Volume Eleven, Number One............February 1987

Influxing Fun in Florida

Welcome to the twilight zone of professors. To put it politely, these guys are different. To put it bluntly, they are, at times, downright strange. But however strange or bizarre their methods might seem, they are as dedicated to teaching as anyone in their profession. ... Even though these profs have been known to smack ice cream cones into their foreheads, drill holes in desks, and dress up as Elton John, there's something serious going on here, something they take pride in--education.

From Today, a glossy PR poopsheet
published for some reason or other
by the University of Florida

IN the twilight zone of professors at the University of Florida, you will find, for example, David Denslow, or Dr. Dave to those who sit at his feet. He teaches in the College of Business Administration. He "teaches one live class in the morning, which is videotaped and replayed throughout the day."

Sometimes he breaks off his spiel and says, "Boy, there's something out there that's really destroying my concentration." (Pause.) "That jacket, that yellow jacket out there. Could you please take that off?" Then, a student planted in the back of the room takes off a jacket. But that's not all. The student then "speaks to the TV, telling Denslow his tie is too loud. Timing it perfectly, Denslow replies, ‘Oh, my tie is too loud? Sorry,' he says, taking it off." Then the tape is replayed through the day.

Denslow has also planted students instructed to hold up rutabagas, in which act they may well have found some pleasure not exactly anticipated by Dr. Dave. He sounds like the right man to hold up some rutabagas to. He has also jabbed himself in the forehead with an ice cream cone while doing his imitation of Gerald Ford, which deed may well have left some of his students not entirely displeased.

"I think I do it because I enjoy it," he says. That's what we think, too.

But he also has a "professional" justification: "The off-beat stuff I try to work into the very standard lectures, those that might get boring."

Well, Heaven knows, there are all sorts of things that might bore a student of business administration. It's probably best not to take any chances, especially where the dissemination of mere information is concerned.

The pain of study is also mitigated by Richard Lutz, a marketing teacher who is said to be "thirsting for a closer relationship with his students." So he brings his tool to class and drills a quarter-inch hole in the podium.

"They're completely blown away by the fact that I've drilled a hole in university property," he explains. "What this illustrates is a key marketing idea--that people buy quarter-inch holes, not quarter-inch drills."

Well, every discipline has depths of its own, and marketing may well have a few that are both key and obscure, and thus, apparently, utterly beyond the power of mere discourse to clarify. So what else is a man to do--especially since he is "as dedicated to teaching as anyone"--but to bring his drill to class and blow his students away? And who knows?--he may even have a little piece of the outfit that markets podiums to the state of Florida.

The list goes on. Sidney Homan brings down the house when he throws his bookbag to the floor and illuminates a passage from Romeo and Juliet: "What he's doing is trying to make out with her. Nowadays it doesn't take so long, it's ‘your place or mine.'"

Julian Pleasants breaks them up by going to class dressed as Clint Eastwood, complete with Colt .45, "to let the students see how long and heavy it was, and it was also a focal point from which to discuss violence in the Old West."

And then there is Stuart Schwartz, special educationist, and one of those people who has his students play video games with their feet so that they can relate to the handless. (As to whether he also has them play video games with their hands so that they can relate to the footless, we are not informed.) Schwartz tosses out small change to whichever of his students will laugh at his jokes, thus rolling them in the aisles whenever they roll in the aisles. When he runs short of change, he passes out coupons worth five points toward a student's grade, and seems to be trying to excuse himself for something or other by saying, "Besides, I pass out more coupons than money.

"To me," he explains, "if a professor doesn't influx some fun or humor or activity into the lecture, then he's not really tapping the learning that can take place."

Why the University of Florida would want such facts known, there is no knowing. Perhaps it has something to do with a perfectly justifiable, and even praiseworthy, institutional death-wish. Or perhaps the weighty right hand of deliberate mindfulness that surely dwells in the president's office just doesn't know what the left hand of flackery is doing down in the cellars of public relations.

No matter. The whole business is a comforting display of the benefits we reap from the First Amendment, by whose power fools are so easily led into foregoing the protection offered them by the Fifth. And, unlike the antics of the twilight zone profs, the account of same is truly educational.

In the dialogue called Gorgias, Socrates defines flattery, which he calls a knack learned by experience, and contrasts it with medicine, which he calls an art derived from principles. The aim of the flatterer is to provide pleasure, without any consideration of whether the recipient should have that pleasure, and that of the physician, to provide what is good for the recipient whether pleasant or not.

Of the latter, the true teacher is the most complete example; of the former, the competent whore. When the teacher fails, the good that was to be done is left undone, and that's bad; when the whore fails, some good that was never intended suddenly appears, and that's great. It's funny, too.

All The Books They Have

The curse word's in this book is not fit for kid's to read. If this is all the books you have, heaven help..... I never let my kids hear these word's around my house. Why should they read them in your book's? Your book is not fit to even talk about.

THAT IS, of course, a letter to a teacher from an Irate Parent. Countless thousands of such are sent every year, and the schoolers are at a loss to answer them. The only right answer would require of them conscious and thoughtful devotion to Truth, but their principles, and their principals, do not permit Truth.

Although those few schoolers on whom it has actually dawned will never mention or admit it, there is, at the heart of government schooling, a great theme on which everything done there is a variation. It is simply this: Almost everything that is done in the schools, everything from teaching children to tie their shoes to leading them--should such a possibility ever arise--into the powers of thoughtful self-knowledge, is intended either to make up for some deficit in their parents or, in many cases, to intervene between helpless children and parents who are just no damn good to them at all

We approve that theme. And so too would any thoughtful and honest parent. Who is without deficits, both of character and knowledge? Who is, alone, capable of bringing his own children or others into the power of rational discrimination informed by the widest possible acquaintance with the measureless range of human experience? A thoughtful parent can be nothing but grateful to a teacher who, in some respect at least, truly knows better, and more.

There is, of course, a truthful answer to that Irate Parent. But, by the power of a deficit in him that might have been remedied by the schoolers he now castigates, but wasn't, he will take no betterment from the answer. It is too late--too late both for him and his child. And, in any case, it is not an answer that a government agency can dare to give to one of its patrons. Had he sought out and hired a teacher for his child, that teacher might well say: Having chosen me for this work, you will either have to trust that I know better than you how to accomplish it, or go and find some other teacher for your child. But an agent of government can not afford to commend the competition.

Thus it is that such Irate Parents must be answered with weaseling, or silence, or politic obsequiousness, or, which is most customary, by pious slogans about "censorship." And thus it is, too, that when an Irate Parent makes a truly important point, it is neglected and lost. Faced with a page-by-page count of the words said to be "never used in this house," the schoolers can turn, even if they have to hire consultants to help them, to "literary" appreciations, but when a man asks, "Are these the only books you have," they seem not to notice.

There are some questions that even a thoughtful and informed parent would ask: Must there really be four-color advertisements for pop stars on the music room wall? Do the children really have to relate to the Bushman experience? Do you really have to provide the sixth-graders with rap-sessions on abortion and displays of break dancing? And are these really the only books that you have?

We found that letter in an elegant journal called Aristos: The Journal of Esthetics. It stood as an epigraph to a piece called "The Misreading of Literature," by one Michelle Marder Kahmi. The book to which the letter referred is an autobiographical novel by Robert Newton Peck, A Day No Pigs Would Die. Kahmi begins with a careful and convincing defense of the book, which we have not read, and goes on in similar vein in a consideration of the currently notorious Catcher in the Rye. It was all familiar and expectable stuff, and directed, of course, to the great, and certainly present, danger posed by ignorant "would-be censors," who have indeed, as the author puts it, "demonstrated a failure in overall comprehension of the text." Having ourselves failed in "overall comprehension" of more texts than we can count, we find her analysis reasonable, and her commentary on those works that we do know useful and correct. We would therefore like to be more sympathetic to her work than we are, but she too, just like the schoolers, has neglected the important question in the letter. In her case, furthermore, the fault is the greater, for, while little understanding should be expected of the schoolers, Kahmi stumbled over the truth, picked herself up, and went on.

Having disposed, we presume, of the "curse words" in Peck's book by commending "a prose style finely tuned to the spirit of the narrative," she goes on thus:

Moreover, A Day No Pigs Would Die is in every respect a highly moral story, celebrating time-honored American values: respect for moral order and productive work; family solidarity; individual courage, independence, and integrity.

We believe her, although we wonder how those time-honored values can be so particularly specified as "American." She has probably been infected by the typical obsequiousness of the schoolers, saying, in effect, to a hostile opponent, "Goodness gracious, don't you see that the values in this book are just what you, as a good American, would prize?" This is not a minor fault, for it shows that her intent is more polemic than esthetic.

Those virtues, however, are indeed virtues, and while their mere display or favorable mention is not enough to make a book a good book, their deprecation will, far more certainly than "curse words," make any book a bad book. We are convinced that Kahmi is right and Irate Parent wrong, that A Day No Pigs Would Die is not a bad book.

But is it really the only book they have, the only book that celebrates a respect for moral order and productive work, and family solidarity, and individual courage, independence and integrity? Are there, perhaps, other books, equally mindful of those time-honored virtues, that might have also the virtue of proving, if incomprehensible, nevertheless inoffensive to ignorant and illiterate parents who can make out little more than the four-letter words?

But it takes little imagination to guess what would happen in the junior high school now reading A Day No Pigs Would Die if someone were to suggest that it be replaced, for instance, with My Antonia, a novel to which, judging from what Kahmi says of it, Peck's book might well be related, and which has the further merit, in these days, of having been written by a woman, Willa Cather.

It won't do. It is old. Not relevant. Insensitive, its author not withstanding, to the plights of women and other oppressed minorities. It is not written, in any case, at an appropriate reading level, and it is not to be expected that the children will, or even should, look up words, or concentrate on figuring out the meaning of any passage that is not immediately clear. And, whether it has them or not, the opposite qualities, perhaps much to the author's chagrin, will be claimed for A Day No Pigs Would Die. But in fact, the demerit in My Antonia is that it will not serve pour épater anyone.

It is not because it is a "highly moral story" that Peck's book is so often assigned to junior high school students in the government schools. Nor is anyone in the school business surprised when some Irate Parent objects to it. It is chosen so that some Yahoo out there will object to it, at which time its moral qualities will provide the high ground on which the schoolers will stand, defending themselves from the Yahoos they gave us in the last generation, and wringing their hands about censorship.

For a government agency with an agenda for social management, it is not enough quietly to intervene between children and parents. It must also be seen to do so. Thus, every ignorant griper can provide new proof that we need government agencies with agendas for social management.

Fighters For Peace

Sparked by research in the early 1980s on youth's reaction to nuclear issues, the idea of teaching peacemaking has now filtered down to the youngest levels. But where older grades tend to focus their peace curriculum on the nuclear issues, the younger children are taught peacemaking on a more immediate level. For one thing, "there aren't a lot of kids who are afraid of a nuclear threat," says Nancy Carlson-Paige, an early childhood specialist at Lesley College, Cambridge, Mass.

Christian Science Monitor, Dec. 22, 1986

FROM TIME TO TIME we have these moments of placidity, in which we forget that we live in a land where it is necessary to build high steel mesh fences, concentration camp style, on highway overpasses, so that children will not be able to drop concrete blocks onto cars passing below. But something always comes along to remind us that there is, in the way we live, and in the way we rear our young, some mysterious and seemingly ineradicable wrongness.

This time, we have been brought back to what is unaccountably called "reality" by Ms. Carlson-Paige, early childhood specialist, and enterprising educationist. Like many of that breed, she apparently makes a living not by teaching anybody anything, but by cooking up programs by which schools can achieve at least three attractive goals at once: the displacement of dull discipline with the chummier, and significantly unmeasurable, pursuit of consciousness-raising; the demonstration of new and pressing needs for money, bodies, equipment, and lots of "instructional material" as turned out by Carlson-Paiges; and a new set of tassels for the Garment of Righteousness in which the school people love to be clothed.

Peace Education, however, seems to be in trouble, and in need of what the schoolers call a new "population." The young teenagers, of course, were suitably terrified by Hiroshima and Nagasaki without being confused by Warsaw or Pearl Harbor, but the littler kids remain obstinately impervious to fear of the nuclear threat. In that unseemly oblivion, they constitute, perhaps, a threat to perpetual peace, and, certainly, a threat to the prosperity of the drawers-up of Peace Education Curricula.

So Carlson-Paige and one Diane Levin, also a fighter for peace, have cooked up a swell "peace curriculum for preschoolers," to be dished up, we have to presume, in preschool. One of its ideas is that, wherever little children are gathered together, there should be made available a conference table at which disputes over crayons and blocks must be settled. This will demonstrate that "negotiation is not a wimpy, but a valuable thing to do." It serves also to "empower the weak one" and "to show the bullies alternative ways to meet their needs besides pushing and grabbing."

Since all of this peace education business puts itself forth as a way of ensuring the peace of the world at some time in the future, it depends on the possibility that some of the kiddies will grow up to be powerful politicians, and that when they have to confront the great issues of war and peace, they will proceed forthwith to the nearest conference table, there to meet "their needs" without pushing or grabbing, unless, of course, pushing and grabbing are their needs, as is often the case with bullies.

And, in that day, what big teacher will require of them that they sit and talk peace, and share out the crayons and blocks that they want to keep? What else but power itself will "empower the weak one," and where will he find it when the omnipotent preschool peacemaker is no longer around to enforce peace?

When the bully and the sissy go to the peace table, someone stronger than both of them together will prove the worth of war. They will negotiate by command of a power with which there is no negotiating. By coercion, they will be prevented from coercing one another, for now. They will hear from their preteacher the sweet talk of compromise and peace, and see in her deeds the awesome, and oh, so seductive, benefits of la force majeure. And when school is over, the bully is the one who can now exercise the power that the teacher was not reluctant to use in the schoolroom, and the sissy will either have to learn to keep a low profile or give thought to carrying around a big rock. And the teacher will go home full of the glow of virtue, having done her bit for the peace of the world and the future happiness of all personkind. And the Carlson-Paiges will have sold another packet of learning materials.

It is too simple to say that those school people don't mean what they say when they preach. In fact, they don't know what they are saying. They are not hypocrites, just fools. But to the children they seem to be liars, and thus the opposite of what they say might just be the truth. So some children will be unable to see any reason to refrain from dropping blocks of concrete onto the cars passing below.

Brief Notes

You should find, enclosed with this issue, an announcement of the first two titles in what we intend to be a continuing series of Leaflets for the Masses.

Leaflets for the masses will be devoted to the following:

Reprints of selected Grammarian essays since the time of those reprinted in The Leaning Tower of Babel. We are running out of back issues.

Occasional pieces of our own, either written originally for other journals, or too long for a regular issue.

Reprints of older works likely to be of interest to our readers, who are unlike most people. The first will be, of course, the Ben Jonson text from which our motto comes: "Neither can his mind be thought to be in tune, whose words do jarre; nor his reason in frame, whose sentence is preposterous."

Leaflets for the Masses will be in the form of stapled folio booklets with covers, and we will keep them both as handsome and as inexpensive as possible.

The Underground

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

Eight issues a year. Yearly subscription: Persons in USA & Canada, $15US;
Persons elsewhere, $20; Non-personal entities of any sort, $25, or even more.

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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