The Dumping Grounds
BY now, we have a shoebox half full of clippings about the great Kemp Hassle at the University of Georgia. What a mess.
Jan Kemp, who used to work in the remedial shop at UG, was denied re-appointment by one Virginia Trotter, the academic vice-president of the plant. A ruckus ensued, Kemp claiming that she was being punished for failing some football players, and Trotter claiming that Kemp was just no good. It's a sleazy, typical tale of Academe.
All of this began back in 1981, and seems to have been related to a game that some school children were to play in the Sugar Bowl, or perhaps not to play, depending on who could do what to whom. At this writing, a jury has awarded Kemp a little more--if seventy thousand can be thought "little"--than two and a half million dollars, of which one and a half million were specifically levied as punitive damages against Virginia Trotter. The assistant vice-president, a certain Leroy Ervin, was hit for eight hundred thousand. The rest was "lost wages."
The whole smelly mess, suggests, we hope, the shape of things to come in all "higher education" in America. A fate most richly deserved.
Our readers send us many examples of written inanity, and from the disproportionately numerous examples of the work of the mind as done by "academic" VP's, we guess that the title is like the "doctor" in Doctor J. Folksy.
Virginia Trotter, the director of the life of the mind at the University of Georgia, is a reupholstered home economics teacher. She is not, however, without a list of "publications," so useful in determining genuine academic status. Her works include "No-Stoop--No-Stretch Kitchen," and "Cleaning Supplies--Keep Them Handy."
It was she who decided, when nine schoolboys responded but ill to the remediation of Jan Kemp, that they were to be "administratively exited" into the regular curriculum, whose requirements are obviously less rigorous, so that the children could play their game. Of that decision, she said, in the great tradition of academic vice-presidents everywhere, "I would rather err on the side of making a mistake."
UG's defense attorney, Hale (Friends Like These) Almand opened his case by saying, "We may not make a university student out of him, but if we can teach him to read and write, maybe he can work at the post office rather than as a garbage man when he gets through with his athletic career." Fred Davison, the president of UG, further enlightened the jury as to the meaning and purpose of higher education in America by saying, "If they leave us being able to read, write and communicate better, we simply have not done them any harm." Vince Dooley, Athaletic Director, told it like it is, explaining that higher entrance requirements for athaletes would mean that "The athaletic program would not be able to compete at any level, and the chances are I would not be the football coach or the athaletic director." And Heywood Hale Broun, even before the trial opened--half a century before, in fact--noticed that "Sports do not build character, they reveal it."
The New York Times quotes Harry Edwards, sports statistician:
Five percent of high school athletes pursue basketball, baseball or football on the college level. Only 1.7 percent of those eligible to enter professional sports at the end of their collegiate careers do so. In the last decade, the average professional career in those sports was three years. In three years, over sixty percent of the athletes who entered the pros are back on the streets.
As to whether they are picking up junk on the streets, or delivering junk mail on the streets, deponent saith not.
The most astute observations that we have heard on this matter come from Frederic Allen, who is the political editor of the Atlanta Constitution. He is, as far as we know, the only one to notice, or to be willing to announce, that the pot and the kettle are not easily to be distinguished, and that Jan Kemp's claim to academicism is a little like Virginia Trotter's. One of the remediationist's self-recommendations, for instance, was the claim to have served as a consultant to King Faisal University. Her claim was revealed, in the course of the trial, to be based on the fact that she had once sent some "instructional materials" to a friend who later took a job at good "ol' KFU, the home of the Fighting Sultans."
A NY Times editorial concluded that "Mrs. Kemp's victory in court vindicates her long protest." True, but not to the point. One Ed Davis, who "monitored" the trial for the American Association of University Professors, called it "a victory for academics." Wrong. There is nothing "academic" at issue here. Had those children "passed" the Bonehead English course, they would still have been left to choose between the garbage and the junk mail.
Frederic Allen got it right, in saying of the University of Georgia, "Its teachers and leaders have been made to look ridiculous. You can't call yourself a consultant if you mail booklets to Riyadh, and you can't call yourself a university if you accept students who can't read." We would presume to correct him in only this: that this is not a case merely of looking ridiculous. And as to that passive--"having been made to look ridiculous"--we would like the names of the makers.
Like more and more of our colleges and universities, especially those owned and operated by government, the University of Georgia has noticed that there is big money in waste disposal. Where else but in schools can we find the equivalent of kollege kredit kourses like "Library Orientation," "First Aid," and "The World of Manufacturing," all designed to "do no harm" to incipient postal workers? And where else can they find employment--the teachers of those trashy courses? And where but in some school can they be dumped--the unfortunate children who have been led to believe that they can make livings, and cushy ones, with their bodies? Where else but in academic administration can we dump the Fred Davisons,* the educrats whose versions of "The Idea of a University" would fit on the backs of match-book covers with space left over for snappy pictures?
We hope to see lots more of this. If the schools, well equipped with clowns, want to make money with circuses, let them buy their trained animals. Trick dogs and musical seals already have diplomas, prancing ponies have proven their competence, and menageries of well-trained beasts, with all their keepers and trainers, would cost much less than a School of Remediation, with its facilitators and supernumeraries.
Nowadays, everybody, well, almost everybody, knows all about the "worth" of a "college education," though many of us imagine that it is a bit more than the difference between trash collection and zip-code comprehension. But how do we measure the "worth" of the college? What do they hold worthy, all the Davisons and Trotters and Dooleys and Ervins who run the schools? And what do they hold worthy, who run all the Davisons and Trotters and Dooleys and Ervins who run the schools?
Jan Kemp was asked by a university apparatchik whether she thought she was worth as much to the school as an athlete. Considering the school's definition of "worth," it was a fair question, and the answer was surely No. So we have advice for all the Jan Kemps.
Flunk every athlete they send you. An F, as any teacher knows, can always be justified. Fight about it. Let them fire you. Then sue the bastards for all they're worth, which is exactly the same as all their worth. It's just money.
IN Texas, many schoolteachers marched in the streets to display their dislike of a state-mandated competence test for schoolteachers. In their innocency--for they can hardly be expected to judge of such things for themselves--they followed the example of their administrators by calling it a test of "competency." Fine distinctions do not interest them.
One of the picketers carried a scrawled sign asking: "Did Ronald Reagan have to take a competency test for his job?" It reminded us of another such test, which used to be required of would-be schoolteachers in California in 1875. One of its questions, one of its easier questions, required the candidate, to name five powers vested in Congress.
And we wondered: would he who made that sign be able to name five powers, or any powers at all, vested in Congress? Does he truly imagine, and do his co-picketers imagine, that presidents are hired by boards of citizens? That can't be. They may never have read even the Declaration of Independency, but they must remember having once voted for somebody or other for that office.
What sort of people are these teachers, that they can not only tolerate but even flaunt a childish false analogy in support of their claim to be fit mentors of the life of the mind in young children? Why did they not send that fellow packing, lest he disgrace their cause?
Socrates and Glaucon concluded that these qualities were proper to those fit to guide others: The spirit of truthfulness, reluctance to admit falsehood in any form, the hatred of it and the love of truth. For those qualities there is a test, an utterly objective and unbiased test at that. As far as we can tell, every single schoolteacher in Texas flunked it, and, if there were such a thing as a wise governor, he would send all of them packing.
Bobby Reads the Big Book
WE do love a rousing bout of theology. We are experts on God. About God, we know as much as anybody. Nothing. Nothing at all. Theology is the most democratic of all mental exercises, a game played on an unlined field, with no rules, no ball, no referees, and millions and millions of cheering fans, of whom some carry the Uzi, and some the Kalashnikov.
And we love to hear from the experts on God, who are, thank goodness, not at all rare. Thanks to a recent editorial in the NY Times, copies of which were sent in by numerous readers, we have now heard from one Robert B. Mozert, Jr., Theologian of Church Hills, Tenn.
Mozert is marching as to war against the threat of "new-age religion," whose influence can be seen, for instance, in roadside signs bearing icons of beds and fuel pumps and such, all of which are incentives to non-verbal communication. Bad. Against God. And he finds even worse in this passage from one of those silly "reading" books:
Pat has a big book. Pat reads the big book. Jim reads the big book. Pat reads to Jim. Jim cooks.
Unless you are a theologian too, and if you have not guessed that Pat is short not for Patrick but for Patricia, you will have missed the implication of that passage, which is that God has not assigned the task of cooking to women, as Bobby Mozert, who is a Big Reader of the Big Book, knows that He has.
Bobby is just one of a swarm of religionists who have come up with a neat idea. All that silly stuff that goes on in schools, all that rapping and appreciating, esteeming and awareness enhancing, all that sentimental pap about self and others, in short, the whole system of belief out of which educationists have established training camps for the manipulation of the Affective Domain, all of that is a religion. As such, it is not entitled to "establishment," and its promulgation in government schools is unconstitutional. We love it.
Given what is almost certainly Bobby's definition of a "religion," a club of true believers is a club of true believers. Some such definition must have been in the mind of one Judge Brevard Hand (but not, as he claims, in the Constitution), when he gave the Bobbyists a break in a Federal court in Alabama. He opined that "the constitutional definition of religions encompasses more than Christianity, and prohibits as well the establishment of a secular religion." That, too, we love.
By that definition, which we ardently hope to see adopted as the law of the land, trade unions and gun clubs, special interest groups like Republicans and Democrats, to say nothing of the evangelists, preachers, and prophets who run the educationalistic seminaries of the land, will suddenly find themselves disestablished. All clubs of true believers will become outfits concerning which "Congress shall make no law." Billions will be saved. Lobbyists and coordinators, grant-grubbers and change agents, enhancers and facilitators beyond counting, all will end up selling apples in the streets, and the land will have rest.
The Times editorial said of Bobby's crusade that it is "no isolated case of know-nothing alarmism," which is far righter than the writer probably meant to be. If these silly fundamentalists have multiplied prodigiously in recent times, and grown more and more pugnacious and intrusive, it is because the propensity for officious ideological prying has been systematically inculcated in millions and millions of students for more than half a century. It is in the government schools that children are trained to believe that it is both their right and their duty to inquire into and meddle with everybody else's feeling, beliefs, and values, lest they be left in error. It is in school, where a rigid ideological orthodoxy is marvelously combined with the notion that truth is relative and all facts "mere," that know-nothingism is learned, and minds so disordered that there is no Bobby in the land, however patently silly, who lacks a devoted and numerous following.
When people are taught that feelings and beliefs are not only knowledge, but even a better kind of knowledge than "mere" knowledge, they can all be theologians. And there is no war more bitter than the war between true believers of different persuasions, who differ, like Bobby and the schoolers, in particulars only, and not by one iota in principle.
The Revenge of the Walking Dead
The content, the learning processes, the academic settings, and the expectations for the student products are differentiated. Both instruction and content is adapted. Literature selected for study will be challenging to the most able students. Students are afforded the maximum responsible degree of independence in identifying learning activities, products and assessments. Continuing emphasis is placed on going beyond the skills of knowledge, acquisition and recall to the use of higher level thinking/processing skills of application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation. Instruction affords opportunities to integrate literature, language and composition, as well as incorporating relevant learning from other content areas. Content is selected on the basis of its potential for providing simultaneously progressive, nonrepetitive skill development.
The Honors English Program at Herbert Hoover Junior High, in Rockville, Maryland
THOSE words were discovered by Bob Levey, a chatty and readable columnist for the Washington Post. We suspect that it was his own child who brought them home, having been given them in the school office. Bright kid. Not because he was interested in Honors English, probably a bad idea, but because he knew that he had stumbled on treasure, and he knew what to do with it.
Levey chatted with the lady "responsible"--le mot juste, n'est-ce pas?--for the Honors English of Herbert Hoover. (God seems big on irony.) She declined to give her name for publication, but she did say that such stuff was "not the kind of thing we usually let go through to 13-year-olds." But she also said that "puzzling out language like this is good training for future life," and why she would want to deprive 13-year-olds of such nifty training for future life, which is, after all, the only kind of life they have, we just can't fathom. Must be some real professional reason that mere laymen can never understand.
This real professional official school lady, while she did proclaim that that was the sort of language the schools use all the time in course descriptions, did not name the author of the piece in question. Well, maybe she did. Maybe "the schools" write such things, for all we know. It could well be that we are seeing here an astonishing, and hitherto all unheralded, breakthrough in the exciting new field of artificial intelligence. Schools that write. And why not? Are there not offices and agencies and even committees that write? Have we not all had letters and memoranda from desks?
That would certainly explain a lot. The tone of the passage is, well, how shall we say, bricky, or perhaps even cinder-blocky. And not merely official, but positively edificial. And of such a passage, even the sternest critic would have to say that, for a building, especially for a building named after Herbert Hoover, it's a damn fine piece of work.
But alas, while the idea is seductive, we cannot embrace it. As it happens, we know who wrote that passage. It was none other than the Great Zombie of the Schools, the soulless spirit of Nobody At All who writes all their stuff.
What you hear in that passage--do read it aloud--is the Great Voice of Policy, mumbling and muttering from the Underworld of Dead Minds the ritual phrases and slogans of Educationism. In this case, it is not amid radiant orbs that no human voice or sound is found, but amid the hordes of the Walking Dead, who have passed long ago away and out of self into the Greater Realm of Collective Mind. In schools, there is no one at home, no person who can say, It is I who speak; these are my words, and I mean them.
Nor is there, obviously, any person who will actually be doing anything in teaching the honorable English course. Can we hope that some mind will "differentiate" those processes, settings, and expectations, or will they, through the agency of ectoplasm, be differentiated? If instruction and content "is" adapted, what unseen adapter adapts, and with what in mind? By what spectral hand is content selected?
We can of course sympathize with the exasperation out of which Bob Levy imagined that he could actually talk to somebody at Herbert Hoover Junior High, and we can even believe that he imagines that he did talk to somebody. But he didn't. He talked to a spooky answering machine. When we inquire into the meaning of what is said, we inquire really into the work of the mind in the sayer, and seek its clarification or ours. Of what is said above, there is no sayer, and to complain of it in any way is to complain that your ouija board just can't spell worth a damn.
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Neither can his mind be thought to
be in tune, whose words do jarre;
* Davison's reappointment was recently
"deferred" by the regents in Georgia. He huffed and puffed thus: "I consider
the deferral of my reappointment a personal and professional insult and
a questioning of my integrity which I will not tolerate."