Volume Five, Number Eight............November 1981

Third from the Left

As bad actors cannot sing alone, but only in a large company, so some men cannot walk alone. Man, if you are worth anything, you must walk alone, and talk to yourself, and not hide in the chorus. Learn to bear mockery, look about you, examine yourself, that you may get to know who you are.

EPICTETUS, who is said to have said those words, was not in the school business. He was in the philosophy business, a daunting enterprise, for which we are less likely to feel love than respect. And even our respect is ordinarily tinged with tolerance, for we are pretty certain that philosophy can neither butter bread nor cut ice.

David R. Byrne is in the school business, a notably less daunting enterprise that butters the bread of millions and, surely in Byrne’s case, also cuts some ice. For Byrne is a dean, the dean, in fact, of the entire College of Education at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces. We have read some of his words in Page One, NMSU’s newsletter. They made us think of Epictetus.

In September, Byrne handed out some awards to four faculty members whom he distinguished as "exemplars of those in the academic life within a professional school." What a puzzling reservation. Does "academic" have, in a "Professional" school, some special meaning? Can we expect, next year, that the Principle of Equal Opportunity will bring forth a new round of awards for worthy exemplars of some other than academic life within that professional school? There are, to be sure, many such to be found in any teacher academy, but we’re a little surprised to hear one of their deans admit it. Well, he may have imagined that he was saying something else.

And we cannot begin to guess what he imagines, when he tells us: "Over the years, much excellence among faculty has gone unrecognized."

It’s a weird universe, indeed, where much excellence, presumably a portion of excellence itself, is among the faculty, as the fox is among the hens. Where has the rest of excellence been skulking over the years? It’s no wonder that mere much excellence could not manage to go recognized.

Having hinted at a supposed reality more difficult to grasp than the curvature of space, Byrne concludes on a different level with the arresting assertion that "the quality of the faculty does impact the student product." Don’t laugh. What seems to the rest of us a firm grasp on the obvious is, to educationists, an amazing "finding" that their "studies have [finally] shown," and that may even justify some lucrative, bold, innovative thrust.

But we do not bring you the words of Byrne only to suggest that little excellence goes unrecognized among them, or something like whatever that might mean. His language, in fact, is neither sillier nor more repellent than the language of thousands of others of his kind. Almost any dean of any teacher academy could have recited—and probably has recited—the same lines. And so could any curriculum facilitator, principal, superintendent, or professor of education. The mighty, sprawling factory of American educationism, where there is perpetual preachment of "the worth of the individual," and no end of prating about self, self-perceiving, and self-esteeming, is owned and operated by one massive chorus that has learned all its lines, a collective company of those not skillful or talented enough to sing alone.

It will surely have occured to you that if Byrne had been able to speak for himself, to speak his mind rather than recite as he has been recited unto, he could have avoided both pomposity and absurdity (and might have stated at the same time at least one probable fact) with: "Many faculty members have done excellent work, but I haven’t praised them for it." Leave aside our suspicion that a dean who approves of impacting the student product is likely to be a questionable judge of excellence. Forget, if you can, that the teachers’ union at NMSU is surely loud in its protestations that all the teachers do excellent work all the time. Consider only the fact that the sentence we propose, or any other reasonable version of it, calls for no great skill in the art of composition. It is easy to construct. Any fool, even a basically, minimally competent fool, could do it. It’s natural. Any ordinary human person, speaking to other human persons, would do it. And it is ethical, for it expresses respect without soliciting approval, authority without implying power, and responsibility without begging exculpation. So why didn’t Byrne do it?

We can answer that question in two ways, although the first is academic, or perhaps "academic within the professional school." If Byrne’s words were the result of deliberate calculation, then he intended to solicit approval, to imply his power, and to disclaim responsibility. However, while he does achieve those effects, he almost certainly did not intend them. We can not reasonably assume that much attentive thoughtfulness in one who can permit himself to proclaim that the quality of the faculty does impact the student product.

The second answer, therefore, is the better: Byrne did the only thing he could do, or knew how to do. He recited the lines appointed to be recited in those circumstances. Ills recitation has the "virtue" of distinguishing him in no way or degree whatsoever from any other member of the chorus. It is thus, in a curiously perverse way, itself an "exemplar" of "excellence"—"within the professional school," of course.

If you can learn the lines and when to recite them—any teacher academy will show you how—and if you can "internalize the learning" so thoroughly that you never forget or depart from the text, you will have a potent incantation against the demon of elitism, who is always tempting you to sing alone, a sure defense against the assaults of self-knowledge, which has never in the whole history of humanity been known to enhance anybody’s self-esteem, and a good job in the school business. Even deanhood, maybe. The company takes care of its own.

Where Epictetus tells us to walk alone if we are to be worth anything, the company of educationism tells us that, of course, we’re worth something. Have we not been invited to sing in the chorus, just like everyone else? Where he tells us to talk to ourselves, a work of value only to those who know when talk makes sense and when it doesn’t, the educationists promise that basic minimum competence will positively impact the student product, and urge us to join in public recitations of egalitarian slogans about quality education and enhanced awareness of interpersonal perceptions. Where Epictetus tells us to examine ourselves that we may know who we are, the educationists tell us to esteem ourselves and feel good.

Epictetus did not have a good job. The only tenure he ever had was the melancholy tenure of slavery, although in his case the slavery was involuntary. It cheers us to remember him, and we hope it will cheer you too. Let’s be grateful that those who hide in the chorus recite an inhuman language concocted itself of just such modules and components as those it celebrates. Mere time will blow them away like smoke. No one will remember them. No one will turn for counsel or consolation the pages of their pre-planning needs assessment task force findings, of their studies based on perceptions centered around aspects of enhancements, of their Ed. D. screeds on the clarification of humanistic values via the adoption of nonsexist terminology in badminton rule-books. Beside the road where they now strut in smug solidarity, they will let fall, among their litterings, not one bauble bright enough with goodness, truth, or beauty to catch the eye of the idlest stroller to come. And when deans of teacher academies and professors of methods and materials have piloted the last parameters and trouble the land no more, when educationism is remembered, if at all, as one of the other fads that swept over the country, along with est and the pet rock, in an age of a general and growing loss of faith in phrenology and the power of positive thinking, when only the most specialized historians of popular culture will know the difference between a packet of learning materials and an orgone box, in those days, Epictetus will still be around, walking alone, talking to himself just loud enough for those who would be worth anything.


Tongues of Ice

Now when this was noised abroad, the multitude came together, and were confounded, because that every man heard them speak in his own language. And they were all amazed and marvelled . . .

JOACHIM of Floris turns out to have been right after all, except for what is probably nothing more than a trivial error in orthography. The Age of the Father gave way to the Age of the Son, which has by now succumbed entirely before the prancing parameters of the Age of the Wholly Gauche. And that creepy sound you hear, that whooping whoosh as of a rushing mighty windbag, signals the escaping gases of the new dispensation. Where once a few spoke a language that everyone could understand, whole multitudes now recite a lingo that no one can understand.

The Conference of Major Superiors of Men is made up of the abbots and provincials of various Roman Catholic religious orders. On February 10, 1981, a day that they might have spent in prayer, the members of its national board met in Milwaukee for an "evaluation of CMSM structures based on the self-studies." Sounds familiar? And that’s not all. A certain Sr. Mary Littell—how did she get into the act?—was "engaged as facilitator for the day." Here’s how she did it, as reported to the assembled worthies in August. (Yes, even there we have a mole):

To facilitate the process, Sr. Mary utilized the Hoover Grid which begins with the recognition of purpose and values, leading to goals, objectives and finally to implementation. The first and most important step is at the myth level where the renewal of ideals, hopes, dreams and traditions takes place. It is the level of identity and purpose for being.

The advantage of this process is that it puts all the elements of an organization not into a flow chart which is static but into the flow of the organization which is constantly changing and dynamic. In the course of the process the board defined the following elements for evaluation:

The tasks of the board membership and the religious communities through them (the major superiors) is one of (1) animating (through clear identification); (2) facilitating (through acting out the goals and objectives); and (3) impacting (through actions on various levels of CMSM).

So now abideth animating, facilitating, and impacting, these three; but the greatest of these is impacting.

You will probably want to practice these virtues. No problem. To animate, just come up with identifications. Be sure they’re clear, of course. (See above for clues on clarity.) In no time at all, you’ll be animating all over to beat the band and ready to facilitate through acting out goals and objectives. Cinchy. And then—on to impacting! Just remember the one, simple secret of impacting. Action! Action on levels. Various levels.

And if you run into any trouble, don’t come to us. Go and consult the nearest Hoover Grid. We don’t exactly know what that is, of course, but we’re willing to bet the renewal of ideals, hopes, dreams, and traditions at the myth level against a wrinkled old Values Perception/Assessment Inventory/Questionnaire that you can find one at your local teacher-training academy.

We know Educanto when we see it, and this report is full of it. It bristles with "linkage," "resourcing" (with "input" from "resource persons"), "networking," "sharing," "cross-cultural communications," and even offers its own bold, innovative thrust in "ad hocracy," which is defined as "creation of task forces for proper resourcing." So where is the Inquisition, now that we need it?

Even the punctuation is typical of a writer who just can’t be bothered with the meaning of what he writes. There is a difference between "the Hoover Grid which begins with the recognition of purpose" and "the Hoover Grid, which begins with the recognition of purpose." The first, which is what the writer has given us, implies the horrifying existence of other Hoover Grids beginning with other recognitions. The same confused inattentiveness causes "the myth level where renewal takes place," to be distinguished from the other myth levels; "a flow chart which is static"; and "the flow of the organization which is constantly changing." In that one we don’t know whether to be confused about the flow or the organization. Or both. Or neither.

But if we are confused, it is because we are paying attention. This kind of language, devised to give the tone of sophisticated substance to the obvious, the empty, and the banal, is always a dreary and disorderly exercise of robot-like inattentiveness. The writer’s mind has no stake in it; he just wants to get out a report that sounds like a report. The report is exactly one of those "vain repetitions" of the heathen; it neither provides clear knowledge nor fosters finer understanding, except, of course, in the very few who will actually pay attention. And what they will understand will not be what the writer would have had in mind, if he had had anything in mind. Somewhere in the dark labyrinth of doctrinal elaboration, there must be a technical name for this nasty perversion of language and intellect. It’s probably something like Impactio.

Well, we know in part, and we prophesy in part, and in part we babble, with the tongues neither of men nor of angels, reciting what we have often heard, as blind mouths speak to stopped ears, as no one speaks to no one.


Awareness Grows in Cincinnati!

WE’VE been reading this really neat sheet from Cincinnati. The public school system out there gladly subsidizes the life of the mind by setting its leading intellectuals up in a Department of Curriculum and Instruction, where they need never be troubled by the sight of an actual student. This leaves them free to think deep thoughts about new ways to share out the taxpayers’ money, and to put out "The News from Planning and Development," an esoteric journal of difficult ideas suitable for great minds. Most of it, naturally, is way over our head. It’s heavy stuff, all about on-going interaction and models whose components are modules. Well, shoot, we can’t even figure out how to devise the guidelines with which to pilot our parameters, which is, according to TNFP&D for July 1981, very de rigeur for something or other.

Even the easy parts are hard to grasp. Here’s a piece of "Writing Improvement Project Funded":

The purpose of the training will be to make teachers aware of the substantial body of existing research concerning the teaching of writing, enable them to develop and implement a range of instructional material and writing activities for improving their students’ composition skills, and provide them opportunities to practice these strategies in a classroom setting.

Subtle. And professional. Real professional. An ignorant amateur—someone like you, no doubt—would want those teachers to know what has been discovered in that "substantial body of existing research." (The body of nonexisting research is, of course, insubstantial, and thus slightly less likely to be funded.) The professionals know better. In the first place, as any fool can see, it doesn’t matter what that "research" may or may not have come up with, since it obviously hasn’t done the least damn bit of good. That’s why these teachers don’t know it now. Teacher academies have better things to do.

And that brings us to the second place: This is school business, and school business trafficks in stuff much more important than mere knowledge. Anybody can find some knowledge, even without so much as a facilitator, to say nothing of a whole department of planning and development. Sometimes, even without funding. And knowledge without awareness is dangerously anti-humanistic; it may even lead to conclusions that suggest that it is madness to imagine that we need yet more "instructional material and writing activities" concocted by a workshop full of teacher academy graduates who have yet to be made aware of all that "research."

After things like awareness, development and implementation, and the practice of strategies, professionals prize most those collective exercises which, like cold baths for monks, dampen the anarchic flames of individualism. Now that the time has come for a few of Cincinnati’s certified teacher academy graduates to try to learn how to write English, the professionals have provided that

teachers will participate in the composing process itself. They will write compositions and critique their writings the same way as their students would do the activities in their English classes. The rationale for this approach is that teachers must experience the writing process before they can successfully teach the process to their students. In other words, teachers of writing must write themselves.

Ah, the great Composing Process Itself! Always, like the wild dance of the quark, always going on somewhere. How wonderful to participate in it. Lucky, lucky teachers, to experience it. Such awareness. And lucky, too, that they will "do the activities" just as their students will do them, in the warm nest of participatory democracy, where any opinion (or awareness) is as good as any other, and where self-esteem runs no risk of injury in the hands of elitist authoritarianism armed with mere knowledge.

The blind, you see, can lead the blind, provided only that they all wander together in a dense mass. Only those few way out on the edges will fall into the ditch.

The Underground

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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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