It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things
that men of intemperate minds cannot be free;
their passions forge their fetters.
THIS book started out to be a large collection of pieces from The Underground Grammarian, a dissident if tiny journal that has achieved notoriety if not fame, and to which I am a party. Such a collection was proposed by a publisher (not, I am happy to say, my publisher) and recommended as a not-too-difficult task. My own publisher, Little, Brown, although wise enough not to suggest such a venture, was nevertheless not as prudent when it came to signing a contract.
I spent several months choosing, ordering, and contemplating selections from The Underground Grammarian, intending to sort them by themes and stitch them together with running commentaries, elaborations, and second thoughts. Even third thoughts. It turned out a stupid and pointless exercise. If there is anyone who thinks that the world needs such a collection, let him make it.
What stopped me was this: As I went through scores of essays on the relation of language to the work of the mind and critical commentaries on displays of ignorance and stupidity in the written work of academicians, I could see that some were more important than others. They suggested a single theme. They were all more or less about the same thing, that special and unmistakable kind of mendacious babble that characterizes not politicians or businessmen, not Pentagon spokesmen or commercial hucksters, but, always and only, those members of the academic community who are pleased to call themselves the “professionals” of education. Those pieces, taken together, seemed to me at least a skimpy outline, or, better, scattered reference points suggesting something much larger and more momentous than a mere collection of ponderous inanities. It seemed to me that I could, from certain of those small articles, make out the murky form of the hidden monster whose mere projections they were, breaking here and there the oily surface of some dark pool.
As a result, I abandoned the collection and undertook the task of describing, by extrapolation from one visible protuberance to another, and with a little probing, the great invisible hulk of the beast, the brooding monstrosity of American educationism, the immense, mindless brute that by now troubles the waters of all, all that is done in our land in the supposed cause of “education,” since when, as you see, I can rarely bring myself to write that word without quotation marks, or even fashion a sentence less than nine or ten lines long, lest I inadvertently fail to suggest the creature’s awesome dimensions and seemingly endless tentacular complexities. I will try to do better. The somber subject requires clarity.
Thou canst not, however, draw out this Leviathan with an hook either. A complete, thoughtful history and analysis of American educationism would require several fat volumes, and even the author’s best friends would not read it. It is, after all, a boring subject. I have done my best to make it interesting by dwelling on its startling and horrifying attributes, which are, in any case, the most important indicators of its harmful powers. It’s not a pretty sight. I have been, too, as brief as possible. In consequence, there is probably no understanding in this book of which it is not possible to say: “Well, true, but there’s more to it than that.” Quite so. I hope that many will someday look for the “more,” but I will be content, for now, with the “true.” I have everywhere provided as true an understanding as I can discover, and I am persuaded that a comprehensive and detailed historical analysis will, if it ever appears, show that my assessment of American educationism is encyclopaedically incomplete but right anyway. The prodigious monster is down there, I know, and even if its tentacles and appendages, its gross organs and protrusions, its subtle convolutions and recesses, are invisible, I have still seen enough to know the nature of the beast.