WITH this issue, and contrary even to our own expectations, we begin the sixth year of THE UNDERGROUND GRAMMARIAN. If we had had a five-year plan, this would be the time to report on it. And a dismal report it would be.
Indeed, we have to begin our sixth year with a couple of the most sickening documents: we have ever seen. We found them quoted, and appropriately, although not sufficiently, derided, in an editorial in The Tulsa Tribune.
Some of the notions that these educationists sanctimoniously put forth and earnestly adopt from each other are so preposterous and so vile that no sound mind could accept them. In that fact, and in a well-known Proverbial hypothesis about one possible cause of unsoundness in the mind, we find what little hope-we can still hold, not only for our schools, but for our freedoms, which depend on the informed discretion of the people. Dryden puts the proverb thus:
For those whom God to ruin has designed,
He fits for fate, and first destroys their mind.
Well, maybe God has destroyed their minds. That would explain much. And maybe He will bring them to ruin. But when? Can we afford to wait much longer?
Nox quondam, nox futura?
Students do not read, write and do arithmetic as well as they used to because they can get along quite nicely without these skills. . . . Americans are finding that they need to rely less and less on "basic skills" to find out what they want to know and what they want to do. Our basic skills are declining precisely because we need them less. [Peter Wagschal, Futurist, University of Massachusetts]
YEAH. And that's not all! Just you take a good look at the standard American dogs and cats. They live pretty damn well, tolling not, neither spinning, and they've never even heard of stuff like reading, writing, and arithmetic. They "do quite nicely without those skills," and so do tropical fish and baboons. And so, too, did black slaves and Russian serfs, and all those marvelously skillful and industrious ancestors of us all who gathered nuts and roots and killed small rodents with sticks. They all knew everything they needed to know.
We would probably never have heard of Peter Wagschal, or of his neato Ouija Board Studies Program, if it hadn't been for one Larry Zenke, a pretty neato guy himself. Zenke is Superintendent of Schools in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where men are still men. Did he quail when the national achievement test scores, which used to be quite good in that prosperous and orderly city, hit new lows last fall? Nosirree. When taxpayers grumbled, did he ignominiously promise to do better? And when the Tulsa Tribune started shooting off its editorial mouth about "fads" and "anti-academic garbage," did Zenke tiptoe away into the piloting of experiential remediation enhancement parameters?
No way. Not in Oklahoma. In the finest frontier fashion, he stood up tall in the middle of Main Street at high noon and told the unruly rabble that maybe they'd like to talk it over, before doing anything hasty, with his pal, Pete (The Persuader) Wagschal, who somehow just happened to drift into town. True grit.
Then, having (by proxy) brought light to the benighted fuddy-duddies of Tulsa, Zenke, who obviously knows more than he lets on, laid a little groundwork for the defense of next year's test scores: "Wagschal even suggests that 50 years from now we could be the smartest, most knowledgeable society that has ever existed, and yet be largely illiterate."
The italics are Zenke's, not ours, and we're grateful for them. We have often wondered what kind of an idea it would take to make a school superintendent excited about the life of the intellect.
And a dandy idea it is, especially for all those much misunderstood "educators," saddled (for now) with the thankless (and difficult) task of teaching what no one will need to know when the bright age dawns. All that burnout and stress! And for what? For nothing more than an arcane and elitist social grace no more necessary in a truly "knowledgeable society" than the ability to play polo, or the lute.
And how, you ask, will people who are "largely illiterate" come to amass all that knowledge? Well, don't you worry, bless your heart. Someone will probably be quite willing to tell them what to know, even if it means all the trouble and expense of attaching loudspeakers to every lamp-post in America.
The teachers, then, will be liberated to do what the teacher academies train them to do. Zenke foretells:
Teachers, for example, will no longer be disseminators of cognitive information--machines will do that. Teachers will be program developers and/or facilitators of group membership, helping students develop interaction skills. Some educators, of course, will be found too rigid to survive this metamorphosis, but those who do will find excitement and fulfillment in their new "teaching roles."
And that will be just dandy too. Happy, happy, the teachers of tomorrow, at long last fulfilled and excited! Freed forever from the stern constraints of the tiny smatterings of mere information still incongruously expected of teachers, the facilitator-trainees of the future won't have to take any of those dull and irrelevant "subjects" that now impede their growth as professionals and their group membership development. They'll be able to spend all their time in the enhancement of their interaction skills, so that they can go forth and facilitate the same for little children. (Those cunning tots, of course, do have to be educated, you know, so that they will sit quietly in organized groups when it's time to hear some knowledge from the loudspeaker.) And the training program for superintendents of schools will be even more exciting and fulfilling. There's just no counting the skills that they can get along nicely without.
Which is it you've lost, Tulsans, your spirit or your minds? Could it be both? Do you lie awake in the still watches of the night worrying about those godless communists who are panting to nationalize oil? Do you fear that bleeding hearts will take away the guns by which you fancy that you won and may yet preserve your liberty? Pooh, Tulsans, pooh.
The most dangerous threat to your liberty, the one that has by far the best chance of turning you all into docile clods, is right there in Tulsa. Think, dammit! Do you imagine that foreign enemies of this nation could devise for your children a more hideous and revolting destiny than the one so blithely envisioned--and as an exoneration, no less--by the superintendent of schools? Do you yawn and turn to the sports section, citizens of Tulsa, when the man whom you have hired to oversee the growth of understanding and judgment in your children airily tells you that in a palmier day they will have no need of the literacy that alone can give those powers? Do you shrug when he tells you that the children will be spared the burden of whatever "cognitive information" they don't actually need, which must obviously, since the children will have no powers of judgment, be chosen by someone like Zenke? Do you, like Zenke, dream of the day when no one will be able to read our Constitution, but it won't matter, because the machines provided by the government schools will tell us all we really need to know about it? Can you think of something to say to those teachers, and superintendents, who are not excited and fulfilled with leading young minds into the ways of understanding and thoughtful discretion, and who arc unrigid enough, flaccid and limp enough, not only to survive but to hail as liberation their metamorphosis into developers and facilitators? Does it not occur to you that the inculcation of "interaction skills" for the purpose of "group development" is exactly the opposite of an education, by which a mind can find its way out of group-think and the pet promulgations of collectivisms? And in short, Tulsans, what are those strange black boxes we see on your lamp-posts? What soothing message have they recited, even as you slept? How is it, O Pioneers, that you are not mad as hell?
Oklahoma is much changed, but the descendants of the settlers still like to watch the hawk making lazy circles in the sky. Their bird-lore, however, is not what it was. In fact, there's hardly a damn one of them that can tell a hawk from a vulture nowadays.
Quatily [higher] Ecudation in NJ
EMPLOYMENT OBJECTIVE: To help the growth and commonwealth of an organization into a successful unit by continuing my physchological and sociological expertiese to satisfy existing needs, and to identify and meet emerging situations within an institution, company or community. Familiar with counseling, mental health, social services, group therapy with adults and youths; and, can organize, coordinate and supervise career activities. Also, have the ability to prepare budget and financial reports along with light typing skills.
HERE at Glassboro State, we are your good old simple country folk, into the eternal verities, as you might say, a cabbage-patch of A Number One American Heartland plunked right down smack-dab in the middle of what they call the Great Northeastern Corridor. The trains don't stop here any more.
We are neither new-falutin' nor high-fangled. In fact, many would say it's just the other way around. We're satisfied with excellence. We refer to it often. We even keep making up new plans for excellence even more excellent than our last new plans for excellence. As our very own, and highly respected by a number of curriculum facilitators hereabouts, Curriculum Development Council so cogently puts it, in its list of Basic Concepts About A Well-Functioning Individual: "The present can be altered and the future directed without explanation of the negative past." Now you put that all together it spells quatily ecudation with no bones about it. And that's the name of our game. Even the union says so.
So you can Imagine our chagrin when the above, or something like it, happens. Not to put too fine a point on it, the case may be summed up thus:
We take in this young lady with plenty of potential to maximize, and we spend four full years giving her nothing but an unmitigated quatily ecudation. We teach her all about the growth into a unit, and even the commonwealth into a unit, of an organization, and not through any dilettantish satisfying of non-existing needs, you will notice. That's exactly the way we do it, you know, and it has made us what we are today. And we taught her all about situations, which are the most important things to be able to identify for any person who contemplates a career activity in the professional ecuduation sphere, which may be perceived as being a multi-faceted arena of one situation after another, especially the emerging kind, which, pray notice, this graduate does know how to identify. And meet. And just look at all the good stuff we've made her familiar with. Furthermore, while she probably doesn't want to boast of it, you can bet your horse and dog that she is not only familiar with mental health, for instance, but that she even appreciates it. And what, you may ask, about those career activities? Can she really organize and coordinate them, and even supervise them? Well, come on. That's exactly what we do all the time, and, to turn once again to the words of Basic Concepts About A Well-Functioning Individual, "Human behavior is strongly influenced by its present environment." (And some people--can you believe it?--say that we should actually spend less money in the pursuit of such findings, which are the very cornerstones of all educationistic theory!) And on top of all that, we even have courses and experiential workshops in the writing of resumés!
So how do you figure it? Here this young woman, who has obviously learned exactly as we teach, who clearly has enough skills to make her at least a dean--if not an associate vice-president--around here, applies for a job as nothing more than Counselor/Special Services, a job she could indubitably do in her sleep--wouldn't you say?--at some two-bit community college where they wouldn't even recognize a situation if it emerged, never mind identify and meet it, and where they are obviously not the least bit familiar with mental health, and those bozos, even after reading exactly what you see above, have the unmitigated gall to turn her down!
Well, someday they'll be sorry. At GSC the apple never falls far from the whole barrel, and we often hire our own graduates. She could easily make it as our vice-president for Community College Program/Relation/Evaluation.
SOMETIMES it is possible to figure out what some superintendent of schools is trying to say. However, when that happens, he usually has said either something that is too obvious to need saying, or something that he would very probably not have said if only he had been able to understand exactly what he was saying.
Here's a diverting example from the superintendent of schools in St. Clair Shores, Michigan, We know only his initials, G. E. M. (really!), which adorn each page of his recent report to the board, wherein* we find:
ASSESSMENT OF CURRENT NEEDS
We agree that to plan best on where long range goals would project the district, a careful review of current status needs to be given. The base formed from this assessment and examination can be used to launch successfully that which needs to be initiated.
So. He may mean, of course, that planners should take account of facts. Wow. He may just as well, on the other hand, be saying that you can hardly expect any concrete plans for the future from someone who doesn't know what the hell is going on in the present.
And sometimes, as in another GEM from the same document, you can not figure out what a superintendent of schools is trying to say:
One constant and over-riding concern of all district personnel is the rights of our students. Aside from this, it shall no longer he implied because along with rights for the students, efforts shall he obviated in their inculcation as to responsibilities and obligations they have also. A board document of due process shall be prepared and which shall contain as well, Rights, Responsibilities.
Something or other seems to be missing from the list of the responsibilities of the superintendent of schools in St. Clair Shores, but it won't be mentioned in that forthcoming "board document" on student responsibilities. Nor is anyone likely to grant students, therein, the right to have their schools administered and education directed by people who know how to make sense.
The Arrogance of Humanis
Oxford University Press, Galaxy paperback, $5.95
THIS is an alarming book, but strangely consoling as well. It is alarming because it demonstrates, with concrete and repellent evidence, that the half-baked and pseudo- scientific tinkerers who run our schools have lots of brothers and sisters who run almost everything else. It is consoling because it suggests that the rejection of the tinkerers' silly (and often vile) premises is an idea whose time may yet come.
The "humanism" of the title is not the incoherently construed "secular humanism" denounced by half-baked and (now) pseudo-scientific religionists clothed in soft raiment. It is itself a kind of religion, although one whose articles of belief are susceptible to the tests of evidence and reason, which they fail. They fail too--this is one of Ehrenfeld's most compelling demonstrations--the simple test of "decent feelings" informed by thoughtfulness.
This is a flagrant and disruptive book, and thus hard to find. Persevere. Things will get better if you read it.
Neither can his mind be thought to be in tune, whose words do jarre; nor his reason in frame, whose sentence is preposterous.
Published monthly, September to May
Post Office Box 203
* We are practicing the trickier i-e and e-i words, in the hope that someone around here will learn how to spell "hierarchy." back