THERE is very little
to be gained and much to be lost in assuring, through education voucher
schemes or tuition tax credits, that the public school system will become
entirely what it is now only partly--the last, futile hope of the permanently
dispossessed and disabled. We say this with testy reluctance, and certainly
not, as regular readers will know, because we can see any hope
that the jargon-besotted and uneducated tribes of educationists and
teacher-trainers will ever provide the land with literate and thoughtful
citizens, but because there is no chance at all that credits or vouchers
would destroy or even mitigate the government schools, which have proven
again and again that they can easily digest and transform into nourishment
any complaint brought against them. As the better and luckier students--and
teachers--escape, our cunning educationists will have no trouble persuading
the same old agencies and legislatures that they now need even more
money. But the voucher and credit schemes probably will destroy
the worth of the private schools.
To see why, we must consider some popular,
widely preached misunderstandings:
"The public schools could provide
better education if we gave them more money." This is false. We
give them far too much money. They spend it on gimmicks and gadgets
and programs and proposals and whole legions of apparatchiks and uneducated
busybodies and Ladies Bountiful manquées. The private schools
just don't have that kind of money. That's why they're often so much
better. If we were to enrich the private schools, most of them would
hire the recently disemployed values clarification facilitators and
start offering courses in environmental awareness enhancement and creative
expression of self-as-individual-self through collage. In a few years,
we would have thousands of private schools just as bad as the public
schools are now. Furthermore, bad private schools, unlike bad public
schools, can do as they damn well please just as long as they can find
buyers for what they choose to sell, and they will care no more for
our opinions, or yours, than the mongers of obscene T-shirts care about
our quaint canons of taste. The people who run the government schools
can at least be ridiculed and humiliated in public.
All of that must be seen in the darkness
cast by another popular misunderstanding: "Parents should be free
to choose for their children whatever kind of education they think best."
This is not false, for it asserts only a special case of that
right to the pursuit of happiness to which we are supposed to be committed.
It is, however, irrelevant and (perhaps) unintentionally cynical, for
it presumes the possibility of "free choice" in countless
millions of innocent citizens who have themselves been "educated"
by the life-adjustment slogan-mongers, and who have come to "think"
that a good education is an indoctrination in their pet notions
and beliefs rather than someone else's. Their choices of schools for
their children will be no more the fruit of informed and thoughtful
discretion than their choices of deodorants and designer jeans. The
support they might withdraw, through vouchers or credits, from one pack
of fools and charlatans they would fork over to another of the same,
which, furthermore, will usually be an ad hoc reconstitution
of the first pack, now happily embarked on what is for them just one
more obviously profitable, bold, innovative thrust.
We can understand the angry desperation
out of which even thoughtful citizens can propose, as remedy for the
ills caused by one governmental contraption, yet another governmental
contraption. And any system for credits will be exactly that, a wholly
owned subsidiary of the state and a bureaucratic agency for the propagation
of ideology and the enforcement of "standards." And the standards
will be devised not by the enthusiasts Of vouchers, who don't really
know exactly what they want anyway, but by the same old coalition of
educationists and unionists and politicians and social engineers and
manufacturers of gimmicks and publishers of pseudo-books, who do
know exactly what they want, and exactly how to get it.
It is simply naive to imagine that our
government, or any government anywhere, will construe tax credits or
vouchers as a way of letting its citizens keep, and spend as they please,
some of their own money. Such devices will be thought of as "subsidies,"
and loftily denounced, especially by those whose livelihoods depend
entirely on perpetual subsidization of the public schools, their pandemic
problems, and their Byzantine and costly governance, as "handouts"
of "public" money. Should credits or vouchers be provided
by law, the same law would have to provide, as quid pro quo to
a tremendous and noisy lobby of government employees, that most of the
policies and practices that make the private schools what they are would
suddenly become illegal. When private schools are required to hire certified
graduates of state teacher academies, and to offer all the mandated
mickeymousery of social adjustment disguised as "studies,"
and to make sure that the ninth-grade textbook for Appreciation of Alternative
Lifestyles doesn't use any tenth-grade vocabulary words, then the erstwhile
voucherites will long for the good old days, when you could at least
get what you paid for, and when the private schools actually were
an alternative to government education.
Those voucher and credit schemes were
probably not cooked up by a conspiracy of educationists. Those
people aren't that smart. But you just can't beat them for luck.
Strangers in Paradigms,
or, The Hegemony Connection
WE are not guilty
of omitting capital letters in the title of the passage reprinted below.
Nor is that omission to be accounted, strictly speaking, an "error,"
except, of course, in taste. It is merely an example of what is known
to printers as "cockroach typography," an affectation once
thought more appropriate in ads for emporia devoted to the swift removal
of unsightly hair than to the announcement of scholarly colloquia on
the "richness--past, present, and future--of our collective
Cockroach typography is named after archy,
that courageous cummings of cockroaches, who had to write his poetry
by diving headfirst onto the typewriter keys, but could not manage the
shift. And had the describer of "the paradigm exchange" been
required to compose his piece in the same way, Earth would be more fair.
The paradigm exchange took place not,
as you might well imagine, at Checkpoint Charlie in a murky fog, but
at the University of Minnesota in a murky fog. It might not have been,
however, quite the innocent romp it seems. Indeed, our staff cryptanalyst
has concluded that the colloquium was nothing less than a "cover"
for a covert operation laid on by a band of royalty-rich humanities
professors in collusion with the international banking and fund-laundering
cartel. In support of his hypothesis, he contends that the cited passage
is obviously in code, which he unravels thus: "Taking stock. Capitalize
currency exchanges [and/or] brokerages. Coin bank deposits richness
Well, while we do admit that an international
conspiracy of professors and bankers is certainly more plausible than
a brokerage characterized by exchanges of tools and explorations of
modes, and than the examination of forms (and the paradigms themselves)
through the' application of modes; and while it is true that the supposedly
decoded message makes a bit more sense than the original text, we're
just not buying' it. Those folk are intellectuals, dammit! They
aren't even a pack of educationists, never mind international conspirators.
We're going to give them the benefit of the doubt and assure you that
there is probably nothing more sinister in that passage than a muddled
and inappropriate metaphor, some vainglorious but routine jargon, and
perhaps a pervasive malaise compounded of pretentiousness and the perfectly
justifiable fear of academicians that no one out in the world is taking
But the cryptanalyst remains unconvinced.
He smugly points out that this so-called paradigm exchange provides
a morning session called "Accounting for the Disciplines"
(his italics), and then an afternoon session, "More Accounting
for the Disciplines" (ditto). We reply that disciplines do indeed
seem to require lots of accounting for, especially those that might
be brokered through papers about "Modes of Space and Interiority:
Ontology or Sociology," "Proust's Paradigm: A Production,
a Figure, an Object of Reading," to say nothing of "‘Sociality'
and ‘Historicity' as Categories in Literary Reception" and the
"Hegemony of Interpretation."
That was the point that convinced our
stubborn decoder. He finally had to admit that no self-respecting gang
of hard-eyed money manipulators and bagmen would take the risk of doing
business with bozos who run so easily off at the mouth. Only a public
institution of higher learning can take a chance like that.
So, thank goodness, the paradigm exchange
was probably just a harmless frolic of porseffors. And why not? If the
poets are to be the unacknowledged legislators of the world, they will
surely need some help, some bureaucrats and appliers of analytical models,
some paperpushers and methodologists of analysis and interpretation.
Those artist types are clever enough in their own little specialties,
but you can't expect them to handle the hard stuff. For that you need
It happened once that archy's boss, Don
Marquis, invited the insect to visit him at home, provided only that
he come without any friends or kinfolk. To that, the Villon of vermin
you should have learned
by this time
So where is that cockroach, now that we
the paradigm exchange
Taking stock of the state of critical
inquiry in the humanities and arts, this colloquium capitalizes on the
diversity among the disciplines, and the currency of creative theories
and methodologies of textual analysis and interpretation that bring
changing perspectives to scholars and students. Exchanges of texts and
tools and explorations of new modes of humanistic thinking characterize
the brokerage of the colloquium. Through application of numerous analytical
models, a variety of art forms will be examined. This will be followed
by an examination of the paradigms themselves, coined in the realms
that bank deposits from anthropology, physics, history, and linguistics,
to literature, philosophy, sociology, and psychology. The Colloquium
aims to inventory the richness--past, present, and future--of our collective
Yes we have Some Bananas
HERE at Glassboro
State College we are blessed with some of America's most outstanding
campus humor publications. And they're free, too! The citizens
of New Jersey cheerfully bear the expense, because they understand (we've
told them and told them) that the worst thing that can happen to a school
is that it might become less fun than a barrel of monkeys.
Never fear. It can't happen here, certainly
not so long as we continue to enjoy the services of scores of people
like those funny folk in Co-operative Education, for instance. Their
latest brochure starts right off with this absolutely socko bit
of dialog: "What is cooperative education? In it's simplest definition,
it is learning by "doing.") How about that? You're
not going to find that class of humor in the Harvard Lampoon,
And whatever we may lack in class, we
make up for in comedy. Other schools will have a top banana and a few
seconds, maybe, but we have middle bananas, bottom bananas, and even
a platoon of assistant vice-bananas.
We may even have some adjunct bananas,
for some of our ribticklingest copy appears regularly in those little
catalogs of cute courses sent out by the Office of Adult Continuing
Education. (Even the title gets a snicker, implying the risible existence
of that from which it is so laboriously distinguished--Juvenile
Instantaneous Education.) Notice, for instance,
how the possibly forbidding academic solemnity of a course called "Betting
to Win" (wittily listed in the "Finance" section) is
entertainingly alleviated when would-be students are exhorted: "Gain
a solid and workable understanding of the intricacies surrounding most
thoroughbred race tracks." If you've never driven through the traffic
circles of southern New Jersey, you might not get that clever joke,
but that is your failing, and certainly not the humorist's.
Then there's the Psychologists' Conference,
open not to just anyone, of course, however adult and continuing, but
only to "School Psychologists with intermediate to advanced level
experience in personality assessment." What could be drearier?
But a Glassboro gag writer can always find exactly the right, deft touch
with which to lighten even so dismal an occasion as a convocation of
personality assessors with one level experience or another:
The program is designed to enhance interaction
between the participants and guest speakers. All participants and
guest speakers are encouraged to stay overnight.
(On the other hand, we could be wrong.
Maybe it isn't intended to be funny at all, but simply to suggest, if
only to the cognoscenti of interaction enhancement, that adult education
is to education as adult books are to books.)
Sometimes, of course, the humor of the
Adult Continuing Education catalog is tinged with melancholy. Consider,
for example, "Job Options for Educators":
This workshop is specifically designed
for educators who wish to explore alternative careers. Participants
will have the opportunity to explore various career options consistent
with their interests, values, skills and special abilities.
That is funny, we admit. Very funny.
But it's kind of sad too, don't you think? After all, there just aren't
that many openings for people whose interests, values, skills, and special
abilities are so accurately portrayed in their contributions to our
journals of campus humor.
Well, let's not let that unhappy thought
spoil the fun all those wonderful people bring us. Besides, they can
always stay on as "educators," laughing all the way.
A Certain Trumpet
WE'VE recently had
a terrible fright. Some rascally reader sent us a copy of an essay from
a sheet called "Journal of Developmental & Remedial Education."'
Very promising. Even better, the author, a certain Paul Rice, was identified
as Director of Developmental Studies at the University of North Carolina
at Asheville. Heh heh. What could be better?
As it turned out, a poke in the eye with
a sharp stick could have been better. Just imagine our chagrin as we
read Rice's very first paragraph:
Amid the recent national fervor in developmental
education, I noticed a disturbing tendency: we are having trouble
thinking and we are having trouble talking.
When the trumpet gives an uncertain sound,
who will prepare himself for battle? We will, and gladly too.
But this Rice seemed to be tooting in tune. And sure enough, the obstinate
follow kept hitting right notes:
There is talk of intervention strategies,
diagnosticians, prescriptionists; of clinics and postures and modalities.
We are being medical when we have no business doing so; we are attempting
to elevate mundane ideas to academic respectability by giving them
proud but meaningless names, and we are attempting to appear in control
of situations we don't understand.
So what are we supposed to do with a manlike
that? He not only refuses to write the standard educationistic gobbledygook,
but he actually encourages the same elitist dereliction in others.
Should his friends flock to follow his feisty fanfare, it would mean
the end of The Underground Grammarian as we know and love it.
We are not, however, without hope. This
Paul Rice if there really is such a person, has probably played
his last trump. In the coda, he sticks his neck out thus:
Last week a young man came seeking a
job in our developmental studies program. He left his resume. It spoke
of ‘transhumanistic learning experiences' of ‘self-sufficiency experiences,'
of ‘holistic learning strategies.' No doubt he will find a job somewhere.
But I sent him packing.
When that young transhumanistic experiencer
reports to the teacher training academy where he learned all that neat
stuff, the whole confraternity of educationists will rise in wrath against
Rice and bash in his embouchure.