THE UNDERGROUND
GRAMMARIAN

Volume Six, Number Six............September 1982

Education Going to Pot

IN the shifty phantasmagoria of educationism, it is hard to guess what the words mean. Take your best shot at an old favorite: individualized. Good. Now check your guess with reference to a few items in The Illinois Primer of Individualized Education Programs:

"Student [!] will stay oil potty chair and perform needed function at least once a day."

"Student will regulate bowel movements and independently toilet self with success by the end of the year."

"Upon entering lavatory student will grasp underpants in order to pull them down--90 percent criteria level."

We would've thought that if there were one thing, one lousy thing, that those officious meddlers could not seek to control under the rubric of individualizing and "uniqueness of the individual," it would be...surely...Oh, the hell with it.

You can read all about it in "The Law of Regularity," by Jack Frymier, in The Educational Forum, XLIV:2, put Out at Ohio State U., Columbus.

The Gingham Dog
and the Calico Cat

FOR some reason, we have not convinced the rapidly multiplying proponents of the back-to-basics-with-the-Bible "education" movement that we are not on their side. What's wrong with us that we haven't figured out how to offend those usually truculent and combative enthusiasts? We have had no trouble in offending their mirror-image counterparts, the silly educationists, who hold exactly the same thematic belief--that knowledge and reason are not enough, and who "educate" by exactly the same method the modification of behavior through persuasion addressed to the sentiments. The details don't matter where the principle is rotten.

One of those "Christian" school newsletters recently reprinted portions of a piece called "The Answering of Kautski," in which we considered similarities in educationism and bolshevism. We quoted Lenin's famous line about "teaching" the children and planting a seed that will never be uprooted. We also quoted (and the reprint did include) a much less familiar Leninism, saying that most people are not capable of thought, and all they need is to "learn the words."

The readers of the newsletter were presumably confirmed in righteousness by an essay linking what schools do to what Lenin said. It did not occur to them, apparently, that Luther, to whom Reason was just "the Devil's whore," also said as much, and, in so saying, echoed whole choirs of orthodox theologians.

There is only one Education, and it has only one goal: the freedom of the mind. Anything that needs an adjective, be it civics education, or socialist education, or Christian education, or whatever-you-like education, is not education, and it has some different goal. The very existence of modified "educations" is testimony to the fact that their proponents cannot bring about what they want in a mind that is free. An "education" that cannot do its work in a free mind, and so must "teach" by homily and precept in the service of these feelings and attitudes and beliefs rather than those, is pure and unmistakable tyranny. And it is exactly the kind of tyranny, "tyranny over the mind of man," to which Thomas Jefferson swore "eternal enmity" on--on what?--on "the altar of God."

Jefferson was not a bolshevik. He wrote to a nephew:

Question with boldness even the existence of God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason than that of blindfolded fear.

No bolshevik can say the equivalent in his system of belief: Question boldly even the existence of the dialectical process and the withering away of the state. Jefferson's admonition ought to raise provocative questions for those who like to claim that the Republic was founded on their "religious" principles, but it doesn't. Bolsheviks are not the only ones who never think of asking certain questions.

Reason is not the Devil's whore. It is the whore's Devil. To those who have sold their minds for some comfortable sentiments and comforting beliefs, Reason is The Adversary to be hated and feared, the bringer of doubt and difficult questions, the sly disturber of The Peace. To children who are led into whoredom, it matters not at all which sentiments and beliefs they are given in return for the freedom of their minds. Whatever the fee, they cannot judge its worth.

Sometimes it seems that every illusion that cripples the mind is taught in schools. The silly notion that if one ideological faction is wrong the other must be right is planted in our minds by the belief that true/false tests have something to do with education. We imagine some real difference between Republicans and Democrats, liberals and conservatives, government educationists and church educationists. They are all alike. Their prosperity depends on our believing that beliefs and sentiments, theirs, of course, are somehow finer, nobler, more virtuous or humane than mere Reason.

Half past twelve is coming on, and neither the church cat nor the dog in the manger has slept a wink. Should we do something, or should we hope that they'll eat each other up? Will burglars steal this pair away? Will the "Christian" newsletter reprint all this?

Instruments of Precision

Their two is not the real two,
their four is not the real four.

Prof Prods Pol!

Emerson Elucidated!

WE HAVE long hoped to find a good, concrete example, with numbers, of what Emerson must have had in mind when he said, speaking of those whose minds have been replaced by the orthodox slogans of some faction, that even their numbers are not the real thing. It is a puzzling statement, for Emerson could hardly have meant that they were so bad at computation that they always came up with wrong numbers. He could only have meant that even when they said something that the rest of us would take to have a specific meaning, they did not exactly say that.

We can find plenty of that, of course, not only in Academe, but even out there in The World, which may be no better a place after all. The big Twos and Fours, which we hear as "The People's Democratic Republic of Whatever," or "Quality Education," always turn out to mean not what we might have thought. Our obtuseness may require a dose of Reeducation, or, as some apologist for life adjustment remediation enhancement schooling will name it sooner or later, "People's Democratic Quality Reeducation." Arbeit macht frei.

But such examples seemed not quite right. We wanted numbers. Now, thanks to three alert readers, all on the mailing list for a newsletter sent out by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, we have them. Some professor (of what, you guess) wrote Moynihan, who happens to be a professional politician, some helpful hints for the art of gogy, either peda- or dema-. Here are the excerpts quoted in the newsletter:

[Your] material had a readability level of 10.8-11.2. This means that it would be considered readable to people who had at least a tenth grade reading level. In order to broaden the "target audience" of your newsletter and to make your message more accessible to more voters, I might suggest that such material be written at a lower level of readability.

Moynihan must be an extraordinarily patient man. Or maybe he's just so busy trying to rustle up "increased funding for quality education" that he can hardly take time off to study the work of the mind as done by the quality educationists who will get to spend the increased funding. Here is Moynihan's reply:

This is how technique traps us. The intended meaning is that I should write at an eighth grade level, or something such. But the professor has said I should lower the readability level of what I write. Surely that means to make it less readable! It seems to me the professor was not clear.

Why Moynihan calls that stuff an example that shows how we are trapped by technique is hard to fathom. Can he believe that "the professor" is just too good at something, in command of too much technique, or a master of a skill too technical to assure mere accuracy? If so, it would not be surprising. It has long been an article of our folklore that too much knowledge or skill, or especially consummate expertise, is a bad thing. It dehumanizes those who achieve it, and makes difficult their commerce with just plain folks, in whom good old common sense has not been obliterated by mere book-learning or fancy notions. This popular delusion flourishes now more than ever, for we are all infected with it in the schools, where educationists have elevated it from folklore to Article of Belief. It enhances their self-esteem and lightens their labors by providing theoretical justification for deciding that appreciation, or even simple awareness, is more to be prized than knowledge, and relating (to self and others), more than skill, in which minimum competence will be quite enough.

It is possible, of course, that Moynihan shares the delusion, and for all the same reasons. The chosen goals (and probably the inner needs) of politicians are not in any important way different from those of the educationist. But if this politician really thinks that that educationist just got "trapped" by his devotion to the stern demands of "technique," then the republic stands in greater peril than we thought. Let's hope that Moynihan was just trying to be polite.

We are not polite. We can say that "the professor" is a boob and a charlatan, and a mealy-mouth too, with his hokey "material," and his just-between-us-realists-no-offense-intended quotation marks on "target audience," and that pussy-footing "I might suggest" when he is in the act of suggesting. That sort of thing is usually just an involuntary verbal twitch, pitiable but disconcerting. (Technique does not trap us; ignorance of technique traps us.) But that cliquish use of the word "material" is--well--material.

Educationists just don't feel right, and feeling is accounted a way of knowing in their world, about books. A book is the work of a mind, doing its work in the way that a mind deems best. That's dangerous. Is the work of some mere individual mind likely to serve the alms of collectively accepted compromises, which are known in the schools as "standards"? Any mind that would audaciously put itself forth to work all alone is surely a bad example for the students, and probably, if not downright anti-social, at least a little off-center, self-indulgent, elitist. Such a mind might easily bore somebody, since only a very few people can possibly feel an interest in highly specialized subjects. And then there's the problem of self-esteem, a frail flower, easily bruised by the unfamiliar, by arcane references, snooty allusions, and, especially, by prose that is simply not written at the right grade level. It's just good pedagogy, therefore, to stay away from such stuff, and use instead, if film-strips and rap sessions must be supplemented, "texts," selected, or prepared, or adapted, by real professionals. Those texts are called "reading material." They are the academic equivalent of the "listening material" that fills waiting-rooms, and the "eating material" that you can buy in thousands of convenient eating resource centers along the roads.

Those marvelous numbers that "the professor" has derived do, in fact, measure something, but not what they pretend to measure. A score of 10.8 means: If this stuff were being considered for a place on our list of approved reading material, we would have to point out that it is only after almost eleven years of our professional tutelage that the average student will be able to achieve scores that indicate basic minimum competence in filling in blanks and checking the appropriate squares on a standardized reading material comprehension assessment instrument, which is "standardized" because we design it to go with the stuff that we use as reading material suitable for students who have had almost eleven years of our tutelage.

If you sniff a whiff of madness in such notions of "measurement," you must have been reading not simply with comprehension but with understanding. Something important depends on making some clear distinction between the two. Educationists seem to have made, in their practice, a distinction like this: Comprehension is what is shown by the ability to make or recognize more or less accurate rephrasings of what you have just read; Understanding is an inner feeling by virtue of which we can correctly "relate to" people and ideas. Some such distinction must inform their belief that knowledge just isn't enough, and may not even be needed at all, for the accomplishment of the higher goals of education, which lie in the realm of attitudes and feelings.

We won't quarrel with that definition of comprehension. We will quarrel instead with the educationists' apparent notion that comprehension is the point of reading. It is not. Only in some very special cases is comprehension the point of reading--in things like recipes and "reading material." The point of reading is understanding, and comprehension is to understanding as getting wet is to swimming. You must do the one before you can hope to do the other, but you don't do the other simply because you do the one.

Comprehension permits us to answer the question: What does it say? Understanding permits us to begin answering an endless series of questions starting with: What can we say about it?

The difference can be demonstrated by Emerson's sentence, with which this all began: "Their two is not the real two, their four is not the real four." What score "the professor" would give it, we don't know. But we do know that those "professors" presume that the syllable is the quantum of comprehension, and that short words are by nature easier to comprehend than long words--"sloth," for instance, easier than "laziness." The same applies to sentences; the shorter, the easier. Emerson's sentence is made of fourteen words and probably is a bit long for reading material, but it is made of two almost identical sentences joined by a comma, and uses only seven different words, each of them a common monosyllable. So its "readability" score ought to be very low. Somewhere in the middle of first grade, any child ought to be able to "comprehend" it. And then?

The professor's reading is not the real reading. His readability--and this misled Moynihan to the right conclusion--is not the real readability. It is an essential attribute of "reading material" that it be appropriately comprehendable at a certain grade level, which makes it, at any grade level, agonizingly unreadable. That could account for a few other things.

And furthermore...

A WEIRD consequence of teaching reading as though its point were comprehension is bafflement in an encounter with metaphor, a bafflement so extreme that it can cause a blindness to metaphor, in which the "reader" doesn't even notice that he hasn't been able to "comprehend" something. When "students" of literature are asked about a metaphor, they will often admit, while affirming that they did "do the reading," that they hadn't "stopped to think" about that.

They are hardly to blame. They have been taught not to read but to do a reading, to eyeball along to the end of a text, hesitating briefly, if at all, to make some surmise as to the meaning of an unfamiliar word, one they haven't "had." Since many of them are not too good at phonetics, that can often be an astonishingly wild surmise. There is no good reason to stop and think about anything. That will just cut your reading speed, and speed is almost as much the sign of a good reader as comprehension. Besides, there can be no point in bothering to puzzle something out until, and unless, it shows up among the comprehension questions down at the bottom of the reading material. There is even less reason to figure the hard stuff out if the questions turn out to be what they call "thought" questions. "Thought" questions usually start with something like: How would you feet if...

Then those "readers" grow up and turn into "the professors."

We once did a piece on a superintendent in Tulsa who replied to public critics by citing a "futurist," Peter Wagschal, in whose view we really don't have much need of literacy anyway. From that, the superintendent did some ghastly futurizing of his own. Here's how we described his response to the taxpayers:

In the finest frontier fashion, he stood up tall in the middle of Main Street at high noon and told the rabble that maybe they'd like to talk it over ...with...Pete (The Persuader) Wagschal, who somehow happened to drift into town. True grit.

A reader sent a copy to Wagschal. He replied, explaining that he could hardly be blamed for the fact that someone had believed what he had written. But he must have had at least some inkling that that was a less than perfect exculpation. So he went on to close with a clincher. Never in his life he said, had he ever been in Tulsa!

Over the Rainbow Way up High

WE are definitely not in Kansas anymore. We noticed this weird fact only recently, when an itinerant nostrum peddler was accused of some pretty sharp practice and wound up defending himself before a federal grand jury. He testified that what he had done was strictly A-OK, and that he knew this because he had discussed it all in a face-to-face meeting with Jesus. When asked how he knew that it was Jesus, he replied that he had recognized him from his picture.

We can't tell you what happened then, but we can sure tell you what didn't happen, because if it had the papers would have been full of it for a week. So here's what didn't happen: The jurors did not fall down on the floor gasping and choking with laughter. The lawyers did not rush whooping from the room, holding their pocket handkerchiefs before their streaming eyes. In fact, the only normal human thing that happened there was that some nut said something stupendously funny. But everything else was weird.

And only a few weeks later, the same mountebank, still at large, staged a nuptial extravaganza in which a thousand or so of his female followers were more or less married up with a like number of his male ditto. All agog to discover more evidence toward an Over the Rainbow Hypothesis, we tuned it in on the TV. Sure enough. They were all Munchkins.

Then along came Phyllis Schlafly. She has not yet admitted to being Glenda the Good, but who else would go floating around the country in such a big bubble? And she does admit that she intends to do a whole lot of Good.

We read about all the Good she plans to bestow on us in a New York Times account of a big "Over the Rainbow Celebration" she threw in Washington (Thirty-five bucks a head, and no Tupperware selling!) She took the occasion to announce that she was even going to do Good in the schools, which was kind of a thrill for us, because we do need all the help we can get, even if it comes in a bubble.

Phyllis--gosh, we hope she won't mind if we call her that; it's just that we feel we know her, oh so well--Phyllis kicked off a campaign to stock all the schools and libraries with pro-family books, presumably to replace the anti-family books, by "such writers as Hemingway, Steinbeck, Hawthorne, and Twain," which are being rooted out of schools and libraries by her "Eagle Forum" squads. (We don't know what that is; we're guessing that it must be something like the Lullaby League.)

Now we've actually read those writers, and even lots of others "such as" them, but we never have been able to figure which ones, and in which books, and exactly to what degree, are pro-, or anti-, family, or neither, or both. Those writers are slippery rascals, who portray lovely families and rotten families, and people who do well, or ill, because of the one, or in spite of the other, or both, or neither, or vice versa, if you know what we mean by that. And what's a Mother to do?

So it seemed just peachy that Glenda the Good was willing to take on the hard task of making judgments about books. But then we started to notice something fishy about her powers of judgment.

She said that sex education, which we have ridiculed for reasons that still seem cogent, was "a principal cause of teenage pregnancy." If we had to rely on that line of argument, even educationists would be able to laugh at us.

She said that her "greatest contribution" was "making sure that eighteen-year-old girls won't be drafted," and that she just couldn't imagine "a greater gift." Well, we had no trouble at all imagining not just one but lots of greater gifts for eighteen-year-old girls, starting with the power of reason. But just as we began to suspect that Phyllis might be a bit below her grade level in creative fantasy as an alternative mode of cognition, she proved us wrong. It turned out that she could imagine a greater gift, and not just for the girls, but for all of us. "The atomic bomb," she proclaimed, "is a marvelous gift that was given to our country by a wise God."

We can't tell you what happened next, but we can tell you what didn't happen next. The party-goers did not fall down on the floor gasping and choking with laughter. Jerry Falwell (a reverend) and Jesse Helms (an honorable) did not rush whooping from the room, holding their pocket handkerchiefs before their streaming eyes. In fact, the only normal human thing that happened there was that some nut said something stupendously funny. But everything else was weird.

So it is in the merry old land of Oz: no brains, but lots of diplomas. Honor and reverence, schooled in the "appreciation" of everyone's Right to his opinion, which is as good as anyone else's, have learned to "relate to" Unreason. Logic and fantasy are just alternate modes of cognition, although the one is difficult and so "elitist," while the other is immediately possible for all and "democratic"; the one sets limits and encourages "authoritarianism," while the other knows no boundaries and releases "creativity." Feeling, attitude, belief, awareness, are just as much sources of "knowledge" as disciplined study, but disciplined study is far more likely than the others, which are "humanistic," to bring "mere knowledge" for nothing more than "its own sake." Rationality is cold, a sly and clever stunt performed with tricky language; the babbling gush of sincerity is a warm and welcome way of self-expression, which requires not critical scrutiny, but tolerance for other "values" and "points of view."

We don't see any hope of getting back to Kansas. But if, someday, some teacher tells the students that it's time to learn American history by role-playing the constitutional convention while appreciating fife music, and the students all fall down on the floor gasping and choking with laughter, then we'll be heading for home.

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

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