THE UNDERGROUND
GRAMMARIAN

Volume Four, Number Six............September 1980

The Necks and Minds of the People

THIS month in Belgrade, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization will meet to blather about the report of its commission on "the news media." That report suggests, among other outrages, that the press ought to promote, and perhaps ought to be required to promote, the "social, cultural, economic and political goals set by governments." We're not the least bit surprised. That's exactly the kind of idea you can expect from an outfit calling itself "educational."

"Education" once meant liberation, a condition available to those led forth (educati) out of some restraint or captivity. We once assumed that ignorance and unreason, although natural, were fetters that might be broken through the accumulation of knowledge and the practice of logical thought. We imagined that this trap of reflexive twitches might be transformed into the examined life.

Now it is otherwise, and "education" can be best understood as an inoculation, which, if it takes, will protect you from something much worse: reeducation. But it usually takes. Where once a tyrant had to wish that his subjects had but one common neck that he might strangle them all at once, all he has to do now is to "educate the people" so that they will have but one common mind to delude.

Even in its less malevolent forms, education has become a process intended not to increase knowledge and foster thought but to engender feelings. Sellers see no absurdity in claiming to "educate" buyers. Politicians are eager to "educate" voters. And our schools have taken up institutionalized apologetics in the cause of values clarification and social adjustment through consciousness raising. In short, American public education is exactly what UNESCO wants us to promote, one of those "social, cultural, economic and political goals set by government." We will decline.

We hear noises from educationists, and especially from unionists in education, about the "duty" of the press to stop knocking and start boosting, by running, perhaps, some cheery articles about boldly innovative (relevant) bulletin boards and the latest test scores, which may suggest that many eleventh graders are now only three years behind in reading. Now is the time, we hear, to "restore public confidence in the schools." That invitation is the same as UNESCO's, and, considering its source, nakedly self-serving as well as ominous. Again, we decline.

Public education, no less than the Marine Corps or the Internal Revenue Service, is a creature of government and an instrument of its policies. Its meager remnant of "civilian control," the elected school board, has been effectively disenfranchised by the mandates of government, which leave little uncontrolled. Public education serves one master, and that master is rich and powerful. Those who clamor for the restoration of confidence in the public schools can, with the mighty resources at their disposal, and not money alone, but the power and prestige of officialdom, easily provide that for themselves. They can easily "educate the public" into warm feelings of respect for the schools, especially since those whose values stand in need of clarification are mostly victims of the schools, unskilled in thought and poor in knowledge.

When they do that--indeed, as they do that, for they are always at it in one way or another--it is only the press that can put weights in the other pan of the scale, citing facts and exploring meanings.

"The functionaries of every government," wrote Jefferson, "have propensities to command at will the liberty and property of their constituents." Is that any less true when the "functionaries of government" just happen to be bureaucrats in some department of "education"? Have they not commanded our property, in countless billions, only to squander it on fads and gimmicks and nonsensical "research" and lucrative consultancies for others of their tribe? Have they not commanded our liberty and our very persons in the cause of ideological adjustment? How long would we bear such intrusive and manipulative behavior in other functionaries of government, in the Coast Guard, for example, or the Motor Vehicle Bureau?

How long? Only so long as we remain ignorant of what they are doing and thoughtlessly uncritical about its meaning. Jefferson went on:

There is no safe deposit for them [liberty and property] but with the people themselves; nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free, and every man able to read, all is secure.

It is noteworthy that the people who want the press to promote the schools, thus mitigating the first of Jefferson's conditions for the security of all, are the very ones who have so egregiously failed to provide the second: universal literacy.

On the other hand, of course, Lenin opposed freedom of the press. Why, he asked, should government that is "doing what it believes is right allow itself to be criticized?" His values were clarified.

The Turkeys Crow in Texas

TIME magazine reports that schoolchildren in the USSR, by the end of tenth grade, have been ruthlessly deprived of their right to a language of their own and subjected to ten years of learning grammatical rules and as many as seven years of some foreign language. And there's worse. Those godless communist tykes have had their creativities and self-esteems destroyed by geometry, algebra, and even calculus, for God's sakes! And not one lousy mini-course in baseball fiction or the poetry of rock and roll! You talk about elitism? Now there's your elitism. Those commies want to make just about everybody into some kind of elitist. Why just about the only thing an American kid would recognize in a Russian school is the values clarification and social adjustment stuff. Probably swiped it from us in the first place anyway.

Still, let's hope we don't have to fight with those Russians, an anti-humanistic crew all hung up on mere skills. In fact, if we have to fight, let's see if we can't arrange to fight with the Texans.

Down in Texas, the school folk are mighty proud of the results of their new state-wide competence tests. You might not believe this, but it turns out that ninety-six percent of the ninth graders in Texas can correctly add and subtract whole numbers three times in four! (Stick that in your samovar, comrade!) And that, friends, means that the teenager in the diner on Route 66 will give you the correct change ninety-six percent of seventy-five percent of the time, or seventy-two times out of every hundred chili dogs. And in Russia you can't even get a chili dog.

And if you're worried about writing, forget it. Fifty-four percent of the Lone Star State ninth graders have "mastered" writing. And that beats hell out of the whole New Yorker crowd, of whom more than ninety-nine percent still have to worry about stuff like whether or not "ambient" is really the best word.

At the end you will find the topic assigned for the writing competence test and the essays of two ninth graders, one of whom has mastered writing. See if you can figure out which--and why.

Keep in mind, as you cogitate, that it was not the schoolteachers of Texas who scored the essays. The scoring was to have been done by the Educational Testing Service, but the canny Texans decided that they wanted no part of holisticism. So they gave the scoring contract to Westinghouse, naturally, and the Westinghousers, naturally, hired some two hundred residents of Iowa City and a certain Paul Diehl, who is a porseffor of Eglinsh. (See The Porseffers of Eglinsh.) at Iowa University. These combined forces, some aiding, some abetting, gallantly resisted the indecent allure of holistic scoring and devised instead an austere discipline, "focused primary trait holistic scoring." Naturally.

It is the special virtue of focused primary trait holistic scoring that it rewards exactly that kind of competence that we have chosen as the goal of our highest national aspirations--the minimum kind. It takes upon itself, in the best Christian tradition, the work that God seems to be shirking. Focused primary trait holistic scoring exalteth them of low degree, and, by ferreting out and punishing pretensions to elitism, putteth down the mighty from their seats. That's the American way, and if the Russians would just go and do likewise, we wouldn't have to worry about them anymore.

And thus it comes to pass that, on a scale from 0 to 4, Essay B gets a 2, witness to mastery, and by far the most common score. Essay A, however, is not up to the standards of focused primary trait holistic scoring. It gets a 1.

How so? Simple. Writer B gave two reasons for his choice. That is mastery in the "organization of ideas." What is more, his prose style suggests that professors of education and superintendents of schools won't feel too déclassé in his company.

Writer A gave only one reason for his choice. However, even had he given fifty reasons, he would not have earned a better score. Focused primary trait holistic scoring is not intended for the encouragement of wiseacres like that snotty A kid, and it provides that no score better than a 1 can be awarded to any writer who "challenges the question." You have to nip that funny stuff right in the old bud. You let that once get started and the next thing you know some of those brats will clarify some of our values and that will be the end of life adjustment as we know it.

Well, maybe if we make focused primary trait holistic scoring a state secret, some Russian spy will steal it. It's our only hope.

__________
This story is told in gritty detail in Texas Monthly, June, 1980. If you still fancy that competence tests are part of the solution rather than part of the problem, you'd better ask TM for a reprint of "What's the Score?" They're at 1600 Austin National Bank Tower, Austin 78701. While you're at it, ask for Gene Lyons' horrifying piece (Sept. 1970) on the unspeakable practices of teacher-training academics.

________________________________________

The Topic

Suppose that your school is short of money and can keep only one of the following: driver education, school athletics, art, music, or vocational programs. You and other students have been asked to write to the principal and tell which one program you most want to keep. Be sure to give the reasons for the one you choose. Remember, you can choose only one program.

ESSAY A

"You have proposed an illogical situation, but I will do my best to give you an answer. I choose driver's education over the other classes on my own special process of elimination. School athletics is out because I can't stand the class and have no wish to inflict it on others. Art and music are really unfair electives to leave out, but they are certainly not as important as driving unless you plan to make a career of them. In that case, I'm sorry but life is hard. Vocational programs were the toughest of all to leave out (and it is the subject your mythical school will probably keep, despite this recommendation), because you do make a career of them, but look at it this way: Driving is almost essential to a person's life, and although one could learn to drive elsewhere, it would be much more expensive. Actually, my whole rationale doesn't have to make sense because your question didn't in the first place."

ESSAY B

"I think you should keep Athletics. Because its good for the Body. And it can Help you if you would like to Become a pro football player."

________________________________________

Teratology

HERE is one of those thumbnail self-portraits that teachers have to write for academic advertizing brochures. The trick is to make yourself sound like a consummate scholar who is nevertheless innovative, and therefore doesn't give low grades. Our example is from a brochure aimed at graduate students in geology. We don't have the name of the school, but the author is:

Frederick P. DeLuca, A. S., 1956, B. S., 1960, Western Connecticut State College; M. A., Fairfield University; M. N. S., 1967, Ph. D., 1970, University of Oklahonia. Assistant Professor.

Dr. DeLuca is currently studying the application of Piagetian Psychology to concepts in earth science, the criteria for interdisciplinary study, and the interrelatedness of perspectives on Iowa coal.

So. Let's start with the easy part. How many criteria can there be for an interdisciplinary study beyond the one that gives it its name? And what's to "study"? One might as well "Study" the criteria for dead fish. Maybe he meant something else.

And what, exactly, does he do when he studies the application of Piagetian psychology (a darling of educationists) to concepts in earth science? What might we expect of such "study" as we consider the formation of igneous rock?

That last bit utterly passes understanding, Well, maybe not quite utterly; "Iowa coal" might mean just that. But what can a perspective on it be? Is interrelatedness" to be distinguished from simple "relatedness," or from "relationship," or perhaps from its implied (and mind-bending) alternative, "intrarelatedness"? Is this stuff science?

We have to suspect that DeLuca may be what they call a "science educator" rather than a geologist. Geologists, like all scientists, seek statements of fact subject to public verification. Science educators can't afford to take that risk.

________

Hufstedler Speaks!

"Due to changing demographics and stagflation, the synergistic impact of the education system flowing into the industrial system is breaking apart. . . . The private sector has to intervene with a number of interventions beginning in junior high school. . . . If we are going to have synergism continue, the private sector has to get into the business of developing innovative structures and assist in a variety of joint-venturing.

________

AND here's the beast that lies in wait for those whose schools have become agents of the state and promoters of the "goals set by government." The generalissimos who run Argentina have banned the study of the new math. Extra, an Argentinean journal doing exactly what UNESCO would have us all do, explains that

...modern mathematics introduces procedures distinct from those taught by Aristotle ... this encourages doubts about his logic and promotes a lack of confidence in the authority of traditional ruling figures, thus favoring subversion.

Extra also pointed out that certain words used in the new math are typical of Marxist ideology, for example, "vector," "matrix," and "set." How long do you suppose it will take those generalissimos to discern the Red Threat in air traffic control, type founding, and tennis?

All governments, and especially tyrannical governments, worry a lot about language. Not only must they "defend the indefensible," as Orwell put it, but they must also provide themselves with a citizenry in whom the skills of language are not good enough to penetrate that defense. When they can, as in Argentina, governments diminish the power of language by fiat; but when they' can't, their best hope is an established educational system in which it is a policy not to worry about language.

We are a long, long way from tyranny, but from here, on a clear day, you can see the path.

Page Five

An Occasional Supplement to
The Underground Grammarian

Guarding the Guardians of the Guards

WE have been hearing both from and about groups of citizens who have organized themselves as guardians of education and monitors of texts and techniques. Those who have written to us have praised our efforts, claiming a common cause and expecting that we will praise, and promote, their efforts. We will not. They are decent and well-meaning people disturbed about the obvious disorders of education, no doubt, but their understanding of ‘education' is as thoughtless and self-serving as that of the self-styled professionals of education who brought those disorders upon us.

These guardians of education, while they differ in some ways, all seem proponents of the back-to-basics frenzy, in which we find no merit. We champion mastery, and we mean mastery, not minimum competence, in language and number not because it is the goal of education but because it is absurd to imagine an educated person who lacks it. Having that mastery, we can make of knowledge the raw material of thoughtfulness and judgment. Lacking it, we can make of knowledge nothing more than the substance of training and the content of indoctrination.

The back-to-basics enthusiasts, who never fail to note the paramount importance of being able to read want-ads and to write letters of application, treat the skills of number and language as subdivisions of vocational training to be imparted and done with, as though reading a micrometer and reading a paragraph were acts of the same nature. In one sense, literacy is a trivial skill, easily acquired and neither more nor less valuable than those darlings of the schools, the ‘life skills,' things like shoe tying and crossing at the corner. In another sense it is an endless and demanding enterprise that is also the ground of our knowledge and understanding, but an enterprise little likely to entice the minds of those taught literacy as a life skill.

All unwittingly, therefore, the guardians preach the same degradation of literacy that the educationists have so long practiced, and, strange as it might seem at first, for the same reason. The greatest mischief done in the schools is the attempt to inculcate certain presumed ‘values,' but the guardians understand that less than perfectly. They fancy that the mischief lies not in the inculcation of values but in the inculcation of the educationists' values rather than the guardians' values. All would be well, they imagine, if only the school would foster the ‘right' values. And that is why they must make of literacy a ‘basic' life skill rather than a way of life. If you want to foster in children certain values and preclude others, you must take care that they do not develop an appetite for knowledge and the skill to make of it the raw material of thoughtfulness and judgment. Jefferson's words are an assertion of faith, not fact; fact may be ‘self-evident,' but ‘truth' is not. If it were, earth would be fair, and all men glad and wise.

There is a momentous difference between coming to believe what we have often been told and deciding, as Jefferson did, out of knowledge and thoughtful judgment, to ‘hold' something true. The former is a kind of slavery and easy to achieve; the latter is difficult, for it requires knowledge and governed intellect, in other words, an education, but it is freedom.

Freedom is, to be sure, frightening. There is no telling what values free people will choose to hold. Decent and well-meaning guardians of values were horrified by the monstrous principles of the Declaration of Independence. It is, of course, out of fear that the guardians preach the inculcation of values, fear of knowledge and thought.

Most of the guardians urge things like the study of history and economics ‘emphasizing the benefits of the free enterprise system.' We wholeheartedly share the guardians' devotion to the free enterprise system, but they obviously don't share our equal devotion to the study of history and economics, which will inevitably bring the knowledge of some facts, events, and ideas that are not at all conducive to our wholehearted devotion to the free enterprise system. When we study history from a certain point of view, we do not study history. If our students some day discover, as in fact they will, that we were sometimes mistaken in our knowledge of history, they will probably forgive us. But if they discover as in fact they do, that we have misrepresented or omitted knowledge in the service of some values, they will learn to distrust both us and those values, as indeed they should--and apparently do.

If our values are grounded, as we usually imagine they are, in evidence and reason, then those who can see the evidence and who know the ways of reason are likely to adopt them. However, if we find ourselves tampering with the evidence and tempering the power of language, the medium of reason, then perhaps we ought to re-evaluate our values. Should that prove unacceptable, we should at least be able to see that our interest would be best served not by asking the state to promulgate our values but by forbidding the state to promulgate any values at all. If the state can espouse some value that we love in spite of evidence and reason, it can, with equal justice, espouse others that we do not love.

The guardians do differ in one important way from the educationists. The guardians have lost their nerve, while the educationists still have plenty. The guardians, although they often wave the flag, do not truly hold the most basic value of a free society: the belief that, given the choice, knowing and thoughtful people will choose to continue in a free society. Those who do hold that value must guard against the guardians. But not in the classroom.

The Underground
Grammarian

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.


Typos and comments:

For a printer friendly version of the entire volume, go to ShareText.Com

Copyright © 2000 by Mark Alexander. All Rights Reserved. SOURCETEXT, SHARETEXT,
SOURCETEXT.COM
, SHARETEXT.COM, THE SHAKESPEARE AUTHORSHIP SOURCEBOOK,
THE SHAKESPEARE LAW LIBRARY
, THE HU PAGE, THE SCHOOL OF PYTHAGORAS
and others are trademarked 1997, 1998, 1999, and 2000 by
Mark Alexander, P. O. Box 5286, Auburn, CA 95604.

SourceText.Com and ShareText.Com are divisions of
Breeze Productions, P.O. Box 5286, Auburn, CA 95604.