The Sound of One Eraser Clapping
Every Monday I listen to sundry administrators lecturing the faculty on how we must employ the various aspects of curricular media to enhance the quality of education within the context of modern techniques and facilities.. . . The faculty is thinking of asking for nap rugs and milk during the films.. . . Burn this letter! If my principal finds it, she'll make me clap my own erasers for a week and cut my audio-visual access for a month.
YOU have just read excerpts from a poignant letter--nine pages, with footnotes--written to us by a public school teacher somewhere in the United States. That's all we are willing to tell you about him, except, of course, for his name. His name is Legion.
We get hundreds of letters like his every year from schoolteachers driven to frenzy by jargon-besotted, half-witted administrators, the officious noncombatants of the school war. You may recall the type. Twelve miles behind the lines, in neatly pressed uniforms, they drank fresh coffee and told you exactly how to enhance operational outcomes through implementation of alternative modes.
The teachers in the trenches are not educationists. Some of the least able do, of course, want to improve their lots by taking more education courses and becoming either junior assistant curriculum facilitators or teacher academy deans, whichever comes easier. Most of them, however, know all too well that the battle in the classroom is only with ignorance, a beatable foe, while the enemy back at headquarters is armed with intransigent stupidity, the vast, dead weight of established educationism, pavilioned in jargon and girded in cant. Even more than the children in their classes, the teachers are victims of an institutionalized anti-intellectualism, dazed and ragged survivors of the values clarification concentration camp. Some children, therefore, will have the inestimable advantage of having for teachers resolute dissidents devoted to the pursuit of knowledge and the practice of thought, which depend absolutely on reading and writing.
Those who write to us, of course, are dissidents. We wish we could help them all. We wish we could print and dissect all those documents they send us, the mindless maunderings of the ignoramuses who set standards and make policy in the schools. We wish we could tell every tale told us out of school, funny but excruciating accounts of that militant mickeymousery called teacher-training.* But we can't do it all. We do, however, have some advice and comfort for desperate dissidents.
Remember that you are not alone. The others are waiting for someone else. And even if they are slow to surface, remember that one working mind with a mimeograph machine can demoralize a whole platoon of superintendents and curriculum coordinators armed with bizarre mail-order doctorates.
Find that mimeograph machine, or make a deal with a friendly printer. Tell him Tom Paine sent you. The unspeakable acts of that rear echelon are detectable, as mental acts must be, in language, so publish abroad the very words, with brief, suitable comment, of those inane and ignorant memos and directives. Comment only on the words, for which the public has paid, but do name the wordmonger. Leave batches of broadsides in the faculty lounge while your colleagues are unconscious, immersed in hair care and motorcycle magazines. You will be amazed at how far and fast the word will spread.
Go to the public, who pays you, remember, for the work of your mind. Take a lesson from a high school English teacher in Philadelphia, one Ronald James, who is willing and able to do the work of his mind on the editorial page of The Bulletin. Here is what he says, for instance, about some visitation by one of those HQ wonders:
The greater part of this specialist's presentation was devoted to providing teachers with . . . "accomodative strategies" for teaching students with reading and writing problems. He urged us to permit such students to "meet curricular objectives" (read: pass the course) with such "project activities" as charts, collages, mobiles, models and drawings. We were also instructed to provide our students with "alternative response modes" (read: don't insist that they write) including tape recording of lessons as well as oral tests.
One Ronald James, in one column, will tell more truth about the Basic Minimum Competence Hoax, or anything else, than the District Department of Information Services, busy "educating" the public, will disgorge in a decade. Go and do thou likewise. Pay no attention to your union, whining in chorus with administrators about the natural and proper appetite of the press for bad news about schools. Feed that appetite, and test your union's pious devotion to whatever it means by "quality" education.
At the very least, you can send a copy of this article to your favorite curriculum facilitator or superintendent of schools. He won't understand it very well, of course, but he will feel an enhanced awareness of doom.
Yet Another for the Gipper
"SPORTS," as Heywood Hale Broun astutely observed, "do not build character. They reveal it." And that gives a new insight, perhaps, into Vince Lombardi's penetrating analysis of the fearful danger implicit in the academic enterprise: "A school without football is in danger of deteriorating into a medieval study hall." And that, of course, would be the end not only of American education as we know and love it but probably of the Hula Bowl as well.
Well, it's high time somebody just said it straight out, so here it is, ready or not, as the case may be: In spite of Roger Staubach's terrific grade-point average and Howard Cosell's truly awesome vocabulary, and in spite of all that the Pacific Ten and the Football Mothers of Wellsburg, West Virginia, have done to show their support for the American way of life, there still exists, in this great land of ours, a mean streak of anti-athleticism. And some of it, sad to relate, is right in the schools.
But don't you worry, because we can guarantee you that there's one place that won't deteriorate into some dreary study hall, not while Head Football Coach Paul S. Billiard is around. Now while we don't have the figures, we'd guess that Head Coach Billiard's Bruins at Brooke High School in Wellsburg must have some phenomenal record, for we have been privileged to read the coach's letter to the new football parents. He's a man who came to play, and right at the opening gun he tackles the dilemma of anti-athleticism by both horns:
Please impress upon [your son] that he is about to take a giant step in his young life, that of entering high school and participating in interscholastic athletics.
Now that's to lay it on the line, reveal character, and clarify values, all at once.
Coach Billiard has not, like some others we could name, knuckled under the mystique of intellectualism that still runs all too rampant even in some good high schools with very fine teams. Educator though he is, the coach does not flaunt his erudition around by talking over the heads of the parents and Football Mothers, which is just what happens all too often with guidance counsellors and curriculum facilitators and other such members of the higher-up intelligentsia in the public schools, who don't often seem to have the knack of finding easy words that laymen can understand. Even when he has to use the highly specialized technical language of the professional of education in order to describe something very subtle and complicated, Coach Billiard can find a way to make at least the gist of it clear to almost anyone of any educational level:
We have raised over $12,000 to help improve facilities in our strength room. Our strength facilities are second to none, but facilities must be facilitated (used).
You see? It can be done.
And, unlike some academics who always seem to think that their subjects are more important than any others, Coach Billiard recognizes that there's more to high school than just football. There may be basketball and baseball as well, and the coach favors the basics for any sport at all:
We are saying that the strength improvement phase is a very integral part of our total program. It is a fact that a stronger athlete is a better athlete regardless of what sport he is involved.
Athleticism, unlike such cold subjects as biology and algebra, teaches the warm human values. You don't see physicists patting each others' bottoms, and microbiologists don't even have awards banquets where they can express their gratitude to all the wonderful people who made it all possible. But in one sentence from Coach Billiard, a bright boy can learn some real human values that he might never pick up in your standard English course:
I would be remissed if I neglected to mention the outstanding cooperation and support that our program receives from our Principal . . .
Now can you imagine some math teacher writing to the parents of new students actually giving due and proper credit to the principal of the school for supporting the teaching of math? Probably not, because the people who end up teaching things like math, even if they aren't consciously anti-athleticists, do tend to be lacking in team-mindedness. They're off in their own little corners perusing esoteric special interests like history and literature.
Hardly anyone, of course, would deny that there is a place for such things in the high schools, especially for that certain kind of student. But we do have to remember that such studies do not tend to foster team-mindedness. Actually, they usually have the opposite effect. After all, we do have to admit that there is something basically selfish and unsportsmanlike about learning such things as trigonometry or French. Those things may be all well and good for the person who learns them, but can you imagine what would happen to team spirit if all the players wanted to learn things only because of what was in it for them?
Furthermore, many of those subjects are unrealistically difficult, and even a very good player can find that the self-esteem that he loses in the French class doesn't always come back on the playing field. That's the sort of thing that brings on a bad attitude, the worst possible of all educational outcomes. And it is the Coach Billiards of this world, and not the teachers of French and trigonometry, who know exactly where bad attitudes come from and how to guard against them:
We discourage those individuals with poor attitudes to "shape up or ship out." A young man will not receive a bad attitude from participating in our system. If he is in trouble at home or elsewhere, his potential of carrying that characteristic into athletics is highly possible. Therefore, we are not about to base our program around individuals who are going to deter from the success of the team. (If the family can't handle the situation, don't complain when the coaches or school has to.)
And isn't that really the problem in so many of the non-athletic portions of a high school education, which are, in fact, based around individuals who do deter from the success of the team?
Coach Billiard hits the old nail right on the old head when he closes his letter with:
We hope that the preceding material has provided you with some needed information and supplied you with incite of the basic philosophy . . . of our program.
We'd like to believe that the parents were as incited as they should have been, but you know how parents are. Some of them don't even care who wins, so long as the kids are off the streets.
But if those parents will do just one little thing, there may be hope. Let them at least follow the advice in the coach's P.S.: "Please allow your son to read this letter so that all of us are speaking the same language." On that great day when we all speak the coach's language, there will be no deterring from success whatever sport we are involved, and anti-athleticism will trouble us no more.
Innovative Thrusts for Professionals of Education
HEY there, professionals, here's some news you can use. Some pretty sharp colleagues of yours down in Texas, in what may he the boldest and innovativest thrust of the century, have figured out--now get this--that more than eighty-five percent of the words in the English language can actually he read by little children who've never even seen those words before! All it takes, as it turns out, is a little knowledge of the letters of the alphabet and the sounds they usually indicate! And these teacher-trainers at East Texas State, every one agog, you'd better believe, are telling the teacher-trainees, even agogoer, about it, and everyone's all excited. Now that's one in the old eye, by gum, for pointy-headed intellectuals who say that our teacher-trainers can't tell their A's from their elbows. So break up into the smallest possible groups, professionals, and interface this thrust, even if it takes barrels of new funding for an Aural-Oral-Aura Alphahetical Needs Reassessment Task Force, starting with "A is for Albow."
YOU should read What's Happening to American English (Scribners, 1978), a frightening book by Arn and Charlene Tibbetts, who are personae not even a little bit gratae to the National Council of Teachers of Eglinsh--the people who discovered the student's right to a (coincidentally ungradable) language of his own. While their animosity should be recommendation enough for the book, there is more. This is hard core stuff. The much-traveled Tibbettses know what is actually done in schools, where silly pedagoguery begets a sinister practice. You should know that too.
Frances Fitzgerald's America Revised has just been republished in paperback by Vintage. When you've read this book you will understand why it is that children who believe that the President appoints Senators have nevertheless due appreciation for Gay Rights. Fitzgerald's account of the manipulation of history in the schools makes 1984 look naive, and her description of the Social Adjustment Alliance for Profit and job Security, a coalition of educationists, publishers, and legislators, will make you more tolerant of oil cartels and the Mafia.
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Neither can his mind be thought to be
* Nevertheless, we do intend to print and circulate a little anthology of appalling anecdotes, anonymously or not, as contributors choose. Please keep sending them in. Stick to the facts-who, what, where, when. We have the other eraser. back