An Unnecessary Evil
As few people as possible between the productive spirits and the hungering, receiving spirits! For the intermediaries falsify the nourishment almost automatically when they mediate it; then, as a reward for their mediation, they want too much for themselves, which is taken away from the productive spirits: namely, interest, admiration, time, money, and other things. Hence, one should consider the teacher, no less than the shopkeeper, a necessary evil, to be kept as small as possible.
THOSE are the words of the prickly Friederich Nietzsche, little read in our soft times, and fallen into disfavor. Indeed, he goes much too far in his derogation of shopkeepers, without whom we wouldn't know where to go to nourish ourselves. As to the teachers he makes a better case, but still, to call the teacher a necessary evil is to make a "best case analysis." Could Nietzsche see what we have done, he would have found teachers an unnecessary evil.
He assumed, of course, that a teacher would in fact, however imperfectly, go about the business of mediating, of standing in some middle place between the hungering spirits of the students and the great, nourishing spirits at whose richness the students could not get, whether because of inexperience or youth, or for whatever reason.
Three further corruptions of the role of teacher are easily imagined. The first is that of the teacher who supposes himself a great, productive spirit but is in fact not. We ordinarily find such a one teaching something "creative," or devoting himself to some emotional therapy, whether arousing appreciation or enhancing self-esteem.
Then there is the teacher who fattens himself as an expert on some great productive spirit, so that the goal of his teaching is to display his erudition, which meager fare some students are happy to gobble, mistaking it for nourishment. Unlike the sentimental manipulator, this one seldom troubles the young, preferring, in any case, students in whom there is little hunger but plenty of appetite.
The third corruption of teacherhood is what you might be able to find these days in Arkansas, and in who can say how many other states where the soggy sop of "teacher testing" is being passed out to any who will swallow it. He is the teacher who will prove his teacherliness, if he passes, in a test made up of fifty multiple choice questions each in mathematics and language, and an essay of about two hundred words. Or, if he prefers, a letter.
We don't have to see the test that will determine which, if any, of the teachers of Arkansas will continue to mediate between the hungering spirits of children and the great productive spirits who can indeed nourish them. To know that there are people who imagine that there can be such a test is all we need to know. But it is entertaining to know as well that the teachers of Arkansas--for this is the case--would rather not take it, lest they reveal some ignorance of the multiplication table or of the past participles of some irregular verbs.
But, of course, it is not the intention of the legislators of Arkansas to find out whether the teachers are indeed fit to mediate between the hungering spirits of the children of Arkansas and the great, productive Spirits who can truly nourish them. Education, of course, is entirely the fruit of such nourishment, but schooling is something else.
And our teachers are something else, and meant to be something else. They are trained not as mediators but only as mouths. The work not in the service of the children but for the good of society, reciting, and enacting, the currently acceptable slogans. It is only for the sake of appearance, of public "perception," that the legislators of Arkansas put the teachers to a test. Surely, if enough of them can choose some right answers to a few questions about square roots and pronoun agreement, then all can be perceived as being well in Arkansas. The teachers, in fact, should be delighted to have been offered such an easy out.
If there were some test by which we might discover how well they were suited to stand between the nourishing and the hungry spirits, they would not get off so easily.
The word "spirit" has an interesting place in the vocabulary of the school folk. It is held permissible, advisable, in fact, to use the word when naming some utterly unimaginable portion of collective non-entities. The "spirit" of democracy should be mentioned, and so should the "spirit" in which we are all adjusting ourselves in order to make the world a better place, in which the "spirits" of intercultural awareness and of trash recycling will inform, well, at least the hearts, of all mankind.
But in the one case where the word can actually apply, in the case of a person, the school people do not speak of spirit. They imagine that it would be religious, and thus non-public, to refer to the "spirit" of some great thinker or poet. They fear, perhaps, and for this it is hard to blame them, that some child will run home to report a violation of civil rights and a diminution of self-esteem. Thus, when the great, productive spirits make their rare appearances in class, they are put forth as examples of something other than the flame that burns in them--spokesmen for some thing, skillful masters of something, or purveyors of "culture," and, worst of all, as object lessons: Jane Austen, my dear students, will enhance your awareness of the plight of women in a less enlightened age. For the working class, we will go on to Dickens.
"Long have you timidly waded, holding a plank by the shore. Now I will bid you to be a bold swimmer, to jump off in the midst of the sea." Who says that? A free verse innovator expressing himself creatively? A fit subject for the Gay Rights rap session?
No. A man. A person. A spirit And he speaks to a person, to that child sitting right there. In the whole world in which that child dwells, there is no one who speaks, and directly to him and for him alone, with the pure honesty and intensity of Walt Whitman, not even a guidance counsellor. Unlike all parents, teachers, and preachers, unlike all the persuaders of which a child must think that the "real" world is made, Whitman has no hidden agenda. When he says, "I shall be good health to you," that is exactly what he intends.
And, like legions other great spirits, he would be good health, but the child will never hear him. Should he chance on those words at all, it will be only as a coerced participant in "experiencing" literature, and enhancing awareness for the sake of appreciation. He will not say, for his "teacher" has never said:
This is the voice of my brother in the Earth, long dead, but speaking still, and to me, to me, speaking the best truth he can find, and out of love, and for my good, and my goodness. I am hungry, and he feeds me. "Sit a while, dear son," he says, "here are biscuits to eat, and here is milk to drink." And I have never tasted better.
That child will never be fed. Before him stands not some great, productive spirit, not even a mediator, however ineffective, but an agent, an agent with an agenda, beliefs to inculcate, attitudes to implant, perceptions to alter, awareness to instill, and, of course, all those comma rules to bone up on for the big teacher test on Tuesday.
Who needs such "teachers"? In whose service can they be elevated to the rank of necessary evil? For whose sake will the schools be "reformed," the hungry spirits, the great, or some other spirits?
FOR almost two years now we have been brooding over a sinister document sent to us by a reader in California. It is a tattered Xerox of two pages from an article called: "Universities: Training for Policymaking and. Research," by a man who calls himself by the name of Yehezkel Dror.*
One of the pages is text, and the other is a table, most entries of which appear on the next page. The gist of the piece, or at least of the portion we can see, is--Well, of course universities can get into the business of public policy research and development, but they will, naturally, have to change some of their ways and put aside, for instance, their odd addiction to "freedom of research," which sort of quaint custom is here characterized as an "ideology."
The table is, in the words of Yehezkel Dror, a display of "a few main contradictions between widespread (though not universal) university features and needs of policy-oriented research and training." That "few" hints that there are many more "main" contradictions, and thus, no doubt, hosts of others that are somewhat less than main. If it were so, it would be a sign of better health in the universities than we would have supposed.
Dror clucks his tongue over the sorry weakness of academicians for "accepted scientific paradigms" and "rationality." We have not noticed such a weakness. Indeed, since "schooling" is the biggest of all our academic enterprises, and an effluent, ultimately, from all the universities, where that particular public policy is spawned, it seems to us that the universities have a splendid record of "attention to extra-rational components" and surely of "innovativeness" where "basic paradigms"--like logic, for instance--are concerned.
Nevertheless, there probably are a few stubborn pockets of intransigent rationality left in some universities here and there. They do constitute, to be sure, a minor impediment to the smooth flow of public policy, and thus a potentially anti-social element. But the policy-preferizationists have obviously little to fear from the conservative elitists, who are, in any case, so confused about their own ideology that they don't even care who they educate, and thus tend to neglect the creation of new professions for very select groups. That neglect is sure to undo them. The day will come, and that right soon, when those who have nothing more useful to do than to come as close as they can to truth and to know what can be known will find that they have no clients.
But the policy concocters will never run short of clients. Rich clients, and powerful. Never will they lack the custom of very select groups, seekers after new professions, incipient facilitators, coordinators, and change-agents, or the open-handed support of the only master in whose service, and in whose service alone, those very select groups can ply their innovative trades. For there can be only one client with whom the policy devisers must maintain that "complex relation." Idi Amin, for example. He had much need of extra-rational components, and a little flexibility, a touch of innovativeness in respect to basic paradigms, and of policy-preferization as a main goal, and even of a host of new professions to be practiced for the sake of policy-preferization by the members of a very select group. And there may even be other examples. Only some force of government, be it collective or individual, can take any profit from the work of the policy preferizationists.
The Drors of this world--how many are there?--always make us feel foolish and naive, and ashamed of having been so childish. There they all are, merrily flying all across the face of the Earth at somebody else's expense--ours!--and smugly reading each other papers of hideous purport in posh hotels, relating, oh so complexly, to their clients, and contriving to peddle us the extra-rational in exchange for our pitiable dependence on "truth-approximation," an archaic and rudimentary craft not suited to a convention of the policy-makers or to the cleverly coordinated control of everybody else's world.
Here is the root of our shame: When we notice that someone is talking rot, we automatically assume that he would rather not be talking rot, that he does so only because he has somehow failed to talk sense. When we finally see that he does not intend to talk sense, that he wants instead to arouse preferization by plugging an extra-rational component into somebody's accepted paradigm we are cast down and a bit embarrassed, as though rebuked by an elder. How silly we seem by contrast with the efficient cleverness and the breezy practicality of the Drors who make this world.
What sort of person is it to whom the idea that research should be left to discover what may be discovered in an "ideology"? What can we ever say to a man who promotes "research" designed to reach only those conclusions that will make a certain policy seem preferable--or preferizable--and who deems such mendacity a more useful ideology than the first, especially with an eye to maintaining those complex relations with his client? Will he not, no matter what we say, reply, not only to us, but within himself, in the ultimate and utterly impregnable defense of all fools and liars? "Well, we do have to be realistic, you know."
Those Drors are everywhere. They are the people who made American schools what they are, and who can be depended upon, in this latest fever of reform, to make them even worse. Every entry in Dror's second column names an article of belief long held in schools of "education," which is why Dror can rightly say that those "main contradictions" are "widespread" but not, he is glad to say, "universal." For generations, now, our educationists have been in the business not of learning and teaching but of concocting policy-preferization, which is why every crazy innovation of the last seventy years has always been justified by that kind of "research" that Dror recommends, the kind that satisfies.
And, thinking of that, little by little we recover from our shame. Which of us is the child--the one who tries to find some truth, even if it turns out to be harsh medicine, or the one who will have what he wants at any cost? Which is truly "realistic"--he who would like to be governed by Reason, or he who imagines--pretends?-- that Reason is just an alternate ideology, a paradigm which some may "accept," and that he may reject for a "better" one?
But we also feel worse, for the Drors make the reality in whose name they justify themselves as "realistic." We might prevail against natural children, but not against children with theories.
WE HEARD from an astonishing number of readers who seemed to know more than we would have dreamed about the wicked ways of the Nashville Songwriters. Many of them gave us the "correct" title of the song about the tears in the ears. Unfortunately, no two were the same. No matter. All were colorful and entertaining. So were many of the other, perhaps fake, titles, the best of which was: "I Got the Hongries fer You, and I'm Standin' in Yer Welfare Line."
We were not outraged, however, by any one of them. They were funny. If some were less than "good," it was because they were less funny. The best of them showed what we would surely call, if he who spoke that way weren't making a lot of money for speaking that way, a "flair for language." And wit. Signs of poetry?
Some correspondents, however, not satisfied that we had indicted the Nashvillains only for whoring, urged that they also be named "a bad influence," on the young, of course.
Somehow, it never occurred to us to point out that a public display of fabulously successful whoring could have a bad influence on the young, or the old. That seems not only a firm grasp on the obvious, but also a gratuitous slur on the Congress. But those who wrote, strange to say, did not mean that the example of the Nashvillains might lead the young in the ways of whoring, in any of its uncountable varieties, but only that they might bring children to believe that a real man would no more hold himself to a single negative than he would to a single beer, and that the schoolmarms are working a con.
While the particulars of this case seem just a bit frivolous, they do raise some serious questions about principle:
What, if any, is the responsibility of a songwriter, or a Congressman, in the education of children, or in the education of anyone else? Who is, in fact, a "good example," and what makes him that? How likely are the children, or others, to choose and then follow the "good example" in the absence of any regular and conscious principle by which to know the good one from the bad, and lacking the will out of which to pursue the "failure" that is understood to be an attribute of the first and disdain the "success" that is said to characterize almost any way of living that provides the latter?
We can find in all this only another way of understanding education: It has to be the power to know influences for what they are and to judge as to which should be followed. Without that power, appetite will rule, and that influence that pleases most will influence most. If children are influenced by some bad example in the world, there must be a child who suffers injury. Remedy must lie either in the eradication of the bad example or in so arming the child that he will suffer no injury. To seek the first is to walk a perilous path, and to undertake an impossible task. But to seek the second, that is, to prepare the mind of the child for the power of education, is neither perilous nor impossible. It is difficult, more difficult than lamenting the bad example of the Nashville song writers, which costs nothing, and has no other effect than the clothing of the lamenter in the costume of righteousness, but is can be done.
One of the most crippling illusions propagated by the supposed existence of a "system of education" is the belief that those attributes that can exist only in a person can be generated in groups. Out of that illusion we can imagine that "children" are influenced by "song writers," or by "Congress," or even by "schoolteachers." All of those terms are the names of fictions. The question to ask is not: What are they doing to them? but: What does which one do to which one? Only a person has a mind that can influence or be influenced.
We don't know a single Nashville songwriter, not even in that sense of the word in which we would say that we "know" Wordsworth or Donne. As to the powers and habits of the mind in any one of them, the ability and propensity to tell better from worse, the determination to find and speak some truth, in whatever form, we can say nothing. It may be that they are, each and every one of them, not only examples of the success of whoring and proofs of Mencken's belief that no one ever went broke through underestimating the American public, but also peddlers of false and misleading understandings of the intense and pressing pains of which our life is made. If so, then "they" are certainly a bad influence not only on children but on us all In a list of the harms that might be done by such a bad influence, however, what position ought we to assign to the fact that they also lead children in the habitual use of double negatives?
As to whether children can be educated at all, in any important sense of the word, there are many doubts and questions, but it is obvious that not every child is in fact harmed by every "bad influence." What makes the difference? Is the difference in the influence or in the child?
Pointing to bad examples, as the educationists always point to "society in general"--which they made--as the baleful power that they can hardly be expected to defeat, is to think education a feeble and uncertain condition, a delicate plant easily withered even by cool blasts. A true teacher is stronger than a Nashville songwriter, and stronger than a Congressman, too. If you know a child who is harmed by either of those bad influences, to which you are apparently immune, don't waste time on the songwriters and Congressmen. Show the child how you came to be immune.
A Word from the Assistant Circulation Manager
You will doubtless have noticed that this issue of THE UNDERGROUND GRAMMARIAN looks different. We hope that you will come to like it, and we hope that we will come to like it, too. For now, though, it seems, well, just a bit "wrong," and it calls for some justification.
"Justification," in fact, is the reason for this change. As some few of our readers still know, THE UNDERGROUND GRAMMARIAN has, since its first appearance in December of 1976, been printed from hand-set type. As even fewer readers have ever known, it is "written" as the type is set. There is no copy, no manuscript, no "original" in any usual sense of the word. We never know, when a piece begins, how it is going to end. We only know, where it has to end--at the bottom of a page.
This method of composition is interesting and full of suspense, to be sure, but it has certain disadvantages of which most writers have never even dreamed. That it is slow--very slow--does not bother us very much. But sometimes, when thirty or forty lines have been set, it becomes obvious that the piece is just no good. That sort of catastrophe might mean a delay of a week or more in what we don't even bother to call a "production schedule." Even one such false start, added to the fact that all the type used to print the last edition has to be redistributed for the next edition, can set us back for a month or more, as you have probably noticed. Sloth also arises.
And then there is the matter of justification. As the line of type approaches its end, the typesetter must reset all the spaces between words in such a way that the line is tightly filled, for otherwise the type form will not hold together in the press. But it is also necessary that the spaces be kept as small as possible, for widely spaced words are difficult to read, and make, furthermore, an ugly line. Most typesetting must occasionally permit such ugliness, for it is the first and great commandment of typesetting that the typesetter will follow the copy "even if it goes out the window," Since our typesetter has had the privilege, rare indeed since the typesetting days of Whitman and Twain, not only of changing the copy but even making it up as he goes along, we have been able to print many handsomely set lines.
But he grows old. And slow. He wants to do his work sitting down. And we want to keep a regular schedule, and to publish nine issues a year rather than eight, as we did for our first seven years, and even the occasional supplement. But what we do not want to do--and obviously can not do in any case--is send our manuscript to a commercial typesetter. So we have decided to stand up undaunted for what is right--and compromise.
In just the last few months, as though they had had us in mind all along, the Apple computer people have brought forth exactly what we need. It is a kind of printing machine that takes a computer file and prints out not a scrappy mess of dots, but a real type face--in this case, a pretty good and traditional face, Times New Roman. We have not diverted your subscription money into such a printer, which is too expensive for ordinary mortals, but we have arranged for the occasional (but regular) use of one. We have, however, invested in what the computniks call the "front end" of such a system, an elaborate computer and the necessary programs for composing and formatting.
We are a bit sentimental and sorry. We'll miss the taste of lead. But the choice, although painful, was not difficult. Our proper business is to get this thing out, and not to preserve a fine and ancient craft. We do promise, however, to do what we can to bring some of the lessons of that craft to the work of setting type by computer, which is often done, as a glance at any newspaper will reveal, very badly. We are happy to report, therefore, that the system we are using is both difficult enough to ensure slow and attentive work, and flexible enough so that we can apply to it at least some of the principles of traditional typesetting.
So much for that. There is another good reason for this change. We are interested, obviously, in what we publish, but we are also interested in publishing itself. We hold that the freedom of the press not only belongs to the man who owns one, but even that that freedom belongs only to the man who owns one. Newspapers and magazines enjoy that freedom, of course, but only insofar as the law is concerned. They are, by obvious necessity, bound--bound by the opinions and tastes of their readers and advertisers. And bound, too, by perfectly legitimate principles of impartiality and restraint. Even scurrilous publications are captive to that depravity to which they pander. But the private press, which is, we are convinced, what Jefferson had in mind, is free to be truly free. If it is free to be crazy and perverse, that is the price we must pay so that it will also be free to do what we always hope and intend to do, to curry no one's favor and to fear no one's disapproval, but to seek and speak the truth as best it can.
We would like to dream that this new method of typesetting that we have adopted will make possible the growth among us of small, private presses. Many readers, over the years, have asked our advice as to how to do what we do. In the past, we have told them to start out by learning how to set type--good advice, we still believe, but daunting. From now on, we may have better suggestions.
We have sent you, as you have probably discovered, two copies of this first computer-set issue. Please give one to someone who might like it, if you know such a person. We would like to find a few new subscribers to pay for all this fancy hardware. Let all Xeroxing, however, continue.
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Neither can his mind be thought to
be in tune, whose words do jarre;
* From Science and Absolute Values, Vol. II of 3rd International Conference on Unity of Sciences, London, UK/International Cultural Foundation, 1974. Our reader, who is scholarly as well as discriminating, had seen only the page he sent, but he did the bibliographical homework so that we could look up the whole thing. But we'd really rather not. back