Volume Five, Number Three............March 1981

The Principal and the Interest

INSTITUTIONS feel no pain. Only people can feel the relentless pain of illiteracy, the desperate bafflement of a mind unskilled in the ways of logic and thoughtful attention, and dimly aware, but aware nevertheless, of its own confusion. Schools do not have minds; they have guidelines. Their guidelines run, when it isn't too inconvenient, as far as what they are not at all ashamed to call the parameters of basic minimum competency. Basic minimum competence (why do they need that y?) is not literacy. It is, however, just enough a counterfeit literacy to convince the minimally competent to fancy themselves literate, except, of course, for those moments of desperate pain.

And there is even worse in store for the pseudo-literate victim of the schools. As bad as it is, self-knowledge is better than public exposure. Imagine, if you can, the pain of a certain high school principal who now finds himself publicly humiliated and accused of incompetence because of an article he wrote, so innocently, for the school paper. Here are some excerpts:

The County office has coordinators in all areas that is willing to help when help is needed.

Every one who participated are to be commended for a job well done. We did not win as many senior games as we would have like too, but both teams showed excellent sportsmanship.

The Senior High band and the Junior High band were always there at the ----- stadium when we need them. The Cheerleaders cheered the Drill Team performaned. The motivation and the momentous was there. It worked as clock word or a puzzle each part fell in place at the right time. If you were at the statiurn with me. I am sure you would have been satisfied with the performance.

The article also displayed some startling spelling errors, such as "surch" for "search" and even "intonative" for "innovative," and if there exists an educationist who can spell correctly only one word, the odds are seven to one that that word will be "innovative."

A dismayed parent, doing exactly what we have often urged, sent a copy of the principal's article, with appropriate commentary, to a local paper, and irate citizens petitioned the school board to remove the principal for incompetence. The superintendent said that he would "handle the matter as a personnel problem rather than in public." The resolution, if any, we do not know.

The principal further injured himself with defenses so pathetically irrelevant or implausible as to suggest even greater incompetence. He claimed that the piece was a hastily written rough draft, and that he expected that someone on the school paper would "edit" it. His errors, however, are characteristic not of haste but of ignorance; and few parents could have been consoled by his implicit admission that students on the school paper had higher standards, and would do their assignments more conscientiously, than the principal. The poor man put forth as evidence some other pieces he had written for the same paper, pieces in which his competence was demonstrated by "few errors" rather than many. He pointed out, as though the conventions of spelling, punctuation, and syntax appropriate to English prose were different from English prose in newspapers, that the education of principals does not require courses in journalism. And, most astonishingly of all, he further excused himself by telling the parents who had entrusted to him the intellectual instruction of their children that he was, after all, "an inexperienced writer."

An inexperienced writer. The man is a graduate of a small college, probably with a degree in education. He has a master's degree, probably in educational administration, from a state university. Can these distinctions, such as they are, be attained by an inexperienced writer? Did he write papers? A master's thesis? Did his teachers find no fault in his writing, or in his scholarship, which they could not possibly have assessed without reading what he had written?

And that school board that made him a principal and that now faces a nasty "personnel problem" too delicate to be "handled" in public, did it consider his academic and intellectual achievements? How did it measure them? Was that principal never a teacher? What could he have taught, who is so meagerly practiced in literacy?

Regular readers will have noticed that contrary to our usual practice we have not given the principal's name, or even the name of that stadium. We don't want you to care who he is, because this case is nastily vexed by the fact that he is black, and that the parents who seek his removal are white.

In one way, that is irrelevant. The academic and intellectual distinctions appropriate to a school principal are whatever they are, for principals of any color. And if such distinctions are not required of principals, which is generally the case, illiteracy and ignorance are no more to be accounted demerits in black principals than in the thousands of talentless gym and shop teachers who have wangled their ways through guidance counsellorship and curriculum facilitation to become white principals.

In other ways, however, this hapless principal's color is all too relevant. It permits him to claim, as he does, and perhaps even to believe, that the charges against him arise from racial hostility. And he may be right, which is not to say that the charges are groundless but only that hosts of white principals who deserve similar discomfiture remain unindicted. We're on the principal's side; we favor equal exposure and humiliation for all the ignoramuses who have been awarded, by virtue of silly degrees from academies of educationism, undemanding employment in the public school jobs program.

But we are not on his side when he says that "there are more people interested in the education of students than in this petty kind of bias." The blackness of the principal and the whiteness of his opponents are, for some purposes, not to the point, but the redness of that herring cannot be ignored. It is precisely in the cause of "the education of students" that we must object to academic deficiencies in principals of any color whatsoever. Furthermore, the principal's pathetic ploy makes us wonder: What notion of "education" does he harbor, in which the elementary mechanical skills of literacy are of so little importance? And, even worse, if he in fact believes that the ignorance of an inexperienced writer is being condemned only because the writer happens to be black, would he prefer that it be excused only because the writer is black?

No, the poor man simply has no legitimate defense. But he does have a legitimate complaint. Since he seems unlikely to think of it, and since almost all the rest of us can legitimately make the same complaint, we are going to make it.

That principal is suffering. The students, and their parents, are suffering. The whole town is suffering, and so is a whole nation, where fewer and fewer of those who call themselves "educators" have attained even the once standard level of mediocrity. But some people are not suffering. The teachers who handed that principal his high school diploma without having taught him even such simple things as spelling and punctuation (what else did they neglect?), they are not suffering. And the professors who took their pay from his tuition and gave him passing grades and a college degree and sent him forth as a certified educator and wrote warm letters of recommendation to graduate schools, all without knowing, or caring, that he was "an inexperienced writer" who couldn't even spell or punctuate correctly, they are not suffering. And the educationists who welcomed him (and his money) into the high calling of scholarship and pronounced him a "master" and in every way fit mentor of youth and who testified to his intellectual prowess and consummate learning to an unwary (and now unhappy) school board, they are not suffering.

The principal thinks himself educated. And why not? All those people told him that he was educated, and they gave him the papers to prove it. So what else can he believe now but that his troubles are the result of racial discrimination? And he may still be right.

Did all of those culprits pass him along because they didn't know his weakness? Bad. Because they didn't care? Worse. Or did they presume that his race would probably make superior intellectual achievement unlikely and would also protect him from the consequences of its absence? The worst. Beyond these three unsavory hypotheses, we just can't imagine any others.


Uncomfortable Words

I say unto you, Every word that a clergyperson shall speak, he/she shall give account thereof in the Day of Judgment.

WE don't usually trouble ourselves with the jargon or gobbledygook of elected officials or captains of industry. If voters and stockholders can find no fault in the babble of mindlessness and mendacity, they have their reward. For the same reason, we have ignored the trendy claptrap of pop religiosity, stoically denying ourselves even the easy pickings to be found in what William Buckley has so perfectly named "The Rolling Stones Version of the Book of Common Prayer." But even our saintly forbearance has its limits, and Edward W. Pierce, III, a self-confessed clergyperson in Akron, has exceeded them.

In a recent issue of a newsletter called "minister," we found Edward Pierce's prescriptions for "Using the Pastoral Relations Committee as a Support Structure."* Hear what uncomfortable words he saith:

The schematized model that follows is an attempt to visualize a pastoral/ministerial relations committee that will be a support structure. This paradigm is in no way meant to be a final or complete answer to the quest for a viable support mechanism for clergy. It is a model recommended by the interface of the study, experience, resources and evaluation of three years' experience in my own ministry.

Now that's exactly the sort of thing that will happen to anyone who lets an interface, especially the interface of the experience of his experience, recommend a model, a schematized one, at that, importantly different, no doubt, from an ordinary, unschematized model, which passeth all understanding anyway. To be sure, what actually does follow looks more like a simple outline than a model, schematized or not, but we can't be sure. This is our first encounter with a model that is an attempt to visualize a committee, a committee that will be a structure. But then, religion is a mysterious business, isn't it? It even allows room for the existence of a paradigm "in no way" meant to be the answer to a quest but well worth putting forth anyway. ("In no way" is probably a more pious version of "not," as in: Thou shalt in no way covet thy neighbor's viable support mechanism, nor his ox. On another hand, however, it may be from a hitherto unsuspected translation of a once famous Pauline admonition: "Let thy Yea be Yea and thy Nay, in no way.")

We are not taken in by Pierce's calling. We know the language of the clouded mind when we see it, and we have to conclude, with dismay but not surprise, that the educationists have infiltrated the seminaries. When he describes his "viable support mechanism," Pierce is also describing, and in standard pedaguese, the typical class in an "education" course:

The type of process with which I have had the best success is the problem-solving variety. In this arrangement, there is a problem poser who defines the issue as succinctly as possible; a facilitator who acts as a clarifier and maintains the process; and problem-solvers who compose the rest of the group, seeking to elaborate and support the issue by suggesting various alternatives and solutions.

It's all there. The type is not only a variety but also an arrangement, a series of pointless distinctions, like those elements, aspects, and facets, without which the teacher-trainers might actually discover that they have nothing to say. The problem, however, is also called an issue, as though problems and issues, unlike types and varieties, required no distinction. And that makes a problem--or is it an issue?--for those hapless problem-solvers. When they ought to be busy solving the problem, they are set instead to the curiously inappropriate task of elaborating the issue (whether succinctly or not we don't know), and to the absolutely incomprehensible task of supporting the issue. And then there is that facilitator, who, not content even with that exalted rank, insists on acting as a clarifier, thus undermining himself by implying the need of a clarifier who knows how to act as a facilitator, lest facilitation be left undone.

And when Pierce gets to his outline, the one he calls a "schematized model," he provides the mind-twisting suggestion that the pastoral relations committee include "between 3 to 5 members." Try to figure that one out. Shortly thereafter, we come to item 4, "Choosing and Implementing Strategy," under which we find, of course, as item 4a: "Input and Inclusion of Spouse." There is no 4b. So much for the strategy of pastoral relations, and a little plug for sacerdotal celibacy too.

Well, we don't really care how clergypersons think and write, since we are not required by law to drop money into their collection plates. But we are fascinated by the fact that Pierce's prose, both in style and content, is an exact replica of the mindless maunderings we get from our educationists, who do make off with great bundles of legalized swag. Somehow, though, it all makes sense.

After all, the schools have for decades been gradually transforming themselves into insipid and semi-secular churches, preaching the pale pieties of social adjustment instead of teaching difficult discipline. At the same time, the churches have transformed themselves into insipid and semi-secular schools, teaching the pale pieties of social adjustment instead of preaching difficult doctrine. Both have found more profit in peer-interaction perception than in precepts, and readier rewards in guidance and relating than in stern standards. No more teacher's dirty looks, lest creativity flag, and, lest self-esteem be disenhanced, no more sinners in the hands of an angry God. The principal can say with the pastor, "My brother Esau is a hairy man, but I am a smooth man."

And smooth they are, and featureless. We never hear in their words the ring of a human voice, but merely the drone of ritual incantation in something not quite language. They are full of high sentence indeed, deferential, glad to be of use, politic, cautious, but not meticulous. They are Milton's "blind mouths." Should Socrates appear among them, proposing the examined life, or Jesus, saying "Thou fool! This very night shall thy self-esteem be required of thee," they would be glad to interface and share concerns in a type of problem-solving variety of an arrangement, elaborating and supporting the issue and suggesting various alternatives and solutions.

They, who were to have been the salt of the earth, the zest of life's best endeavors, are become a tepid mess of pottage. Wherewith, indeed, shall they be salted?

Alexander the Haigiographer

[from The Manchester Guardian, February 8, 1981]

GENERAL Alexander Haig has contexted the Polish watchpot somewhat nuancely. How, though, if the situation decontrols, can he stoppage it mountingly conflagrating? Haig . . . paradoxed his auditioners by abnormalling his responds. . . He techniqued a new way to vocabulary his thoughts so as to informationally uncertain anybody listening about what he actually implicationed. At first it seemed that what [he] was impenatrabling was at basic clear. . . . But close observers have alternatived that idea. What Haig is doing, they concept, is to decouple the Russians from everything they are moded to. . . . Kremlin experts thought they could recognition the wordforms of American diplomacy. Now they have to afreshly language themselves up before they know what the Americans are subtling. . . . If that is how General Haig wants to nervous breakdown the Russian leadership, he may be shrewding his way to the biggest diplomatic invent since Clauswitz. Unless, that is he schizoprenes his allies first.


Neither can his mind be thought to be in tune,
whose words do jarre,
nor his reason In frame,

whose sentence is preposterous.

THE UNDERGROUND GRAMMARIAN is printed from hand set type on an elderly (circa 1935) cylinder letterpress, a Webebdorfer "Little Giant." Such a press, long out of manufacture, can be bought for little money, and the technology of printing is not hard to learn. "Freedom of the press," A. J. Liebling reminded us, "belongs to the man who owns one." So stop asking us what you can do.

The Underground

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* We suspect that the lower case m in "minister" is not an example of the cockroach typography we were discussing last month. Maybe it's simple humility? back

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