WE NEVER advocate violence, but we still sympathize with the man who wrote us about his tribulations as a school board member in New Jersey. He was impelled to seek that office after a Parents' Night visit to the local high school, at which the head of the English department displayed a poster that promised "New Horisons in Education."
But that, he came to learn, was the least of problems. He was finally driven to suggest, at a mass meeting of educationistic functionaries in Trenton, that schools in New Jersey could be immensely and immediately improved by the detonation in the meeting room of a very large and powerful bomb.
The discovery that could lead an otherwise law-abiding citizen to dream such a desperate dream is simply this: American educationism is protected and preserved as a government enterprise over which there is no civilian control worth a damn.
In this issue we bring you the story of one school board member who took his stewardship seriously and actually thought he could change something. But as you read it, please try not to go thinking about big bombs, OK?
Respeak In Monmouth
I am pleased to inform you that the Basic Skills Center is henceforth, to be known as the Center for Developmental Education. Dr. Andreach, Coordinator of the Basic Skill Center will be known as Coordinator of Developmental Education. Increasingly, colleges are dropping the basic skills connotation that goes with the kind of center we have established and are looking to the developmental aspects since they have more of a positive connotation than do basic skills.
WE keep watching for harbingers of 1984. The job is a cinch. Our maps bristle with pins, and we have often discovered readings as high as 9.7 on the logograph recorder. All the outlying stations report the same thing, and all the instruments agree. Just before the end, we will try to send out one last signal; but, should something go wrong, you may have to do that for us. We suggest: "The lights in the sky are stars."
We once brought you the news that literacy had become "a feeling of self worth and importance, and respect for an appreciation and understanding of other people and cultures." Just a few days ago, we heard from a mole at the Department of Education, soon to be retreaded as the Ministry of Truth. The DOE, we were told, no longer harbors any of those "change-agents," who had come to be looked on, by uninformed but noisy critics who proved impervious to re-education, as intrusive social manipulators. The change-agents, having passed through a larval stage as facilitators, have now emerged as linkers. Linkers, along with programs for linker-training and linkage enhancement will soon hatch out in every teacher academy in America.
Now we have the announcement quoted above. It is the work, the deed, one might better say, of one Samuel H. Magill, who is currently known as the president of Monmouth College in West Long Branch, New Jersey. We would like to admire his brass, for he says right out a shabby truth that most educationists would rather not tell. We suspect, however, that it was not out of brass but simply out of thoughtlessness that he gave away such an important trade secret. His use of commas is not characteristic of a cunning contriver, and his notion that connotations can be "dropped" at will is more likely a result of ignorance than of arrogance.
Nevertheless, he achieves the intended goal. Respeak takes its power from the fact that most people are not inclined to discriminate between what something does or is and what it is known as. Any educationistic enterprise can instantly win favor and support by giving its centers and coordinators, or anything else, fresh new outfits of the latest designer fashions in sheep's clothing. And the educationistic establishment takes from its own Respeak a double advantage. It can go on forever inculcating whatever combination of meager skills and pop notions it chooses to call "literacy," and it can thus assure itself an endless supply of those very people who are not inclined to discriminate between what something does or is and what it is known as.
It's a neat racket, and it would be horrible enough if it were operated by a pack of hard-eyed villains who knew exactly what they were doing. The truth, however, is even more horrible.
There are, of course, some villains. There are agency spawned educrats and grant-hustlers who really do profit from "increased spending." There are book and gadget boosters who make big bucks from innovative thrusts. And there are even some supreme villains, ideological rather than venal, who want to fashion society to suit their ideologies. But those are just a few of the big kids playing hardball. Samuel H. Magill is not in that game.
The Magills of educationism, in all their thousands, are not villains. They are just modules, plugged into openings here and there. Any one will do. It's the function of a component that is needed, not the judgment of a mind. It doesn't matter whether Magill understands what he says. It matters only that he who is currently known as the president says it. It is the greatest triumph of our schools that they fit their victims to become their agents.
"All machines," wrote Thoreau, "have their friction. But when the friction comes to have its machine, let us not have such a machine any longer."
An Enemy of the People Revisited
SOME READERS will remember Robert W. Geweke, the rogue elephant of the Kettle Moraine School Board. Two years ago we mentioned briefly the obstreperous and anti-social behavior with which Geweke, a retired Justice Department attorney, no less, outraged some parents and all educationists in an otherwise placid suburb of Milwaukee.
Geweke discovered, and announced, that many of the teachers in the district were unable to write conventionally correct English. He displayed the evidence. He was not applauded. Here's what we said in March 1980:
Parents and teachers, especially teachers, are accusing him of trying to ruin the lives of innocent children by discrediting their high school, thus making it unlikely that they will be accepted at the colleges of their choice...
Perhaps out of devotion to their professionalism, or perhaps for other reasons, the teachers were even keener than the parents in defense of the persecuted children.
The Geweke Affair did, in fact, begin with revelations that were to be officially characterized as unfair criticism of helpless children, who "were only doing their best in preparing the yearbook."*
It is an intriguing fact that higher standards of performance are expected of every baton-twirling squad in America than of any of the numberless publications that ooze forth from the organs of the schools. There is far greater attention to detailed accuracy in the enhancing of intercultural awareness through folk-dances of many lands, and more devotion to the marriage of substance and style in the Family Living Course's mock wedding, than you can ever hope to detect in either the seventh-grade newsletter or the superintendent's annual message. But Geweke, sheltered from the stern realities of educationism by his years of service in the comparatively benign and ethical atmosphere of Washington, had no way of knowing that. He was actually surprised as he leafed through the high school yearbook for 1979.
He found there exactly what most of us would have expected. Although the basketball team was "loosing" a few strong seniors (and cross-country exactly ditto), all was not lost. The coaches, filled with "strength, spirit, and determinism," will still, unlike the undeterministic yearbook advisors, give "infinite wisdom." The football team had shown commendable "impudence," and the success of the track team proved that "our ability and talent is unlimitless."
(It was probably while trying to figure out the meaning of "unlimitless" that Geweke began to totter amok.)
He found the usual creative spelling. "Humourus" and "humerous," but no "humorous." He found "confrence" and "rhythims," and forms like "its" and "it's," "girls," "girl's," and "girl'" used indiscriminately, as though chosen at random. All routine stuff--the stuff that, even if noticed, would not be deemed worthy of comment in your standard American high school. After all, it's not as though the "boy's" basketball team had lost nine in a row because of a coach's lack of determinism.
But Geweke did comment. How's that for impudence? When other board members joined him in expressions of dismay, the local teachers' union sprang to the defense of the helpless children, and of quality education, in a stern letter. Any more of that stuff, the board was warned, and the union would "institute legal proceedings against them." One of the district's administrators, asked what he intended to do about the "yearbook fiasco," replied that he "couldn't care less," and that anyway the yearbook was none of the board's business.
Nevertheless, out of the other side of its mouth, the district's administration did instruct all its teachers to start correcting their students' mistakes in "spelling and English usage." And that bold, innovative thrust might actually have done some good some day if it hadn't been for the fact that a surprising (to Geweke) number of the teachers proved to have problems of their own with spelling and usage.
As the yearbook fiasco was fading, and the board taking comfort from the thought of all that new correcting,
The district's curriculum director presented to the board's curriculum committee fifteen new course proposals [that] originated with and were prepared by the teachers. Thirteen of these proposals were returned to the teachers for correction of errors in spelling and English usage.
Now Geweke and his colleagues discovered that the children really were innocent and helpless, and that their trifling transgressions seemed almost cute by contrast with the real thing. And worse was to come.
Some teachers, outraged by the board's picayune preoccupation with "mechanical errors"--"Write curriculm unites," for instance--refused to correct their proposals. "It's demoralizing," said one teacher, when a member of the school board "flaunts a slight problem."
However, within a few months, driven, no doubt, by their determinism, teachers, and even some administrators, did send the board a bundle of new proposals and thrusts. Geweke et al. found themselves custodians of a priceless collection. Here are random samples:
It fits in the view that it prepares the student to do the work. - Fasinating, dabate, vacum, and stratigies. - Also we should try to avoid fragmentation ... by attempting to incorporate too many suggestions which the board might have. - Complition, excelleration, laison, pitance. - Preview and developing written materials supplement filmstrips informational. - Too much is expected by the school board in regards to the context and standards of the yearbook; their desires are too great for the students to pay. - In order to keep continuity throughout the yearbook it necessitates using only a very few people.
And one proposer, in an inadvertent blurt of truth, urged the adoption of "minimal standards." Another thought it would be a good idea to "develop a strategy to convince the school board to support quality composition."
Quality composition. Well, let's be realistic. You can never achieve quality composition when a meddlesome and officious board member keeps nagging about some little mechanical errors. Even the helpless teachers can't pay such desires. So it soon became obvious to the Quality Composition Party that the only way to bring quality composition to the Kettle Moraine School District was, first, to put out some guidelines reminding everybody that children learn best when they correct their own mistakes, and that "there is no correlation between spelling and success in adult careers" anyway; and next, to get that Geweke the hell off the school board.
The first was a cinch--just a little more paperwork. The teachers themselves provided living proof that there really isn't any correlation between spelling and success in at least one "adult" career. The second was a little bit harder. It took a vigorous coalition made up mostly of teachers and those parents who didn't want any college admissions officers to get the wrong idea. It took one of those letter-writing and telephoning campaigns that a teachers' union just loves to organize, although letter-writing, in this case, may have been not too urgently encouraged. And it took exactly what has been assured by more than half a century of mindless educationism--a benighted populace, ignorant and apathetic.
Given all those things, it wasn't too difficult to get up a special recall election and remove Robert W. Geweke frorn the school board. Today, there is peace in the Kettle Moraine School District. The board is behaving very nicely, and supporting quality composition. The superintendent, who damn near got fired in the bad old days has ordered all teachers and administrators to submit whatever they may have to write to the scrutiny of a "non-professional employee," someone who hasn't gone through a teacher academy and is therefore more likely not only to spell correctly but even to want to spell correctly. And isn't the latest yearbook just the cutest thing?
The Following announcement is reprinted from Penn State Intercom, February 11, 1982. We understand everything about it, mostly, except the fact that the 1982 prize has already been handed out. Well, what the hell. It's not likely that anyone will top this:
Dr. James Canelos, research associate in the Office of the Dean of the College of Engineering, has received the 1982 Young Researcher Award from the Research and Theory Division of the Association for Educational Communications and Technology. The award, which carries a prize of $500, recognizes Dr. Canelos' manuscript, "The Instructional Effectiveness of Three Content- Independent Imagery Learning Strategies on Different Learning Outcomes When Learners Received Visualized Instruction of Varying Stimulus Complexity," as the best report of a research project in 1982.
And, again from Monmouth College, a passage from Karen Abramski, who is known as coordinator of what is known as cooperative education. It seems to be about the orbital propensities of fractional learning hypotheses, which are not known as anything in particular:
The student must complete a statement of three to four learning hypotheses (the number required would revolve around the quality and context of each individual procedure) which are jointly reviewed and agreed upon...
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
* We are quoting, here and throughout, from Geweke's own account in Wisconsin School News, August 1980. back