Volume Five, Number One............January 1981

Yet Another Four More Years

THAT last President (much to the satisfaction of our typesetter, who never did manage to get the chap's name right) is getting ready to disappear yet again, this time for good. We'll have no more mush from the wimp to kick around. Nil, however, desperandum. He leaves behind a whole mush factory bustling with busy wimps. There'll be no dearth of kicking these next four years

That Department of Education where the wimps make mush may actually be our departing President's only perpetration destined to live in history. (All right. So it won't live in history. Would you believe social studies?) And for a while there we were afraid we might lose the whole blooming thing, and all because of some idle and off-hand vote-grabbing grandstanding by the other guy. (We'll print his name as soon as our typesetter says he's ready. In the meantime, though, that typesetter, who is also our staff augur and the only pundit in America to divine correctly the meaning of the turkey on the White House lawn, has glumly pointed out that the name of the new President rhymes exactly with the name of the Prime Minister of a land with triple digit inflation.)

Well, we needn't have worried. The President-elect hasn't said another word about closing the Department of Education since just before the election. And now he has found a Secretary, who says that he's not signed on as captain of the Titanic. So we can expect that he will not only keep steering that boat but that he will also take care not to shake it. And he seems a good man for the job. After all, you don't get to be a genuine Doctor of Education by subjecting the pretentious claptap of your professors and colleagues to the unkind and elitist scrutiny of logical thought. And you won't last long as the Commissioner of Higher Education out in Utah unless you know how to live and let live with the unions and the bold innovative thrusters and the institutes for the study of the problematical parameters of prediagnostic pre-assessment, to say nothing of the legislature and all the deans of the teacher-training academies.

But, on the negative side, it must be said that the man did take the job, and we do have to wonder why someone who was once a master sergeant in the US Marine Corps would want to sink into such company.

Politicians are in favor of education. The millions of government employees who operate the public schools have convinced the politicians, and us, that what they do in the schools is education. That is a lie. The public schools do provide massive public jobs programs, ready outlets for the countless products of the manufacturers of materials and devices and pseudobooks, sempiternal subsidies for enthusiasts and charlatans, and a captive clientele for the ministrations of the social adjusters and the values clarifiers. Education sometimes does happen in the schools, but only as the result of individual enterprise and never out of institutional intention, which is, in any case, and which must be, in a government agency, vigilant against the anti-social and elitist influences of individual enterprise.

So send not to know for whom T. H. Bell toils. He toils for government, which flourishes best in the absence of the informed discretion that Jefferson prescribed as at once the fruit of education and our surest protection against government. But don't despair. It's going to be a long, cold winter in the DED. There may be icebergs.


The Glendower Glitch

WHEN our zany educationists call spirits from the vasty deep, the damned things actually do come. If you so much as whisper, within the hearing of one of those Porseffors of PedaGog/Magoggery, the dread name of Area-Awareness-Enhancement Modular On-site Methods/Devices, you can be sure that a year later you will find that very demon courted in classrooms and workshops required for certification. If you could name about four hundred such spooky spirits you could summon up a whole teacher-training academy. But don't do it. We have enough trouble now.

We were reminded of the awesome demonic power of educationistic wordplay while reading The Official* Grapevine. (That asterisk is in the title, and it leads to this: "Published for the Mounds View School District Staff," of Arden Hills, Minnesota. The next asterisk is ours.*) In an article called "Process Completed" we found:

Dennis Peterson, Assistant Superintendent of Instruction, has become one of 200 administrator perceiver specialists in the country as certified by the Selection Research Institute (SRI) of Lincoln, Nebraska.

The process toward certification, which Peterson began in 1978, was completed on Friday, November 14, at the conclusion of an "intensive" 2 1/2 day training session held by the SRI in Hopkins. "The process and basic skills which the training develops are used mainly to identify strengths in potential and existing administrators and to focus on these strengths in future personal development," said Peterson.

See how easy it is? All you have to do is stand in the mystic diagram of existing aspects and potential parameters, swivel slowly for about two years ("intensively" for the final two and a half days), relating to felt needs and chanting aloud the subset of secret synonyms for the Great Perceiver, and behold--a mere and humble Assistant Superintendent of Instruction (surely he must be destined for better things than that) is robed in the greater glory of Administrator Perceiver Specialistship!

Ah, the life of the mind! Where else but in the schools could such wonders be worked? And just think of what the future must bring. Quis percipiet ipsos perceptores? By next year this time some canny necromancer will have conjured up that gaunt and grisly specter, nothing less than the Great Perceiver Perceiver Himself. Then, while Perceiver Specialist Peterson prowls the precincts of the principals, perceiving administrators, both existing and potential, hard on his heels follows the furtive figure of a former facilitator turned Perceiver Specialist Perceiver Specialist, perceiving Peterson's very perceivings, also both existing and potential. And next year. . . . The mind reels. It even boggles a bit.

But the educationist dances and jigs. You get grants for that sort of thing in the education business, where it is presumed, and maybe with good reason, that only a certified perceiver can tell an industrious and effective administrator (there must be some) from an overbearing imbecile. In fact, any routine act of judgment performed habitually by millions and millions of only slightly observant citizens can become, if given a spooky name, a "skill" to be taught and eventually required. How, after all, can we trust the perceptions of one who has never taken a single course--not even one lousy workshop--in perceiving? And how can you expect a schoolteacher to relate to students without training in relating? Indeed, how can you even expect a teacher to answer a simple question in class without a thorough appreciation of the concept of microteaching in the classroom situation.

Microteaching. A potent demon. As it happens, we do understand microteaching. We've been reading all about it in an essay, or something, "Understanding Microteaching as a Concept," by one Robert J. Miltz, who admits that he is the director of the microteaching laboratory in the school of education at the University of Massachusetts. What it might mean to understand something "as a concept" rather than as some other thing, we do not understand, but the man says:

Most educators know microteaching as a scaled down encounter where a teacher teaches for a short period of time (5-10 minutes) to a small number of students (4-5), with the typical microteaching sessions including the teaching of a lesson and immediate supervisory and pupil feedback. This model has been useful over the years to demonstrate the concept of microteaching. The unfortunate aspect of this model is that it is usually interpreted as the essence of the microteaching concept, this interpretation has severely limited the use and development of microteaching. Microteaching, as a concept, is not simply a scaled down teaching encounter, it is much more.

There is nothing a laboratory director deplores more than an unfortunate aspect interpreted as an essence, especially when such an obtuse misinterpretation might severely limit the use and development of exactly that potion that he cooks up for the taxpayers, who already seem restless in Massachusetts. What we deplore is the failure to understand, as a concept, or even as a precept, the logical outrage of run-on sentences. But Miltz has better hope of remedy than we. We've just never been able to build up a market for coherent and conventional prose among the educationists, while they can easily sell one another (bills to the taxpayers) any old remnants or seconds they have lying around. Maybe it's packaging. Notice how astutely Miltz relabels his product, lest all the schoolteachers in Massachusetts tumble to the fact that they've been microteaching all their lives, by gum, and that it's no macrodeal:

What then is the microteaching concept? In its fullest sense the microteaching concept is an opportunity for a person or group of persons to present or develop something to another person or group and then take a look at what was done. This model opens up a wide range of possibilities not available in the more traditional model of microteaching.

There. That should do it. Now we can understand as a concept that almost anything, anything from football in Foxborough to a message from E. F. Hutton, is really just a form of microteaching, and that Miltz is about as far out on the cutting edge as you can hope to get.

But, of course, it's not to the point that we understand. The other educationists have to understand, and that, as Miltz obviously knows, requires reinforcement mediated by expectable parameters of learning disabilities in both individuals and groups:

First, unlike the traditional model, the definition does not limit microteaching to one person presenting information. There can be more than one.

Our definitive studies have shown that three out of five educationists at least eighty-two times out of a hundred will, having carefully read that passage, exhibit certain behaviors that may be perceived, by some duly certified perceiver, as relevant to an appreciation of the concept of microteaching as a definition unlike a model limited to one person. That Miltz knows his audience.

Miltz takes the last "unfortunate aspect" of microcity out of microteaching by pointing out that "the idea that any size or type of group can be utilized as the receivers eliminates the belief that one must have only a small group of students." How true. And the idea that a pig could be called a cow and bread, cake would eliminate an unfortunate aspect of that tired old belief that if we had some ham we could have a ham sandwich if only we had some bread.

And bread is cake. Miltz makes that clear by telling us that "the idea of presenting or developing something frees the restriction that it must be a teaching lesson." And now, that captive restriction free at last, we understand as a concept that microteaching need be neither micro nor teaching. It need only be funded.

But there's one more thing. Feedback. Without videotaping machinery, which takes lots of funding, "it must be honestly stated that [microteaching] can't be done as effectively." So, whether we have "the holding of a problem session," or "an administrator [who] can gain useful insight into his effectiveness" even without the help of an administrator perceiver specialist, or even "a teacher who wants to investigate her relationship with a student on an individual basis," "for small groups or even larger [that should just about cover it] groups," "the real power and benefit comes from being able to actually see yourself doing something." And furthermore:

There is no restrictions [sic] on the way one receives feedback or the type of feedback one receives. It is simply stated that the person or persons have an opportunity to see themselves in action. . . . A person may look at the videotape alone, or with peers, or with an outside supervisor, or with students, or with any number of alternatives.

Well, we don't yet have our own microteaching laboratory here at Glassboro, but we have discovered that everything recommended by Miltz can be readily provided, contingent only on a little funding, at this really neat little motel just this side of Atlantic City. They've even been known to provide, at no extra charge, an occasional Microteaching Encounter Perceiver Specialist.


The Reformulation of Conceptualization

THE proposal from which the excerpt below is reprinted was submitted in March of 1980 to a certain Society for Research in Child Development, as to which we can tell you nothing more than its ominous name. To speak of children as "developing" is to reveal a nasty insensitivity both to language and to children. Complications develop, and images, but children learn. Or they would, if we gave as much time and effort to teaching them as we do to the profitable business of establishing societies and soliciting grants for the study of their development.

There are surely no Americans who are just now in greater need of good teaching than those "minority status children" to the study of whose development this proposal claims to address itself. Must that teaching--and must their learning--wait upon the "findings," probably the "definitive findings," of some people who are unable to make their verbs and subjects agree? Will the stupefying disadvantages against which such hapless children must struggle daily be somehow mitigated by the discoveries of self-appointed savants who seem to suppose that "multiple" is a classy synonym for "many"? What can they understand or help others to understand who cannot see the absurdity of "a comprehensive perspective," the logical equivalent of an extensive point? When the formulators of conceptualizations go on to reformulate their conceptualizations, what, exactly, will they have done?

The cited passage is not anomalous. It is typical of the entire proposal, which is characterized not only by frequent errors in grammar and punctuation but, much worse, by mind-twisting absurdities born of tormented syntax, and what can only be a ritual recitation of unexamined jargon. The proposal, which awards itself the distinction of being "new and exciting," and offers to "do . . . developmental and ecological views," promises to do them "while concurrently focusing (although indirectly) on historical influences which impact differentially the contextual experiences of minority group children who live in a majority group culture."

(Those children are called, apparently in hope not of precise distinction but only of stylish variation, sometimes "minority group children," or sometimes "minority status children," and occasionally mere "minority children." Fortunately for the sanity of us all, the proposers seem not to have noticed the possibility of naming those other children, whose curious and unaccountable existence they must have had in mind in that last part: the minority group children who don't live in a majority group culture.)

If you were a ninth-grade composition teacher charged with the education of a student who had written that passage, what would you do? Where would you begin? Would it seem at all to the point simply to tell him that differentially does not mean in different ways, or that while and concurrently add up to redundancy? Do you think he would take much profit from a discussion of the contradiction in his intention to "focus indirectly"? And could you hope to convince him that impact, especially as a transitive verb, has lost its force through too much use in the trendy jargon of grant proposals? What could you do to make clear to such a mind what is wrong with "contextual experiences," of which he is very, very proud?

Forget it. What that writer needs is not a lesson in this and that, not a handbook of helpful hints, but an education, a mind raised up in the habit of literacy and the skill (it is one and the same thing) of language and thought.

What happened to this proposal, we don't know. It was probably funded by that Society for Research in Child Development, or by some similar outfit, which will now point with pride to its mighty good works. Furthermore, the givers of such grants can rarely be distinguished from the takers, and they are ordinarily quite impressed by things like contextual experiences and the reformulation of conceptualizations. And anyway, it's not their money. It's yours.

Spencer and Brookins teach psychology, Allen, sociology. They may be "minority status" grown-ups themselves. (Do you suppose that they will be pleased to be so designated?) And, if they are, they are the only "minority status" citizens in the land who will take any profit from the funding of this proposal, which will impact differentially on their contextual experiences, but won't be what they need.


An excerpt from:

The Social and Affective Development of
Minority Status Children

A Proposal submitted by: Margaret Beale Spencer, Ph. D., Emory University; Geraldine Kearse Brookins, Ph. D., Jackson State University; and Walter Recharde Allen, Ph. D., University of Michigan.

The multiple issues raised suggests that a particular type of structure and composition for the study group is required. Thus, the accomplishment of the aforementioned aims require that the meeting be from a more comprehensive perspective. It is viewed as appropriate, in fact imperative, to conduct the study group conference in a "stepwise" fashion by holding two sessions over the extended period of time thus allowing adequate time between meetings to distill ideas and reformulate conceptualizations.

The Underground

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* Luckily for the rest of us, the people who operate the schools are as noncognitive about our Constitution as they are about everything else. They don't know that the Fifth Amendment would excuse them from sending out all those silly newsletters and poopsheets. Well, their ignorance is our bliss, so we urge our readers to keep sending us that junk. back

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