Volume Seven, Number Five............September 1983

As Maine Goes...

The South Portland Board of Education voted April 11 to introduce a new high school course. Low Level American History, starting in September 1984.

The course would be aimed at the "slow readers or non-readers at the high school," Principal Ralph Baxter told the board.

The purpose of the course, Baxter said, would be to help students achieve the necessary number of points to graduate. He said the high school already has similar low-level courses in English, math, and science, the other three subjects required for graduation.

THAT is the news from Maine, as reported in the American Journal of South Portland for May 4, 1983, and we have to admit that we are absolutely astonished (and impressed) by that Ralph Baxter chap. We would never have dreamed that there could be a principal so precise in his use of prepositions. "Non-readers at the high school," he calls them, as though they just happened to be hanging around in the halls and waiting for someone to give them diplomas.

And so they are. And they will get those diplomas sooner or later, but not, as one might idly suppose, out of the compassionate largesse of an egalitarian society. Something, to be sure, is handed to them on a platter, but it's just a nasty mess of gristle and grease. On commencement day, when the new graduates gratefully wag their tails and lap up the orts, the Ralph Baxters of educationism wipe their jowls and belch.

In educationistic ideology, there are at least three justifications for mind-boggling monstrosities like the courses offered in Maine. Of two, the educationists are actually aware. The third, however, can be detected only through knowledge and reason.

First, there is the body count.

Even in these days, when everyone ought to know better, you can find an occasional defense of the schools, usually as a filler in the neighborhood shoppers' guide. The apologist is usually a superintendent dodging flak or an assistant porseffor of education padding his list of publications, and the "arguments" are always exactly the same, always the party line. And one of them is always the body count.

By counting the bodies, an educationist can easily prove, by the logic he learned in teacher school, that the American public schools are not only better than ever, but also better than any other nation's schools. Never in the whole history of mankind have so many "achieved the necessary number of points to graduate."

And then there's the business of democracy in action. The schools are democracy in action. When people are denied diplomas just because they were never taught to read, all who can read will become elitists.

The third justification, the one of which the educationists are possibly not aware, is the approach of 1984. The schools have certainly done their best by fostering Doublethink and Newspeak, and rewriting history as social studies. They have managed, even without two-way television, to find out lots of neat stuff about their students' feelings and beliefs. They have not yet, however, provided the One Thing most needed for the New Day--a sufficient number of proles, those slow readers and non-readers without whom 1984 just won't be the real thing. They're working on it.

Those who imagine that American education can be "reformed" would do well to meditate not on more money for merit pay and computers but on a child, one child. Any one of the non-readers of South Portland will do.

Consider him. He is the victim of an injustice, deprived of the fullness of humanity, the habits and powers of rational discourse amid the thoughtful consideration of meaning. And how can we now deal justly with him? By giving him a diploma? By denying it, adding insult to injury?

In fact, the injustice can never be undone, as though it had never befallen him. He is a crooked branch, having been badly bent as a twig. It would need wise and mighty efforts even to begin to help him to grow straight. Who will put forth those efforts? If the schools were "reformed" miraculously tomorrow, what good would that be to him? Or to hosts of others in the same plight?

In the glorious world of tomorrow, when all the high school graduates can read and reason thoughtfully, our non-reader from South Portland will still he a prole, governed, and easily governed, by unexamined appetites, easily engendered; led, and easily, by pandering politicians, flatterers and entertainers of every sort, and those wheedling behavior modifiers who made him not only a prole but also a prole full of self-esteem,

It is the goal of education to deliver us from the captivity of the unexamined life and out of the power of persuaders. Those who now offer to reform education are the persuaders themselves, the politicians of either stripe, and the social engineers now running the schools and peddling garbage like Low Level English for Non-readers, for which they have already assured the need. They imagine that education is a process for producing certain kinds of people for collective purposes. For the moment, they suppose that the ultimate boon of education is not the examined life but the ability to outsell the Japanese.

Our famous excellence commission meditated not on the dismal destiny of one child, but on a nation, "a nation at risk," at risk of not outselling the Japanese. It will bring forth, therefore, if anything, only a revised nationalistic "education," a modernized program of life-adjustment, this time with computers. And, when the need arises, the school board in South Portland will approve Ralph Baxter's proposal for a course in Low Level Computer Science.

The nature of the injustice done long ago to our non-reader is exactly this: He was put into a system that exists not for his sake but only for the sake of the nation.

The "success" of a school system designed "for the good of the nation," as construed by the government employees who run the schools, is not to be measured by the lifelong captivity of one poor clod. Some number of such clods is, in fact, "for the good of the nation." They can do the scutwork and provide employment for government functionaries in social services. They will always be crying for the moon and illustrating "democracy in action" by flocking into the faction of those who most persuasively promise it. We can't have too many, however, lest we fail to outsell the Japanese. Ending up with just the right number is an appropriate, and quite sufficient, goal of a school system that is intended for the good of the nation. In that great cause, what does it matter that some poor clod in Maine can't lead an examined life, which is probably an over-rated, and surely a suspiciously elitist, enterprise? He'll be all right. We'll tell him whatever it is he needs to know. And he may turn out to be a productive worker, anyway, and thus to serve the good of the nation after all.


He who would do good to another must do It in Minute Particulars. General Good is the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrite, flatterer; for Art and Science cannot exist but in minutely organized Particulars. William Blake

The Stand-up Cosmic of Texas

"He can be purely physical or a separation from the physical to a broader understanding and acceptance of one's focus beginning here in Austin then the United States, the world and--I don't know."

LIKE WOW. Those are the heavy words of one Jerry Grigadean, the stand-up cosmic of Texas, actually revealing, to some lucky young reporter at The Daily Texan, his cosmic masterplan for…uh…we don't know either.

Good ol' Jerry is not just a cosmic. ("Cosmic refers to the levels upon which a person functions," y'know.) He is also a porseffor, a porseffor of rock and of roll at the University of Texas in Austin. And he must really be some great teacher, because ninety percent of his students get A's, and he hangs posters on the ceiling, too.

And his students sure do learn a lot. They learn all about "connecting with music, with each other and with a professor [must be a typo] who is a person, not a dictator or something." After all, what's a university for, if not to spare the children the chagrin of listening to rock and roll for no credit, and to let them connect with a person, a real cool person, who goes "to class with no shoes on, and makes you feel comfortable."

One of Grigadean's colleagues at the University of Texas is Ilya Prigogene, a Nobel laureate in physics. Maybe they lunch together regularly in the faculty club. But then again, maybe they don't. Grigadean might just find that Prigogene guy a little hard to take--what with those shoes and all. Probably not a person. More likely a dictator or something. May even flunk people. And not cosmic. Probably gives tests.

Grigadean doesn't do that sort of thing. "When I gave pop quizzes and tests," he says, "the class was too academic." Too academic.

So he goes with the flow, a role-model in the best pedagogical tradition, displaying for children a way of life that is, like rock and roll itself, "a mode of expression, a way of living without rules."

And the children need to be liberated from rules so that they can learn to think, dammit! That's the whole point of education, isn't it?

Ah, but it's a struggle. "Students," Grigadean laments, "like following rules. It's safe, and it does not require much thinking."

And that's exactly what's wrong with that Prigogene guy and everything that he stands for. Rules. Hell, that's just about all physics is, just a bunch of rules, and constants, and laws, and stuff like that. Now rock and roll, as Grigadean instructs us, is "spontaneous, open to change, daring, energetic, not too organized, fun."

We're ashamed to admit that we have never before given due consideration to the important distinctions between rock and roll and physics as academic disciplines. Now that we are enlightened, we can at last make an informed judgment as to the relative worth of the two, and as to the appropriateness of their inclusion in a university curriculum. And now we have to wonder what the hell those clowns think they're doing down at the University of Texas.

We know how universities operate. We know that it took lots of people, lots of paperwork, lots of time, lots of approvals from lots of colleagues, just so that Grigadean could teach that course in rock and roll. Those things don't just happen, you know. They require the collective wisdom of many fine minds.

And then what do they do? They go out and hire some fancy-shmancy physicist whose very presence on the campus undercuts everything that Grigadean stands for!

Physics, for God's sake! Kids who like that stuff--let'm watch Nova.

A Lecture on Politics

The state in which the rulers are most reluctant to govern is always the best and most quietly governed; and the state in which they are most eager, the worst.

WE have heard from a faithful, but worried, reader. He is afraid that Ronald Reagan might read The Underground Grammarian and make use of our arguments for his own devious purposes. And we have, indeed, often argued that good schools, cleansed of trashy courses and parasitic functionaries, would cost less than the schools we now have.

Strangely enough, our worried reader obviously did not suggest at all that our arguments are wrong; he feared only that they might be used by a wrong person in a wrong cause. And now we are worried, for that fear is itself a frightening reminder of the tremendous power of factional belief over the freedom of the mind.

If an argument is sound and rational, it is sound and rational no matter who uses it. If Reagan, or some other politician, or the Devil himself, should choose to espouse sound and rational argument, we would all be better off. But that can not happen. Politicians--and the Devil-- just don't work that way.

In fact, if any politician were to adopt our understanding about the costs of public schooling, it could only mean that he has decided not to run. No office seeker, even should he find it true, would dare to say what we say. We do not fear, therefore, that we may provide unintended--and utterly unmerited--aid and comfort either to Ronald Reagan or to any of his currently numerous opponents.

What we do fear, however, is a result even worse than that. Thanks largely to that pussy-footing excellence commission report, which-looks more and more like a clever ploy to precisely this end, the future of education in America may be delivered into the hands of politicians, the only people around whose influence on the life of the mind is even more baleful than that of the educationists. When the very last returns of the election of 1984 are finally in, they may well show that the American people have been persuaded at last not only to accept but also to approve the notion that the character of "education" should be determined in the voting booth. Nothing worse could happen to us.

Among us, the rulers are not reluctant to govern. In pursuit of office, they will bellow with the herd in broad daylight, and, in darkness, hunker down with the wolves. They prosper by persuasion and the exacerbation of factional discord. Like the educationists, they prefer to ply their trade in the misty precincts of "the affective domain," where sentiment and belief can he assigned a greater "moral" power than knowledge and reason, provided only that they be "worthy sentiment" and "right belief," to which every faction lays claim. Politicians must thus depend upon the existence of a certain number of citizens who share similar desires but who neither will nor can inquire as to whether they should desire what they desire. Nor do our politicians find it useful to encourage such inquiry.

All of that may be "only realistic," but if it is, it points to certain loathsome realities. It must mean, a) that Americans have not achieved that "informed discretion" that Jefferson deemed essential to a free people, b) that politicians profit from that lack, and c) that, as to improvements in the hen-house security system, the foxes will have some ideas of their own.

For that is exactly what an education is--a security system that signals the intrusion of ignorance and unreason. It is education that unmasks opinion or belief parading as knowledge, and defrocks persuasion pretending to be logic. It is our defense against the tyranny of appetite and ideology, and our only path to self-knowledge and self-government. It is, in short, exactly the sovereign remedy for politics as practiced among us.

We have listened to Reagan, and we have listened to Mondale, who seems sufficiently typical of the other pack. They show no sign of knowing what they mean by "education." According to the faction they hope to please, they take education to be some sort of more or less practical training in something or other, or an indoctrination in somebody's favorite version of socially acceptable notions, or an incoherent muddle known as "adjustment to life." They address themselves to issues related not to education but only to the school business, to schools as agencies of government and bureaucratic structures. They believe, or pretend to believe, that the solution lies in this or that, prayer, or pay, or something.

And one of those men, or someone just like one of them, will win the presidential election of 1984, trailing behind him his promises and debts. To whom then will he turn in the great cause of excellence and the reform of schooling? Plato? Jefferson? To anyone who understands education as the mind's strong defense against manipulation and flattery? Will he drive out once and for all, by denying them their "monies," the clowns and charlatans of educationism who have brought us to this pass? Or will he rather prove that he "supports education" by handing those innovative thrusters more monies?

The educationists do claim that they run the only game in town, that they are the only real professionals who know all about education. And, since they are not able to detect irony, they can claim with perfectly straight faces that they are the only ones who can help us, now that we have gotten ourselves into this mess.

They lie. But politicians are realistic, and they don't care that educationists lie. They care only that the educationists be perceived as panting after excellence, and that they can manage.

We face nothing less than the ultimate test of democracy, a sterner test than war itself. The survival of the nation may be a necessary condition of individual freedom, but it is certainly not a sufficient condition. If "democracy" means rule by those who know best how to please the uninformed and thoughtless, which is the condition asserted, and presumably accepted, by those who excuse politicians as "realistic," then we can not be free. We must suffer the tyranny not only of our own appetites and notions, but of the appetites and notions of any slim majority of everyone else. If we tolerate the existence of such multitudes, we can not be free. And if we permit the politicians and the educationists to define the nature and purpose of education according to their appetites and notions, to say nothing of their track records, then we will ensure the existence of such multitudes. And we will never be free.

Democracy is not a form of government that provides freedom. That it is, is the sort of illusion easily (and conveniently) induced in the multitudes who are given pep-rallies in "citizenship" rather than the disciplined study of history and politics. But democracy may well be that form of government that most liberally permits freedom. Even Aristotle, who had no illusions about the supposed "rightness" of multitudes in proportion to their size, was willing to grant this:

"If liberty and equality, as is thought by some, are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be best attained when all persons alike share in the government to the utmost."

An uneducated person is simply unable to "share in the government." (governing is exactly what is learned through education. The uneducated, of whatever rank or station do not even govern themselves, but simply obey whatever desires and beliefs they suppose to be their own. But if they can not govern, they can certainly rule. And should they be reluctant to do that, some realistic politician will be delighted to set them straight.

Jefferson did not commend "informed discretion" as a graceful adornment for a lucky few. He prescribed it as a necessary condition for freedom in a democracy, for he knew that the latter does not ensure the former. And he prescribed it for "all persons alike…to the utmost."

Well, let's keep on looking for a bluebird. Maybe Jefferson was wrong. Maybe we can be "ignorant and free." Someday, maybe, we'll find out. Maybe as soon as November of 1984.

The Underground

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.

Typos and comments:

For a printer friendly version of the entire volume, go to ShareText.Com

Copyright © 2000 by Mark Alexander. All Rights Reserved. SOURCETEXT, SHARETEXT,
and others are trademarked 1997, 1998, 1999, and 2000 by
Mark Alexander, P. O. Box 5286, Auburn, CA 95604.

SourceText.Com and ShareText.Com are divisions of
Breeze Productions, P.O. Box 5286, Auburn, CA 95604.