The Principles March On

THE EDUCATIONISM that now informs our schools and teacher academies is an amalgam of post-Wundtian misunderstanding and the Sunday-school do-goodism of Cardinal Principles. From the former it takes its characteristically therapeutic and manipulative methods and devices, and from the latter its pious pretensions as an agent of social harmony and guardian of the public virtue. In one way, therefore, it is pseudo-scientific, and in the other, pseudo-religious. It is the devotion to contradictory principles of dubious validity that generates the mental climate of educationism and leads to that special fatuousness so typical of American educational thought, a vexing blend of the illogical and the sentimental.

As recently as 1971, the National Education Association undertook a project called “Schools for the 70’s and Beyond.” The ensuing “main report,” “written primarily [sic] by Warren T. Greenleaf and Gary A. Griffin,” was published as a slim volume: A Call to Action. Although it was clearly written in the shadow of growing discontent about schools, it urged at least consideration of “the thesis that school excellence narrowly defined, not school failure narrowly defined, has given us most of the problems that divide our nation in 1970″–an entertaining proposition, and one that would surely confirm the assertion in Cardinal Principles that too much attention to intellectual discipline inhibits right understanding. And the “argument” put forth in support of that thesis is itself a dramatic example of worthy disregard for mere information:

It was not illiterate, backward men who spiked our residential skylines with steel forests of television antennas, spoiled our rivers with the defecations of a hundred “growth” industries, fouled our air with the sooty contrails of a thousand jet planes taking off daily, or choked our cities with automobiles that cost as much to park as to buy. That work was accomplished by men whose schooling enabled them to develop transistors, no-deposit-no-return bottles, pressurized cabins, and a 36-months-to-pay economy.

You say you want to understand how a modern technological society works? Well, now you know. Men with schooling cunningly trick the multitudes into buying television antennas and driving expensive cars. Educated elitists force decent citizens to travel in airplanes and callously require them to dispose of bottles at their own expense. It isn’t the “illiterate, backward men” who visit these horrors on us; untainted by “excellence narrowly defined,” they can manage only rape, murder, arson, and an occasional gas-station stickup.

This amazingly stupid oversimplification is perfectly typical of educational theory. It is typical, too, in its confusion of “education” with the ability to design transistors and to pressurize cabins, which is precisely the sort of thing Cardinal Principles had in mind when it spoke of vocational training. Such a confusion is inevitable, however, when the pursuit of intellectual discipline is seen as hostile to right and worthy understanding. Even a fairly elementary technology, that of the electrician or plumber, for example, depends on certain disciplined habits of mind and a suitably large mass of information. The designing of transistors may be more complicated, but it is essentially the same kind of enterprise as plumbing. A distrust of intellectual discipline must eventually become a distrust of any disciplined habits of mind and any traditional store of “mere information.” Logically, therefore, the writers of A Call to Action might also have indicted plumbers and electricians, the plumbers for having connected us to sewage systems and thence to the spoiling of rivers, and the electricians for making it easy to plug in the television sets for whose sake we have bought all those antennas.

Anti-intellectualism is like anti-Semitism, which only begins with the hating of Jews. From there it goes on to the ferreting out of hitherto-unsuspected manifestations of Jewishness, and anti-intellectualism goes on even to the denigration of technology, and thus of the very vocational training that schools offer as one of many antidotes to intellectualism. One could reasonably expect, therefore, that vocational training in the schools must become a halfhearted and half-baked enterprise, whose obvious purpose is not the teaching of even a relatively simple technology but the segregation of students for whom even “appreciation” seems too difficult. That, as it happens, is the case.

The writers of A Call to Action do not rest their case on the malefactors who brought us industrial waste and installment payments, outrageous impositions probably dating from neolithic elitism. They go on to say that “It was not ignorant men who designed a rifle bullet that could spin end over end to increase its flesh-tearing capacity.” That, they remind us, was done by men with “schooling in the far reaches of physics.” Well, maybe to an educationist a tumbling bullet, like the barb on a spear or the juice on an arrowhead, really does seem to come from the far reaches of physics. That would make sense.

They name also those devious “men sufficiently well educated to cite precedents from 200 years of American law” as the ones “who juggled school boundaries . . . to keep black children separate from white.” It was not, they assure us, “back-country bumpkins” who evilly studied law in order to “manipulate city ordinances.” The back-country bumpkins left that sort of thing to the overeducated gentry and just went on about the business of beating and shooting and lynching.

It is fascinating, of course, to hear those who operate the schools argue that because there are people who can build aircraft for profit and cite law in their own cause we may conclude that the schools have actually provided too much “excellence.” What is even more fascinating is that this bewildering and ignorant line of reasoning should find, apparently, no detractors among the vast membership of the National Education Association, many thousands of whom must have read and taken comfort from A Call to Action.

When I still fancied that the mindless and illogical utterances so common in Academe were the results simply of haste or carelessness, and long before I began to study the educationists’ self-justifications in works like Cardinal Principles and A Call to Action, the following ominously suggestive article appeared in The Underground Grammarian:


Trouble at NJEA

There is a kind of thoughtlessness that is not exactly stupidity. It is a failing seen in ordinarily intelligent people who, under the influence of self-interest, prefer to evade clarity of thought in precise language, giving themselves instead to recitation of the vague and comfortable. They write prostrate prose in which they let themselves be walked all over by verbal inaccuracies and the failures of logic that those inaccuracies always cause. Such prose is especially dangerous because it often sounds like common sense around the old pot-bellied stove. We will consider a case of cracker-barrel cant from the ruminations of one James P. Connerton.

Connerton is the new executive director of the New Jersey Education Association. All we know of him is what we read in the NJEA Review of January, 1979, to wit, that he has now returned to New Jersey after ten years spent in unspecified enterprises “in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Michigan, and other states.” How many other states, deponent saith not, but he doth say: “His goals are our goals. Our aspirations are his aspirations. Our joy and our pain are his joy and pain.” The pain probably has to do with moving expenses.

Deponent is Frank Totten, the president of NJEA. Here’s more of what he writes:

Together we are the NJEA. All of us have made us what we are today. What we will be in 10 or 20 years depends on our determination, our forsight, our hard work, and our togetherness.

Jim Connerton is determined, farsighted, hardworking and one of us. As in the past, we’ll do it together. We will determine our future and the future will be better because we have worked together.

Welcome home Jim. We need you. The present and the future will be better for us because we’ll work through them together.

That has a quaint charm, no? It sounds like the language in which invocations are spoken at the firemen’s annual clambake and certificates of achievement awarded at Little League banquets. Very American. However, we’d be readier to accept it–even to applaud it–if only it had begun with the traditional Unaccustomed As I Am. In this case, though, we might feel more confident about the future of civilization if one of the state’s best-known schoolteachers seemed more accustomed to written English, even to such trivia as comma splices and paragraph logic.

Never mind. Totten is only a harbinger. The har that he binges is an article in which Connerton speaks his mind: “Our ‘top’ priorities.”

Strictly speaking, we can not name more than one priority, or first thing, but the plural is irresistible to those who want to dignify anything they think they may someday prepare to begin to get ready to do something about or even just to think about. When a word means almost anything, it means almost nothing. To name something is to distinguish it from all the other things.

At the NJEA, they seem to have so many priorities that they have to distinguish them from one another, calling some of them “top” priorities. We must assume that they have also some middle priorities and bottom priorities. Of top priorities, Connerton explores a mere twelve. Here’s what he says about a vexatious top priority indeed:

Every reasonable person concedes that we can’t hold the parent accountable for the color of a child’s hair, that we can’t rate the minister by the number of parishioners who break the Commandments, and that we can’t blame the coach when a linebacker misses a tackle. Most people also concede that we can’t judge teachers by the scores their students make on tests–especially on tests approved by some state office in Trenton that does not mesh with the local curriculum. Students should be evaluated by a variety of relevant measures, and so should teachers.

That “every reasonable person” is a rhetorical gimmick similar to a speaker’s promise to make no mention of the well-known fact that his opponent is a thief and a pederast. In this case it is less effective, for it introduces either a shocking inanity or some hitherto unimagined cataclysm in genetics. But Connerton knows his audience. His pains are their pains, you’ll recall, and they feel an almost intractable pain whenever they hear “accountable.” By using the word in this context, he deludes readers into swallowing his absurdity, because they are predisposed to think that to hold parents “accountable” for attributes passed on to offspring is to castigate them for dereliction. If Connerton had said that in plain English, he would have avoided the absurd only to fall into the irrelevant. “Every reasonable person,” and even some members of the NJEA, would have asked, So what else is new, Jim?

Having grounded his argument firmly on a proposition that is either preposterous or pointless, depending on how we understand “accountable,” but having thereby won the hearts and minds of thoughtless readers, Connerton offers two further propositions meant to be analogous to the first. However, if they were plain statements of fact, which they are not, they could be analogous only to the irrelevant version of the first proposition. In order to be analogous to the other possible version, the absurd one, they would have to be obvious misrepresentations of fact, which they also are not. Therefore they are not analogous to the first proposition. In one way, that’s lucky for Connerton, since even schoolteachers might be able to spot three logical monstrosities in a row. In another way, it’s unlucky. His second and third propositions are analogous to the business of evaluating the effectiveness of teachers, and they suggest the opposite of what Connerton wants to say.

We can expect some normal amount of ox-coveting and idolatry in any congregation; but, should sinning increase inordinately and persist obstinately, as illiteracy has in the schools, we might indeed think to “rate” the shepherd of the flock. Furthermore, meek as they are, ministers would probably reject the implication that their work can be presumed to have no effect at all. Are teachers defending themselves by claiming that what they do cannot be presumed to have any effect? Why else would Connerton imply as much about the ministers? Maybe that’s why we don’t see those cute billboards anymore, the ones that used to say, “Teachers make the difference.”

And those hard-eyed entrepreneurs who invest in football teams do indeed blame coaches–and fire them, too–when more and more linebackers miss more and more tackles. It’s only amateurs who want to talk about “how you played the game.” Does this analogy tell us that schooling should be judged as leniently as amateur athletics, and that we should be good sports, saying of each newly graduated illiterate, Well, that’s how the ball bounces? If we were willing to concede that, do you suppose that Connerton would then concede that teachers should get the same salaries as those guys who coach the Little Leagues?

We have to presume, having heard of no mass defection from the NJEA, that most of the schoolteachers in New Jersey read this passage and found no fault in it. They were apparently content to find themselves defended in a ragged mishmash of non-sequiturs and false analogies that would earn a big fat F in any freshman logic course in the country. It must have reminded them of the papers that always guaranteed a big fat A, and perhaps even a cheerful, rubber-stamped smiling face, in all their education courses.

Whether or not Connerton knew what he was doing, who can say? But we can say that if he did he is an exceedingly clever writer, who knows that teachers are not too good at noticing fallacies. If he did not know what he was doing . . . well, that’s not our problem. He is paid for the work of his mind not by taxpayers but by schoolteachers.

This tiny passage raises colossal questions: Does it reflect accurately the intelligent power of the average teacher in New Jersey? If so, we have given the teaching of our children into the care of the slow-witted. Or can it be that our teachers can see through this stuff but choose to let it stand because they like it, presuming (oh, so correctly) that it will prove effective in persuading a slow-witted public? Must we choose between dullness of mind and self-serving cynicism? What can we hope for where the interest of teachers is best served by the stupidity of the people? Do you want a world in which reasoning like Connerton’s is accepted without question?

This is the most depressing text we have ever examined. It suggests a horrifying hypothesis, to wit, that, far from failing in its intended task, our educational system is in fact succeeding magnificently, because its aim is to keep the American people thoughtless enough to go on supporting the system. What educationists may say or even believe that they are doing is not to the point. Their self-interest is evident, and the cogency of their thinking is at least questionable. A hypothesis must be tested by reference to facts and its ability to account for the facts.

Now do your homework. Find some facts to test that dismal hypothesis. Brace yourself. You’re going to have a bad day.



It may be only a coincidence that the passage cited is the work of a man who is in charge of an affiliate of the National Education Association, the people who brought us not only Cardinal Principles but our new Department of Education, but I don’t think so. His pretense at argument is remarkably like that earlier bit about the wicked antenna-mongers. His audience is the same. His intention is the same: corporate self-justification. And, like the writers of A Call to Action, he can obviously write utter nonsense without any fear that his fellow educationists will expose him and call him to account. He is exercising the privileges of his membership in an extremely unusual sort of conspiracy, an unconscious conspiracy, if you can imagine such a thing, whose members are, in a very special sense, indubitably “innocent.” They have no idea at all of what they are doing.

I want to repeat now a passage that appeared earlier and that may have seemed to you a trifle rash:

We are people who imagine that we are weighing important issues when we exchange generalizations and well-known opinions. We decide how to vote or what to buy according to whim or fancied self-interest, either of which is easily engendered in us by the manipulation of language, which we have neither the will nor the ability to analyze. We believe that we can reach conclusions without having the faintest idea of the difference between inferences and statements of fact, often without any suspicions that there are such things and that they are different. We are easily persuaded and repersuaded by what seems authoritative, without any notion of those attitudes and abilities that characterize authority. We do not notice elementary fallacies in logic; it doesn’t even occur to us to look for them; few of us are even aware that such things exist. We make no regular distinctions between those kinds of things that can be known and objectively verified and those that can only be believed or not. Nor are we likely to examine, when we believe or not, the induced predispositions that may make us do the one or the other. We are easy prey.

Well, perhaps that sweeping “we” was rash, but the rest of it seems to me a fair description of people who can read about the antenna-mongers or Connerton’s clergymen and coaches without dismay and fury. There is no evidence whatsoever that reasoning of that sort, which can be found wherever educationism is preached, arouses either fury or dismay or even a mild discontent. That fact, intriguing in itself, suggests some further facts about educationism, where the blind are led about by the one-eyed king.

It can lead us to take a closer look at educationistic “humanism,” which, as you will remember, is the virtue for whose sake the educationists can hold that curious article of faith that finds intellectual achievement an inhibitor of effective teaching. In 1918 the Commission on the Reorganization of Secondary Education concluded, as we have seen, that the high schools had “so exclusively sought intellectual discipline” as to preclude “right emotional response.” Although that inappropriate emphasis on intellectual discipline was soon replaced by hundreds of easy electives intended to ensure a satisfactory adjustment to life, the writers of A Call to Action discovered, in 1971, that there was still far too much of it. “We have,” they say, speaking presumably for the NEA members who could read with gladness about those innocent back-country bumpkins, “overemphasized the intellectual development of students at the expense of other capacities.” They called for less intellectual development and more attention to “other categories of human potential–emotional, social, aesthetic, spiritual, and physical–which suggest other directions for curricular reform.”

There you have the beginnings of an understanding of the educationistic concept of “humanism.” It has to do with those “other categories of human potential,” other than intellectual, that is. This is a drastic transformation of a more well-known kind of humanism, in which it was quite specifically the human mind and its power of reason that gave the idea its name. Educationistic humanism is, in fact, so utterly unlike the system of thought ordinarily called by that name that I prefer to call the former by the name given it, although not exclusively in the cause of clarity, in the pages of The Underground Grammarian: “humanisticism.” In humanism, it is the mind of man that is the type and discoverer at once of knowledge and understanding. In humanisticism, various feelings, or, as Cardinal Principles called them, “right emotional responses,” seem to be thought of as the quintessential signs of being human. If we say of someone that he is a humanist, we suggest that he does the work of his mind in the expectation that he can devise knowledge and discover truth. The humanisticist, on the other hand, distrusts the work of the mind and seeks rather to be a certain kind of person than to do a certain kind of thing, expecting, it would seem, that knowledge and truth, relative things in any case, will become visible to the right kind of person.

The passage cited above, the one about the television antennas, is a splendid example of humanisticism, but certainly not of humanism. The humanist, too, would be repelled by filth and ugliness, but he would not find in it evidence of the inhumanity of the intellect in the “men whose schooling enabled them to develop transistors.” On the contrary, he might lament the plight of the millions in whom the inadequately schooled intellect makes possible and profitable all those expensive automobiles and the forests of antennas. He would find in all our ugliness and filth a sad comment on the meagerness of mind out of which we so prize material comfort and convenience that we transform perfectly human and ingenious technological achievements into common nuisances. He would even be able to suggest a remedy in the form of a populace sufficiently skilled in the work of the mind so as to consider the probable consequences of materialistic appetite and thus make such public nuisances less profitable.

The humanisticist sees that ugliness and filth as the work of those in whom the work of the mind has engendered wrong feelings or, just as bad, an absence of feelings. In this he finds the baleful influence of “excellence narrowly defined,” by which he seems to mean the development of intellectual, or at least, technical, skills without the simultaneous development of right feelings. He may also imply, but who can be sure, that intellectual discipline is hostile to the development of right feelings. That would seem to be the point in the later passage, where “other categories of human potential” are urged as an antidote to intellectual development. In effect, where the humanist says, If only we were thoughtful, the humanisticist says, If only we all felt the same way!

Humanisticism is sentimental, and in both senses of the word. The humanisticist sees the sentiments, or perhaps the human propensity to feel sentiments, as the quintessentially human attribute. He also puts faith, itself a sentiment, in what he considers either the evidence or even the conclusions of feelings, provided, of course, that they are “right” feelings. The delicious glow of sated greed, for instance, which might well have been the portion of those who sold all those antennas, although not of those who developed the theoretical understanding out of which they come, can not be trusted. It is not, in the language of Cardinal Principles, “worthy.”

We can now reconsider a passage cited above, in which an educationistic “researcher” names “the personal characteristics related to transpersonal teaching”:

(1) a view of man as essentially and inherently good at his core, (2) that the locus of power and authority in one’s life is within the individual, and (3) that when dealing with life situations it is most effective to apply one’s values to a solution with flexibility, and free of preconceptions or prejudice.

Those are surely decent sentiments, and they were almost certainly accepted and even applauded as such by the committee that granted the man who approved them a doctorate in education. They are also, of course, for what other kind can there be, “received” sentiments, often expressed, often approved, and sometimes even felt, at least in certain moods, by some human beings.

As a program for the practice of “transpersonal teaching,” however, they may fail to satisfy. The goodness of man “at his core” needs some defining, and even some thought. Many will surely profess a belief that man is good at his core without having any idea what they mean by those terms and without any knowledge of the great history of human attempts to understand exactly what those terms might be taken to mean and whether such a belief could be justified by anything more than sentiment. Nevertheless, one who holds such a belief is free to hold it, of course, in a total absence of knowledge and thought. But what about one who not only holds that belief but even recommends it to others, or, as in this case, puts it forth as a belief that teachers should have if they want to be good, i.e., transpersonal? Or, to put it more practically, how can the teacher-trainers provide their students with “a view of man as essentially and inherently good at his core?”

Let’s leave aside for now the question of why they should want to do that and ask only how it might be done. The intellectual study of the history of that belief will not suffice, for it is simply a fact that many who have pondered the proposition have concluded that it was either false or meaningless. In any case, the teacher-trainers are little likely to turn to intellectual study, which they already know to interdict right emotional response and to encourage the skepticism out of which men design transistors with no concern at all for the fact that transistors can be used in weapons. Where study will not serve, only precept and example remain. That’s why the teachers of teachers, and then, of course, the teachers themselves, give much attention to the skill of “exhibiting behavior” of a certain kind. (That girl in the bunny outfit, whom you have probably forgotten, but I have not, was practicing just that–exhibiting a behavior calculated to arouse appropriate sentiments in little children.) If you behave like one who believes in man’s good core, although exactly what deeds that might require I can’t begin to imagine, then your students will come to believe, or at least come to believe that you believe. The behavior by itself, of course, will be ambiguous, perhaps even baffling, and unless you also tell your students what your behavior means they may well conclude that you’re just a bit smarmy. Your acts and demeanor are “reinforcement” of the precept, the assertion that man’s core is good. See?

The intrusion of the intellect at any point in this process is disastrous. Even a simple question, “Miss Jones, why exactly do you view man’s core as essentially good?” will undo many months of exhibited behavior and reiterated precept. Notice, please, that the disaster lies in the question, not in the answer, although that would surely make things even worse. It is the asking of the question that marks the intrusion of the intellect, and it is no less devastating to humanisticism when the question is, as in fact it usually is, unspoken.

The inevitable collision of intellect and sentiment has even more frightful consequences. In a Sunday school it would be a simple demonstration either of dogmatism or typical grown-up hypocrisy, either of which children can easily recognize and shrug off. But classes in school, although they are in fact dedicated to the inculcation of beliefs, are often ostensibly devoted to some small work of the mind. In a biology class, therefore, intellectual inquiries are sometimes appropriate and sometimes not. The resultant confusion between what is knowable and what is not, and between statement of fact and assertion of belief, is usually sufficient to last any schoolchild for the rest of his life. And, for all the recitation of precepts and exhibitions of behavior, the lesson that he learns best is that his teachers could not make such distinctions either. Nor could their teachers.

To the incipient transpersonal teacher’s view of man’s core as good, we must also add, if we are teacher-trainers, the belief that “the locus of power and authority in one’s life is within the individual.” This curious proposition bristles with terms that are going to need very precise and narrow definitions if we are to find it credible. We will probably find that its very attractiveness as a sentiment will be drastically diminished when definitions are provided, and it is only in the absence of such definitions that anyone can recommend it as a major virtue. It becomes ludicrous when we imagine how the precept must be translated into practice in the teacher academy. Gum-chewing girls, still troubled by acne and addicted to movie magazines, will be persuaded that their chubby frames are loci of power and authority, notwithstanding the fact that their skills, the instruments of power, are minimal, and their knowledge, the root of authority, is meager. And, thus persuaded, they will go forth to exhibit the appropriate behaviors and recite the appropriate precepts in order to persuade poor and wretched children into the same sad delusion.

Now that we have given our would-be transpersonal teachers the belief, contrary to all evidence, that they are self-sufficient loci of power and authority and that man’s core is inherently good, it remains only to see that they apply these values in “life situations” “with flexibility, and free of preconceptions of prejudice.” Decisions, decisions. Well, what the hell. Let us by all means hold unalterably to that value about man’s good core, until we flex it in a life situation, that is. On the other hand, though, can it be that that very belief, that is, the belief that we must be flexible about out beliefs, is one of those preconceptions and prejudices of which we must be free? Or can it be that the value out of which we flex our values is itself flexible, thus permitting us, in certain life situations, to be flexible enough not to be flexible and to free ourselves from that preconception about being free from preconceptions? Or can we just lie down and forget the whole damn thing? Such absurdities must always occur when the mouth runs off in the recitation of precepts couched in vague generalizations and undefined terms. But they do not trouble the educationistic humanisticists, who never seem to notice them. The important thing is that the precept sounds good. And it does–quite good enough, in fact, to be elevated into a principle of teacher education, where the disruptive questions of the intellect will never intrude.

I have been talking, of course, not of the specific program of any teacher-training academy but of Waterman’s notions of “the personal characteristics related to transpersonal teaching.” It may be, I admit, that there is somewhere in America a teacher academy that rejects such notions and also the notion that such notions have anything at all to do with effective teaching, but I don’t think so. Waterman’s “characteristics” are painfully familiar to anyone who has paid attention to the loudly proclaimed humanisticism of teacher-training. That’s exactly the sort of thing they all say, and that they all champion as our only protection against the unbridled ruthlessness of intellectual discipline, also known as “excellence narrowly defined.”

Excellence broadly defined, however, is a mild master. It can be anything you like. And when broadly defined excellence is understood as the goal of a pious and humanisticist education, any sanctimonious amateur can fancy himself a teacher of anything at all. In the teacher academies this permits some startling but not at all uncommon courses, in which “appreciation” is the aim, in despite of knowledge.

A splendid example of the hokum thus generated came in the mail one day to the editorial offices of The Underground Grammarian. It was a mimeographed sheet, headed by one of those silly smiling faces and announcing a course in the Department of Educational Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Tennessee. The course, “The Existential Student,” was for seniors and graduate students, and the “teacher,” who billed himself as “Seminar Co-ordinator,” was a certain Anand Kumar Malik. His powers must be unbounded; here’s what he proposes:

OBJECTIVES: Aim is to introduce the students in an informal situation to the major themes in existentialism and humanism; to make them aware of their basic inner freedom to lead an authentic life, to sing their own song, to dance their way through life, to relate themselves to themselves through self-understanding, to relate themselves to others through non-ego love, to accept their complete academic responsibility to their own growth and to enrich their own educational curriculum and life experiences. All in harmony with their basic responsibilities to others in the world.

There follows a description of the intended “Learning Experiences,” on which I would like to comment, but cannot. My power of language is just not sufficient. Fortunately, however, a letter was enclosed with the announcement. It was printed in its entirety in The Underground Grammarian thus:


Song and Dance in Tennessee

Dear Underground, I have been reading and studying you magazine for sometime and I truly do enjoy reading it. The onliest thing is, is that it is hard to study out what it means. A least always. I don’t mean the Latin or whatever it is in the “headlines” which I can skip them anyway but it seems to me that folks up North make things out harder than they have to be some time and you could learn from us as well. You take Philosophy, as any one would call it a hard “subject” (but not in Knoxville) because you would want to read about the material dialects and the rational. Still, I think you would very seriously do it but end up finally with book learning that is alright in its place, however, life must go on as they say. You will see from the “enclosed” that Philosophy does not have to be hard, and not even Existentialism that is the hardest known Philosophy. It tells about Anand Kumar Malik and his course he is teaching called The Existential Student, and very well put by the “headline.” “You are hereby invited to become no one but yourself.” It gives a good feeling and the smiling face picture really gets the message across. Any one who could get themselves down to the University of Tennessee, in Knoxville this summer, could learn Existentialism and Humanism thrown in as the flyer says in only four (4) weeks in the dept. of Education, and that’s what it is about after all. If I may give some quotes from the flier you will see that school can be fun, when the students learn “to sing their own song” and “to dance their way through life.” It gives some selected writings too, and as I said there is not a thing wrong with book learning, but I have to admit that I don’t recognize the names, except Elizabeth Lacey tells me that a friend of hers has a whole book of Philosophy by that Mr. Kahlil Gibran, or probably Prof. Gibran, and she says that he is “very good.” (Exact quote!) They will have existential music and existential art slides, and “making your own existential painting.” Best of all is they will “relate themselves to themselves through self-understanding” and that makes good sense if you ask me in my humble opinion. Maybe you shouldn’t think school should be all that hard as you seem to think some times, because here is Mr. Malik whose not only an education teacher but he can teach Existentialism too, and he even lets the students figure up their grades so there won’t be all that worry about flunking (failing.) Now that is the whole difference right there between the teachers and the others, and I bet you won’t find any cheerful smiling face picture drawn up at the top of any fancy medical school flyer. You take doctors and lawyers and even I hope you don’t mind my saying so some of your college professors and you will find there is more than just one stuffed shirt between them. That is because all those “subjects” they study they make them so serious as though somebody’s or other life depended on it. Life isn’t all a rose colored glass, you know, and it is good to have faith that our school teachers can learn Existentialism and dance through it with a song in their heart nevertheless. I know you hate mistakes, so I looked up the hard words.


To that breathtaking commentary I can add only a few trivial footnotes: The writers whose “existential themes” are to be studied in four weeks are eighteen in number and range from Kierkegaard to Susan Polis Schutz, and include Carlos Castaneda as well as that celebrated existentialist, Kahlil Gibran. The students, who will, of course, determine their own grades, even as they sing their own songs and dance their own ways, will also keep “a small diary of . . . brief reactions to some existential ideas.” Small. Brief. Some. And naturally, reactions. Knowledge is not at issue. Each student is promised “an annotated bibliography on existentialism and humanism (for . . . continuous self-development after the seminar is over.)” Continuous self-development. As to how (or whether) existentialism and humanism are distinguished I cannot say.

The ordinary citizen, contemplating such a juvenile parody of scholarship, is inclined to protect his sanity by assuming that such a course is a freakish anomaly. That, alas, cannot be so. This instructor, after all, is not an independent entrepreneur peddling self-help and uplift down at the Community Center on Tuesday evenings from seven to nine. This course is offered with the approval and connivance of his colleagues and co-conspirators in that Department of Educational Curriculum and Instruction and the entire administrative apparatus of the University of Tennessee. And that means, dear citizen, that not one of all those professors, committee members, chairmen, deans, vice-presidents, and who can say how many other functionaries, probably including legislative committees and the governor himself, had either enough knowledge or concern to suggest that the king was naked.

It would probably be a mistake to assume that the students enrolled in such a course were taken in by it, although there will be a few in any teacher-training program slow and gullible enough to mistake a small diary of brief reactions for the work of the mind. Students take those courses precisely because they are silly and easy, and you would do the same. Those credits are worth money. And on the other side of the transaction, the existence of such a course is also worth money–and professional respectability, and job security–to the one who teaches it and the system that permits it. That makes me suspicious. Although I think that I can understand why those seniors and graduate students, in search of certificates and raises, might gladly take courses like “The Existential Student,” I find it less easy to be tolerant of those who teach and sponsor them and of what can only be called the corporate complicity of the entire system of public education in America.

Furthermore, it is discouraging to notice that the graduates of our teachers’ colleges do not, as you might think, all forswear the nonsense to which they have been subjected once they have their certificates in hand. Or, if they do, they are remarkably secretive about it. In the kingdom of educationism, outspoken dissidents are rare. This is because those few who do dissent and shake off the childish humanisticism of their education courses have good reason to know that nothing can be done about anything. But it must also be because there are in any teachers’ college enough of the slow and gullible to form a permanent population of committed humanisticists who will never change. I conclude that this must be so, for there is no other way to account for the existence and growing numbers of institutions like the Connecticut Teachers’ Center for Humanistic Education, which was described thus in the pages of The Underground Grammarian:


The Black
Whole of Connecticut

“Mistah Kurtz–he transpersonalized.”

The center cannot hold, you say? Poo. Come with us now, up some tranquil New England waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth and into the heart of an immense darkness. There, we will come at last to the Connecticut Teachers’ Center for Humanistic Education, and it’s holding very well indeed, thank you.

Dark humanistic shapes we will make out in the distance, flitting indistinctly against the gloomy border of the forest, and, chief among them, brooding over some inscrutable purpose, Emily, the Assistant Director. All we know of her is what we read in Centering, the Center’s little newsletter. Here it is–sic:

Emily has experience training in the areas of Bio-energetics, Psychosynthesis, Gestalt Therapy, Arica Psychocalesthenics, Yoga and Tai Chi. Emily has been a consultant to Connecticut Public Schools . . . in self-awareness training, confluent education, and organization development…. Emily is committed to working with individuals wholistically–facilitating the integration of their emotional, intellectual, physical and transpersonal aspects.

In the hush that falls suddenly upon the whole (or “hole,”) sorrowful land, do remember that Emily is only the Assistant Director. What must he be, who can direct the labors of such an assistant? And whose heads are those, their transpersonal aspects hideously integrated on self-awareness training poles, that fence these murky precincts? They look so small.

We are lost, lost in an area. Is it the area of Psychosynthesis or the area of Tai Chi? Could we be in the neighborhood of Bioenergetics or even in the immediate environs of Arica Psychocalesthenics? Who knows? They look so much alike. That’s why we all need Assistant Directors, real professionals of education, with rigorous “experience training” in areas. Oh, what a mistake we made studying junk like geography when what we ought to have had was experience training somewhere in the area-awareness area. Now we just can’t seem to facilitate the integration of any of our aspects. The horror, the horror.

We have, of course, no idea at all of what teachers do in a teachers’ center, and we obviously never will, for the gravity of the Black Whole of Connecticut is so enormous that no light escapes. We can only guess, therefore, that teachers hie themselves there to have their Gestalten therapized in the lotus position, performing the while, quietly within the psyche, synthesizing calesthenics, whatever those may be, interspersed with an occasional aspect-integrating and big-energizing round of Tai Chi, perhaps a confluent form of Parcheesi for individuals. That would explain a lot.


That’s all we can tell you. Like that other cryptic screed, our source gave “no practical hints to interpret [or even to understand] the magic current of its phrases . . . unless a kind of note . . . scrawled evidently much later, may be regarded as the exposition of a method,” or, at least, of a course in methodology. “It was very simple, and at the end of that moving appeal to every altruistic sentiment it blazed . . . luminous and terrifying, like a flash of lightning in a serene sky: ‘Excruciate the brats!'” And that, of course, would explain everything.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it isn’t out of cynicism but something worse that students in teachers’ colleges take courses in self-relating through life experiences. Maybe it’s folly. Maybe stupidity. Maybe it’s just the paralysis of the mind that may well befall anyone who has taken enough of such courses and listened to such cant and endured, bored and thus uncritical, the foolish circular arguments, generalizations, and non sequiturs of educationistic vaporizing. The teachers who frequent that Connecticut Teachers’ Center for Humanistic Education, and there must be some, perhaps many, go there of their own free will. They must want Psychosynthesis and Tai Chi. They must want to be worked with “wholistically” in the cause of the facilitation of the integration of their aspects. And the educationist bureaucrats who take our money for the support of the Connecticut Teachers’ Center for Humanistic Education must want the teachers to want such things. And the schools must have wanted to consult with Emily, again at our expense, on self-awareness training and organization development. In a world where all of that is not only possible but even usual, cynicism seems a refreshing virtue.

But it is precisely in such a climate, where self-help facilitations and puerile popularizations can blossom, that the pseudo-science and pseudo-religion of educationism can spread and flourish. In a climate of hard knowledge and rational analysis such flamboyant weeds would wither and die in a season. But that won’t happen. To their unique blend of the illogical and the sentimental, the educationists have added the techniques of a man to whom they owe far more than they do to Horace Mann, or John Dewey, or even Wundt, poor Wundt. The guiding spirit of the methods of educationism, if not the ideology, is, of course, Dale Carnegie.

The Pygmies’ Revenge