The Turkey has Landed
WHILE President Crater was entertaining the King and Queen of Belgium, a wild turkey, the very bird that Benjamin Franklin wanted for our national emblem, came to dwell on the White House lawn. While columnists and anchormen made jokes, our resident bird augur brooded on the doomful omen. Turkeys merit attention, but the heedless President, within days, sent forth an eagle that turned turkey in midflight.
Exactly one year ago, we urged you to consider the part played by the National Council of Teachers of English in the mishap at Three Mile Island. We suggested that decades of contempt for meticulous workmanship, in the silly cause of creativity and self-expression, had brought upon us growing swarms of the automatically careless and inept. We quoted from College English, in which painstaking attention to small details was dismissed as "emphasis on trivia," an impediment to "presenting ideas" and "appreciation," and a merely "utilitarian" constraint under which only "little humanistic education can be provided."
We will probably never know what befell thirty-seven and a half percent of those helicopters, but we have some dark suspicions. A helicopter, like a nuclear generator, must be a complicated system of devices, but it must just as certainly be a finite system of finite devices. The human mind can know it completely and operate it perfectly. The questions that we can ask about helicopters can be answered accurately and objectively, which is not the case with "humanistic" questions. If the teachers of our children could walk confidently among the not unreasonable demands of objective knowledge and skillful accuracy before they run amok among the mysteries of humanisticism, dragging their helpless wards behind them, perhaps we could expect better than sixty-two and a half percent of possible efficiency from the multitudes who must know and operate all of our complicated systems of devices.
Had the raid into Iran been devised by our humanistic educationists, others of the same persuasion, promptly hired as evaluation consultants, would be pronouncing it an almost unqualified success. They would be claiming that, while numerical grades are only archaic vestiges of an authoritarian elitism, sixty-two and a half percent is a perfectly respectable passing grade in most schools--and A minus in most teacher academies. They would tell us that the men (who related to each other quite well indeed) tried very hard, which is what really counts. Why, they actually found themselves in an experiential learning environment, and coping, hands-on, with self-directed problem-solving activity in a real-life situation. And. somewhere down that long line of cause and effect, somebody, probably several somebodies, did indeed manage to avoid the educationists' bane, the "emphasis on trivia."
Contrary to educationistic doctrine, children like to learn, and will learn, no matter what we do. When we neglect to teach them knowledge and skill, they just go right ahead and learn that--the neglect of knowledge and skill. And then they grow up.
The Future Lies Ahead!
Early in the Fall, the Needs Assessment Task Force was asked to study the process of Academic Planning as it presently exists at Southwest Texas State University and determine whether we should implement a different process. (From the works of Joseph Caputo, VP for AcAff.)
AS the time for dinner approaches, the standard American amateur looks in the refrigerator. He notices some food. He takes some of it out and cooks it. Then he eats it. It's so crude; any savage could do it. Here in Academe, we are professionals, and we have better ways of doing things.
First we establish a committee to consider whether or not there should be any dinner, and, if so, whether or not it should actually be eaten, and, if again so, where, and when, and by whom. Then we form a subcommittee to decide what, if anything, to cook, and how. Now we discover that we need a study group to consider whether or not dinner-planning is, in fact, all that simple, and to establish its parameters and to explore the implications of fiscal, curricular, and societal restraints that may be perceived as existing. Or maybe not. But the study group cannot do its work until we have definitive findings from the Needs Assessment Task Force, which is "to study the process of Academic Planning as it presently exists . . . and determine whether we should implement a different process."
The Needs Assessment Task Force down at Southwest Texas State University, where the squirrels also rush around the brush, has done its work. Here's some of it:
An Academic Planning Model must involve a futures planning component. Goals should be set for some time in the future. These goals should be translated into shorter-term objectives for which the degree of detail and concreteness varies inversely with the lead time. There should also be reasonable suspense dates for implementation of plans and a definitive methodology for evaluation and feedback. The interfacing of long-term ... and short-term planning should result.
So, you thought that only a herd of nerds would set themselves to wondering whether or not to plan how to plan, eh? No siree! It takes some of the sharpest thinkers in Academe to discover and announce that plans are about the future, not the past!* They're even smart enough to call for the involvement of a component, which would never occur to an ordinary human being, and a definitive methodology, where any simpleminded taxpayer would have settled for a mere method.
That's not all, of course. The Task Forcers also urge "update features," prudently left unspecified so that yet another task can be forced on yet another task force, and warn against the "counterproductive hurdle," the worst kind. One of their main conclusions, solemnly pronounced, probably after much deliberation and searching of heart, is that an Academic Planning Model (they always capitalize it) should actually work, or, as they put it, "be functional." They further opine, cutting right to the bone, that any plan that will work, will in fact work: "Any Academic Planning Model to be considered . . . would positively impact [wham!] our decision-making process to the extent that it accomplishes its designed purpose."
To proclaim the obvious in language that is odious is, of course, the regular practice of the educationists, who love to serve on task forces (they put that kind of stuff in their resumes and grant applications), and have no moral or intellectual objections to writing at length about nothing. However, at least one member of this task force was not an educationist, but an agent provocateur and a subtle ironist. On his backward colleagues he foisted the one sentence that says it all: "An Academic Planning process must not become viewed by the participants as activity to be finished so that they may return to the real business of the university."
Strictly for the Birds
WHERE the carcass lies, there the vultures gather. When you see a flock of hopping and flitting educators preening themselves at workshops and darting forth their beaks in those bold, innovative, grant-grabbing thrusts so characteristic of the species, you can be sure that something nearby is dead.
Educationistic scavengers, unlike the vultures, provide their own supply of dead meat by seeing to it that students learn as little as possible. Then they wax fat on programs for the identification of whole legions of the "learning disabled" and on the devising of remediational sequences and learning enhancements.
Now they're out to get those stubborn brats who will persist in learning even in transpersonally values-oriented nondirective learning environments. These children, once thought merely normal, have become the "gifted/talented" and have been delivered utterly into the care of the educationists, who have dominion over anything spelled with a slash.
Below you will find some evidence about the work of the intellect as it is practiced (and apparently applauded) among those educationists who have eagerly appointed themselves mentors to our few surviving children.
Also sprach a certain Virgil S. Ward, a professor of education (what else?) at the University of Virginia. We lifted all that neat stuff from a snappy little article called "Washington Policy Seminar," Ward's rhapsodic reflections on a synod of so-called "talented/gifted" educationists.†
Ward is not without a tiny gift of his own. He lurches with ease into astonishing figures of speech. He tells of the smoldering welter, the subjugated clarion call, the seed in the scenario, and the maelstrom in the field, in which, most unaccountably, special interests demand a place. But such snippets do him less than justice. Here's the real thing.
Thus, in conclusion, let it be said plainly, that in the perception of this observer, for what the thought of any one individual may be worth, our conceptual foundations have deteriorated to the point that action is now occurring in a virtual void of theory. Theory, it can be reasonably noted, is the intelligence of practical action. And science--i.e., that ordered array of the firmest understanding available in any given era or short term period, inviolable logic of inquiry and observation spelled out in the deepest possible constructs of semantic and quantitative symbolization, precluding the elective judgment and behavioral alternative which does not meet the requirements of the most fundamental criteriology which philosophic thought can produce--the particular science of Differential Education for the Gifted is the critical need now still more than in the 1940's and 1950's when its rudiments might have been forged our but were not.
That, alas, does do him justice. His blithe blurts of primitive poetastasy are all too rare, like flies in the farina, repellent maybe, but at least worthy of comment. He is more often laying waste his powers by distinguishing a virtual void from a mere void and inventing really neat stuff, like fundamental criteriology and the deepest possible constructs of semantic and quantitative symbolizations. That last bit, of course, is the "gifted/talented" way of saying "numbers and words," or, to be precise, the deepest possible numbers and words. And "available in any given era or short term period" is the deepest possible gifted/talented construct of semantic symbolization for the word "available."
If you are thinking that Ward's writing would merit a fat F in freshman composition, you're right, of course, but you've revealed yourself ungifted/untalented. You have fallen into fallacy, not realizing that "articulated developmental experience at the transcendent plane of complexity" cannot waste time on clear writing and thought, which can only be "intra-personal [intra, you got that?] peaks of performance potential." But who better than Ward himself to explain?
Are our alliances in the political process and the preserves of power, such that we can withstand subtle but consequential misunderstandings, e.g., that DEG is bent upon the evocation of intra-personal peaks of performance potential among the general school-age population, regardless of comparative status of these peaks. And dare we even raise the question and risk important misunderstanding on our own part, whether the time has come firmly to insist that education in the arts among the general populace, while supportive of the rarer talent, does not comprise the necessary objective of quintessential experience brought into the service of distinctive aptitude and performance potential on the part, now as ever, of the rarer few. [No, he doesn't use question marks.]
Ah yes, the rarer few, of whom there are even fewer than there are of the merely rare few. How lucky they are to have Ward & Co. to disregard the comparative status of their peaks and to provide for them the necessary objectives of quintessential experience in the service of aptitude and potential. The larks will be lucky, too, when the dodos return among us to teach the silly twitterers to fly and sing. Then larks, now merely rare, will soon be a rarer few, and we'll all get more sleep, won't we?
WE now say goodbye until September. Please keep watching for examples of dreadful English and send them in. We will never reveal your name, but we do ask that you reveal, whenever possible, the name, rank, and serial number of the miscreant. We see no point in protecting the guilty.
Published monthly, September to May
* They may have taken a hint from the STSU slogan: "The progressive university with the proud past." One of them may have noticed that the past was over. So they looked around, and there, by golly... back
You really should have your own copy of the complete text. It's splendid for reading aloud at parties. Write to Gifted/Talented Education, 97 Mill Plain Rd., Branford, CT 06405. Ask for the issue for December, 1979. The "editor," Rudolph Pohl, Ed. D., will be proud to send you a copy. back