Hopefully, We Could Care Less
The shame of speaking unskilfully were small if the tongue onely thereby were disgrac'd: But as the Image of a King in his Seale ill-represented is not so much a blemish to the waxe, or the Signet that seal'd it, as to the Prince it representeth, so disordered speech is not so much injury to the lips that give it forth, as to the disproportion and incoherence of things in themselves, so negligently expressed. Neither can his Mind be thought to be in Tune, whose words do jarre; nor his reason in frame, whose sentence is preposterous; nor his Elocution clear and perfect, whose utterance breaks itself into fragments and uncertainties. Negligent speech doth not onely discredit the person of the Speaker, but it discrediteth the opinion of his reason and judgement; it discrediteth the force and uniformity of the matter and substance. If it be so then in words, which fly and ‘scape censure, and where one good Phrase asks pardon for many incongruities and faults, how then shall he be thought wise whose penning is thin and shallow? How shall you look for wit from him whose leasure and head, assisted with the examination of his eyes, yeeld you no life or sharpnesse in his writing?
READERS often ask about the source of the elegant and old-fashioned sentence that appears somewhere in almost every issue. It is from Timber, or, Discoveries made upon Men and Matters, by Ben Jonson (1573?-1637). It was to Jonson, habitué of the Sun, the Dog, and the Triple Tun, that Robert Herrick, another such, addressed his not entirely frivolous prayer: "Candles I'll give to thee, and a new altar; and thou, Saint Ben, shalt be writ in my psalter." The words of the wise are as goads, and we might all grow more thoughtful through declaiming, in solemn ritual, before we put a word on paper: "Neither can his mind be thought to be in Tune..."
And if you'd like to be more fussy than we, you can add the part that we leave out: "nor his Elocution clear and perfect, whose utterance breaks itself into fragments and uncertainties. "
Many of our readers are more fussy than we. They often write, asking why we don't "do something" about people whose utterance breaks itself all too regularly and predictably into fragments and uncertainties. Culprits most frequently indicted are teenagers, television reporters--especially sports reporters, athletes answering silly questions put by television sports reporters, government functionaries, and Howard Cosell. There seems to be a pattern there. However, while the abolition of television, athletics, and teenagers would, of course, bring many happy returns, none of them would be linguistic. And we would, in any case, still be left with the government functionaries. And everyone else.
Our fussy readers are mostly too astute to complain about the obvious nonsense of social amenity, although some of them are saddened when instructed to have a nice day, or to hear, from some putative grown-up on the telephone, "Bye-bye." They begin to itch when they hear things like "irregardless," "between you and I," and the much castigated but apparently invincible "hopefully." They are exasperated, at the least, to hear that style of discourse in which not only young people but also many entertainers (including athletes), artsy-craftsy folk, populistical professors, and even some vegetarians, seem forever trapped, the wandering recitation copiously punctuated with "see?" "like," and "y'know."
Hopefully, we could care less about such things, and hopefully is exactly how we would care less if we did care less. We care a little, just enough to preclude hope, but not enough to make us want to "do something."
There is a big difference between talk and writing. They are not merely optional ways of expressing the same substance. Talking is normally a social act; writing, unless it is simply copying the given, must be private. It needs the "leasure and head, assisted with the examination of the eyes," time, solitude, a visible record, and attention.
How we speak, in the press of the moment, is usually the result of habit. How we write, in solitary thoughtfulness, can be the result of choice. Our educationists are socializers with political intentions. They fear the choices of the solitary mind, which is why they prefer "teaching materials" to a book by a person, and they imagine understanding in the collective, which is why they "teach" by rap session and send out questionnaires. If you nag about speech habits that annoy you, those people will gladly offer "literacy" through other habits inculcated by more courses in speech and interpersonal communication.
The substitution of genteel habits for vulgar habits is not education. It's just a different indoctrination. So try to put Howard Cosell like out of your mind, you know?
A Little R n' R
The chief vices of education have arisen from the one great fallacy of supposing that noble language is a communicable trick of grammar and accent, instead of simply the careful expression of right thought. All the virtues of language are, in their roots, moral; it becomes accurate if the speaker desires to be true; clear, if he speaks with sympathy and a desire to be intelligible; powerful, if he has earnestness; pleasant, if he has a sense of rhythm and order.
JOHN RUSKIN, now dead and irrelevant, and an intransigent elitist in any case, is not much consulted by practitioners of modern educationism, who consult only each other. That way they run no risk of ever figuring out what to do and why, and coming thus to the end of the lucrative and frolicsome labors of innovation.
A mind like Ruskin's offers no enhancement of self-esteem to our self-appointed bestowers, of "humanistic" values. If Ruskin understands correctly that the virtues of language are "in their roots, moral," it follows that its vices are not merely mechanical failures in the execution of some "trick of grammar," but evil deeds. If the desire to be true makes language accurate, what desire makes it inaccurate? If sympathy and thoughtfulness engender clarity, what engenders vague mealy-mouthing and inflated jargon? If power comes from earnestness, whence the typically conditional and periphrastic evasions of educationistic prose, in which "findings would seem to center around," and a rose "may be perceived as being" a rose? And what does he lack, whose writing is distorted and ugly?
Let's consider, keeping Ruskin in mind, a brief passage from one of those innumerable task-force reports that serve to justify, here at Glassboro, the salaries of swarms of administrators and professors of imaginary subjects. The one who wrote these words, like the creep who pants into the telephone, prefers not to give his name:
This study supported the conclusions that practicing academic deans could benefit by possessing an expectancy of being able to control their work environment in order to successfully implement role responsibilities.
First, let's try to be fair. Even generous. We suspect that Ruskin would suspend his stern standards where the writing at issue is simply the work of an utter ignoramus. And who are we, to forbear less than Ruskin? It is often true that the language of the unschooled is clear, accurate, powerful, and even beautiful, for those merits do not depend on tricks of grammar. That being so, some sticklers might well require clear, accurate, powerful, pleasant language even from utterly uneducated administrators and professors, but we do have to be reasonable. After all, this is a state teacher college, democracy in action. It simply wouldn't be fair to measure by the standards of traditional schooling and education those members of our faculty and staff who have been deprived of such advantages. So, if the author of our example is not a villain, but only a victim who couldn't possibly have known better, we'll take it all back. All he has to do is ask.
In the meantime, though, we do have to declare that the passage lacks those virtues that Ruskin finds moral.
It is not accurate. To speak of "practicing deans" is to invite entertaining but irrelevant speculation. Are there, in fact, some nonpracticing deans, disconsolate and dispossessed, lurking in the dark turnings of the corridors of power? Are deans supposed to practice on our time? And if they should actually manage to implement their responsibilities, would they have fulfilled them, or established them, or devised them? All are possible in. this lingo, where programmatic thrusts and non-traditional aspects are just as implementable as responsibilities.
The passage is not clear. That first phrase suggests that "conclusions" already drawn (could the writer have meant hypotheses?) were thereafter "supported" (could he have meant drawn?) by the same conclusions. Furthermore, following the word "conclusions," we find only one candidate for conclusionship, and a weird one at that. Is it enough for a dean (practicing) merely to possess an expectancy (expectation?) of being able? Wouldn't it be better if he were simply able? And what does he do if he is able to control the "work environment"? Turn up the thermostat? And how are a dean's "role responsibilities" to be distinguished from a dean's responsibilities?
Since this language is neither accurate nor clear, and unless the writer can adduce evidence of his ignorance and incapacity, we have to conclude that he desired not to be true and intelligible. Since his language, garbled, verbose, and pretentious, is neither powerful nor pleasant, we must conclude that he wrote not in earnestness but out of deceitfulness or affectation, and that he has no sense of rhythm and order. That about covers it.
But wait. Surely this poor chap is just a cipher, just another bland and mediocre functionary conscientiously doing his job and performing a piddling task, a task of little importance, in which he has no interest, and which will almost certainly have no consequences, Thousands of other decent twits, plug in modules so like each other that only their mothers can tell them apart, are doing exactly the same kind of meaningless work in exactly the same thoughtless fashion in every "educational" institution in the land. Can we, or even Ruskin, indict all those decent folk for nothing less than turpitude?
Consider, first, those empty but perennial tasks that bring forth the kind of language we see in our sample, which regular readers will find perfectly typical of the lingo used by school people. Those tasks are not entirely without consequences; nor are those who perform them without a special kind of interest in them.
It is fairly safe to say of any elaborate "study" like the one that provided our example, that not one student will grow in knowledge or understanding because of it. But it does serve to justify places on the payroll for lots of people who might otherwise be driven into a calling less lofty, and more demanding, than that of "educator." Now that is a consequence dear to somebody's interest.
It is also dear in another sense. It is largely because of such people doing such work that it now costs more than four thousand dollars a year to keep a child in the public schools of Boston, where--and this is the usual pattern in government schools--administrators multiply as students disappear. You could educate each child for a small fraction of that cost, but you would thus destroy not only a tremendous government jobs program, but a long-nurtured market for the surplus production of the graduate schools of education.
Anyone who knowingly takes money for performing trivial tasks in such a cause must be venal. Venality is not well served by such virtues as earnestness and the desire to be true. For those who know what they are doing, therefore, the charge of turpitude seems fair.
But, in the entire educationistic apparatus, how many of those can there be? Fifty? A hundred? What of those innumerable others, who know not what they do? Might they not be accounted no more than innocent dupes?
Dupes they are, but guilty dupes. They acquiesce in their own dupery, profit from that acquiescence, and help to visit that dupery on others.
Dupery is accomplished through language. There is no other way. It is entirely through the language that they promulgate that our educationists have "taught" countless thousands that trick of automatic thoughtlessness without which no one--no one--would ever speak of possessing an expectancy of being able.
Educationists are noted for their humaneness. How they do love children! They reject, as authoritarian and oppressive, such ways of teaching and learning as "rote and recitation." Those two terrible Rs can only lead to a most terrible third: Regurgitation. Regurgitation does not enhance self-esteem. It is not creative. That sounds so lofty, and humane. But he who holds it as a principle must be careful not to think about the difference between thinking and knowing, the one in which to consider what we might mean by "creative," and the other out of which we can put the appropriate endings on the dative. Nor can he inquire into the worth of an analogy that equates a deliberate demonstration of knowledge with an involuntary ejection of the noxious and intolerable.
With their usual logic, the. educationists deem rote learning oppressive where it serves best, and, where it is an impediment to thoughtfulness, cherish it. How, after all, did our author come to speak of the cloudy work environment and the preposterous possession of an expectancy of being able? What led him to call deans practicing deans, and responsibilities, role responsibilities? Rote and recitation. They all write like that, all our pedagogical preachers of creativity and self-expression.
And where the work of thinking is done by rote and recitation, we do get regurgitation. How could we better describe our sample and educationistic writing in general than as an involuntary ejection of that which is noxious and intolerable?
So, to the charge of turpitude, we must even against the dupes add the charge of uncleanness. They vomit industriously where others gather to find nourishment.
Come in, Gschmrub!
We're gravely worried about our dauntless flagship, the reconverted Bulgarian trawler Gschmrub, now unreported for a year. We last heard froin the flagship in October of 1980, when we reported, in "Gschmrubbers Appraised to be Good," that a really swell committee of our nifty board of trustees had, in fact, appraised the Gschmrubbers to be good.
What a relief that was. We had fretted a bit. And what a delight it was to find this great idea in the committee's report:
The EPIC program is now developed to the point that systematic descriptions of it, papers, small research studies, evaluations and the like should be routinely appearing . . .
We just can't begin to tell how keen we were to bring our readers news of all those neat descriptions, papers, studies, evaluations, and even the like. But so far--nothing. Maybe nest year. Or maybe not.
ALL we know about the person who wrote what follows, in a memorandum "To All Personnel" at Middlesex Community College in Massachusetts, is that he, maybe she, is known as "Dean Moore." Dean of what, who can guess? We imagined at first that the prose was caused by the bomb scare, but not so. The memorandum was penned after three days of thoughtful reflection:
Our bomb scare of Monday, April 27, 1981 had a couple of incidents that occured [sic] that may or may not have been related, but causes us to be concerned about other happenings of the same day that have happened in the past and could happen in the future unless we all take steps to eliminate such possible happenings.
What a pity it that we don't have space for the rest of the memo, from which you might discover the nature of the happenings that happened to happen. You'll just have to write to Dean Moore.
We must hurry on to bring you a few words from one Dwight A. Dundore, Chairman of the Long Range Planning Committee at Montgomery County Community College in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania:
As has been determined by the Long Range Planning Ad Hoc Committee, we urgently need an all-encompassing action plan for operation which accurately describes the present situation at the College and expresses its judgement [sic] for the future. It should be a dynamic and evolving document and plan which changes as educational, social and economic factors change.
A plan! An action plan! An action plan for operation! A document dynamic, ever evolving, ever changing! An eternal task! An eternal Long Range Planning Committee! Thus mighty empires rise! You'd better believe it.
The people who operate our schools are always admitting, inadvertently, that they don't know what to do, or how, or why, and always promising to puzzle out, at our expense, how to puzzle such things out, unless something changes, in which case they're quite ready to start over.
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Neither can his mind be thought to be