Volume Nine, Number Three............April 1985

The Roll Model of Oregon

Thanks to Jonathan Nicholas, and others like him, if there are some others like him, we will soon be able to stick one in the eye of Godless Communism. Sure, they sent up the first Dog in Outer Space, but could it spell? Nosiree! But the first Teacher in Outer Space will be able to spell quite a few words.

Nicholas writes a regular column for The Oregonian, and he was one of the judges asked to select the best of the essays submitted by the teachers who wanted, for unaccountable reasons, to be Teacher in Outer Space. Like most journalists, he seems competent and decent--and a bit naive. He was actually surprised to discover that few teachers can consistently make their verbs agree with their subjects, and that a good percentage of them seemed to think spelling an instrument of oppression devised by the Dominant Class.

Poor Nicholas wrote a column citing some cases of teacherly spelling: "villans," "canvessing," "heresay," "liazon," "delt," "cherrish," and so forth. He cited also the teacher who said that he was active in "contract negations," and the one who commended his philosophy of teaching as "very simplistic," and the lady who pronounced herself a "strong roll model," and even the deep thinker who wrote of the feelings "that all humans are err to." To us, just the usual stuff, but to Nicholas, a surprise.

His column brought him--was this also a surprise?--a "storm of protest." He was accused of "casting a slur on the profession," of "taking advantage of [his] situation as an expose candidates' deficiencies to the general public," and even of "trading in errors of fact."

The charges are more interesting and revealing than the transgressions they seek to excuse. A man asked to make judgments is accused of "taking advantage of his situation," his obligation to judge, because he does judge, and in public, the level of learning in those who are paid by the public for the level of their learning. To those who know little of educationism, that seems an astonishing insolence, but among the educationists it is just "our thing," a bureaucratic version of omertá.

Consider another such case: In New York City, schoolteachers are just now being asked to grade their administrators--by checking blocks on forms, of course. (Educationists know better than to ask of each other thoughtful deliberation in writing; they are so busy with quality education that they don't have time to look up all those words.) The administrators don't like it, of course, but they have been assured that the results will be kept in the club, lest a slur be cast on the profession. Where some change seems called for, private and quiet discussions will take place. In public, where the money comes from, it's Three Wise Monkeys City.

The school people, all having been ground exceeding small in their values modification mills of the teacher-training academies, can see nothing wrong in that arrangement. They have been persuaded of that doctrine into which they assiduously persuade the children whose minds they are given to modify, the belief that one person doesn't count for much, that moral force, if there be any such thing, is an effluvium of feelings emitted by a "peer group." Thus it is that they believe also, all unaware, in the doctrine of Affront by Association, by force of which they can imagine what no competent electrician or plumber would ever imagine, to wit, that if some electricians and plumbers are known to be no damn good, a slur is cast on the profession.

The doctrine of Affront by Association has immense consequence. By its power, for instance, girls are not supposed to be offended that it is Jack, not Jill, who can jump over a candlestick. Since girls seem not to know that by nature, it must be nurtured in them, and who better to do that than school people, who are affronted, not by their colleagues who can not spell, but by him who points them out?

Affront by Association engenders yet another superstition of collectivism, the doctrine of Innocence by Dilution. Well, if there are a few teachers who can't spell, or make their verbs agree with their subjects, it doesn't really matter. We should not judge the profession by a handful of examples. Which is to say, in a monstrous absurdity that doesn't bother the educationists at all, Well, the important thing is that the profession can spell and make its verbs agree with its subjects. If this or that (merely) individual teacher is perhaps not the best "roll model," that's OK; the profession will serve.

But the profession can not teach a child to spell, any more than a profession can heal the sick or fly a plane. It takes a person to do such things. Every child in every school ends up learning, or not learning, from a person. So we are sorry to report that Jonathan Nicholas backed off in his next column by saying that "someone who writes an awfully poor essay may indeed be an inspirational educator."

That's the way they talk, in vague conditionals whose "truth" is not subject to any possible test, and whose negative form would be just as "true."

When Nicholas writes a column specifying exactly which of those poor writers are the "inspirational teachers," and, therefore, which not, he'll find out what a real "storm of protest" is like.

G. K. Chesterton on Lost Lucidity

[As we ponder how to make some point, it often happens, by strange providence, that some reader, just for the good of it, sends in exactly the right quotation. Here is one of the most recent of those treasures.]

That style, or swift construction of a complicated sentence, was the sign of a lucidity now largely lost. You will find it in the most spontaneous explosions of Dr. Johnson. Since then some muddled notion has arisen that talking in that complete style is artificial; merely because the man knows what he means and means to say it. I know not from what nonsense world the notion once came; that there is some connection between being sincere and being semi-articulate. But it seems to be a notion that a man must mean what he says, because he breaks down even in trying to say it; or that he must be a marvel of power and decision, because he discovers in the middle of a sentence that he does not know what he was going to say.

With Friends Like These

Together we can persuade our friends and colleagues of the wisdom of Lord Keynes, that practical men of affairs are often the slaves of philosophers long dead. We can break out of that bondage if we learn how to judge the live principles which do in fact filter our understanding of the present and the future. We can thereby become quite successful in our careers.

THOSE are the words of one who has himself been successful in his career, if being the director of something called a Council of Liberal Learning can indeed by thought of as a career. Anyway, that's what he is, and his name is Irving J. Spitzberg, Jr.

We found his words in a little piece sent around by the Scripps-Howard service. To what end he cites Keynes, we can not tell, for that point seems lost in what follows, but we can tell that he is trying to increase enrollment in "liberal arts" courses by reciting the latest pitch of the liberal arts hucksters, who do need more students if they are to escape the dismal futures as fill-in teachers of Remedial Writing 101.

Spitzberg's little essay is obviously a part of a larger PR Thrust, for it came out at just about the same time as the CLL's snazzy Liberal Arts Awareness Enhancement Poster. If the poster was in fact dreamed up by liberal artists (so what would you call them?), it makes a good case for studying advertising.

In big-headed (symbol?) cartoon-style caricatures, it displays six supposed examples of the benefits of liberal study, presumably. But their power as endorsers of the liberal arts is strangely mitigated by the fact that they are extolled not for what they were, but what they could have been had they been students in today's schools.

One of the examples, for instance, is of Marco Polo! He is put forth as a man who "would have made his quota in international sales," and who might have been a geography major, with a minor in anthropology, which course of study would have provided his knowledge of other cultures and a global perspective.

Then there's Benjamin Franklin, who "had the key skills to be an advertising executive." Lousy luck. Born too soon. Just think what he could have been had he gone to one of our colleges.

Elizabeth I is presented as one who "would have been dynamite on the six o'clock news," which puts her right up there with Michael Jackson as an example of what the liberal arts can do for your career. She, of course, might have majored in foreign languages, and thus found a multi-cultural perspective.

If it has never occurred to you that Bach "had the chops to create computer software," or that Shakespeare "would have made a great corporate manager," it is entirely due to the fact that you are not an imbecile. And if it now occurs to you that Tolstoy would have been socko at getting out the newsletter, and that Alexander of Macedon would have done a bang-up job of organizing the annual picnic, you should have a great start on a poster of your own.

Strangely enough, the poster makes no mention of facts that students want to know. Exactly what courses did the Queen take? What was Marco Polo's grade-point average? Did Shakespeare develop his communications skills in a freshman composition course or in a creative writing course? And how about that Socrates? Did he really get his degree in philosophy?

Yes, and of course, Socrates is on the poster too. He is shown holding a mug of steaming coffee. He is praised for one "who had the wisdom for a career in human resource management." Human resource management.

What trade he hath, who manages human resources, we do not know. He may be a prison guard, or a gatherer of migrant laborers into buses. Perhaps Eichmann, in the still watches of the night, dignified himself as a manager of human resources. (So why isn't he on that poster, especially since, utterly unlike any of the celebrated six, he did go to college?) But this we know: that Socrates held it an act of unreason and aggression to manage any human resources but his own, and that to treat a person as an object to be used or as an agent to be turned was not the act of a reasonable man, but a form of impiety, the injury of a soul. When he told the jury that he would rather lose his life after defending himself rationally than save it through manipulation and persuasion, he said, Gentlemen, it is not my place to "manage" your human resources, your minds and feelings and beliefs, but only to see to my own.

Business prospers not simply because people need things; if we bought only what we needed, business would be a modest and seemly institution. If business is great, a mighty empire in whose service millions yearn to enlist, it is because people want things. Thus it is that business depends ultimately on the fact that wanting can be aroused, while the ability to make judgments about wanting has to be cultivated and practiced. Nobody has to learn to want, but everyone has to learn how to decide whether he should want what he wants.

The main business of business has to be, therefore, the arousal of desire, not an especially difficult task. It can easily be accomplished by flattery, cajolery, persuasion, intimidation, or any sort of appeal to the emotions, especially to envy, cupidity, vanity, ambition, and fear. Surely there must be, even in the world of business, serious and thoughtful persons who are troubled, realizing that their enterprise, like any other, has its roots in the soil of our frailties, and thrives, however good its intentions, in measure with folly and vice. Those are the people who should appear on that poster, for they are truly examples of the worth of education, in the world of business, or any other.

What would we say of a man who is not the least bit troubled about the way he makes his living, into whose mind has never crept the faintest suspicion that he lives by the weakness of others, and that he does them harm by encouraging and perpetuating their weakness? Should he, tomorrow, suspect for the first time in his life, that a "successful career" and a good life might not be exactly the same thing, would he have become better or worse? Among whom would you rather fall, those who have no doubts that what they are up to is right, or those who have doubts?

As the world is, we have all fallen among each other. It behooves us, each and every one, therefore, not to encourage each other in certitude, but rather to commend to each other a life of decent doubt and questioning. And therein lies the true worth of the study of all those so-called "liberal arts," which might better be called, simply, education.

Here is a great, perhaps the greatest, difference between education and training. It is the right goal of training to provide, where certitude is possible, the means of discovering it, and it is the right goal of education to lead the mind into the strangely beautiful, disquieting realms of wonder and doubt, where no one can see either the big picture or the bottom line.

And what shall we say of a man, take Irving J. Spitzberg, for example, who demotes education to the rank of speed-reading or snappy dressing and urges it as a practical accessory for those who want to get ahead in business and have "successful careers"? What would we say of one who had the wisdom of Socrates, which Socrates said was nothing but the knowledge of his own ignorance and incertitude, and then decided to become a human resources manager?

If there is any coherent message in that silly poster, it is the curious advice to take up certain studies so that you can end up being far less than you might otherwise have been. The important understanding of "education" that we might take from the example of Socrates is not that he might have been a manager of human resources, but that he would certainly have turned down the job, no matter what the pay, as not conducive to the sort of life that he knew he wanted to live, and that he knew he should want to live.

In that fact, there is an intriguing irony, for our students would surely say, as most do, that, unlike Socrates, they do have to make a living, and do not have the "luxury" of living some life that they know to be good unless it happens to be sufficiently lucrative. He is an interesting pickle, who does not have the luxury of abandoning the pursuit of luxury, and who can not live well in one sense because of a desire to live well in another.

But that is the pickle in which we all find ourselves, whether we may be auditors of banks, or writers, or makers of pots. The need of getting and spending, all the nuts and bolts of life that the Greeks called Necessity, but mere Necessity, are natural enemies to our abilities, and our inclinations, to distinguish, and to choose between the better and the worse.

While it is bad enough that we must live in the No-man's Land between the Necessary and the Good, it does at least serve us to keep alert and thoughtful. But there is a much worse condition not only possible to us but perfectly natural to us. Ignorance, the condition of those who don't know that they live in No-man's Land. They work hard, and get and spend, and scurry to produce, and dream of a future that will bring them happiness by securing and multiplying the very things that, all unaccountably, did not bring them happiness in the past.

Although, in these strange days, there are some who hold otherwise, we have no reluctance to assert that knowledge is better than ignorance. It is a conviction, no, a conclusion, to be discovered in exactly those studies now being put forth as handy and practical for those whose goal in life is to collect more of those things that will always prove, however large or numerous, not quite enough.

At first, the wealthy Vandals aped the Romans, and the poor Romans aped the Vandals. Later on, as the Vandals grew richer and the Romans poorer, all the Romans learned to ape the Vandals. There was profit in it. Long ago, the professors of the humanities discovered that there was profit in aping the educationists, but the star of educationism is falling. The profit now lies in hitching the wagons to businessism, especially since we still haven't caught up with the Japanese. If the businessists are as canny as they say they are, they will surely refuse the alliance. Who needs the feeble assistance of people who can think of Socrates as a human resources manager, or who can suppose, or pretend to suppose, that the career of Marco Polo is a triumphant demonstration of the power of humane studies? There is, in fact, no shortage in the business world of people who are a lot better educated than that.

They have better taste, too. You never hear them claiming that Lee Iacocca, if he had chosen, could have spent his life leading humanity in the path of reason.


Brief Notes

WE DO BELIEVE that this was the last regularly published and internationally circulated journal in the world to be set in type by hand, and the first to be set on Apple Computer's do-it-yourself-at-home (or almost) combination of the Macintosh computer and the LaserWriter. It is not a bad system, and we intend to become experts at it. After a while.

The last issue, the first product of the new technique, did not delight us entirely, but it did teach us some things not to do, and a few things to do. It seemed a good idea to do the first such issue, for instance, entirely in the computer. That was not a good idea. From now on we will use the computer mostly for the setting of text; for titles, rules, and illustrations, we will go back to our own library of types and cuts. Many readers claim to like those old illustrations, however irrelevant they may be to the text. We are glad to report that we will be able to use more of them in the future.

IN OUR never-ending search for data for the formulation of a prologomenon to a definition of "education" as implied in the practices of the public schools, we have now unearthed datum number four hundred and seventy-two, which will remind some readers of an old favorite, datum ninety-six, the fact that in many kolleges nowadays it is possible to earn kredits for having taken care of houseplants and gerbils.

If school officials in Haslett, Michigan have their way--and why wouldn't they?--high school students in that enlightened town will earn, if that's the word, kredits toward their diplomas by "seeking treatment" for whatever nasty drug and drinking habits they may have been forced into by the influence of society as a whole. Those who actually take up residence for a while in a state institution other than their high school will get two kredits, and the ones who can come up with a little "treatment of emotional disturbances on an out-patient basis at an approved institution" will get at least one kredit.

"When the kids are going through treatment," says Richard Beal, a school official and educator of Haslett, "they are in a learning process."

How true. But what about the handicapped, all those aberrant loners who don't have enough group spirit to take up drugs and alcohol? It seems only fair to provide them with an equivalent, one kredit for a bubble gum cure, say, and two for the indubitable "learning process" in a long afternoon of root canal.

The Underground

R. Mitchell, Assistant Circulation Manager
Post Office Box 203
Glassboro, New Jersey 08028

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Neither can his mind be thought to be in tune, whose words do jarre;
nor his reason in frame, whose sentence is preposterous.

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