The Teacher of the Year
Daniel Stephenson, of Salt Lake City
As little foundation is there for the
report that I am a teacher, and take money; this accusation has no
more truth in it than the other. Although, if a man were really able
to instruct mankind, to receive money for giving instruction would,
in my opinion, be an honor to him.
A true teacher is
even harder to describe than to find. We have all known a handful of
true teachers, and we can usually see that their differences were probably
greater than their similarities.
What was it, then, that made them true?
Is there one common trait? Are there several? Are there any?
Can they be acquired?
If we knew the answers, we would print
them right here and put an end to the spastic silliness of the teacher
academies, but we suspect that nobody knows those answers, that the
questions are just too human to permit final answers. The true
teacher is a bit like an actor or a musician, a queer duck, with indubitable
but finally inexplicable powers, powers that no amount of training will
provide where something or other that we don't understand is absent.
Nevertheless, we do know a true teacher
when we see one, and we see one in Daniel Stephenson of Salt Lake City.
We heard of him because of a fascinating AP story and a few phone calls
There is, in Utah, a certain Daryl McCarty.
McCarty was a functionary of some sort in the state office of
a teachers' union. Then, somehow or other, he suddenly became Associate
State Superintendent of Schools for Instruction. While being interviewed
by a reporter from the Salt Lake Tribune, the newly capitalized ASSS
for Instruction somehow found reason to mention the fact that he hadn't
read more than two or three books all the way through.
We, of course, would have taken something
like that for granted, and given it only the briefest mention. Daniel
Stephenson, however, is not cynical. In fact, until he came to hear
of Daryl McCarty, Educator, he "thought everybody in the whole
universe liked to read."
Children, unlike grown-ups, who usually
discover in others their own worst faults, usually presume in others
their own best virtues. Daniel Stephenson is six years old, and from
his point of view, all that unfortunate man needed was a little friendly
help. In a letter to the editor, and with a little friendly help from
his father, who gave some tips on spelling, the young teacher did his
best to bring light into the darkness.
"Make a paper chain," he suggested,
little suspecting that it is indeed out of prodigious chains of Paper
that all McCarty's are made. "Add a new loop for every book you
read," wrote Daniel, who believes that those who operate the schools
actually have the values and attitudes that they urge on him,
and that they announce to the world as witness to the honor of their
labors and as claim to money.
"Since you are older," said
Daniel, "your mom and dad won't mind. I bet your wife won't mind."
And if she did mind, he added, McCarty could always "get
a flashlight and read under the covers."
When asked what he had learned from all
that, McCarty replied, with exemplary exactitude: "I haven't given
it much thought."
"Just because one does not sit down
and read Little Red Riding Hood, or novel after novel, doesn't mean
they aren't educated or can't do their job," says this Associate
State Superintendent for Instruction in Utah. "Basically, I don't
do an awful lot of reading, it's just not my forte," says this
educator. "I don't have a lot of remorse over it." And as
to his teacher's best advice, he solemnly explains: "I don't like
the idea of taking my flashlight to bed and reading under the covers.
It might be suspect for an adult to do that."
Now there's an intriguing idea. Of what,
exactly, would he be "suspect" if he did read by flashlight
under the covers? Intellectual appetite, or some other horrid perversion?
Which shall we prize the more: the Associate Superintendent for Instruction
who is addicted to reading under the covers, or the one who can do "their
job" just as he is, thank you, who smugly tells us that he has
"made it a long way without books," and who isn't about to
take any advice from one of the children given into his charge?
Daniel Stephenson ended his letter with
this: "Since you are a leader of schools, you should try to set
the example. You should try to like reading. If you keep trying, you
can't help but like it."
A leader of schools.
And that, of course is exactly what McCarty
is--a leader of schools and schooling, a functionary of
a government agency whose purpose is to do something in the
minds of children, through what the Leaders choose to call Instruction,
for which they have an Associate Leader, a specialist, no doubt,
carefully selected by the other functionaries for the sake of
whatever it may be that is his "forte," and that has
brought him such a long way.
What can it be, that mysterious forte,
which can bring us an Educator of the People as readily as a Ruler of
the Queen's Nigh-vee? Can that fine forte be taught? Can McCarty, now
that he's in charge, work things out so that Daniel Stephenson can learn
it? Can Daniel ever hope to become an Educator of the People by idling
away his life with Little Red Riding Hood and novel after novel? Will
he go a long way, or will he stay always at the bottom of schooling's
massy heap, never an Educator, just a true teacher to his children,
never a Leader of anything, just a small lamp of thoughtfulness for
those who know him, something just a little "suspect" perhaps,
something like a flashlight under the covers?
Department of Gaga
WHEN teachers in Santa
Clara County get homesick for that scholarly life they came to know
and love in teacher school, the local Dept. of Ed. is happy to provide
them lots more of it, real neat stuff like this:
We will explore both theoretically and
experimentially [sic] how to develop positive self-esteem in
the classroom. We will create a positive and validating climate, in
which we can relax, recharge and reinspire ourselves, and reaffirm
our own essential self-worth and learn numerous classroom methods
for facilitating positive self-esteem in our classrooms.
We will use such methods as guided imagery,
positive focus, the language of responsibility, physical nurturance,
communication recognition, strength identification, relaxation, and
many others to help our students learn to accept themselves totally
and learn to take action in the world. (Fee $30.00)
And here's a cheapy ($17) called "Science
as a Verb." which it may be in their "language of responsibility":
Basic principles of science will be
experienced through activities appropriate for classroom instruction;
instruction will use common, easy-to-come-by materials.
How they experience principles,
we don't know, but we'd sure like to see it, maybe just as they get
Annals of Educationism • I
The Master of those Who Know
And raising my eyes a little I saw on
the master of those who know
ringed by the great souls of philosophy.
Knowledge is defined as the remembering of previously learned material.
This may involve the recall of a wide range of material, from specific
facts to complete theories, but all that is required is the bringing
to mind of the appropriate information. Knowledge represents the lowest
level of learning outcomes in the cognitive domain.
THAT intriguing definition
comes from a "Pilot Curriculum" plan of "Program Gifted
and Talented" in the Lakota Local School District. We don't know
where that is--the document came from a careful informant--but it doesn't
make any difference Lakota is everywhere.
The definition is miniature rehash of
a section of Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, a book little
known and little read, but influential beyond all measuring. It is at
once the New Testament of the cult of educationism and a post-post-Hegelian
plan to describe the life of the mind in such a way that educationists
might suppose themselves "scientific," and thus win at last
the respect of academe, which ordinarily dismisses them as addled appreciators
not only of the Emperor's clothing but of each of his frequent changes
Luckily for the educationists, very few
academics bothered their heads about TEO. If they had, the aspiring
scientists of educationism might have suffered something more than mere
disrespect. However, while the academics' ignorance of this work is
easy to understand, for the book is less fun to read than the customs
regulations for the import of plucked poultry, it is less easy to forgive.
Although the Taxonomy
seems to have been sort of "written" by a committee, the
"credit" is usually given to its editor and principal instigator,
a certain Benjamin S. Bloom. Bloom is to educationism what Aristotle
is to thought, which is to say, not exactly the master of those
who know, but at least, by Bloom's own definition, the master of those
who remember previously learned material.*
Even a glance here and there into Bloom's
Taxonomy would at least have prepared us, as long ago as 1956,
for the otherwise unaccountable results of American schooling.
You may, for instance, have wondered how
it can be that a generation of Americans seems never to have heard of
anything, and knows only as much of our history as the television industry
finds it profitable to show them It may have bemused you to hear how
many college students in Miami were unable to locate Miami, or the North
Atlantic Ocean, for that matter, on a map. It may have been a sad surprise
to discover how many Americans could neither recognize nor approve certain
provisions of the Bill of Rights, and how few social studies teachers
in Minnesota were able to make any statements of fact about Fascism.
Such things are not, as generosity, or hope, might dispose you
to presume, anomalies, rare and freakish failures of a process that
ordinarily produces quite different results. They are in the program.
In the pursuit of mere knowledge, "the
lowest level of learning outcomes in the cognitive domain," educationists
are selectively vigorous. They do give each other pretty diplomas for
the sort of "research" that reveals that seventeen percent
of those guidance counsellors in Buffalo who double as volley-ball coaches
never studied volley-ball in teacher school. But where anyone not
a candidate for an Ed. D. is concerned, they find knowledge less
deserving of high honor, and those who would foster it less than perfect
in pedagogy. "Because of the simplicity of teaching and evaluating
knowledge," says the Taxonomy,
it is frequently emphasized all out
of proportion to its usefulness or its relevance for the development
of the individual. (p. 34)
Well, there. You see? Who can demonstrate
that the ability to locate Miami is useful or relevant to the development
of the individual? And if the answer is "no one," how shall
we answer the obvious other question: Who can demonstrate that
it isn't? Who can say--who can know enough to say--that this or
that particle of knowledge is not worth having?
It is not out of ignorance that
we discover understanding. It is exactly because of what we already
know that we can know more, that we can discern organizing principles,
and make and test hypotheses, and act rationally. But all of that is
not the end to which the acquisition of knowledge is intended by Bloom,
That end is rather the typically slippery
and empty "development of the individual." To decide that
some degree of "emphasis on knowledge" is "all out of
proportion" to the "development" of millions of "individuals,"
or even of one, is several steps beyond effrontery. Some might say that
it borders on blasphemy. We are content to call it the hubris of
invincible ignorance, which quite naturally and appropriately afflicts
those who denigrate knowledge. What do they know, who know the
"correct" nature of the development of the individual? Is
a general and pervasive ignorance the result of some "emphasis
on knowledge" small enough to be in proportion to that development?
If there is an "emphasis on knowledge
all out of proportion," to what is it out of proportion?
How much time and effort should be reserved for a duly proportionate
"emphasis" on whatever it is that is not knowledge?
There is a word for that which is not
knowledge. It is ignorance. But Bloom and his friends must be either
consummately cagey or colossally obtuse in championing ignorance.
They begin by claiming, maybe, that knowledge
isn't really knowledge in any case;
It is assumed that as the number of
things known by an individual increases, his acquaintance with the
world in which he lives increases. But, as has been pointed out before,
we recognize the point of view that truth and knowledge are only relative
and that there are no hard and fast truths which exist for all times
and all places. (p. 32)
Well, we recognize that point of
view too. It was a hot item towards the end of sophomore year, when
its titillating paradoxicality brought on neat bull-sessions as to whether
that statement could itself be permanently true. However, while
the Bloomists seem to admit only to recognizing the sophomore's
delight, that is due not to cautious thoughtfulness, but only to imprecision
of language. In fact, they subscribe to it, and derive from it a grand
scheme of "education" depending on the belief that nothing
can be known.
It is to support that belief that they
must define knowledge only in a trivial sense. As though to prove the
vanity of all learning, they point out that "punctuation is solely
[that probably means "only"] a matter of convention."
We know that. And we can know its requirements and principles.
The Taxonomy gladly informs us that "how we pictured the
atom" has changed, Which is as enlightening as the fact that Aristotle
could not have located Miami either. And, most important, because this
kind of assertion will lead to the Taxonomy's true agenda, the
promotion of "education" as "modification in the affective
domain," the demonstration of "what is knowable" concludes
by calling to witness "the cultural aspect" of knowledge.
"What is known to one group is not
necessarily known to another group, class, or culture," Bloom tells
us. As to whether that is a statement about "the knowable,"
there is a test. Just read it again, putting "knowable" where
"known" appears. It is to be hoped that not even Bloomists
would say that there could be some knowledge accessible to Arabs but
not to Jews, but that is what they say when the contrive a definition
of knowledge that will permit the inclusion of attitudes, beliefs, and
feelings, or any other variety of supposed knowledge Those things,
all of them "previously learned material" all too easily
remembered, make up that other category, to which an "emphasis
on knowledge" is "all out of proportion" for "the
development of the individual." Those are the things that the Bloomists
wanted "education" to be all about. And it is.
Aristotle was partly right. Some, by nature,
do desire to know; some remember previously learned material.
Notes from Central Control
WE REGRET that we
are not only late, but increasingly later with every issue. Man proposes.
Our best hope right now is that the issue for May will be out by July,
so that we can spend August preparing to get the issue for September
out on time.
All of this has taught us something a-bout
the vanity of human wishes and led us into an uncharacteristic prudence.
We are going to have to make some changes, starting with this issue,
which is not only the first of a new volume, but also, to our astonishment,
at least, the fifty-fifth issue of The Underground Grammarian.
In the past, we have often tried to discourage those
who wanted to subscribe for two or more years. Now, we will not even
consider it. It's tempting Fate.
From now on, there will be eight issues in each
volume instead of the usual nine. January will simply disappear. We
realize that this does mean a rise in price, and we remind you again
that half-price subscriptions are available both to retired teachers
and any others who need them.
The Underground Grammarian is addressed to
persons, human beings, individuals who can will and choose. We
have neither the time nor the desire to observe the silly guidelines
of libraries, or resource centers, or multinational corporations. We
fill out no forms; we provide no "identification numbers";
and we truly don't know, or want to know, what an invoice is. Accordingly,
we are increasing the price of subscriptions to non-human entities of
whatever kind to $25US. And if that doesn't work--and it may not, for
institutions don't care about money--we will think of something else.
There is no charge for back issues (such as we have), or for extra copies
of our occasional supplements, but we will think especially kindly of
those whose requests are accompanied by a stamp. We remind one and all
that we approve when our readers make photocopies, however numerous.
It just shows good judgment.
R. Mitchell, Assistant Circulation Manager
Post Office Box 203
Glassboro, New Jersey 08028
Published eight times a year, September
to May, except January.
Yearly subscription: Persons in USA & Canada, $10US;
Persons elsewhere, $14; Institutions, $25.
Neither can his mind be thought
to be in tune, whose words do jarre;
nor his reason in frame, whose sentence is preposterous.
* Bloom is still extant. His latest,
and probably most startling discovery is that students who study more
will often learn more than students who study less. Such a complicated
idea is difficult even for the professionals to grasp--and
"remember as previously learned material"--without
a master of those who know who can tell them all about the enhancement
of learning outcomes through time-on-task augmentation. And it is of
such wisdom that Bloom has fashioned the bold, innovative thrust now
widely known, and hailed with capitals, as Mastery Learning. The rules
for Mastery Learning, however, and not surprisingly, turn out to be
not rules for some way of learning, but for a way of teaching:
First, teach someone something--some "material,"
maybe. Next, give him a test. If he passes, good; go on to something
else. If he flunks, start over. Keep at it. Stunning. What next? back