Washington, D. C. 20005. Write.
Less Than Words Can Say, a melancholy meditation on the dismal consequences of the new illiteracy, will be published early in the Fall of 1979. The publisher is Little, Brown, of Boston, and the author is Assistant Circulation Manager of this journal. The book is not likely to be adopted for use in schools.
We often get requests for back issues and even for complete collections of The Underground Grammarian. Ha. We'd like to have some of those, too. A solution, of sorts, is now offered by the Microfilming Corporation of America, 1620 Hawkins Avenue, Sanford, NC 27330. They'll send you, on microfiches, the whole of Volumes I and II for five dollars. Subsequent volumes will be three dollars each.
A microfiche, to be sure, is a wretched gizmo, but it's the best we can do. We remind all readers that nothing in this journal is copyrighted. Most readers make duplicates of their copies and send them about.
Warm congratulations to many of you. We have a growing collection of copies of your letters to Wilhemina Perry, none of which has been answered. (We did say that you'd learn "how reluctant they are to display unnatural acts to civilians and taxpayers.") Wilhemina Perry is not, we must say, the author of the now notorious "Summary of Work in Progress," merely the guardian. She says there's a shortage of copies but she'll talk to someone about it. Those who haven't yet written for their copies can help her along with her work by writing now. For new readers: Glassboro State College, Glassboro, NJ 08028.
More warm congratulations to those who have written to Commissioner Boyer asking for copies of Tom Sticht's "The Basic Skills: A Frame of Reference." Boyer has been passing your letters on to Sticht, who has been wondering what the hell the flap is all about. He says that he showed the thing to herds of educationists and they didn't find anything wrong with the language.
(Correction: Sticht rhymes not, as our title suggested, with "Pict," but with "enriched." All the better. It actually improves the line in which "Sticht has bunched much such stuff.")
One outraged reader, pointing to "the high level of idiocy" and the "uncoordinated meanderings" of the educational bureaucracy, sent copies of his letter to President Carter, both his senators, and a small gang of representatives. Go and do likewise, remembering that "these garblers of thought and language fear only one thing--an informed and irate public." That's you. Again, the man to write is Ernest L. Boyer, U. S. Commissioner of Education, 400 Maryland Ave. S. W., Washington, D. C. 20202.
If you have some good use for reprints of "Sticht in the Eye Again," just ask.
Published monthly, September to May
Neither can his mind be thought to
be in tune,
* About ERIC we can't even guess. We do find this: "Clearinghouse for Science, Mathematics and Environmental Education." That's CSMEE. Maybe there really is an Eric Smeac, and this is just a part of his fiendish scheme to turn our brains into tapioca. back
** Everyone has heard that those who can, do, and those who can't, teach. The adage says nothing about those who can neither do nor teach. For them, lest they vanish utterly from the public payroll, we devise non-courses usually called "educations." back
This should be a dilly. It'll cost you three bucks, but it might be the funniest book of the year. back
To those professionals of education who've heard tell of Newton, it's a mystery how in hell that man learned all that Physics and Math Education without so much as a remote-control film-strip projector. back
Domain is one of the darlingest weasel-words of the professionals. It sounds so noble. They need it, as they need area, field, and sphere, because we all giggle when they claim to know something about a subject. back