THE UNDERGROUND
GRAMMARIAN

Volume Seven, Number One............February 1983

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 to Utah:

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 to osmosis.


Annals of Educationism I

The Master of those Who Know

And raising my eyes a little I saw on high Aristotle,
the master of those who know
ringed by the great souls of philosophy.

knowledge: 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 of clothing.

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, et al.

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.

The Underground
Grammarian

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


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