The Flight of the Bumblebee
He who would do good to another must do it in Minute Particulars. General Good is the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrite, flatterer; for Art and Science cannot exist but in minutely organized Particulars. William Blake
The flight of the bumblebee used to give aeronautical engineers fits. From what they knew then, they had to conclude that such a silly contraption would never fly.
The tale may be apocryphal, but it doesn't matter. The other "Flight of the Bumblebee" will always be a mystery.
An exhaustive and scrupulously scientific study of all that goes into the playing of the violin would conclude, after many years, that (a), the research would never be completed, but also that (b), it was already obvious that no one could ever play the damned thing.
Violin playing requires stupendous skills of mind and body perfectly controlled and meticulously synchronized by some amazing coalition of consciousness, judgment, will, knowledge, reflex, and who knows what else. But good violin teachers don't care. They don't worry about a lack of "empirically based studies" in the "field." Nor do they pursue rationales or theoretical frameworks, or experiential modalities of transpersonal instruction enhancement. They just teach. And students learn.
Playing the violin is, in a sense, just not natural. It is a cultured act, exclusively and distinctively human. That is why we cannot know it completely. Nevertheless, somehow or other, through an effect of the will combined with some diligence, intelligence, talent, and maybe a little bit of luck, lots of people do learn to play the violin.
Teaching school is different from playing the violin in only one important way: it is a bit easier to learn. It isn't exactly an art, but it isn't exactly a science either. Like science and art, however, and like violin playing, it does require the mastery of minutely organized particulars, a mastery that can in fact be achieved through an effort of the will combined with some diligence, intelligence, talent, and maybe a little bit of luck,
Teaching happens in a performance, and an exhaustive study of teaching will discover no more than a similar study of violin playing. Thoughtful people, especially those who actually are humanists, might conclude that teaching is just too uniquely human to be explained in any important respect by scientific study, and that such study, therefore, is probably of little use in the making of a teacher. That, however, is a conclusion so sensible and sane that, if it were to catch on in the school s of education, it would signal the beginning of the end of teacher-training as we know it.
That won't happen. The teacher-trainers call themselves humanists, to be sure, but only because they imagine that humanism has to do with being nice and always supporting the cause of the General Good.
They fancy also that humanism is the logical opposite of elitism, which is opposed to the General Good and arrogantly in favor of the meticulous (or persnickety) organization of Minute (or trivial) Particulars.
However, they have also heard of science, an unaccountably respectable form of elitism in spite of its obsession with Minute Particulars. So how can the teacher-trainers win the respect that is given science and its mastery of Minute Particulars and still claim the love they deserve as humanists who are above all that and champions of the General Good?
Easy. They just invent a science that is as scientific as their humanism is humanistic. Of thin air they brew conveniently pliable particulars and proudly announce that they have quantified, in their empirically based studies, such things as Self-Regard and Existentiality. (See, alas, the next essay.)
And thus they contrive to correct the deficiencies of Nature and provide us with bees that really can't fly, and violinists who think that they know all about violin playing but can't make music, teachers whose talents have been stunted by the "findings," and in whom expert knowledge and skill have been discouraged as nyet humanistic and replaced with a copious supply of Minute Generalities.
The Most Unkindest Cutting Edge of All
IN March of 1979, we printed some gabble by a then-unidentified doctoral candidate at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. It was about "a short extrapolation to the prediction of transpersonal innovations from self-actualization traits." Ten months later, the writer was identified as Robert D. Waterman. The man who fingered him was a colleague, James Dyke, who wanted not the handsome reward we had offered, but rather to rebuke us for our treatment of Waterman.
Having pointed out, as though it made a difference, that Waterman's degree was not in guidance but in Educational Management/ Development, Dyke said further:
I hold little faith in your critical abilities with respect to Bob Waterman until such time that you can demonstrate that you can handle the cutting edge of the exploration of ideas without bleeding.
And he even sent along an actual piece of the cutting edge, Waterman's complete abstract and a thin slice from Chapter II of the dissertation, "Value and Philosophical Characteristics of Transpersonal Teachers."
We admit that we have no "critical abilities with respect to Bob Waterman," but Dyke may have meant something other than what he wrote. The critical abilities that we do seek are those that enable us to write exactly what we mean. They would also find "until such time that" a silly inflation of "until," and an example of the thoughtlessness so common in freshman compositions.
Well, no matter. Dyke doesn't claim to be the cutting edge. So let's take up his challenge and try to handle the edge itself. We'll start with the very edge of the edge, Waterman's first paragraph. Mind your fingers:
Though an increasing interest on the part of the educational community is being shown in transpersonal teaching, the literature reflects a lack of empirically based studies concerning the teacher characteristics associated with its adoption. The purpose of this study, therefore, was to attempt to identify characteristics (values, attitudes, and teaching philosophy) pertinent to transpersonally oriented non-public school teachers and to compare and contrast those characteristics to those of public school oriented teachers.
We expected some incisiveness out there on the cutting edge, but the first paragraph is clouded by uncertainty and imprecision:
Like other educationists, Waterman evades clear declarations and active verbs, as though he were afraid to take any chances even on a bland generalization like the assertion that somebody is showing interest in something. He retreats into an awkward and periphrastic jumble, saying that increasing interest on the part of somebody is being shown in transpersonal teaching. (Let's get to that later.)
The timidity of educationistic prose is not simply a stylistic twitch. It expresses an uncertain mind and the fear of challenge. That "literature" named by Waterman either lacks something or it doesn't, but he will say only that it "reflects" a lack. Likewise, he assigns himself not exactly the task of identifying but only of attempting to identify something or other--just in case.
In what way, we wonder, is a characteristic "pertinent to" some teachers different from a characteristic of some teachers? What can we suppose about the mind that prefers the former to the latter?
Are those "public school oriented teachers" actually teachers in public schools, or could they be teachers anywhere who just happen to be obsessed with thinking about the public schools? Could they even be teachers who face in the direction of public schools?
Enough. The cutting edge in New Mexico is indeed blunted and ragged, and probably septic as well, and it was thoughtful of Dyke to warn us of the horrible wound it might inflict. Let's get out the long tongs.
Educationists feel secure, or as secure as they can feel, when they can prattle about the unmeasurable. If you natter about attitudes and values, no one can prove you a fool by pointing to some facts. However, while the retreat from the measurable provides comfort for the educationist, it makes it hard for him to claim, as he would so dearly love to, that "education" actually is a body of knowledge and that his Faculty Club card should not be stamped: "Valid only when accompanied by an adult." What a dilemma.
Many doctoral candidates in education just head for the nearest exit. They bestow upon us "conclusive findings" as to the efficacy of yellow traffic lines on the cafeteria floor and the number of junior high school girls in the suburbs of Duluth who elected badminton rather than archery.
For those who want to do serious research way out there on the cutting edge, however, a trickier dodge is needed, and the education academy is quick to supply it. Most D. Ed. programs require of their candidates no competence in foreign languages, which makes them attractive and accessible to those whose verbal abilities are meager. It assures that those abilities will remain meager, too, lest the teacher academies hatch out some thankless bird capable of seeing, and telling the world, that the teacher-training professors just can't make sense. The teacher-trainers, therefore, make virtue of necessity by claiming that an educationistic scholar doesn't need verbal skill anyway, but a one-semester course in statistics instead. And that's why their "research" bristles with commensurate model analyses and stepwise regression strategies.
Now we can look at Waterman's "transpersonal teaching." In the pages that we have, there is no definition, but we know that
the personal characteristics related to transpersonal teaching are: (1) a view of man as essentially and inherently good at his core, (2) that the locus of power and authority in one's life is within the individual, and (3) that when dealing with life situations it is most effective to apply one's values to a solution with flexibility, and free of preconceptions or prejudice.
We already know how Waterman writes, so we're not surprised by redundancy or jargon, or even that disconcerting violation of parallelism. What does surprise us is that the work of the mind way out there on the cutting edge of the exploration of ideas sounds so much like a mimeographed prospectus for a nondenominational Sunday-school class to be taught by some amiable but slightly addled addict of popular self-help paperbacks and magazine articles about the cutting edge of the exploration of ideas in Marin County.
Waterman's values, quasi-theological and pseudo-philosophical, can become objects of "research" only to educationists. First they circulate questionnaires, either homemade or, as in Waterman's case, prefabricated by other educationists. Then they tabulate the "answers," which are usually spaces filled in or numbers checked by captives eager to finish a stupid questionnaire. The answers reveal, of course, only what the answerers have chosen to say, which may or may not reveal what they feel or believe. In fact, it probably does not, especially in this "research." Even nontranspersonal teachers know enough not to give straight answers to prying busybodies.
Most of us can see a difference between a study of angels and a study of testimony about angels. Waterman sees that the R2 of Self-Regard is .0123, and, of Inner-Directed, a hefty .4544. Existentiality's R2 is a modest .0460. Yeah. And next year he's going to whip off Weltschmerz and Ennui, and we'll know exactly how we feel about the cutting edge of the exploration of ideas in New Mexico.
In the meantime, though, we are going to cook up a little "empirically based study" of our own. We're just dying to find out some nifty data about the R2 of Hubris.
UNDERGROUND GRAMMAR guerrillas are everywhere. Our agent-in-place at the United Nations reports that functionaries there are investing barrels of petrodollars in what they call. "Prefeasibility studies." We join him/her (we never snitch) in wondering what they'll do when they discover that some enterprise is, in fact, prefeasible.
In academe, where the preposterous has always been prepossible, we will soon appoint task forces to preconsider the prefeasibility of preplanning. We already have mind-twisting inanities like "preassessment" and "pretest." However, while we do offer preprimary education, we have not yet come up with a way to enhance anyone's prepotential. Just wait.
This mindless and self-serving pre-prefixing isn't always funny, Sometimes it reveals what we would prefer to hide. Here at Glassboro, our hapless teacher-trainees take two kinds of courses, "professional" and "preprofessional." The merely preprofessional courses are those that might actually have academic content, dilettantish stuff like history or science. It's only in the professional courses that they learn teacherliness through breaking up into small groups and rapping about preplanning their pretesting preassessments.
HERE is a sentence from an abominable administrative edict recently exposed to public view by a tax-supported apparatchik at the headquarters of the Philadelphia School District, where, naturally, we also have agents in deep cover:
"During the 1980-81 school year, the project will provide teachers and administrators with education and support designed to optimize the behaviors and conditions in the school which support student learning to the extent that at least two thirds of the teachers receiving training and support in Expectations will report, on a specifically designed survey, changes in at least two school related operational characteristics that have been identified as critical elements of the network of expectations that support learning."
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Neither can his mind be thought to
be in tune,