THE LEANING TOWER OF BABEL

by Richard Mitchell

X
THE POLITICAL WORTH OF IGNORANCE

The Answering of Kautski
The Necks and Minds of the People
Nox quondam, mox futura!
The Children of Perez
...And furthermore
Joanne the Jack-Killer
The Mouths of Babes
As Maine Goes...
The Children of the State
A Lecture on Politics

 

The Answering of Kautski

Why should we bother to reply to Kautski? He would reply to us, and we would have to reply to his reply. There's no end to that. It will be quite enough for us to announce that Kautski is a traitor to the working class, and everyone will understand everything.

Nikolai Lenin

TYRANNY is always and everywhere the same, while freedom is always various. The well and truly enslaved are dependable; we know what they will say and think and do. The free are quirky. Tyrannies may be overt and violent or covert and insidious, but they all require the same thing, a subject population in which the power of the word is dulled and, thus, the power of thought occluded and the power of deed brought low. That's why Lenin's bolshevism and American educationism have so much in common.

"Give me four years to teach the children,'' said Lenin, "and the seed I have sown will never be uprooted.'' He wasn't talking about reading, writing, and arithmetic. He wanted only enough of such skills so that the workers could puzzle out their quotas and so that a housebroken bureaucracy could get on with the business of rural electrification. Our educationists call it basic minimum competency, and they hope that we'll settle for it as soon as they can cook up some way of convincing us that they can provide it. For Lenin, as for our educationists, to "teach the children'' is to "adjust'' them into some ideology.

Lenin understood the power of that ready refuge from logical thought that is called in our schools the "affective domain,'' the amiable Never-never Land of the half-baked, to whom anything they name "humanistic'' is permitted, and of whom skillful scholarship and large knowledge are not required. Lenin approved of the "teaching'' of values and the display, with appropriate captions, of socially acceptable "role models.'' He knew all too well the worth of behavior modification. He knew that indoctrination in "citizenship'' is safer than the study of history, and that a familiarity with literature is not conducive to the wholehearted pursuit of career objectives in the real-life situation, or arena.

On the other hand, Lenin knew that there was little risk that coherent thought could erupt in minds besieged by endless prattle about the clarification of values. He knew that reiterated slogans can dull even a good mind into a stupor out of which it will never arise to overthrow the slogan-makers. In this, our educationists have followed him assiduously, justifying every new crime against freedom of language and thought by mouthing empty slogans about "quality education.''

"Most of the people,'' Lenin wrote, not in public, of course, but in a letter, "just aren't capable of thinking. The best they can do is learn the words.'' If that reminds you of those bleating sheep in Animal Farm, try to forget them, and think instead of the lowing herds of pitiable teacher-trainees, many of whom began with good intentions and even with brains, singing for their certificates dull dirges of interpersonal interaction outcomes enhancement and of change-agent skills developed in time-action line. Lenin's contempt was reserved for the masses. These educationists, pretenders to egalitarianism, hold even their own students in contempt, offering them nothing but words.

If you think it too rash to charge our educationists even as unwitting agents of tyranny and thought control, consider these lines from a recent proclamation of the Association of California School Administrators:

"Parent choice'' proceeds from the belief that the purpose of education is to provide individual students with an education. In fact, educating the individual is but a means to the true end of education, which is to create a viable social order to which individuals contribute and by which they are sustained. "Family choice'' is, therefore, basically selfish and anti-social in that it focuses on the "wants'' of a single family rather than the "needs'' of society.

So what do you think? Would it suit Lenin?

And if you'd like to object, you'll see that these people also know how to answer Kautski. They'll just pronounce you an elitist, and everybody will understand everything.

[III:8, November 1979]


The Necks and Minds of the People

THIS month in Belgrade, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization will meet to blather about the report of its commission on "the news media." That report suggests, among other outrages, that the press ought to promote, and perhaps ought to be required to promote, the "social, cultural, economic and political goals set by governments." We're not the least bit surprised. That's exactly the kind of idea you can expect from an outfit calling itself "educational."

"Education" once meant liberation, a condition available to those led forth (educati) out of some restraint or captivity. We once assumed that ignorance and unreason, although natural, were fetters that might be broken through the accumulation of knowledge and the practice of logical thought. We imagined that this trap of reflexive twitches might be transformed into the examined life.

Now it is otherwise, and "education" can be best understood as an inoculation, which, if it takes, will protect you from something much worse: reeducation. But it usually takes. Where once a tyrant had to wish that his subjects had but one common neck that he might strangle them all at once, all he has to do now is to "educate the people" so that they will have but one common mind to delude.

Even in its less malevolent forms, education has become a process intended not to increase knowledge and foster thought but to engender feelings. Sellers see no absurdity in claiming to "educate" buyers. Politicians are eager to "educate" voters. And our schools have taken up institutionalized apologetics in the cause of values clarification and social adjustment through consciousness raising. In short, American public education is exactly what UNESCO wants us to promote, one of those "social, cultural, economic and political goals set by government." We will decline.

We hear noises from educationists, and especially from unionists in education, about the "duty" of the press to stop knocking and start boosting, by running, perhaps, some cheery articles about boldly innovative (relevant) bulletin boards and the latest test scores, which may suggest that many eleventh graders are now only three years behind in reading. Now is the time, we hear, to "restore public confidence in the schools." That invitation is the same as UNESCO's, and, considering its source, nakedly self-serving as well as ominous. Again, we decline.

Public education, no less than the Marine Corps or the Internal Revenue Service, is a creature of government and an instrument of its policies. Its meager remnant of "civilian control," the elected school board, has been effectively disenfranchised by the mandates of government, which leave little uncontrolled. Public education serves one master, and that master is rich and powerful. Those who clamor for the restoration of confidence in the public schools can, with the mighty resources at their disposal, and not money alone, but the power and prestige of officialdom, easily provide that for themselves. They can easily "educate the public" into warm feelings of respect for the schools, especially since those whose values stand in need of clarification are mostly victims of the schools, unskilled in thought and poor in knowledge.

When they do that--indeed, as they do that, for they are always at it in one way or another--it is only the press that can put weights in the other pan of the scale, citing facts and exploring meanings.

"The functionaries of every government," wrote Jefferson, "have propensities to command at will the liberty and property of their constituents." Is that any less true when the "functionaries of government" just happen to be bureaucrats in some department of "education"? Have they not commanded our property, in countless billions, only to squander it on fads and gimmicks and nonsensical "research" and lucrative consultancies for others of their tribe? Have they not commanded our liberty and our very persons in the cause of ideological adjustment? How long would we bear such intrusive and manipulative behavior in other functionaries of government, in the Coast Guard, for example, or the Motor Vehicle Bureau?

How long? Only so long as we remain ignorant of what they are doing and thoughtlessly uncritical about its meaning. Jefferson went on:

There is no safe deposit for them [liberty and property] but with the people themselves; nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free, and every man able to read, all is secure.

It is noteworthy that the people who want the press to promote the schools, thus mitigating the first of Jefferson's conditions for the security of all, are the very ones who have so egregiously failed to provide the second: universal literacy.

On the other hand, of course, Lenin opposed freedom of the press. Why, he asked, should government that is "doing what it believes is right allow itself to be criticized?" His values were clarified.

[IV:6, September 1980]


Nox quondam, nox futura?

Students do not read, write and do arithmetic as well as they used to because they can get along quite nicely without these skills. . . . Americans are finding that they need to rely less and less on "basic skills" to find out what they want to know and what they want to do. Our basic skills are declining precisely because we need them less.

[Peter Wagschal, Futurist, University of Massachusetts]

YEAH. And that's not all! Just you take a good look at the standard American dogs and cats. They live pretty damn well, tolling not, neither spinning, and they've never even heard of stuff like reading, writing, and arithmetic. They "do quite nicely without those skills," and so do tropical fish and baboons. And so, too, did black slaves and Russian serfs, and all those marvelously skillful and industrious ancestors of us all who gathered nuts and roots and killed small rodents with sticks. They all knew everything they needed to know.

We would probably never have heard of Peter Wagschal, or of his neato Ouija Board Studies Program, if it hadn't been for one Larry Zenke, a pretty neato guy himself. Zenke is Superintendent of Schools in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where men are still men. Did he quail when the national achievement test scores, which used to be quite good in that prosperous and orderly city, hit new lows last fall? Nosirree. When taxpayers grumbled, did he ignominiously promise to do better? And when the Tulsa Tribune started shooting off its editorial mouth about "fads" and "anti-academic garbage," did Zenke tiptoe away into the piloting of experiential remediation enhancement parameters?

No way. Not in Oklahoma. In the finest frontier fashion, he stood up tall in the middle of Main Street at high noon and told the unruly rabble that maybe they'd like to talk it over, before doing anything hasty, with his pal, Pete (The Persuader) Wagschal, who somehow just happened to drift into town. True grit.

Then, having (by proxy) brought light to the benighted fuddy-duddies of Tulsa, Zenke, who obviously knows more than he lets on, laid a little groundwork for the defense of next year's test scores: "Wagschal even suggests that 50 years from now we could be the smartest, most knowledgeable society that has ever existed, and yet be largely illiterate."

The italics are Zenke's, not ours, and we're grateful for them. We have often wondered what kind of an idea it would take to make a school superintendent excited about the life of the intellect.

And a dandy idea it is, especially for all those much misunderstood "educators," saddled (for now) with the thankless (and difficult) task of teaching what no one will need to know when the bright age dawns. All that burnout and stress! And for what? For nothing more than an arcane and elitist social grace no more necessary in a truly "knowledgeable society" than the ability to play polo, or the lute.

And how, you ask, will people who are "largely illiterate" come to amass all that knowledge? Well, don't you worry, bless your heart. Someone will probably be quite willing to tell them what to know, even if it means all the trouble and expense of attaching loudspeakers to every lamp-post in America.

The teachers, then, will be liberated to do what the teacher academies train them to do. Zenke foretells:

Teachers, for example, will no longer be disseminators of cognitive information--machines will do that. Teachers will be program developers and/or facilitators of group membership, helping students develop interaction skills. Some educators, of course, will be found too rigid to survive this metamorphosis, but those who do will find excitement and fulfillment in their new "teaching roles."

And that will be just dandy too. Happy, happy, the teachers of tomorrow, at long last fulfilled and excited! Freed forever from the stern constraints of the tiny smatterings of mere information still incongruously expected of teachers, the facilitator-trainees of the future won't have to take any of those dull and irrelevant "subjects" that now impede their growth as professionals and their group membership development. They'll be able to spend all their time in the enhancement of their interaction skills, so that they can go forth and facilitate the same for little children. (Those cunning tots, of course, do have to be educated, you know, so that they will sit quietly in organized groups when it's time to hear some knowledge from the loudspeaker.) And the training program for superintendents of schools will be even more exciting and fulfilling. There's just no counting the skills that they can get along nicely without.

Which is it you've lost, Tulsans, your spirit or your minds? Could it be both? Do you lie awake in the still watches of the night worrying about those godless communists who are panting to nationalize oil? Do you fear that bleeding hearts will take away the guns by which you fancy that you won and may yet preserve your liberty? Pooh, Tulsans, pooh.

The most dangerous threat to your liberty, the one that has by far the best chance of turning you all into docile clods, is right there in Tulsa. Think, dammit! Do you imagine that foreign enemies of this nation could devise for your children a more hideous and revolting destiny than the one so blithely envisioned--and as an exoneration, no less--by the superintendent of schools? Do you yawn and turn to the sports section, citizens of Tulsa, when the man whom you have hired to oversee the growth of understanding and judgment in your children airily tells you that in a palmier day they will have no need of the literacy that alone can give those powers? Do you shrug when he tells you that the children will be spared the burden of whatever "cognitive information" they don't actually need, which must obviously, since the children will have no powers of judgment, be chosen by someone like Zenke? Do you, like Zenke, dream of the day when no one will be able to read our Constitution, but it won't matter, because the machines provided by the government schools will tell us all we really need to know about it? Can you think of something to say to those teachers, and superintendents, who are not excited and fulfilled with leading young minds into the ways of understanding and thoughtful discretion, and who arc unrigid enough, flaccid and limp enough, not only to survive but to hail as liberation their metamorphosis into developers and facilitators? Does it not occur to you that the inculcation of "interaction skills" for the purpose of "group development" is exactly the opposite of an education, by which a mind can find its way out of group-think and the pet promulgations of collectivisms? And in short, Tulsans, what are those strange black boxes we see on your lamp-posts? What soothing message have they recited, even as you slept? How is it, O Pioneers, that you are not mad as hell?

Oklahoma is much changed, but the descendants of the settlers still like to watch the hawk making lazy circles in the sky. Their bird-lore, however, is not what it was. In fact, there's hardly a damn one of them that can tell a hawk from a vulture nowadays.

[VI:1, January 1982]


Children of Perez

WE were sitting around minding our own business, thinking of bilingual education and the perpetual preservation of absolutely everyone's cultural heritage, however loathsome, when the New York Times suddenly told us about Demetrio Perez, Jr., a Cuban émigré who has become a City Commissioner in Miami.

Perez is mad as hell because Martin Bregman, who produced Serpico, intends to make a movie about a Cuban émigré who makes it big in Miami as a drug peddler. From one side of his mouth, Perez says that this will "reflect badly" on Cubans, but the other side is not interested in Cubanity; it says that the movie would be dandy if the drug peddler were a communist Cuban. (Perez would also settle for a Jewish drug peddler, since he makes no objection to the fact that there are many such in the same movie.) And furthermore, Perez didn't like Serpico either. He says that "it tried to affect the credibility of the New York City Police Department." Accordingly, he has drawn up a draft resolution that would keep Bregman from filming his movie in sun-drenched Miami.

This is what we wonder: Does the political philosophy of Demetrio Perez, Jr., flow from the values inherent in a "cultural heritage" that our own government is busily doing all that it can to preserve in the schools, or is the man just some kind of a fool who has not thought about what he said? We had better hope the latter; the former promises the death of the Republic.

In either case, we'd like to send a message to Perez. Here it is:

Remember always, Perez, that it was from that land to this that you fled, whatever your reasons. And that you found this land worth fleeing to tells us something about that cultural heritage and this one. Few flee from this to that, Perez. Few flee into societies built on long ages of obedience to traditional orthodoxy and humble respect for authority, societies where some factions are not subject to being "badly reflected" upon, where no one would even try--for it is the very trying, successful or not, that you have condemned--to fool around with the credibility of the police, and where movie-makers do exactly as they are told by City Commissioners.

In the cultural heritage that you chose not to leave behind at the border, it has indeed always been true that some people are protected, and by law as well as by custom, not only from injury but even offense. So it is that you seek for some people, policemen and non-communist Cubans, special protection, which must place special restrictions on all other people. That arrangement is abhorrent to our cultural heritage, in which "it is our Right, it is our Duty" to oppose with measures far sterner than offense any who would institute it among us.

And that means you.

The founders of this Republic, one of whom wrote the words you didn't recognize, were not ignorant of the political theories implicit in your cultural heritage. They knew them well, all too well. And they despised them and rejected them utterly. And they gave us, confirmed us in, a heritage that flows not, like yours, from Canossa, but from Runnymede. And that was damned lucky for you, Perez.

You are probably not vicious, but only ignorant, to propose for us the very political principles by which one gang of tyrants came to oust another in Cuba. The perpetual recurrence of usurpation and counter-usurpation does seem embedded in that cultural heritage of yours, doesn't it? And if it is not embedded in ours, if we have not suffered the bloody grand right-and-left of princes, priests, and proles panting after privilege, there must be a reason. You could come to know and understand that reason, Perez, and you should. It is your Duty.

We welcome you to this land, but you can't bring Cuba, neither your Cuba nor anyone else's. Now that you are one of us, and by choice, it is our cultural heritage, in which the preservation of a movie-maker's Right is a city commissioner's Duty, that you must struggle to defend.

Frankly, Perez, we do not expect you to understand this message. But we hope you'll try, if only for the sake of your children, and their children. For the day may well come, through the sheer force of numbers combined with the corrosive labors of our sycophantic educationists, when your cultural heritage will outweigh ours. In that happy day, your dreams will be fulfilled. No one will try to "affect the credibility" of the police. Movie-makers will obey city commissioners.

And in that day, Perez, to what new land will your children flee?

[VI:7, October 1982]


And furthermore…

WE had fewer testy responses than expected to "The Children of Perez." Two readers wrote to say that such matters were beyond the scope (and they may have meant beyond the understanding as well) of this journal.

But the dangerous doctrines of a Perez, and the ideology out of which they flow, are protected from critical analysis in our schools, which think it good to persuade all the children into an undiscriminating "appreciation" of all known cultural heritages and "alternative lifestyles," without consideration of their implicit principles or lack of them. We approach that time when the educationists' already traditional neglect of "mere facts" like the provisions of our Constitution will be justified anew by the fact--which they won't call "mere"--that somebody might be offended by those provisions. As Perez now is.

Such a concern is not "beyond our scope," whatever that may be. Nor is it beyond anyone's scope. And that brings us to "understanding."

The search for understanding is the purpose of the critical examination of language. A scrupulous attention to mechanics and convention is only a paltry fussiness unless it reveals how and why those who seek admission to the greater mysteries will advance all the better through practice in the lesser. We want the schools to teach the skills of language not because that will make the students more genteel, but because it just might make them more thoughtful, and thus more likely to recognize and repudiate public displays of ignorance and unreason. Such displays, often further tainted by pandering mendacity, are the very substance of our politics and the chief agents of mindless factionalism. We are not going to wait until our Perezes dangle their participles. Their words are enough. To inquire into them is our right and duty.

[VI:8, November 1982]


Joanne the Jack-Killer

or, the Giant's Jolly Christmas

WE really wanted, at this festive time of year, to don our gay apparel; but it turns out that you can't do that anymore without being mistaken for a consciousness-raising band of role-players cheerily relating to an alternative lifestyle. So we decided simply to wish for peace on earth to men of good will. That proved wrong too, so we changed it to persons of good will. And even that proved wrong, for it was sure to offend a substantial and much maligned minority which should be appreciated and related to rather than demeaned by exclusion from our prayers.

It was a certain Joanne Greenberg who reminded us, and just in time, that persons of ill will have feelings too, you know. And rights.

Greenberg seems to be, a bit to our surprise, we must admit, the author of Jack and the Beanstalk. Really. It says so right here in this nifty brochure from West Publishing Company Inc., in Mineola, New York. It says, too, that Greenberg has written thirty other "instructional materials." This, her latest material, is not actually called a book in the brochure, but it is obviously meant to look like one, and it costs $5.75, a bit steep for a material. But it surely is "instructional."

It's not easy to make children hate reading stories, but this Greenberg is a professional. Here's how she does it:

Jack and the Beanstalk, by Joanne Greenberg, provides a familiar framework which allows elementary students to practice decision making while learning the basic principles of our legal system relating to fairness and honesty. The suggested activities encourage students to explore their own opinions about fairness.

Doesn't that sound like fun? How many "opinions about fairness" do the cunning little tykes have? Are many against it? Will they be set right by a merry bout of decision making? Will the teachers' manual that comes with this material teach the teachers those "basic principles of our legal system relating to fairness and honesty"?

But this is more than a pre-pre-law material. It is "relevant and motivating reading matter":

The activities in each chapter not only motivate the students to think critically, view situations from various perspectives, and form conclusions, but also apply language art skills such as spelling, handwriting, and creative writing.

Just imagine. There you sit, reading a book, dwelling awhile in a world strangely truer than the world, and at the end of every chapter, along comes this meddlesome schoolteacher who makes you practice decision making and "learn" legal principles. You have just watched Huck hastily covering the dead face of his friend, and this busybody, whose own "opinions" are slogans left over from teacher-school courses in interpersonal relating and values clarification workshops, calls a rap-session to help you explore your opinions. Emma is stuffing her mouth with the poisonous powder, and some officious employee of the state, whose mouth drips the cant of life adjustment and behavior modification in the affective domain, "motivates" you to view situations from various perspectives," and then to "apply" spelling.

And when Jack lays his axe to the root of the beanstalk, will this Joanne Greenberg come barging in with her explorations and activities and maybe a neat ecological-awareness message from Smoky the Bear? Well, no. She comes up with something worse:

One major change has been made: the Giant is not killed in the end, to avoid a violent act which would have no bearing on the issues being examined.

These school people hate literature. It stands for everything that they stand against. A work of literature comes from one, solitary mind, not from the consensus of a collective. It is an unequivocal assertion that this is so. It abides, or it dies, but it will not negotiate. It comes before us neither as a supplicant nor a defendant, but as a judge. It cares nothing for our favorite notions or our self-esteem. And it offends in us what most deserves offense--petulant sectarian touchiness, facile social supposition, and especially smug self-righteousness. Thus it is that the educationists' literature is not the real thing. They must abbreviate it, or amend it, or--and this is their usual practice--elucidate it, lest their students fail to appreciate correctly its relevance to "the issues being examined." And should the work at hand have nothing to do with the issues they want to examine, they must concoct an "instructional material" and call it Jack and the Beanstalk.

Little children know, even blithering idiots know--except for one tribe--that the Giant must die. The story is about the Good and the Bad, which, in the outer world of the social order, must be always cutting deals. That sad necessity is sad; it is not to our credit. When we forget to be ashamed of that compromise, when we ordain it as a principle of the inner life of the mind, when we learn to flatter ourselves for the "liberality" out of which we tolerate the intolerable, and the "flexibility" with which we gladly bend to every gust of popular novelty, then we aren't even cutting any deals. We are simply capitulating.

Jack does not capitulate. Nor does he cut a deal by accepting, instead of justice, an "enhanced interpersonal relationship" with brutal greed. He does not "view the situation from various perspectives," but seizes what is truly his, not by "the basic principles of our legal system relating to fairness and honesty," whatever the murky notions intended by that awkward phrasing, but by the one deepest principle of Lawfulness itself. And it is Unlawfulness that dies with the Giant.

And Tyranny, too, dies with the Giant, for that is another of the many names of Unlawfulness. That is why children are not frightened by the death of a brutal monster. They know Tyranny when they see it, for they see it regularly. It is the continued life of the monster, watching and waiting, that frightens them.

Children are little, and cannot live by their own efforts. They need order and principle in the world, lest they perish, in one way or another. When they find their destinies in the hands of unruly and self-indulgent parents, and teachers so unprincipled that they think it "humanistic" to "view" greed and force "from various perspectives" they recognize the Giant. While the Tyrant lives, how can they live? Must they always cut the same old deal, remake themselves after the Giant's image and likeness, lest he sniff out foreign blood in them? Will no one save them? Who can stand, when even the grown-ups prissily reject a violent act which would have no bearing on the issues," against strong tyranny?

Jack--that's who.

"One cannot understand the least thing about modern civilization," said George Bernanos, "if one does not first realize that it is a universal conspiracy to destroy the inner life." Greenberg's revision is surely one of those least things, although probably an involuntary ideological twitch rather than a deliberately conspiratorial deed. She is simply "staying in line," which is the first and great commandment of all collectivisms. And the second is like unto it: Keep thy neighbor in line.

And if we send the Giant to the head of the line, maybe he'll be nice to us.

[VI:9, December 1982]


The Mouths of Babes

"Everybody thinks that Russia is the bad guy. We found out that the U. S. A. is just as bad because we're doing a lot of things like they are, like making nuclear weapons, like we dropped the first bomb... We got the whole thing started."

"To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child."

The second quotation is from Cicero. It is one of those sayings that lodge themselves securely in a quiet corner of the mind, only now and then nagging for attention and elucidation. The words seem to have the ring of truth, but what, exactly and in detail, do they mean?

Our ruminations on that question have been helped along prodigiously by the first quotation. It is the "work" of a thirteen-year-old schoolboy somewhere in Wisconsin. A child. A child whose teachers have apparently been admitted to the greater mysteries without having to pass through the tedious apprenticeship of the lesser. They have not taught this child much about the natural form of the sentence, but they have told him who "got the whole thing started.'

We found this schoolboy's understanding of what happened before he was born (which must be rigorously distinguished from his knowledge of what happened before he was born) in a column in the Times & World News of Roanoke, Va., July 11, 1983.

The author, Harold Sugg, a journalist, suggests that the child might have been given some knowledge before he was handed an "understanding"--knowledge about the progress and intentions of German scientists, about the well-founded fears of Einstein and other refugees, Roosevelt's perfectly prudent reaction to Einstein's letter, and Truman's dilemma, unresolved to this day, and, like any of history's "what if's," unresolvable by anything less than the mind of God.

Regular readers will easily sniff out the source of the schoolboy's "understanding." It is, of course, the "packet of materials" put out by a teachers' union, the National "Education" Association. That handy-dandy guidebook for teachers who are ignorant of what occurred before they were born was "to dispel misconceptions [specifically in junior high school children] about nuclear war and the buildup of nuclear arms." When we discussed this project last December, we wondered whether that teachers' union had come up with some new and hitherto unsuspected knowledge, or whether they would dispel misconceptions in their usual way, i.e., by modifying children into some new feelings without bothering about mere knowledge. But, of course, we didn't really wonder.

Now that we have some evidence as to their methods, we want to consider their enterprise from another point of view.

They did indeed proclaim that their program of megadeath education was meant to "dispel misconceptions" in teenagers. What can be the meaning of that curious qualification? If there were some line of argument or collection of knowledge that would in fact dispel misconceptions about nuclear war in teenagers, why on earth would it not have precisely the same effect on anyone of any age?

Surely, knowledge is knowledge, and reason, reason. There can hardly be several of each, severally suitable to different ages. Some persons, to be sure, and no matter what their age, still have minds so credulous and unpracticed that knowledge and reason do not touch them, but if the NEA does in fact command the knowledge and reason that would dispel misconceptions in teenagers, then it must be able to do the same for many of the rest of us.

So why are we left in darkness? Why hasn't this union, ordinarily loud in protesting its devotion to the common good, dispelled all our misconceptions and brought us, in this most critical issue, to a national consensus? Why are some of us still in confusion as to who the good and the bad guys are and who started it all?

Or, to put it in a more useful way, do you imagine that those "teachers" would dare to do in public, before an audience of educated adults, whatever it was they did to bring that little boy to his shallow and altogether pitiable "understanding" of history?

Do you suppose that the little boy's teacher shares his belief? If so, how does such a gullible and uninformed person get to be a teacher? And if not, how is such a teacher anything other than a hypocrite and a molester of children? How else are we to describe one who would take advantage of a child's natural ignorance and pliability in order to arouse in him certain feelings and beliefs that will suit the manipulator's purpose?

Perhaps, however, there is a third possibility that seems, at first, slightly less horrendous. It may well be, for such is the standard practice of those educationists, that the devisers of holocaust education actually admitted (to themselves, but certainly not to the rest of us) that such a study might prove, well, just a bit "advanced" for the juvenile mind to understand "correctly," and thus in need of some judicious and pedagogically practicable adjustment. After all, to bring a child of thirteen to a mature and thoughtful understanding of so large and vexed an issue might take years and years! There just isn't going to be all that time in our nifty little mini-course. We'll have to leave something out, all that science and history and politics stuff, maybe, all those confusing mere facts.

Years and years. Yes, that is what it takes even to begin to form a mature and thoughtful understanding of any serious human issue, years and years of finding and ordering knowledge, and rational inquiry, and living, and paying attention to living, and always, always, living under the decent government of vigilant doubt.

The whole story of our educationists can be told in miniature by the example of this "course" in the dispelling of misconceptions about a stupendously complicated issue. They are reluctant to teach those things that can and should be taught to children. They do not find that a sufficiently professional calling. They dream of being priests and prophets, lofty enlighteners, healers of disordered young psyches, beneficent agents of social change. Scorning skill and knowledge as "minimum," "basic," and "mere," they hustle their charges into "awarenesses," "perceptions," and "appreciations" of the Great Issues, as though such sentiments were ways of understanding. Even when they have faint inklings of the fact that it does take years and years to seek out mature and thoughtful understandings, they decide that children are children, after all, and that for them a childish and simplified "understanding" will be quite good enough, and surely better than none at all.

So it was, for instance, that the boy who was brought to "understand," all about nuclear war was not burdened with the study of history, which could take up a lot of time and would just confuse him. And that much is true; there is a lot of history, of which we can never know more than a little. "The well of history," Thomas Mann put it, "is very deep. Shall we not say that it is bottomless?" And so it is, as anyone who has actually studied history can testify. And that is precisely why we must study it.

The study of history is an antidote to arrogance and dogmatism, because it reminds us that even those who have great knowledge, especially those who have great knowledge, can not agree. It shows us that the "good guys and bad guys" theory of history is puerile nonsense, and that we can no more understand "who started it all" than we can know what "it all" is.

But our little boy did not read history. He was instead, as educationists say, "exposed to social studies."

The hokey cant of the educationists has at least this virtue through it they reveal, however unintentionally, what is really in their minds. Their routine admission of wanting to "expose" students to this or that is a way of saying that they want the children to "catch" something--an "appreciation," or an "awareness," or the most virulent infection of all, a "right response."

(A "right response," in pedagogical theory, has nothing to do with a "correct answer." The latter exists only in the merely cognitive domain, while the former floats in the affective. The correct answer, in fact, may actually prevent the right response, just as that little boy's right response might have been prevented had Harold Sugg been sitting in the back of the class and obstructing the dispelling of misconceptions with a few correct answers.)

The swamp of social studies is not deep. It is shallow, very shallow, fetid and septic. Shall we not expect that he who drinks of it will catch some thing? And that little boy in Wisconsin has indeed caught a "right response," for his meager understanding is dearly the understanding that was intended by those who "instructed" him.

So the third possibility turns out to be not less but more horrendous than the other two. The claim that some inquiries that are just too "advanced" for children to understand can be simplified or abbreviated so that children can understand what they can not understand is arrant nonsense and rank hypocrisy. In this program of nuclear warfare education, no inquiry at all was ever intended, no search for understanding through knowledge, but only the implanting of a certain belief in the uninformed and acquiescent minds of children. In Albania, too, the educationists call that "education."

If there are issues that children can not understand because their minds are insufficiently practiced and informed, and because they have little experience of living, then they can not understand them. Nor have they come to understand them when they have learned to recite the opinions of redactors and simplifiers claiming to be teachers.

And when they have learned that kind of lesson often enough--how often is that?--they will slip easily into the condition that Cicero had in mind: lifelong childhood. Childhood is not best understood as a time of life, for its time is variable and indeterminate. Childhood is better understood as a kind of life, the kind that is simply natural to those in whom the mind is still credulous and unpracticed. Such a mind can not seek understanding by knowledge and rational inquiry, but will readily accept and recite opinions delivered by anyone to whom credulousness grants authority. There is no point in asking, of the boy in Wisconsin, What did he know and how did he reason? The useful question would be: Whom did he heed? He heeded certain other children, who learned the same lesson in the same way.

This is the fact that lies at the heart of all of our troubles in "education," the fact that must ultimately defeat all attempts at reform. The children in the schools are just children, who might someday, if left unmolested, put away childish things. But the other people in the schools, the teachers and teacher trainers, the educrats and theory mongers, are confirmed children. They are, indeed and alas, exactly what they claim to be--"role models." And they represent the end of that process to which schooling is the means: the subversion of knowledge and reason, stern governors, by bands of cunning babies, feelings and beliefs.

If we can escape a nuclear calamity only through some brand of ideological indoctrination in all our children, then we might inquire as to whether we should escape it. But thus we will not escape; we rather make it all the more possible. Violence is an extremity of unreason, and we do not escape either unreason or violence by calling the one to save us from the other.

Nor can we hope that little children who have been dosed with unreason and praised for swallowing it will one day, by magic or luck, put on thoughtfulness and require, of any who would persuade them, knowledge and reason. If that is a part of the natural process of growing up, which is at least questionable, it can obviously be prevented, and by nothing more than a little modification in the affective domain and the relentless display of role models who have already been suitably modified.

And it is a great pity, for children can learn from other children. The very teachers that we now have could easily teach the younger children things like the skills of language and number, upon which all mature and thoughtful understanding must ultimately be founded. They could lead them into reading the words of the thoughtful, words to be stored up against need, for need will surely come. They could treat the younger children like what they truly are, inheritors of wealth beyond counting, the great record of our long struggle to understand "it all," which permits no shortcuts.

But that is to say that the smaller children might someday grow up if the bigger were to grow up today. What do you suppose the chances are?

[VII:6, October 1983]


As Maine Goes...

The South Portland Board of Education voted April 11 to introduce a new high school course. Low Level American History, starting in September 1984.

The course would be aimed at the "slow readers or non-readers at the high school," Principal Ralph Baxter told the board.

The purpose of the course, Baxter said, would be to help students achieve the necessary number of points to graduate. He said the high school already has similar low-level courses in English, math, and science, the other three subjects required for graduation.

THAT is the news from Maine, as reported in the American Journal of South Portland for May 4, 1983, and we have to admit that we are absolutely astonished (and impressed) by that Ralph Baxter chap. We would never have dreamed that there could be a principal so precise in his use of prepositions. "Non-readers at the high school," he calls them, as though they just happened to be hanging around in the halls and waiting for someone to give them diplomas.

And so they are. And they will get those diplomas sooner or later, but not, as one might idly suppose, out of the compassionate largesse of an egalitarian society. Something, to be sure, is handed to them on a platter, but it's just a nasty mess of gristle and grease. On commencement day, when the new graduates gratefully wag their tails and lap up the orts, the Ralph Baxters of educationism wipe their jowls and belch.

In educationistic ideology, there are at least three justifications for mind-boggling monstrosities like the courses offered in Maine. Of two, the educationists are actually aware. The third, however, can be detected only through knowledge and reason.

First, there is the body count.

Even in these days, when everyone ought to know better, you can find an occasional defense of the schools, usually as a filler in the neighborhood shoppers' guide. The apologist is usually a superintendent dodging flak or an assistant porseffor of education padding his list of publications, and the "arguments" are always exactly the same, always the party line. And one of them is always the body count.

By counting the bodies, an educationist can easily prove, by the logic he learned in teacher school, that the American public schools are not only better than ever, but also better than any other nation's schools. Never in the whole history of mankind have so many "achieved the necessary number of points to graduate."

And then there's the business of democracy in action. The schools are democracy in action. When people are denied diplomas just because they were never taught to read, all who can read will become elitists.

The third justification, the one of which the educationists are possibly not aware, is the approach of 1984. The schools have certainly done their best by fostering Doublethink and Newspeak, and rewriting history as social studies. They have managed, even without two-way television, to find out lots of neat stuff about their students' feelings and beliefs. They have not yet, however, provided the One Thing most needed for the New Day--a sufficient number of proles, those slow readers and non-readers without whom 1984 just won't be the real thing. They're working on it.

Those who imagine that American education can be "reformed" would do well to meditate not on more money for merit pay and computers but on a child, one child. Any one of the non-readers of South Portland will do.

Consider him. He is the victim of an injustice, deprived of the fullness of humanity, the habits and powers of rational discourse amid the thoughtful consideration of meaning. And how can we now deal justly with him? By giving him a diploma? By denying it, adding insult to injury?

In fact, the injustice can never be undone, as though it had never befallen him. He is a crooked branch, having been badly bent as a twig. It would need wise and mighty efforts even to begin to help him to grow straight. Who will put forth those efforts? If the schools were "reformed" miraculously tomorrow, what good would that be to him? Or to hosts of others in the same plight?

In the glorious world of tomorrow, when all the high school graduates can read and reason thoughtfully, our non-reader from South Portland will still he a prole, governed, and easily governed, by unexamined appetites, easily engendered; led, and easily, by pandering politicians, flatterers and entertainers of every sort, and those wheedling behavior modifiers who made him not only a prole but also a prole full of self-esteem,

It is the goal of education to deliver us from the captivity of the unexamined life and out of the power of persuaders. Those who now offer to reform education are the persuaders themselves, the politicians of either stripe, and the social engineers now running the schools and peddling garbage like Low Level English for Non-readers, for which they have already assured the need. They imagine that education is a process for producing certain kinds of people for collective purposes. For the moment, they suppose that the ultimate boon of education is not the examined life but the ability to outsell the Japanese.

Our famous excellence commission meditated not on the dismal destiny of one child, but on a nation, "a nation at risk," at risk of not outselling the Japanese. It will bring forth, therefore, if anything, only a revised nationalistic "education," a modernized program of life-adjustment, this time with computers. And, when the need arises, the school board in South Portland will approve Ralph Baxter's proposal for a course in Low Level Computer Science.

The nature of the injustice done long ago to our non-reader is exactly this: He was put into a system that exists not for his sake but only for the sake of the nation.

The "success" of a school system designed "for the good of the nation," as construed by the government employees who run the schools, is not to be measured by the lifelong captivity of one poor clod. Some number of such clods is, in fact, "for the good of the nation." They can do the scutwork and provide employment for government functionaries in social services. They will always be crying for the moon and illustrating "democracy in action" by flocking into the faction of those who most persuasively promise it. We can't have too many, however, lest we fail to outsell the Japanese. Ending up with just the right number is an appropriate, and quite sufficient, goal of a school system that is intended for the good of the nation. In that great cause, what does it matter that some poor clod in Maine can't lead an examined life, which is probably an over-rated, and surely a suspiciously elitist, enterprise? He'll be all right. We'll tell him whatever it is he needs to know. And he may turn out to be a productive worker, anyway, and thus to serve the good of the nation after all.

[VII:5, September 1983]


The Children of the State

A general state education is a mere contrivance for moulding people to be exactly like one another; and the mould in which it casts them is that which pleases the predominant power in the government, whether this be a monarch, a priesthood, an aristocracy, or the majority of the existing generation in proportion as it is efficient, it establishes a despotism over the mind, leading by natural tendency to one over the body. J. S Mill

Sometimes our readers imagine that we go too far. Once, when we concluded that the American government school system was exactly what Lenin ordered, certain readers imagined that we had gone too far. Later, when we concluded that religious schools were in no important way different from government schools, and that what Luther ordered was even more oppressive than what Lenin ordered, certain other readers imagined that we had gone too far.

In fact, however, we never have the space to go far enough. Of the inane pronouncements and the sentimental mantras of educationism, we ask one question, a question that should always be asked of any proposition, even the most familiar, especially the most familiar: If this is true, what else must be true? It is a little question with a big answer. It throws a wonderful ray of clear light into sunless stews of superstition all the way from astrology to the affective domain.

To answer that question, however, is usually an exasperating chore. It's difficult enough to puzzle out exactly what the educationists are saying, and why they say it, is, therefore, all the harder to construe. Often, after having worked out the logical, and horrible, implications of their dicta, we don't know whether to indict them for vice or for folly. It is thus a rare pleasure to discover an educationist who does not leave us in doubt.

He is a certain William H. Seawell, a professor of education at the University of Virginia, a paragon of clarity, a plain speaker in whom there is no mealy-mouthing, no obliquity, no jargon at all.

"Each child," says William H. Seawell, "belongs to the state." What could be clearer?

In saying that, Seawell, who is, after all, a paid agent of the government of a state, was doing nothing more than what he is paid to do. That function is called, almost certainly by every government on the face of the Earth, "Educating the People." But Seawell's forthrightness, in a matter that ordinarily puts educationists to pious pussy-footing, suggests that he is no mere time-server who is just following orders. He sounds like exactly the kind of agent that any government most prizes: a True Believer.

And a brave one, too. For he also said, to an audience of mere citizens, gathered to "celebrate" the opening of yet another government schoolhouse in Fort Defiance, Virginia, that the purpose of "education" is "the training of citizens for the state so the state may be perpetuated."

Although Seawell probably holds to the orthodox educationistic belief that "truth and knowledge are only relative"* he seems to have spoken as one who knew with absolute certainty that Jefferson had left Virginia forever, and could not possibly be sitting quietly, horsewhip in hand, out in the dim back rows of the auditorium. It could only be out of some such certainty although ignorance might serve as well--that a man would dare to admit that "public schools promote civic rather than individual pursuits," and to argue from that, that "only public education can he used to gain a free society."

Fort Defiance, eh? Well, times have changed in Virginia. Our source, The Staunton Leader, a remarkably restrained newspaper, says nothing at all about the mere citizens' reaction to being educated by Seawell. We have to assume, however, that even The Leader would have made some brief mention of the fact if the man had been tarred and feathered and ridden out of Fort Defiance on a rail, So that probably didn't happen.

And that it didn't is witness to the efficacy of an "education" designed for the perpetuation of the state. Such an "education" must see to it that its victims are habitually inattentive to the meaning of the words and slogans in which they are "educated." No one, it seems, muttered any tiny dissent when Seawell over-ruled the Constitution and appointed unto himself and his ilk the task that many Virginians might have deemed more suitable to other hands: "We must focus on creating citizens for the good of society."

So. We are now to hold these truths to he self-evident: That all citizens are encumbered by the State that creates them with certain inevitable burdens, and that among these burdens are a life of involuntary servitude for the perpetuation of the State, the liberty to be required by law to learn from their Creators the worth of the civic and the nastiness of the individual, and the assiduous pursuit--and this is Seawell's parting shot--of only those pastimes deemed (by agents of government, we guess) "productive."

It is possible, of course, that hidden among the impositions of George III upon the colonies there were provisions more heinous and tyrannical than William H. Seawell's grand design for Educating the People, but damned if we can think of any just now. And it gives us sadly to wonder.

Some eminently reasonable and well-educated men found King George's comparatively mild and unintrusive intentions nothing less than a "Design to reduce them under absolute Despotism," as a delegate from Virginia put it. But the king never claimed that he was the creator--and owner--of his subjects, or that their purpose was the perpetuation of the state. He did not require the children to attend schools in which his hired agents would persuade them as to his notions about the "good of society." Nevertheless--and it suddenly seems strangely unaccountable--those thoughtful men took up arms against that king. Was it for this that they delivered us from that?

The citizens of Fort Defiance probably gave Seawell, at the least, a free feed. Maybe even a plaque.

Well, not to worry. All this took place long ago in May of 1981. By now, surely, all the other educationists will have vigorously dissociated themselves from Seawell's eccentric views. As soon as we hear news of his repudiation, we'll pass it right along, lest you fret about the state of the Republic.

_________

* From Bloom's Taxonomy, which we ex-amined last month. It's still in force. back

[VII:2, March 1983]


A Lecture on Politics

The state in which the rulers are most reluctant to govern is always the best and most quietly governed; and the state in which they are most eager, the worst.

WE have heard from a faithful, but worried, reader. He is afraid that Ronald Reagan might read The Underground Grammarian and make use of our arguments for his own devious purposes. And we have, indeed, often argued that good schools, cleansed of trashy courses and parasitic functionaries, would cost less than the schools we now have.

Strangely enough, our worried reader obviously did not suggest at all that our arguments are wrong; he feared only that they might be used by a wrong person in a wrong cause. And now we are worried, for that fear is itself a frightening reminder of the tremendous power of factional belief over the freedom of the mind.

If an argument is sound and rational, it is sound and rational no matter who uses it. If Reagan, or some other politician, or the Devil himself, should choose to espouse sound and rational argument, we would all be better off. But that can not happen. Politicians--and the Devil-- just don't work that way.

In fact, if any politician were to adopt our understanding about the costs of public schooling, it could only mean that he has decided not to run. No office seeker, even should he find it true, would dare to say what we say. We do not fear, therefore, that we may provide unintended--and utterly unmerited--aid and comfort either to Ronald Reagan or to any of his currently numerous opponents.

What we do fear, however, is a result even worse than that. Thanks largely to that pussy-footing excellence commission report, which-looks more and more like a clever ploy to precisely this end, the future of education in America may be delivered into the hands of politicians, the only people around whose influence on the life of the mind is even more baleful than that of the educationists. When the very last returns of the election of 1984 are finally in, they may well show that the American people have been persuaded at last not only to accept but also to approve the notion that the character of "education" should be determined in the voting booth. Nothing worse could happen to us.

Among us, the rulers are not reluctant to govern. In pursuit of office, they will bellow with the herd in broad daylight, and, in darkness, hunker down with the wolves. They prosper by persuasion and the exacerbation of factional discord. Like the educationists, they prefer to ply their trade in the misty precincts of "the affective domain," where sentiment and belief can he assigned a greater "moral" power than knowledge and reason, provided only that they be "worthy sentiment" and "right belief," to which every faction lays claim. Politicians must thus depend upon the existence of a certain number of citizens who share similar desires but who neither will nor can inquire as to whether they should desire what they desire. Nor do our politicians find it useful to encourage such inquiry.

All of that may be "only realistic," but if it is, it points to certain loathsome realities. It must mean, a) that Americans have not achieved that "informed discretion" that Jefferson deemed essential to a free people, b) that politicians profit from that lack, and c) that, as to improvements in the hen-house security system, the foxes will have some ideas of their own.

For that is exactly what an education is--a security system that signals the intrusion of ignorance and unreason. It is education that unmasks opinion or belief parading as knowledge, and defrocks persuasion pretending to be logic. It is our defense against the tyranny of appetite and ideology, and our only path to self-knowledge and self-government. It is, in short, exactly the sovereign remedy for politics as practiced among us.

We have listened to Reagan, and we have listened to Mondale, who seems sufficiently typical of the other pack. They show no sign of knowing what they mean by "education." According to the faction they hope to please, they take education to be some sort of more or less practical training in something or other, or an indoctrination in somebody's favorite version of socially acceptable notions, or an incoherent muddle known as "adjustment to life." They address themselves to issues related not to education but only to the school business, to schools as agencies of government and bureaucratic structures. They believe, or pretend to believe, that the solution lies in this or that, prayer, or pay, or something.

And one of those men, or someone just like one of them, will win the presidential election of 1984, trailing behind him his promises and debts. To whom then will he turn in the great cause of excellence and the reform of schooling? Plato? Jefferson? To anyone who understands education as the mind's strong defense against manipulation and flattery? Will he drive out once and for all, by denying them their "monies," the clowns and charlatans of educationism who have brought us to this pass? Or will he rather prove that he "supports education" by handing those innovative thrusters more monies?

The educationists do claim that they run the only game in town, that they are the only real professionals who know all about education. And, since they are not able to detect irony, they can claim with perfectly straight faces that they are the only ones who can help us, now that we have gotten ourselves into this mess.

They lie. But politicians are realistic, and they don't care that educationists lie. They care only that the educationists be perceived as panting after excellence, and that they can manage.

We face nothing less than the ultimate test of democracy, a sterner test than war itself. The survival of the nation may be a necessary condition of individual freedom, but it is certainly not a sufficient condition. If "democracy" means rule by those who know best how to please the uninformed and thoughtless, which is the condition asserted, and presumably accepted, by those who excuse politicians as "realistic," then we can not be free. We must suffer the tyranny not only of our own appetites and notions, but of the appetites and notions of any slim majority of everyone else. If we tolerate the existence of such multitudes, we can not be free. And if we permit the politicians and the educationists to define the nature and purpose of education according to their appetites and notions, to say nothing of their track records, then we will ensure the existence of such multitudes. And we will never be free.

Democracy is not a form of government that provides freedom. That it is, is the sort of illusion easily (and conveniently) induced in the multitudes who are given pep-rallies in "citizenship" rather than the disciplined study of history and politics. But democracy may well be that form of government that most liberally permits freedom. Even Aristotle, who had no illusions about the supposed "rightness" of multitudes in proportion to their size, was willing to grant this:

"If liberty and equality, as is thought by some, are chiefly to be found in democracy, they will be best attained when all persons alike share in the government to the utmost."

An uneducated person is simply unable to "share in the government." (governing is exactly what is learned through education. The uneducated, of whatever rank or station do not even govern themselves, but simply obey whatever desires and beliefs they suppose to be their own. But if they can not govern, they can certainly rule. And should they be reluctant to do that, some realistic politician will be delighted to set them straight.

Jefferson did not commend "informed discretion" as a graceful adornment for a lucky few. He prescribed it as a necessary condition for freedom in a democracy, for he knew that the latter does not ensure the former. And he prescribed it for "all persons alike…to the utmost."

Well, let's keep on looking for a bluebird. Maybe Jefferson was wrong. Maybe we can be "ignorant and free." Someday, maybe, we'll find out. Maybe as soon as November of 1984.

[VII:5, September 1983]


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