The Invers Proportin
"...the ability to write well is inversly proportinate to salary...TV personalites who daily abuse the rules of grammar get infinately more than English teachers."
Those alas, and yet once more, are the words--absolutely sic--of a schoolteacher whining about low pay and a bum rap. Why do they do it? They always end up looking, like the striking teacher whose placard called for "Descent Wages," overpaid and guilty as hell.
And, to look into another academic can of worms, here is the complete-- also sic--text of a letter to a teacher from someone in the office of the superintendent of schools in Cook Co.:
Please, show your transcripts to the Personal dept. and the will advise you on procesure. If, any further questions please call are office.
Although such examples are often sent directly to us by readers, these two were sent in more or less indirectly by readers. The first was cited, with appropriate comment, in Newsday, in a serious, thoughtful column by Ilene Barth. The other was used by Mike Royko (one our favorites, because he always calls a fool a fool) in a piece in the Chicago Sun Times.
Barth and Royko, like most newspaper people, are literate and rational, and, in many matters, well-informed and realistic. We are grateful to them for bringing such examples to a readership that is even larger--but surely not infinately larger--than ours, and we certainly don't want them to stop doing that. But they really ought to knock off all the deploring.
The trouble with journalists is that they lead very sheltered lives, never seeing anything more disgusting and horrible than corruption, rape, murder, war, and an occasional volcanic eruption. This is what gives them the amiable but naive optimism out of which they deem it useful to deplore the routine and firmly institutionalized ignorance in the schools.
On the other hand, every member of our editorial staff has spent an entire lifetime in school, in the very belly of the beast. We know there is no hope of reform. In fact, even to put an end to the letters that incense journalists would require nothing less than dissolution of the entire system that we call "public education."
It is only from a special point of view that "education" is a failure. As to its own purposes, it is an unqualified success. One of its purposes is to serve as a massive tax-supported jobs program for legions of not especially able or talented people. As social programs go, it's a good one. The pay isn't high, but the risk is low, the standards are lenient, entry is easy, and job security is still pretty good. By contrast with the teacher who wrote the letter, the uncouth "TV personality" is a daredevil entrepreneur working at a high altitude without a net. Should he commit the televisionistic equivalent of that pathetic letter, he would end up reading the midnight poultry market wrap-up in Lower Possum Trot. But nothing will happen to the teacher.
Regular readers might review our own long list of characters, all those decent, dull mediocrities, who work pretty hard to little avail. Pitiably ill-educated schoolteachers, and the ludicrous, drab professors of educationism who ill-educated them. Principals and superintendents sucked up from the least academic in a system where the merely academic is relegated to the most junior. The camp-followers of every kind, the facilitators, coordinators, consultants, who have jobs only because the system adopts causes and concocts programs that will seem to serve them. In a well and truly "reformed" education, what would happen to such folk? Do we want them out of the schools and onto the dole?
In fact, the system is perfect, except for one little detail. We must find a way to get the children out of it.
The Reason of Rhyme
There seems to be some curious connection between piety and bad rhymes. Oscar Wilde
Wilde was surely posing when he said that, for he can not have been in doubt as to the reason. for that "curious connection between piety and bad rhymes." He explained it himself when he called language "the parent, not the child, of thought."
We were reminded of both of those Wildean observations by our recent discovery of The Christian Mother Goose, a flabbergasting compendium of hoary nursery rhymes revised to fit the vague suppositions of Basic Minimum Christianism. The redactress responsible for all this is one Marjorie Ainsborough Decker, who is proud to say: "I'm never going to grow old." Her "book" is assiduously, and quite successfully, marketed by her little boy Kevin, 26. He is proud to say--and who are we to doubt his word?--"I'm never going to grow up."
The Christian Mother Goose is exactly analogous to that change-agent revision of Jack and the Beanstalk that we looked at last December. Both are devices of persuasion directed to the sentiments rather than propositions of meaning directed to the intellect. For all that they squabble over details now and then, educationists and Christianists are united in principle, each faction believing that it is out of right feeling rather than out of rational inquiry that we can tell the better from the worse, and that rational inquiry itself, unless kept strictly in its place, will actually prove an impediment to right education. Thus it is that the educationists are most at home in their "affective domain," and the Christianists most at home with the unexaminable "truths of the heart," which are also found in that affective domain.
Neither Christianists nor educationists, however, seem confident that their beliefs will ever win acceptance by their own merits, for they are always building fences with which to protect them, and devising stratagems with which to sell them. In their indoctrination of children, or of the childish at any age, there is an anxious, prophylactic quality, a nervous, finicky concern for the possibility that some child might not understand something correctly, might fail to appreciate it properly, might even get the wrong idea.
Thus, that lady who rewrote Jack and the Beanstalk fears that children will "misunderstand" the death of the giant, and even applaud it as the just dessert of brutal greed, thus rejecting the sermon that she wants to preach.
That her sermon turns out to be an endorsement of compromise with injustice is eloquent testimony to the Greek idea that you can not be good unless you are wise. Left untested by rational inquiry, any sentiments and beliefs will seem good to those who happen to hold them.
Some similar, but more mysterious, muddle must have been in the mind of Marjorie Ainsborough Decker when she decided to transform the three blind mice into three kind mice, who get to keep their tails, thus showing forth, we must presume, the wonderful power of the Gospel. Is there something un-Christian about blindness? Does the faith of little children crumble at the thought of pest control? When Marjorie gets around to Christianizing some other disquieting old books, will Samuel tell Saul to shake hands with Agag and forget the whole thing? Will Jesus cut a deal with the moneychangers?
Marjorie says, speaking in what we hope is nothing more portentous than a poetic plural: "We're not trying to eliminate conflict or drama--only to provide a Christian resolution to conflict." In that venture, one might well fail grandly, as Milton did in Samson Agonistes, and still produce excellence and thoughtful inquiry. When Marjorie fails, however, it is apparently because she has diligently appreciated the voluminous doctrinal pronouncements of the one theologian who, more than any other, deserves to be called the spiritual father of the Basic Minimum Christianism movement in modern America. Walt Disney.
Marjorie's Little Miss Muffet, for instance, is not frightened away by the spider. Rather than recoiling in alarm at the sight of a big spider, as nature surely, and God perhaps, intended, the uncommonly pious girl elects to give thanks to Jesus for feeding the puppies and bunnies. The spider, proving once and for all the efficacy of Grace even in the hitherto unsuspected arachnid soul, decides to get down on all eight knees (now there's an edifying thought) and join the simpering tyke in prayer.
Mowgli, terrified, as he should be, by the great cobra, greets it warily but respectfully, as it deserves: "We be of one blood, thou and I." The moment is important, heavy with reverence and solemnity, and truly religious, a vision of all creatures here below as kindred spirits watching for the light of goodness through the night of necessity.
But Mowgli has a true teacher. A true teacher says: Here is truth. Live, and remember, for that is all a child can do. Life, in time, will show you what it means.
We remember daily, if we pay attention to living, the words of some true teacher, whom we probably never knew except through words. Again and again we say, Yes, this is what he knew, what, by his words, which we do not forget, he made us ready to know. And if we do not forget his words, it is because they are memorable. They are memorable because in them there is the rightness of respect and love for the Word, which is also the rightness of reason, and of rhyme.
In the words of the false teacher, who deals out doctrine, there is always a wrongness, the false note of words without rhyme or reason, words tormented or disdained for the sake of ideology. Here is Marjorie's distortion of some words:
If there is any charm in the original doggerel from which this doggerel is derived, it is entirely in its pointlessness. And because it is nonsense, and nothing more valuable than a trinket that might briefly divert a child, the pairing of water and after requires no comment. It would be silly to complain of a piece of junk that it is also cracked. Marjorie takes an old piece of junk and twists it into a new one, complete with new cracks.
And then, worst of all, she puts her tacky contraption forth as a "lesson" through which to introduce children to ideas, by her own presumed standards, of the highest importance.
Language is the parent of thought, for no one can think beyond the powers of his language. Childish language, which is not the language of children but the one in which wheedlers and flatterers speak to children, begets only childish thoughts. Kevin is right.
Let us close with a few words of inspiration from Kevin: "We have a hunch that faith is going to be consistently--and therefore commercially--a force in American life."
But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. For by thy words shalt thou be justified, and by thy words shalt thou be condemned.
Department of Temporal Plasticity
IT is a poet's luxury to sit around and wonder what the vintners buy one half so precious as the stuff they sell. For us, it is harsh necessity to discover what the school people learn one half so preposterous as the stuff they teach. It's not all that easy, for the stuff they learn usually turns out to be twice as preposterous as the stuff they teach.
We continue, nevertheless, to compile our Katalogue of Kollege Kredit Kourses, in which the following travesty is 4302.7Q. At the University of Bridgeport, however, the very same thing is advertised, to practicing and incipient schoolteachers, as a course in tensory awareness, worth three kollege kredits, and maybe a little raise:
This course is designed to increase the participant's ability to read, interpret, process, and respond to day-to-day sensory stimuli; to give participants a literacy in the many peripheral areas related to sensory perception and awareness; to prepare teachers to help their students expand the sensitivities of their eleven senses.
The above has been taught to high school seniors, to elementary and secondary school teachers, school psychologists, counselors, and social workers. The temporal plasticity of the course comes from its great material depth. This flexibility allows for an alteration of the subject profile to better fulfill objectives for participants.
We can explain some of that. The "great material depth" of this kourse comes from the fact that only the dead or deeply comatose suffer any shortage of "day-to-day sensory stimuli." The rest of us have quite a few. And we can, if we please, and if we can find a sap who will listen, natter about our stimuli. Since such nattering has the same value whether it persists for ten minutes or for ten weeks, those who persist in it enjoy the blessing of temporal plasticity. They can knock off early. And the instructor, who could also find something better to do, can always "alter the subject profile" so that the participants can get plenty of flexibility out of the temporal plasticity of material depth and drop in on the class only when they have some really neat sensory stimuli to interpret and process--good stuff from way out in the tenth sense, maybe.
Some of it we can not explain. We do not, for instance, understand those areas, the peripheral ones that are said to be "related to sensory perception and awareness." We sort of wish that the person who cooked up that description had named maybe three or four of the areas he had in mind. We can't come up with a single one, and the more we try, the more our sensitivities seem to contract--in all eleven senses.
Nor is there any clue, as once there would have been, in the assertion that those mysterious areas are accessible to something called "literacy." This is, of course, the New Literacy, a far more democratic skill than the old, of which many innocents were deprived either by native ignorance or induced stupidity. To the New Literacy, which offers scads of neat options very much like Bridgeport University's "peripheral area literacy," ignorance and stupidity are no impediments.
We found Sensory Awareness described, along with a full dozen other kourses of like ilk, in a brochure put out by a certain Redecision Institute for Transactional Analysis. (Analysis of the transaction in which the University of Bridgeport agreed to give graduate credit for these kourses is not provided.) RITA offers more lessons than Madame la Zonga. From her, if peripheral area literacy is not your bag, you can also learn: "using stroking as a major stimulus to human motivation"; "pupilometrics"; "techniques to establish and maintain rapport with students and elicit desirable responses"; and "strategies to produce behavioral changes in colleagues, peer group, couples, family, students, and parents." Exactly what a teacher needs. No nonsense about math or literature or science--schoolteachers already know all that stuff--just a heady compound of Dale Carnegie and Dr. Goebbels. And all that for a lousy three hundred and sixty bucks a course.
In the old days, one of the day-to-day stimuli well known to teachers, and right in a peripheral area, was the sensory perception of sitting on a tack. Those old pros, without having taken a single course in sensory awareness, were nevertheless able to "read, interpret, process, and respond," frequently managing to expand a few student sensitivities at the same time. They had what we would now call a kind of natural tack-sitting literacy.
Nowadays, when the schoolteachers come, as the excellence commission puts it, "from the bottom quarter of graduating high-school and college students," we have to nurture in them what teachers seem once to have had by nature. So, if only they would use plenty of tacks, a kourse in sensory awareness would be right to the point. We could think of it as a way of sensitizing the bottom quarter.
Notes from Central Control
We thank all of our readers for their patience. It was not negligence, for which we are routinely prepared, but sickness, which tends to come as a surprise, that made it impossible for us to maintain our regular publishing schedule during this last academic year, Nil, however, desperandum. The summer is come at last. By September, we'll be back on schedule.
New readers may not know, and some o1d readers seem to have forgotten, that retired teachers are to pay only one half of the usual subscription price. Administrators and educationists, however, are to read the tale of Dives and Lazarus and then pay much more.
Almost every article in The Underground Grammarian owes its existence to some alert reader who found a smoking gun and sent it in for analysis. We have nailed many a miscreant that way, and we urge all readers, new and o1d, to keep up the good work. Think of it as a crusade for law and order in the precinct of the mind.
But some subscribers have no interest in our articles. They care only that this is probably the last circulated publication in the world to be printed from hand-set type. For the sake of the nostalgia buffs, who might even recognize this antiquated typeface, we commit a few extra typographical frivolities in the May issue. The summery border below is one of them.
That quotation below, which we print whenever space permits, and after whose source readers are always inquiring, is from Ben Jonson's "Timber." It states perfectly the principle that underlies and in forms the substance of this journal. We keep it always in mind.
Published eight times a year, September
to May, except January.
Neither can his mind be thought
to be in tune, whose words do jarre;