THE UNDERGROUND
GRAMMARIAN

Volume Thirteen, Number Seven............November 1989

Come, Let Us Prey!

WHERE THE CARCASS lies, there the vultures will gather. The hyenas too, and the jackals. It's easy pickings, except for the occasional squabbles among the scavengers. But scavengers aren't really fighters, and no one gets hurt. All in all, it's not a bad life for the vultures and the hyenas and the jackals, who have even earned themselves, if not friendship, at least our thanks and admiration for the work they do--the removal of the putrid. It's a nasty job, but somebody has to do it. Better them than us, no?

And so, we do not know exactly what judgment to make of Richard Lipkowitz and Salvatore Stazzone, or of their whistle-blowing wired-for-sound pal Colman Genn. They are surely hard at work, and we have no doubt that they're great bunch of guys, but shall we thank and admire them for gnawing on the rancid remains of School District Twenty-seven, or is there another judgment that we ought to consider?

Colman Genn is the superintendent of that district. He must have found Jesus, or something. He started wearing a tape recorder in some inconspicuous place so that he might pass on some deliberations of the board, and other bits and pieces of juicy stuff from various related meetings and phone conversations, to the Gill Commission, whose official title is the Joint Commission on Integrity in the Public Schools. (A clear case of ipsos custodes, we suspect, but that is a story we probably won't be able to tell for a while.)

The Commission found itself interested in the mighty cause of Values Teaching in the Schools when an audit turned up the fact that District Twenty-seven had spent, in just eight months, $11,025 in what have been named, perhaps by a values teacher in the phone company, "specialty calls." (Specialty calls pronounced, we would guess, spe-shee-al-i-ty, are the calls that get you some dynamite chicks who will either breathe heavily or listen to you breathing heavily, or some other such relating to self and/or others. It's, well, it's like a socialization or self-esteem enhancing hands-on exercise. Some of them, probably the best ones, cost thirty-five bucks for the first minute.)

There were other charges, too, in that period--$20,880 dollars for directory assistance, possibly for board members and apparatchiks who are not all that familiar with alphabetical order, and another $18,386 in late charges. Quality education does not come cheap.

Whether after some discussion of these matters, or for some other reason, Superintendent Genn agreed to go forth from the Commission hearing room wired for sound. Neat, eh? Sort of like Miami Vice, but better. Closer to home. Everybody, after all, can find a school board right here in town. And maybe everybody should, come the think of it.

Lipkowitz and Stazzone were two of the Educators of Queens taped by Genn. Stazzone is a member of the board, and Stazzone is a gym teacher. When Stazzone decided to put aside his own selfish concerns and work for the common good by serving the public and the children of Queens as a humble member of the school board, it was Gym Teacher Lipkowitz who sprang to the fore and gave unstintingly of his time and talent to organize Stazzone's campaign. Well, gym teachers probably do have a little time on their hands, but still, such public service does make you proud to be an American.

And it was Lipkowitz the Moderate and Genteel who said on the telephone to Colman Genn, "Let's take the whole store for years. But let's do it slowly, like gentlemen, and quietly." It's good to know that there are still some gentlemen left.

In another telephone conversation, this one with Stazzone, it was Lipkowitz the Ruminative and Theoretical who said, "I've never heard the word ‘children' or ‘education' enter into our discussion in the last few years."

"With anybody," Stazzone added, with a little laugh.

And then there's James C. Sullivan, another board member--the treasurer of same, in fact. Genn got him pointing out the he was "a political leader," whose job it was to make sure that his people got jobs. He trotted out his list, further commending his candidates over others by pointing out that the district was hiring too many blacks and Jews.

Stazzone & Co., of course, have been at once paying off and establishing little political debts by hiring the right people to fill the numerous, hoked-up jobs that can easily be found--and, if absent, just as easily created--in any school district in the land. At one point in the tapes, Stazzone complains to Genn that his recommendations for paraprofessionals and teaching aids are being ignored by one Josephine Schwindt, District 27's deputy superintendent. Lipkowitz then suggests the he, Lipkowitz, and Stazzone come up with a new deputy superintendent and give Schwindt a little shove "sideways with dignity."

Now if you believe that there is one government agency in all of America in which such little deals are not cut every day, please send one hundred dollars for our list of hitherto unrevealed sayings of Nostradamus and baldness cures. We really have made the machine that Thoreau thought he had dreamed of only in metaphor--not the machine that must put up with its friction, but the machine whose very product is friction. It is just not the case that Stazzone & Co. are exploiters and spoilers. Education is a private and inward condition; schools run by governments are political contrivances. Education can be no more established by law than love or bravery, which may arise with or without the law, or even against it. But compulsory attendance and perpetual taxation can be enforced only by law, and law comes from politicians, and politicians got to be where they are by knowing how to take the whole store like gentlemen, and quietly. Sideways, with dignity.

At this writing, all board members in District 27 have been suspended. Gym teacher Lipkowitz is not answering his telephone, and Stazzone has an unlisted number. Sullivan says, "I have always acted in the best interest of children and parents. I'm confident I will be exonerated." Bernard Mecklowitz, who is the Chancellor of all this stuff in New York, has appointed three of his pals to take over the business of District 27, which has, after all, and annual budget of about ninety-six million dollars. The district attorney and the United States attorney have both taken an interest in the case.

It may be that Stazzone & Co. are in a little spot of trouble, having finally committed the one sin that politicians can't overlook--letting down the side.

But still, we can't help sort of liking those guys. They played the cards they had. We dealt them the cards. Just like the rest of us, they took care of their friends. One Lipkowitz is worth a hundred reformers any day. Just knowing about him will bring anyone to more thinking about the whole system, and the inevitability of politics in a political establishment. And, unlike many of the others who make their livings from the daily incarceration of millions of children, these men do not lie to themselves about what's going on. "We got a dirty district here," says Stazzone. He and his pals, and their counterparts everywhere, will perhaps not do, but surely bring about, more good than a whole convention of curriculum coordinators or a thousand Education Summits.

So we have decided what judgment to make of this great bunch of guys. They are OK. May their tribe increase. And you, just keep watching them all.

The Just Counselor

In a government high school in New York, a student found a purse that held about a thousand dollars in cash. She turned it in to the lost and found. That, frankly, does not surprise us. It is a deed that is properly, and very instructively, to be called "natural." Had she kept both her counsel and the money, that, of course, would be called "only natural." The distinction apparently intended by that term is intriguing.

Somebody--who and why we do not know--went around asking a strange question, and found not one adult in the whole school who was willing to go out on a limb and say that such a deed ought to be called "virtuous." And one of the student's teachers said, "If I come from a position of what is right and wrong, then I am not their counselor."

THE lady quoted above made her appearance in this sheet somewhere back in 1987, in a piece called "Pilgrims Progressive." She came to mind recently when we read a piece in the New York Times about Bill Bennett, who has moved from Education to drugs, which is not even on another floor but only just down the hall.

Where once, since parents must have been incapable of doing it, the school people had to teach children to blow their noses and tie their shoes, the school people now, obviously for the same reason, have to plant in the minds of the children the suspicion that drugs are not good for them. Accordingly, Bennett is just as interested in schools as he ever was, and always looking for ways in which the schools might strike a blow or two for Drugfree America. In fact, who can think it a bad idea?

So we would like to see some talk show host give an hour or two to a long heart-to-heart between Bennett and the lady schoolteacher quoted above. It goes something like this: Bennett tells her all about the drug mess, which is indeed as deadly and dangerous as it can be, and asks the lady to help by trying to convince her students not to do drugs. The lady replies, in perfect accordance of the great principles of modern educationism, and scrupulously avoiding any possible derogation of diversity, "If I come from a position of what is right and wrong, then I am not their counselor."

Bennett, of course, and he is a big, strong man, might throttle her on the spot, for which no jury would convict, but he also might think of something to say to her. That's what we'd like to hear. In fact, we'd like to hear Bennett, or anyone else, for that matter, say it aloud for all to hear.

Here's what Bennett did say recently to a Senate committee. "All we ask of Hollywood--and it's the same thing we ask of all the media--is tell the truth, tell the truth. Don't lie, don't overstate the damage, or the problem, or the risk." He then went out to Hollywood and said the same. Sounds like good advice.

Now Hollywood, of course, is a far saner, stabler, and one might say, even a far decenter place than the world of educationism, but even there Bennett ran into an interesting from of resistance.

Hollywood likes celebrities just as much as the school people do. An all-pro linebacker on the screen cheers the heart of the producer just as a poster picture of Michael Jackson cheers the heart of the music teacher. So, while Hollywood is happy to fight in the Great War on Drugs, it wants to fight as showbiz fights, with the big names and the familiar faces, stars of entertainment who used to use drugs, but who have, through brave determination against all odds, sort of like John Wayne, fought off the demon coke and returned to normal productive life either on the field or the sound stage. Bennett suspects, and he is right, that such displays are perhaps not the clearest and most useful statements possible about the life of the druggie. He would rather see a little more of what Hollywood hates as much as the schoolers hate, the dark side, the trash and the wreckage.

(He may also, of course, be thinking of the fact that some of those redeemed celebrities seem to find public confession so exciting that they manage to go through the whole cycle again. Or he may be, with us, wondering why it is that the drug treatment program funding enthusiasts never get around to mentioning the rates of cure achieved by drug treatment programs.)

Bennett's unpleasant suggestion is here answered by one Larry Stewart, of the Entertainment Industries Council, who starts right out by clawing his way up to the high ground. "We are not much for negative reinforcement--we are for positive reinforcement. If Bennett would like to go from using some star to someone lying comatose from an O. D., we think that vitiates the first message." In Hollywood, "vitiate" is a pretty heavy word, which might best be left lying right where it is except by those who know how to pick it up. Stewart has pulled a groin muscle here by giving us the inducement to wonder exactly how that "first message" might in fact be vitiated by the not at all unrealistic portrayal of the comatose addict. And when we do that we can come to see what the first message really says. Yeah, drugs are pretty bad all right, but hey, look at me. I did it all, and here I am, back again, live and in person, in living color, right in your living room.

Well, that's why they call it Tinsel Town. Bennett probably knew that he'd find little help out there, but we can hardly blame him for trying.

But that does mean that sooner or later he will have to go back to his old job, even without portfolio. Let's face it--and we hate this thought as much as you do--in the drug mess the schools are just what Churchill called democracy, the worst possible system except for all the others. There are more children held captive there than in any other place. And when Bennett gets back to the schools, there he will find the lady who won't come from a position of what is right and wrong because that would be to vitiate her role as a counselor, and might also get her into trouble with the enthusiasts of alternative life styles, one of which, of course, is hanging out in the park and shooting up, and brief but regular vacations with the easy marks running the treatment centers. So who is to say what's right and what's wrong?

Will there be searching of soul in the latitudinal lady and all of her like now that the schools have decided that, well, maybe at least in this one little matter of drugs, just maybe, that there is such a thing as goodness, and as badness as well? And will she now go forth among her students, explaining to them that she hates to come from a position of right and wrong, but we do have to be realistic, and that she has now decided to come from a position of right and wrong, at least as far as crack is concerned? And will her students blithely and gladly put the moral somnambulism of her past quite out of their minds, and heed now her stirring call to the good and examined life?

The best possible outcome of such a timely, convenient conversion would be the awakening of a question in the minds of the students: Was she being a hypocrite in her previous performance, when she so loftily taught us that right and wrong are variable and relative contrivances of the individual, or is she being a hypocrite now, when she wants us to believe the opposite so as to make life oh so much more pleasant and inexpensive for Society as a Whole?

Hypocrisy is the most transparent of vices, and even little children detect it. Her students will not trust that counselor of no values when she suddenly puts on values. They will wonder just what it is about a life with drugs that this pliable trimmer has decided now to come from a position of wrong. If these bland and neutral grown-ups are now trying to talk the young out of drugs, could it be that here, as in so many other cases, sex and booze, for instance, the tricky teachers are simply trying to protect a grown-up monopoly?

Fortunately, however, and this may be our only hope, the children didn't trust her in the past either. But the hope is slim; they have done their real work far better than they have taught any of their subjects. By now, she and her tribe have managed to provide us with millions of children who passed from credulousness not, as would be best, into the skepticism that provokes inquiry, but into the cynicism that brings on nihilism. The young will give heed to no-thing, nothing that such counselors will tell them. That is exactly how we came to be where we are. Look around.

A teacher who does not care to distinguish between the better and the worse, between the worthy and the unworthy, between the beautiful and the ugly, between the just and the unjust, is the same thing to the body politic as the cop on the take or the judge whose verdicts are for sale. The twisted cops and judges, however, must at least be a little ashamed, for they try to keep hidden. Twisted teachers are proud; they boast.

Grammaticaller Than Thou

Once they are fully appraised of the situation...

...they don't have to go to tim buck two to see something spectacular...

...you've peaked my curiosity...

...takes passengers on a 4-mile journey from the Cripple Creek Museum through the first two weeks of October.

I like he and his wife.

...made you and I a promise.

The most important part of your sexuality is that you and your husband discuss any concerns about sexual relations with your doctor.

No transactions are cancelled do to non-usage of Home Banking.

...less calories

Use liscensed contractors for work.

I'm glad it's her and not me that is expecting.

SOME OF you have been collecting bits and pieces like those shown above and making fun of them. Some of you have even decided to make fun of the way other people pronounce words. We can not understand why you would do such things, and we wish that you what rethink the meaning of what you do.

We wrote, years ago, about some boy who said "I aint seen no dog." Of him, we said little then, but will say more now. We say that, as far as we can tell from what he says, he is not a liar, not a seducer, not a wheedler, not an evader, not a charlatan pretending to understanding that he does not have, and, to be complete, that he has given us no evidence whatsoever of badness. He is just a little boy who talks that way. And, furthermore, he talks well. Yes, well. He says exactly what he means to say, no more and no less. In his words, there is neither Vice nor Folly.

The charlatans and the liars, and all of their ilk, speak better than that boy, in the most trivial sense, but far, far worse in the only sense that matters.

Ask yourself Kant's question. What would our world be like if everyone did as that little boy did? What would your life be like if politicians and lawyers and bureaucrats and social change agents and columnists and lobbyists and all the rest of us always said right out, as best we could, exactly what we meant, no more and no less? And if we had such a world, how important would it be if your congressman's letter says "your" when it should say "you're," or if the grocery store advertises Turkey's, or if the man who announces the weather on television says "between you and I"? If such things truly pain you, you have remedy: don't read, don't buy, don't watch.

Some of the errors cited above are so trivial that they can only with passionate attentiveness be sighted at all. Are they worth such labor? Of such labor, what fruit can there be except the satisfaction of some deep need to be better than someone else, and not better in any important sense, but only better in the observation of convention. That's nice, but it is only a social grace; it is not a virtue. If we delight in it, let us not forget that so do the liars and charlatans.

The Findings of Science

"Egad," exclaimed Watson, in dismay and consternation. "Not the Filthy weed again! Surely, Holmes, a man of your intelligence ought to know enough to accept the findings of science!"

"Do calm yourself, my dear fellow," Holmes replied mildly, setting a match to his freshly filled pipe. "I will most certainly accept the findings of science, and with alacrity, too, on that very day in which they are completed. In the meantime, I will just have to take my chances like everyone else."

MOST people are a little puzzled and dismayed when they discover that Plato deemed science not a way of knowing, but a way of believing. He thought it not unlike faith, the substance of things hoped for, and not unlike augury, the dream of understanding the permanent through scrutiny of the ephemeral. For us, of course, it is the answer of answers, and the only hope we have of finding yet another moon of Pluto, ending world hunger, growing hair on the bald, improving television reception in outlying provinces, discovering exactly how many sub-atomic particles there really are, and reducing cholesterol, if, of course, we really should reduce cholesterol, which we also hope to discover.

Well, who are we to say? Maybe science is knowing, maybe it's believing. No big deal. The important thing to remember is that it's really fun.

Look around at your friends. Watch them guzzling their decaffeinated coffee to lessen their chances of heart disease from some x down to some y. Tell them the latest findings of science, and watch them wriggle. Watch them gagging down apples, risking the dreaded alar, to bring down the cholesterol that they have inadvertently raised by drinking decaffeinated coffee, and sprinkling salt the while on their bran, mindful of this week's finding of science that the blood pressure of those who cut down on salt may actually go up, not down.

And watch, too, for the remarkably frequent appearance of the word "may" in the findings of science. Interesting.

In this matter, we can do no better than to quote the reassuring words of Eileen Kugler, who speaks for the Public Voice for Food and Health Policy, an outfit of some sort in Washington.

‘That's the way science is. People will have to be willing to be flexible and realize the research changes, and some studies are better than others.'

Aha. There it is. We must learn to be flexible, as flexible as the findings of science. Ah and alas, life is short, art long, decision difficult, experiment perilous.

The Underground
Grammarian

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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