In the Year Zero
We must honor the comrade children
THAT sentiment is from The Killing Fields, a movie about the recent, and apparently perpetual wars and disorders in Cambodia. It is one of the slogans recited in the "schools" of that land, the re-education camps, where those who were once adjusted to the wrong life are re-adjusted to a different life. They live in the Year Zero, where there is no remembrance of things past, no history. And the children, who have never had any history, are appointed their mentors, accusers, and judges. The executions, however, are seen to by some of their slightly older comrades.
In their particulars, the re-education camps of the Khmer Rouge are somewhat different from the government schools of the United States. In principle, however, like the Hitler Youth Movement, or like any "education" provided by an agency of government, they are the same. Both are instruments of policy, social programs of manipulation in the affective domain, and intended not just primarily but entirely for the good of the state.
And, while the particulars are somewhat different, they are only somewhat different. All government adjustment programs must, by their own logic, have it in common that they do not look with favor on the study of history. Knowledge impedes adjustment, and understanding makes it impossible. It is important, therefore, that Japanese children remember Hiroshima but not Pearl Harbor, and that the young people of West Germany suppose the story of some pact or other between Hitler and Stalin is a transparent lie put about by elderly war-mongers. Among us, in these days, children remember the Datsun rather than the Death March, and when it comes to be the other way around, we will all know what to expect.
And in England there is Pamela Pullen, educatress. She goes by the title of Divisional Primary Inspector for the Inner London Education Authority. The libraries trouble her. She has actually found in them certain dangerous and illiberal books more than ten years old, dating from the bad old days that the young should not remember. There is nothing but the corruption of Classism to be taken from illustrations showing neatly dressed children, thus flaunting before the eyes of the slovenly poor the arrogant pretensions of the (once) ruling class. There is nothing but Sexism to be learned from musty tomes in which girls help their mothers in the kitchen while the boys and their fathers play ball. There is only the incentive to Handicappism and Racism in any story that does not include a West Indian hunchback who swims the channel in record time.
In short, according to Pamela Pullen, any book more than ten years old is just "not relevant" any longer, and not suitable in a school library.
There was a time, and less than ten years ago at that, when we would have been astonished and outraged to hear of the doings of a Pamela Pullen. Now, not so. We are a little surprised at her pretense to moderation--after all, why ten years rather than two?--but now we recognize such doings for what they are, nothing but Politics as Usual. She is, like everybody who takes pay from a school system anywhere on the face of the Earth, a government agent, a loyal member of the New Servant Class, which has discovered the joys of working for the most indulgent of Masters. She does not work for the children committed to her charge; she works on them.
Which brings us to Bill [sic] Honig, California's Superintendent of Public Instruction. He has concluded, presumably out of either sheer ignorance or astonishing opacity, that the public schools are "values-neutral." That passeth all understanding here, where we have documented regularly for almost ten years the Great Program of feeling inculcation and attitude manipulation which has almost entirely replaced academic disciplines in the public schools. It is one thing to conclude that the values preached in the schools are intellectually incompatible with each other and all too obviously designed to form a certain society rather than to inform a certain mind, but who finds them "values-neutral" is either blind or up to some values-inculcation scheme of his own.
The latter is what we suspect. Honig has written a book called Last Chance for Our Children. If his title is accurate, then we can stop worrying about the Nuclear Winter, which would bring at least the benefit of the closing of quite a few government schools, and the consequent escape of whatever few children might survive. Maybe in the frigid Aftermath, some of them might find reason to wonder whether there is some difference between having been taught the values in whose service their parents blew the world up, and having learned, as they didn't, how to distinguish in principle the truly valuable from the recycled trash of social and political ideology.
Honig, of course, wants the schools to "teach values," which is exactly what the schools have been doing. He just wants them to teach some other values. He has met opposition among "educators," of course, who call him "reactionary," substituting, as usual, labeling for rational argument, and who suspect that what he really has in mind is prayer. That's always the way it is with cranks and zealots. They always come, like matter and anti-matter, in reversed reflections of each other. And, like matter and anti-matter, they meet each other in terrible explosions that blow the rest of us up.
Honig does stumble across the truth, but, like any educationist, he gets up and hurries on. "Children," he says, to the outrage of the romantic wing, "are not automatically moral or ethical." He supposes that is so because they have not been told what is moral or ethical. Aristotle knew better. Children are those of any age who can not be moral or ethical, being under the governance of their appetites. They do in very fact live in the Year Zero. The aim of education is to bring an end to childhood. That is not accomplished by telling them what is good, but by showing them how to govern themselves and distinguish for themselves the good from the bad. Or we can leave them in Year Zero forever.
The Evidencing of Realization
Educators are dissatisfied. They have no specifics, but intuition tells them that something needs to be done. Realization of neglected human potential is evidenced when we use single factor tests of general intelligence. Emphasis on mental abilities points vaguely at the need for a more comprehensive program. It may become acceptable to assume that cognitive ability cannot be nourished apart from affective and/or psychomotor consciousness. The range of criteria in the process of assessing giftedness needs to consider differentiated programming.
EVERY year, as Turkey Time draws nigh, we like to find some truly deserving member of the academic tribe upon whom to bestow the exclusive and prestigious Order of the Steaming Bird. The competition this year, as in every other year, has been ferocious. So many worthy candidates, and, alas, only one Steaming Bird of 1985.
But choose we must, and this year's winner is a certain Pat Swanson, who is something or other at the Campus Laboratory School of Minot State College in North Dakota. You see above a small but superbly typical example of Pat's really swell and bird-worthy work. We found it in Perspective, a poopsheet emitted by that state's Department of Public Instruction. Her little essay is called "The Development of Immediate Criteria to Indicate Giftedness, Precocity in Children." The comma alone is worth a little slice of the bird.
Pat is into giftedness. It's the coming thing. It's also the going thing. Lots of dough to be shelled out there, especially now that giftedness has at last been officially defined by no less an authority than the United States Office of Education. The gifted, we now know, are "those children, as identified by professionally qualified persons, who by virtue of outstanding abilities are capable of high performance." Pat is, ça va sans dire, a professionally qualified person.
Even her prose is professionally qualified. Out of no specifics, realization is evidenced. Emphasis points vaguely at a need, in true professional fashion, while range, the range of criteria, needs to consider. Now is that qualified, or is that qualified?
Qualifying, in fact, is their specialty. Notice how carefully Pat tells us non-professionals that we'd better brace ourselves for the day when "it may become acceptable to assume that cognitive ability cannot be nourished apart from affective and/or psychomotor consciousness." Educationists, of course, have never had any trouble deeming it "acceptable to assume" where no certain knowledge can be had; but, like a kind teacher of slow children, Pat does no more than hint that soon the rest of us just may want to join them in that darling form of convenient irrationality. And, in the unlikely case that we prefer to do without the assumption by which the Affective Domain has been made a mighty kingdom, well, all she said was "may." Neat job.
As for the educationists, though, they're going to stick with it no matter what. Intuition tells them, even without specifics, that the DOE is right, and that giftedness is to be found in:
Is this, or is this not, a Great Democracy? Can there be anyone here who is not gifted? Surely, as even the apostle says, there are gifts and there are gifts. Why should the kid who has a great jump-shot, or a wonderful way with a spray-can, be left out of what Pat so aptly calls the "more comprehensive program," at whose obvious need emphasis points vaguely?
"Our nation's most valuable natural resource" she says, "is demanding an education. The response has proven successful. As we provided programs for individuals to achieve their exceptionality, the youth population has demonstrated potential. The lack of a rigid definition of giftedness preceding the program may assist the developers. The definition can be altered to fit the differences of each individual."
Splendid. What could be better than a definition that can be altered as qualified professionals find convenient? As to whether such an arrangement can truly be called "creative thinking," we can hardly say, since we can not speak as qualified professionals. We incline a bit to the unqualified side. But "productive" it certainly is. It could easily produce as many Giftedness Enhancement Programs as there are kids in the schools.
In fact, these educationists are pretty damn gifted themselves, and we would urge some special and appropriately expensive program just for them, if it weren't for the obvious fact that they aleady have one, the one we call School.
The Knowledge-Acquisition Component of the Experiential Continuum
Intelligence is the mental capability of emitting contextually appropriate behavior at those regions in the experiential continuum that involve response to novelty or automatization of information processing as a function of metacomponents, performance metacomponents, and knowledge-acquisition components.
THERE be two things, yea, three, which trouble the earth, and three for which the mind is boggled; the freshman composition, the exculpatory clarification of the official spokesperson, and the Definitive Findings of the Highly Qualified Professional of the Insubstantial.
What you see above is a quotation from Beyond IQ: A Triarchic Theory of Human Intelligence, by one Robert J. Stemberg. We found it in Science, in a review of said book. We are interested in intelligence, and would like to read anyone's speculations about it, but since we were unable to understand the review, we have no hope of understanding the book. We must rest content with the reviewer's summary:
The general message of Beyond IQ is that theories of intelligence have been dictated by available measures of intelligence and that a broader view must be taken. The locus of intelligence is not only in the individual, or only in behavior, or only in the context of behavior. The triarchic theory attempts to direct attention to all of these.
Our own "theory" of intelligence, we must confess, is not exactly triarchic. It isn't even biarchic. It is Monarchic. Whatever else the intelligent mind may be, it is surely a ruled mind, and ruled, furthermore, by some consistent and absolute sovereign, who favors no party and whose laws do not change with fashion or whim.
That isn't truly a theory, of course, but a metaphor. There is a difference, and the mighty quackeries of our time, which Peter Medawar* has called "the unnatural sciences," are preached and practiced by those who don't understand the difference, lacking, perhaps, the intelligence to understand it.
All the thinkers of the past thought about thinking, but the notion that intelligence can and should be "defined" has only recently come among us. It is mostly the invention of the psychologists, and especially the pet preoccupation of the educational psychologists, who want, like all educationists, not truly to know what something is but how to do something to other people. So it is that the reviewer can state as though it weren't preposterous the astonishing fact that "theories of intelligence have been dictated by available measures of intelligence." That is to say that those who have been busily "measuring" intelligence have consistently done so in the absence of any clear idea as to what they should choose to measure. It is as though a man should presume to tell us all about seashells by pointing to the collection he assembled before he knew what seashells were, and claiming as well that his tin cans and candy wrappers were examples of various different sorts of seashells, which might even be seen as components, and the very stuff of metacomponents, of the capability of emitting contextually appropriate behavior in some as yet unknown species of clams and oysters.
And then there is that business about the "locus" of intelligence, which Sternberg has detected, if the reviewer has read him aright, "not only in the individual." A diverting thought. It almost makes us want to read the book. What other "locus" could he have in mind? Could his own thought about that locus be somewhere other than in mind? Is he, like the educationists, asserting that understanding an idea is like dragging a great block of stone up the side of a pyramid, a job that even very feeble people can bring off if only there are enough of them? Is it something spooky, like a Sinngeist, perhaps, an invisible vapor of intelligence that can be detected, but only by a Highly Qualified Professional, seeping forth from the assembled minds of the sixth grade rap session, or of Society as a Whole, or even, on a good day, of the House of Representatives?
What person needs to "define" intelligence, or compassion, or honor, or any other insubstantial and exclusively human attribute? For a person, it is enough continually to consider how to live in accordance with what he means by those terms, and whether he makes sense in his considering. That is already a mighty work. He who would instruct the rest of us as to what those insubstantials are, must have something other in mind than searching out the best truth he can discover and considering how he should live. He must be getting ready to tell us, and with "scientific" authority, how we should live.
Definers of the insubstantial are always agents. Their imagined definitions--whether of intelligence, or tolerance, or good citizenship--are always tendentious, always the groundwork for some agenda. Or have we missed something? Is there some other use than the social manipulations of schooling to which all intelligence testing and defining has been put? When the Great Triarchic Theory gains acceptance, will the understanding of some child be deepened, or will some Innovative Thrust be funded?
The wolf published his definitive findings as to Prudence, but the doe, wiser than we, chose not to read them.
IN FACT, we did have a little mail about a certain Jane Austin, an author hitherto but little known to most of our readers. We would love to give you the titles of some of her major, one might even say "pivotal," works, but we just don't happen to know of any.
To tell the truth, it was Jane Austen, with an "e," whom we had in mind. We are heartily in favor of the reader who wrote to say that we deserved all the cries of Fie! that we would get. We'll say it too. Fie!
It is a strange and interesting sort of mistake. A proofreader who misses it misses much more than a typo. An editor who lets it get by commits what is best understood as an irreverence, an act of disrespect. It could be excused only by the same ignorance that would disqualify him from his work. Had we discovered him out there in the world, we would speak thus to such an editor:
Think, continually, twerp, of those who were truly great. For your sake, for your goodness and for your joy, the great nourishing spirits, all of them mothers and fathers of us all, sought out truth, and left it here and there for us to find. Long dead, they speak to us still, and we, their dutiful children, are nourished by their words--by their very words, the signs they made on paper. We read, we mark, we learn, their words--nothing but their words. And the words are enough. All that we can know and understand comes from their words, and the words that we can come to speak by their teaching. Without the words of the truly great, we are brutes, and dumb.
Their very names command respect. Truth we love, but the truth-teller we love and praise as well, for there is no Truth but what some person has found and told. It was not out of heedlessness and haste that Jane Austen found and told you some Truth. But it was out of heedlessness and haste that you deprived her of praise and gave it to someone who isn't. Don't do it again.
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Neither can his mind be thought to
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* "Unnatural Science" is one of the many intelligent essays in Pluto's Republic, a good book for those who want to think. back