THE UNDERGROUND
GRAMMARIAN

Volume Ten, Number Five............September 1986

Injury and Insult in Orono

The University of Maine at Orono, as an equal opportunity educational institution, is committed to both academic freedom and the fair treatment of all individuals. It therefore discourages the use of sexist language. Language that reinforces sexism can arise from imprecise word choices that may be interpreted as biased, discriminatory, or demeaning even if they are not intended to be. Accordingly, all university communications whether delivered orally or in writing, shall be free of sexist language.

A THOUGHT that often haunts us is from Georges Bernanos. He suggested that modern society might be best understood as a vast, but unwitting, conspiracy against the inner life. That seems to us to be so, and important, for if there is some condition properly to be called "education," it can reside only within a person, in the life against which the world conspires. But, like much of what is so, it is not all that is so. That same world can also be seen as pampering and spoiling the inner life by according it unnatural power over the outer.

One of our less responsible staffers, not long ago, discovered an interesting quirk in the postal regulations having to do with the sending of pornography through the mails. The bright sword of bureaucracy had cut cleanly through the knotty problem of defining pornography by granting every receiver of mail the right to define it for himself. As far as we know, this is still the case, but we tell you that only because we are sure that you will not take advantage of that curious way of "defining," as our staffer, we regret to say, did.

His congressman sent him a pretty calendar, with a picture of the Capitol. He took it to the local postmaster and filed a complaint against a sender of unsolicited pornography.

"So what's pornographic about this pretty calendar?" asked the postmaster.

Let it at least be said for our man that he did not try to make a case for the Capitol dome as a phallic symbol.

He knew his rights. He tartly replied, "That is not for you to ask. Read the regulations. According to your rules, whatever I say is pornographic, is pornographic. Please send it back with a stem warning that I will have no more of this." And back it went. (Congress, however, continues unabated.)

He did likewise with Easter seals and offers of unlimited credit. Prurient pleas from Ralph Nader, and filthy announcements of tire sales, and a vile postcard from a friend who was touring the continent, he sternly refused. A braver man would have done the same with the electric bill and the summons for jury duty, but he did what little a man can do in the face of the monster of preposterousness and absurdity.

Mischief, to be sure. But those who would grant one inner life the power to constrain another are asking for mischief, and should be given it.

So we have some good advice for the people who are trying to get their work done at the University of Maine up in Orono, students included. Know your rights! Remember always that your school has come out in favor of "the fair treatment of all individuals." What a pregnant phrase, sexistly speaking.

Never forget that "all individuals" includes cranks, jerks, persistent malcontents, fervid factionalists, religious maniacs, self-appointed thought police, ism-sniffers of every stripe, and even paranoid schizophrenics. Flat Earthists and vegetarians have just as much right to preserve their self-esteem, and rest secure in their faith, as Anabaptists and neo-conservatives. Should you not happen to be any of those, don't despair. Fake it. You'll think of something.

Remember that sexism is only one of the dozens and dozens of nasty isms that have recently been discovered among us, and that there are countless words and phrases whose mere appearance on a page might make you feel less cheerful and confident than you would prefer to feel. Look for offense, and study irascibility. Never forget that fair treatment and unfair treatment are whatever you say they are, and that, "even when not intended to be," words that you would prefer not to have read are unfair treatment. And that's not all. What free American would be willing to settle for nothing more than protection against unfair treatment? Go all the way, and demand Fair Treatment, which is, never forget, whatever you want it to be. Where Perception is the King, let it reign!

Faculty members might begin, for instance, by reading, with an exciting new sharpness, the third paragraph of the document quoted above, which is some sort of putout from some outfit suspicionably called "Public Information and Central Services." (Hmm. Is that to say that there is some private information that they don't give us?)

Who can feel warm and comfy to read:

Supervisory personnel have a particular responsibility to discuss this policy with faculty and staff and to make available to them guidelines on non-sexist language. Guidelines of the American Psychological Association on the use of non-sexist language provide direction and are recommended because they are brief and list examples...

Now that passage just brims over with language that, whether so intended or not, will make many people feel far less satisfied with themselves than they would like to feel. For instance:

Rankism. "Supervisory personnel" are wiser than faculty and staff, who do some lesser kind of work here at UM, and who need the guidance of their betters in the delicate matter of fairness? Is the assistant dean for attitude control to counsel a wise professor of Home Ec. and Family Dynamics, who has been preaching attitude control for years'?

Disciplinism. Why a psychological handbook? Is that to suggest that there is more understanding of the inner life of human beings in the department of psychology, where notorious meat-heads imagine that they can measure everything from creativity to angst, than in the department of philosophy, or history, or literature? Is that what "supervisory personnel" have discovered in their wisdom? And what about the phys. ed. folk? Haven't they been the experts of character building, along with the chaplain, for donkey's years?

Fair, after all, is fair: and all individuals are all individuals. The only fair way to ensure the fair treatment of all individuals is to establish a Committee of the Whole to study the possibility of forming an All-University Task Force for studying the possibility of a Draft Proposal for Universal Fairness Guidelines to be implemented, if implemented, by a Universal and Perpetual Fairness Control Board under the Joint Supervision of All Individuals. Anything less might turn out to be fair only to a number of individuals less than all. Intolerable!

And in the meantime, until universal justice is established among us, let every apparatchik in Central Services, as well as every member of Supervisory Personnel, mind only his own damn business.

A Nation Bamboozled

For the first time there is now a body of information that we can pass on to new teachers about what does and does not work in the classroom. Ten years ago, this body of research did not exist.

Robert D. Barr, Education Dean,
Oregon State University

WE are of two minds, at least, about the teacher competence test business. There are some things that a teacher ought to know because they are things that anybody should know, and some things that a teacher ought to know if he puts himself forth to teach those things. But is there anything that a teacher ought to know beyond all that--anything that pertains essentially and exclusively to the art of teaching?

As schoolteachers all over the land try to learn long division and when to put i before e and vice versa, we keep remembering that Epictetus would have failed any TeachComp test now going, even in Texas.

As to the ability, or, for that matter, the inclination, of a board of government employees to discover what it is that makes an Epictetus, we are of one mind. But that, to us, at least, utterly incapacitating disability is obviously not going to spoil the fun of those who imagine that such a board of glib examinees turned examiners is just what we need to bring about a golden age of education in America, and to compete successfully with those feisty Japanese.

It is easy to forget that this latest What to Do About Those Schools Report was concocted by a outfit called the Carnegie Forum on Education and the Economy. Like all of its predecessors (how many have there been?), it discovered that it would not be able to do its assigned job if it wasted any of its time in trying to define "education" in any way that might distinguish that condition from the acquisition of skills and the implantation of beliefs. As the recent federal ProComm concluded that, while they couldn't define pornography, they could know it when they saw it, the Carnegie Forum said that it could define the Economy, and that education must be whatever the schools could provide for the health of same.

The Forum was made up of weighty citizens, government apparatchiki and erstwhile of same, known achievers in the business world, and two unionists. The unionists, having once been schoolteachers, and having also found that life not sufficiently suited to their interests and talents, are now being put forth as perfectly satisfactory representatives of all teacherdom, lest the public imagine that teachers were left unconsulted in this serious matter. Epictetus was not a member of the Forum, but, in any case, he would not have represented teacherdom as it now is any more appropriately than two unionists.

And that gives us to think. There is, as far as we can tell, having run out of time for the reading of all these reports, nothing terribly bad in the suggestions of the Carnegie Forum. Technical and vocational training are good things, and working for one's living is a good thing. And those are good things not because they will bring us to compete better with the Japanese, but because they are at least conducive to self-discipline and self-government. A good purpose, not a bad one, is served in teaching children how to move gracefully through the world in which we all must live, not so that they may "relate to self and others" in some currently acceptable fashion, but so that they may live in such a way as to discover the merits of that "cheerful and temperate disposition" without which neither rich nor poor, neither young nor old, can hope for happiness.

Nor is there anything bad in their suggestions for the certifying of teachers. Certainly a physics teacher should know physics, and know it well, and a German teacher ought to know the prepositions that take the dative and a lot more. Elementary teachers should be not just OK but pretty damn good at reading and writing and arithmetic. Such things can be measured, and should be. But everybody--well, almost everybody--has always known that. So the Forum's suggestion that the measuring should be done by the only people who don't know it, the educationists who have brought us where we are, is bad.

Bad, too, and surely the result of an ignorance that the unionists could perhaps have dispelled but didn't, is their naive suggestion that education kourses should be taught in graduate schools to students who already have degrees in subjects. Anyone who knows anything about the teacher academies knows that such a scheme will require, and bring forth, nothing more than a change of some numbers in the catalog, and also that students who already have any decent grounding in academic studies will turn either to drugs or mayhem if forced to endure that rubbish at any level.

Nevertheless, the report urges many obviously good things. They are, to be sure, exactly the same obviously good things urged, after about three seconds of deliberation, by the man who came to repair our postage machine, and at no extra cost to us or anyone, but they are good things and should be done. In fact, however, they will not be done, no matter how elaborate a machine is designed to do them, for the machine will be operated by none other than the Robert Barr quoted above, along with countless others of his kind.

Educationists have short memories. It is a protective device, lest they come to notice their own follies. Unlike Barr, we can remember "ten years ago." We were right here, writing about the Barrs and their pronouncements of "new" understandings. Ten years ago they were saying what every generation (which is just about ten years) of educationists has said: "Well, maybe we have made some little mistakes, but now, by golly, now we know what to do!"

If those people have anything to do with the coming Great Reform, there is no hope. But it is to them, of course, and only to them, that well-meaning innocents like the Carnegie concocters will always turn, like the desperate wife who believes, that this time her husband really will give up gambling.

They will not turn to Epictetus. But, in truth, why should they? What would he know of their real problems, which are not problems of education at all, not thoughtful reflections on the birth and nurture of mindfulness, but problems of what is best understood as "schooling." Schooling is a political entity as well as a vast collective enterprise directed by no particular mind, and operated by countless hired hands, most of whom work truly not so much for schooling as for government, of which schooling is only one minor department.

The logistics of schooling are horrid to contemplate. Five days a week, millions of Americans play their tiny parts in an enterprise far more complicated than the invasion of Normandy. So it's a mess? Well, what else would it be? Those who run it have to deal with the brake linings of the busses just as well as with the question of who rides the busses. They have to attend to the contents of the coleslaw in every cafeteria just as carefully as they must stand guard over the contents of the books. If the problem of separating the competent teachers from the clowns seems enormous, so too is the problem of keeping athlete's foot out of the locker-room. In fact, schooling will never go smoothly; at best, it will muddle through. And its relation to education will never be more than accidental and rare.

Education arises in one and only one circumstance: a thoughtful conversation between two people. And if one of them happens to be dead, like Epictetus, or fictitious, like Faust, it doesn't matter.

We would applaud the work of the Carnegie Forum, and other such outfits, if only they would stop lying and remove from all their reports the word "education." Let them fix schooling a little, with an eye to the chance that education might occasionally erupt in it.

Innovation Abstracts Abstracts

WE have finally figured it out. Innovation Abstracts, which is sent to us in a plain brown envelope with no return address, is surely not published, as the masthead says, by the National Institute for Staff and Organizational Development. How could such an outfit exist? The whole thing is a clever ruse, suckering fruitcake educationists into blowing their own little horns in print, thus commending, all unwittingly, that universal law of Justice by which those who seek the glory of self-commendation are automatically deprived, without even noticing it, of the protection of the Fifth Amendment.

We now have Vol. VII, No.16. (The numbers are fake.) Both its articles are confessions of the sort that must be extracted, except from educationists, by electrical devices. In one of them, a certain Andrew Bulleri is boasting of that fact that the community college of which he is president is attracting students by holding "mathematics competitions" in local high schools. "In the final analysis [where else?]," he says:

the math competition has done exactly what we hoped it would do. It has created great enthusiasm: most teams wear matching T-shirts, and some have even written and performed their own cheers. [The italics are ours.]

Yeah. Exactly what they hoped. There is just no getting these people away from group cheers and T-shirts. They are, in fact, an interesting primitive culture, a tribe of easygoing food-gatherers whose cave paintings (done by committees) are always of themselves and all their nifty doings, and whose bumper stickers read "Honk If You Love Mathematics."

The other piece is by, and about, of course, a convert to the tribe of educationists. Although he came from what he calls "a field position with Commerce Clearing House"--about as likely as that National Institute for SOD--he is now in what he calls "academia," teaching some sort of business course at a certain Hazard Community College in Hazard, Kentucky.

(No, we don't make those names up. Some greater power always seems to provide them for us. And we have no more idea than you as to exactly what a "field position" is. Shortstop, maybe.)

If you want to shine as an innovator, you must preserve intact your ignorance. The more you know about the history and tradition of your calling, the more likely you are to notice that something you would like to do is actually a few years older than the hills. Consider how little you had better know, for instance, to imagine that you have made a great leap forward in the life of the mind by giving your students play money in the place of grades--and play money of the playest kind--entirely imaginary.

"I give," says Richard Crowe of Hazard, "four tests during the term, each worth $40. The comprehensive final exam is worth $100."

He has a little price list of what is worth what. Students have to "earn" $240 to get an A, or, perhaps, earn an A to get $240. Whatever. Who cares.

What makes this silly old gimmick interesting in this case, however, is the strange "conclusion" that Crowe draws from his bold innovative thrust. "The dollar grading system," he says

is a simple addition to the straight points method of grading. It integrates more reality into business law classes and has worked well in my effort to provide a more meaningful classroom environment for my students.

School people, for some reason that we would like to understand, all seem to be experts in a very thorny matter--the nature and content of nothing less than Reality. Here is one who can not only tell what is real from what is not, but who can even "integrate" the more real where the less real--mere A's and F's, we presume--was . . . uh . . . unintegrated? Insufficiently integrated? Insufficiently real to be integrated? What can a man possibly mean, who says such words?

Although it often seems that schooling among us is sick unto death of ten thousand little disorders, there is in fact only one, of which all the others are but the outward and visible manifestations of the sickness within. Bad philosophy.

The school people neither know what they mean by Knowing, nor know that they do not know what they mean by Knowing. Because they do not consider and refine the meaning of their words--which is nothing less than the whole method of philosophy--they can imagine that a man has both said and done something when he has "integrated more reality" where before there was less.

Plato called complacent ignorance, the cheery glow of self-esteem that burns in those who imagine that they know, the most lethal sickness of the soul. It can not be cured, for the afflicted are quite content with themselves just as they are, and seek no remedy. And for the schoolers, remedy would mean the end of innovation as they know and love it.

The Underground
Grammarian

R. Mitchell, Assistant Circulation Manager
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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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