Volume Three, Number Six............September 1979

Clenched Teeth on the Potomac

WE have little sympathy for politicians. The best that can be said for most of them is that they have not yet been indicted. They insure permanent ignorance and illiteracy by delivering our money into the trotters of wifty educationists, for whom we did not vote. They hasten meekly to give over their stewardship of the common good to truculent trade unionists whose devotion to clarity of thought and language finds eloquent expression in their habitual recourse to the sleazy jargon of hucksterism and strident sloganeering for something they invariably call "quality education."

The politicians themselves provide us daily examples of garbled thought and language, and their continuance in office seems to depend upon an electorate oblivious to garbled thought and language. If they have any interest at all in the education business, it lies in keeping that electorate duped and mute, the political equivalent of pregnant and barefoot. If we count on politicians to come to our aid in informing the discretion of the people, a duty laid upon them by Jefferson, we imagine a vain thing. They have theirs. An electorate skilled in language--thus in thought--might see to it that they get theirs.

Nevertheless, we do feel a small twinge of sympathy for one William Proxmire, a politician who has been dealt by the Supreme Court the same kind of utterly unaccountable four-flush that politicians usually deal to us. Sic semper, to be sure, but Proxmire, for having thought to do good by ridiculing a grant of our money for research into the tooth-clenching habits of some monkeys, will now have to fight off a libel suit.

Our sympathy for Proxmire is diluted by the following: 1) The taxpayers will pay his legal fees, his fellow politicians having voted him a little grant of his own, one to which a Golden Fleece Award will not be given and which puts us all in our usual place--double jeopardy. 2) If the research project is in fact without merit, the proper objects of ridicule are surely some politicians or bureaucrats too stupid to have seen that. 3) The history of scientific research provides many examples of important discoveries made in the course of studies that might well have been thought trivial or foolish, even by the well-informed. The italics, of course, lead to: 4) Scientific research can be distinguished from nonsense not by "common sense" speculation about some imaginable value but by logical analysis of the language that simultaneously depicts the research and displays the mental capacity of the researcher. If Proxmire has made such an analysis, he ought to put it forth in defense of his judgment, but we suspect he has just neglected his homework.

For the scientist, as for the philosopher, or even for the politician, language is the symbol system in which he knows his knowledge and of which he makes knowledge. It is the medium not only of speculation and hypothesis but equally of measurement and observation. It is through clear and complete statement of the question that we learn where and how to seek the answer, which will also be a clear and complete statement. Beakers and microscopes, all his devices, are elaborations of the scientist's senses and hands; his mind does its work in language.

It is true, of course, that plenty of public money is spent on pseudo-research, perhaps even slightly more than the members of our Congress spend on their own little comforts and rewards. Nevertheless, we wonder: Did Proxmire, instead of studying the language of the monkey business in question, choose to lambaste it just because some member of his staff thought it a nifty target?

Although word, thought, and deed seem to be distinguished from each other in books of prayer, they are not truly discrete. Words are thoughts, and deeds as well. We justly ascribe knowledge and wisdom to many of whom we know only their words. To others we can, by those same tokens, justly ascribe ignorance and folly. To praise one man, it is enough to quote his words; and the same will serve to disgrace another.

The writer of the following words is, unfortunately, unknown, but we can still say a lot about him. And we should. He is probably not what the court would deem a "public figure," but his words are a public deed:

The National Institute of Education has set an August 9 due date for RFP-NIE-R-79-0017, for a study to: (a) develop an empirically grounded framework for understanding the nature, antecedents and consequences of sense of efficacy in elementary and secondary school teachers; and (b) develop one or more research designs which evolve from the framework and whose purpose would be to produce knowledge necessary to reject, elaborate, refine, and/or extend the conceptual framework.

So where was Proxmire when we needed him? Why didn't he read this stuff--it was in the Federal Register--and ask some of these obvious questions? Is a "sense of efficacy" so rare among the educrats at NIE that they must spend our money for a "framework" to understand its "nature"? Why couldn't they just ask the nearest wind-up toy salesman? What would you know if you did understand the nature of a sense? As to that sense, what other evidence could we hope for than some subjective (and self-serving) testimony from those who feel it, or say they feel it, or think they feel it, or say they think they feel it, or whatever you like? And look at (b). Does it mean to say, as it does, that the NIEers will fork out our money to some educationist who will promise to find out how to find out what (a) is supposed to find out after that has been found out? (Go ahead; read it again.)

So much for the clarity of thought and the promise of research at NIE. (Good name.)

Come to think of it, we'll take back that sympathy we offered Proxmire. It's Proxmire and his pals who make such nonsense both possible and profitable by voting money for educationism. If he wants to serve the public, let him head the bandits off at the pass instead of tutting a few tuts as they ride into the sunset with the loot.

And as for the tooth-clenching study, we're for it. It may well show that exposure to the prose of educationists causes violent gnashing and temporo-mandibular joint syndrome even in monkeys.


Gschmrub Ahoy Again!

THAT dot you see on the horizon--right there, just below that cloud no bigger than a man's hand--is nothing less than the Flagship Gschmrub, Jan's fighting ship and troop protector. The board of trustees has concluded that the water in the basement of the Triad will always be deep enough to float her, and our jaunty educationistic swabbies are panting to go aboard and hoist something.

So far they've hoisted little more than the flag, and no tattered ensign, but a genuine banner with a strange device. They couldn't string together enough words for "Excelsior," but they did manage to eke out EPIC, from Experiential Pre-service In-service Continuum,* which is now the official name of our really neat new Program of Distinction. We can't wait to read all about it, but for now all we have is the title. ‘Tis enough; ‘twill serve.

They love "experiential," partly because it sounds like "existential," a high-class word, and partly because it suggests that education courses are The Real Thing. Trigonometry is not experiential, not The Real Thing, but cutting cute bunnies out of construction paper is The Real Thing. To an educationist, one who studies the Federalist Papers hasn't had an "experience"; one who natters desultorily with sullen and inarticulate children about universal human rights and the brotherhood of all mankind--now he has an "experience." Serves him bloody right, too.

"Experiential," like "Professional," is not used to describe courses about things. French and botany, for instance, while permitted, in moderation, to teacher-trainees, are neither professional nor experiential. They can only be amateur and . . . and . . . Hmm. Well, if the silly word meant anything, it would have an antonym. Beneath those words, you can smell one of those "values" the educationists are always claiming to teach. And they do teach it, through the power of pernicious language. That's why many language and science teachers think holistic creativity and behavioral objectives more to be prized than irregular verbs and the laws of motion.

The "Pre-service In-service" was probably "Pre-service/In-service"‘ in the first version. Budgets aside, these folk slash whatever they can. Someone must have noticed, however, that that would generate EP/IC, which isn't even the name of a horse.

"Pre-service In-service" is a familiar form of the linguistic snow-job we looked at last April, when the ERIC/SMEACers gave us the "group and individual contact" business. The rule goes thus: Should you unfortunately find yourself stuck with something that needs no further specification, be sure to provide at least two further specifications. Now if they could just find a way to squeeze some tuition money out of teachers who have resigned or died, they could add a "post-service."

"Service"‘ is worth some attention. People with little skill in language always fall into pits of their own digging, and this inappropriate use of "service" is an inadvertent revelation. How many teachers, think you, would tell you that they "served" or "did service" as teachers? In such a context, "service" carries inescapable connotations of impermanence or even of insufficiency. We say that soldiers serve in the army, because most of them are just passing through. Even the Secretary of Defense is said to serve in that post, because it isn't, we hope, his profession or his career. For the ship-wrecked, a pillowcase may have to serve as a sail. And Mercutio's grim joke, cunningly quoted above, would have fallen flat if it hadn't been for this sense of serve.

Like Pinocchio's nose, gobbledygook grows by mendacity. When we don't know what we mean, or when we do know but would prefer that others didn't, we retreat into the murky obliquities of jargon. But a canny reader can always spot the bulging beak of bafflegab, and that protruding proboscis in "Pre-service In-service" causes dark suspicions. It seems that our EPICers, having flaunted "experiential" to imply that their stuff is The Real Thing, assert unconsciously, through their habitual use of "service," that what real teachers do in real schools isn't quite The Real Thing.

"Continuum," however, is The Real Thing. Wow. You have to be very smart indeed to talk about a continuum. Now you take that Einstein. He was smart. He talked a lot about a continuum. Professionals of education are so smart that they can talk about a continuum any time they stumble on a way to do more than one thing in a row.

Our readers are not that smart. We'd better explain. If you eat an egg--phooey, that's nothing! If you eat the egg and then drink a cup of coffee, that is a continuum. It's even an experiential continuum, an experiential ingestion continuum. If you prepare to do those things, by tying a napkin under your chin, for example, and then do them, that is what we call an experiential pre-ingestion in-ingestion continuum. If you take integral and then differential calculus, that's just a couple of math courses. But if you hear all about behavioral objectives in one course, and then in another, and then in yet others, that's an EPIC!

We wish we could tell you more, but what can we do? All we have is four lousy words. But don't be despondent. If not of man's first disobedience, this pedagogical muse will yet sing further, for the EPICers plan to emit a little newsletter. We can't wait.

Since the newsletter, along with all other promos and blurbs, will consume tax money, please ask (now) to be put on the mailing list for all EPIC stuff. Write Jan Weaver, EPIC Leader, Glassboro State College, Glassboro, NJ 08028. When she fails to answer (nobody ever heard from Wilhemina Perry), send a waffle to Tevis M. Goldhaft, Chairman of the Board, at the same address. He'll understand.

Still, nothing beats a good epic, we always say. "Our foes," Vergil says, "will provide us with arms." How's that for experiential?

Brief Notes

We did warn you, more than a year ago, that it was out of weariness rather than wisdom that our Representatives adjourned without foisting upon us a Department of Education, a welfare system for self-styled professionals of education clutching hokey doctorates in things like intercultural studies, learning facilitation, and cafeteria management. In this last session (there wasn't much to do anyway) 210 idle hands were lifted in favor of a DOE, thus making good (if that's the right word) on President Crater's campaign promise of a tax-supported annex for the National Education Association.

Hope, however, remains. The opposition came up with 206 votes, and some wily politicians tacked on some vexatious amendments. This boondoggle may yet die in conference. You can help. Write to your neighborhood politician.

On the other hand, just think of the fun we can have examining selected passages from the thesis by which America's first Secretary of Education finally scrounged up a DEd in guidance.

By now, you should be able to find, in almost any respectable bookstore, a copy of our assistant circulation manager's gloomy contemplation of the new illiteracy, its roots and consequences, and its prosperous practitioners. The book's original title, The Worm in the Brain, proved too frightening and grisly for Little, Brown, a cautious publishing house in Boston. Well, it's a long worm that has no turning, and the title was changed to Less Than Words Can Say. The text, however, survived, and it remains frightening and grisly.

The Underground

Published monthly, September to May
R. Mitchell, Assistant Circulation Manager
Post Office Box 203
Glassboro, New Jersey 08028

Annual subscription: US & Canada, $10; others, $14

* One advantage of being humanistic and laid back is that you learn to shed elitist hang-ups about shame, and our professionals were not reluctant to associate themselves with Vergil and Milton. Unfortunately, of the incipient teacher-trainees who were supposed to be impressed, few have heard of those dead elitists. For most, "Epic" is the name of the sway-backed nag in the comic strip, Tumbleweeds. back

† A Program of Distinction (or POD) is what used to be called a Flagship (or F------). We're happy to say that it was ridicule in this journal that forced the change. Now we've really got'm. Just imagine the nasty things we can do with POD. back

‡ A splendid example of the Principle of Unnecessary Specification (or PUS) can be found in our issue for January 79, where Burke's "laymen" dream up nine separate specifications and an et cetera to prove that by golly they do know what "written matter" is. back

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