More from the Underground Grammarian


There's a wealth of wonderfully curmudgeonly commentary on language, writing, and education here, at a website dedicated to the works and memory of Richard Mitchell, who published the Underground Grammarian newsletter, from which I quoted in the previous entry. All issues of the newsletter are online as are his four books.

If you want to understand the roots of the mess that is public education, this is a good place to start. If you want to read something that will kindle devotion to clarity of thought and expression, drink deeply at this well.

Here are a few selections to make you thirst for more:

From the introduction to Less Than Words Can Say:

Many years earlier I had returned a similar questionnaire, because the man who sent it had promised, in writing, to "analize" my "input." That seemed appropriate, so I put it in. But he didnít do as he had promised, and I had lost all interest in questionnaires....

Words never fail. We hear them, we read them; they enter into the mind and become part of us for as long as we shall live. Who speaks reason to his fellow men bestows it upon them. Who mouths inanity disorders thought for all who listen. There must be some minimum allowable dose of inanity beyond which the mind cannot remain reasonable. Irrationality, like buried chemical waste, sooner or later must seep into all the tissues of thought.

On public education:

American public education is a remarkable enterprise; it succeeds best where it fails. Imagine an industry that consistently fails to do what it sets out to do, a factory where this yearís product is invariably sleazier than last yearís but, nevertheless, better than next yearís. Imagine a corporation whose executives are always spending vast sums of money on studies designed to discover just what it is they are supposed to do and then vaster sums for further studies on just how to do it. Imagine a plant devoted to the manufacture of factory seconds to be sold at a loss. Imagine a producer of vacuum cleaners that rarely work hiring whole platoons of engineers who will, in time, report that it is, in fact, true that the vacuum cleaners rarely work, and who will, for a larger fee, be glad to find out why, if thatís possible. If you discover some such outfit, donít invest in it. Unfortunately, we are all required to invest in public education.

Public education is also an enterprise that regularly blames its clients for its failures. Education cannot, after all, be expected to deal with barbarous and sometimes even homicidal students who hate schools and everything in them, except, perhaps, for smaller kids with loose lunch money. If the students are dull and hostile, we mustnít blame the schools. We must blame the parents for their neglect and their bad examples. If the parents are ignorant and depraved, then we must blame "society." And so forthóbut not too far. Those who lament thus seem not inclined to ask how "society" got to be that way, if it is that way, and whether or not public education may have made it so.

In his second book, The Graves of Academe, Mitchell points us to the origins of modern educratic idiocy -- not the '60s, but 1913, and the "Seven Deadly Principles" of the Commission on the Reorganization of Secondary Education:

In the cause of "democratic" public education, the Gang of Twenty-seven compounded illogic with ignorance by deciding that the education proposed by the Eliot committee was primarily meant as "preparation for the college or university." True, relatively few high school graduates of 1913 went on to college; but even fewer had done so in 1893. Indeed, it was just because so few would go on to more education that the Eliot committee wanted so many to have so much in high school. But the Gang of Twenty-seven decided that since very few students would go on to the mastery of a discipline and the rigorous training of the mind in college, which colleges were still fancied to provide in those days, there was little need to fuss about such things in high school. They had far more interesting things to fuss about in any case, their kinds of things. They enshrined them all, where they abide as holy relics of the cult of educationism to this day, in their final report, issued in 1918 (and printed at government expense, like all the outpourings of educationism ever since) as Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education....

While its concrete proposals for Civics Education are very much like its proposals for all the other educations, Cardinal Principles, in the name of "attitudes and habits important in a democracy," goes an extra step and prescribes what should actually happen in the classroom. It urges "the assignment of projects and problems to groups of pupils for cooperative solution and the socialized recitation whereby the class as a whole develops a sense of collective responsibility. Both of these devices give training in collective thinking." Here we can see the theoretical foundations of the rap session, the encounter group, the values clarification module, and the typical course in education, but also something far worse....

The children who are to generate "cooperative solutions" and "socialized recitations" are to do so without concern for, or even any knowledge of, "constitutional questions and remote governmental functions" like checks and balances. They will do their "collective thinking" unencumbered by "mere information."

It is another of the educationistsí self-serving delusions that if enough of the ignorant pool their resources, knowledge will appear, and that a parliament of fools can deliberate its way to wisdom....

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on September 20, 2003 12:58 AM.

Educational empowerment was the previous entry in this blog.

Is Ken Neal the only sore winner? is the next entry in this blog.

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