PETER’S well-known Principle was obviously discovered by a man who knew nothing at all about schools. In schools it just isn’t true that the people who can actually do their jobs get promoted until they find themselves, at last and forever, in the jobs they can’t do. This is because the most difficult and demanding jobs in education are what industry calls “entry-level positions,” teaching in classrooms. That’s the bottom rung of the school ladder, and there are many people who just can’t do that work. It isn’t, in itself, very difficult work; all it takes is intelligence, diligence, talent, and a little bit of luck. Those who have some of the first three, however, often run clean out of the fourth when they start taking education courses and start worrying more about enhancing their personological variables than about collecting more knowledge. (Furthermore, teaching obviously has to be done in a school, and many of our schools, after decades of eschewing “mere information” in the cause of “worthy citizenship,” have turned into lawless encampments of armed barbarians where no one can teach and no one can learn.) Those who are short on intelligence, diligence, and talent, however, find their luck much improved by the fact that the teachers’ colleges are designed for just such people.
Thus, partly because so many have incompetence thrust upon them, and partly because so many are born to incompetence, in every faculty there will be people who just can’t handle the entry-level position. In industry, or even in a fast-food restaurant, they would be washed out; but we don’t do that kind of thing in the schools, especially since public school teaching is more and more used by government as a jobs program for the less able. In the schools, those who cannot do the work at the lowest rank are simply promoted into higher ranks. Weirdly enough, given the nature of the educational enterprise, this makes perfect sense.
In those realms where the Peter Principle prevails, it is often true that higher rank and higher pay do go along with harder work. In the schools, where there is no harder work than teaching in a classroom, exactly the opposite is true. In fact, it is not at all absurd to imagine a perfectly splendid school in which there are only teachers and one clever and industrious handyman who can also type. On the other hand, think for a moment about the school toward which, as all the statistics suggest, we might be moving, a school made up almost entirely of administrators and their own “support services.” (They usually call them that.) In such a school we would see clearly what we now can see only darkly, through the frosted glass of governmental mandate and educationistic dogma: that almost all of the work done by those above the rank of teacher is contrived so that there may be more workers. Thus it is that so much of the administrative work done in schools is intended not to do work, as a physicist would use the term, but to occupy time and justify the existence of some administrative post.
It turns out, not surprisingly therefore, that the mindless and inflated jargon, superbly suited to the darkening of logic and the interminable belaboring of the obvious, is exactly the language that an educationistic administrator needs in order to conceal the fact that the work he does simply doesn’t need doing. If you want to rise in the school business, you have to master the lingo. This is another reason why good teachers don’t become principals and superintendents: The very attributes that make them good teachers also make it impossible for them to talk about experiential remediation enhancement strategies with straight faces. And if there is one attribute a principal or superintendent needs, it’s a perfectly straight face. You have to believe. Solemnly.
When those who can’t teach want to improve themselves by becoming supervisors of those who can teach, they must go through, once again, the strait gate of the teachers’ college. Outside of that church, there is no salvation. They must return, perhaps on Monday and Thursday evenings, to the study, if that’s the word, of such arcana as Curriculum Development and Supervision, Career and Guidance Counseling, and Educational Administration/Management. Since there is little to be learned about such matters, the courses are easy, requiring mostly the ability to tolerate ponderous recitations of the trivial and obvious and a mind just weak enough to fall without a struggle into an habitual inanity in language. These are the very proclivities that have made the poorer teachers what they are, so there is no shortage of suitable candidates for graduate study in the schools of education. While the steady stream of aspirants to lofty (nonteaching) rank assures perpetual public funding for the teachers’ colleges and pleasant, permanent employment for professors of education, it has some even more unhappy consequences. It assures that the anti-intellectual climate of the public high schools will prevail in the colleges and universities as well. Except for the uncharacteristically depraved professors of chemistry or history, or of any traditional discipline with a concrete and growing body of knowledge, simply don’t want to do the boring and empty work of administration. They gladly leave that to the educationists and other nonacademic arrivistes in higher education, who gladly take it. Thus it comes to pass that in most of our colleges and universities policy decisions about academic matters are regularly made by direct descendants of the Commission on the Reorganization of Secondary Education, to whom intellectual discipline and mere information are pesky impediments to worthy ethical character and right emotional response.
The work of school administration, therefore, usually has two typical attributes: Because it must justify the very existence of school administration, it must seem time-consuming and difficult. Because it is an instrument of educationistic ideology, it must be “humanistic” and “democratic,” as the educationists understand those terms, which is to say emotional and collective rather than coldly knowledgeable and authoritarian. You can recognize in the typical administrative committee, therefore, a long-trouser version of the social studies class envisioned in Cardinal Principles, where it is imagined that ignorant but right-feeling children will corporately hatch out wisdom.
Here, from the pages of The Underground Grammarian, is an example of how the administrative work of an institution of higher education is actually done:
Ask a Stupid Question . . .
Glassboro has so many low-ranking, junior administrators that it’s hard to find them useful work. We don’t even try, in fact; we just find them things to play with.
George Wildman and Robert Harris are co-chairmen of the Task Force on Recruitment, Retention, and Image. We don’t know how they produce their prose–whether by one as told to the other or by taking turns word by word–but here’s how it comes out:
In the first two sessions of the Task Force, the group explored the task facing them. Discussion ensued during these sessions concerning the goals and objectives to be accomplished. The Committee began the task of gathering supporting data by virtue of reports supplied by the offices of Admissions, Counseling, and the Registrar. Considerable time was spent attempting to define terminology as a basis for functioning, and much thought was given in an attempt to identify some of the major concerns which the Task Force would be facing in its work.
The first, second, and fourth sentences of that paragraph say the same thing, although the fourth does add that bit about defining “terminology [terms?] as a basis for functioning.” The third sentence actually has its own thing to say, but only that they “began the task of gathering.” Does that mean that they began gathering or that they began getting ready to gather? This sentence also uses “by virtue of” as though it meant “from.” Never ask a junior administrator to say something straight out. He’d rather be knocked flat in an airport by O. J. Simpson. (Good idea.)
Since the combined salaries of the twenty members of the Task Force must be more than half a million dollars a year we’re glad to report that their labor has had some results. As early as their second meeting, they divided themselves into three “interest-area subcommittees” (shouldn’t that be sub-Task Forces or Task Forcelets?), one each for Recruitment, Retention, and Image.
They did more. Each interest-area subcommittee undertook to “define its term.”
Now you would think that any fool could define recruitment, retention, and even image, although why that should be necessary is not clear. We have to guess that many members of the Task Force were unacquainted with those words and needed remediational input.
Discussion ensued by virtue of input, and tasks were explored. Thought was given in an attempt, and time was spent attempting.
By the next meeting, each “interest-area” subcommittee had defined “its term.” Here’s what they found–as a basis for functioning:
recruitment: the institution’s philosophy and procedures by which we attempt to attract students to continue their education . . .
retention: the ability of the college to hold students who are pursuing a degree program (B.A., M.A., including certification) .
image: the reflection of reality and substance.
The language of these administrators is symbolic, as language always is, although in this case not consciously symbolic. They do on the page exactly what they do in their jobs. They say over and over again a thing that needs no saying in the first place. They set themselves, at public expense, to the silly task of defining, in groups no less, terms (or, as they prefer, terminology) that need no defining. If their labors were successful, they would learn at great expense of time and money what any thoughtful person could have told them at their first meeting, and they will inevitably propose the obvious. They will urge more recruitment and retention along with image-enhancement.
It is important for the ordinary citizen to realize that such committees, through whose agency almost everything is done in Academe, are not composed entirely of administrators. There will always be some members who are only incipient administrators making themselves useful and noteworthy, some junior professors bucking for promotion and not at all reluctant to be parties to a lengthy and arduous reinvention of the wheel, and other faculty members somewhat less than passionately devoted to their chosen disciplines. The latter, of course, are usually from an education department, where a passionate devotion to discipline is precluded not only by the questionable nature and content of what is taught but by the traditional animosity to discipline itself.
If you can assemble enough such people and assign them an especially ambiguous errand, neither of which is at all difficult in a school, you can easily devise an educationistic enterprise that can go on, literally, forever:
The Future Lies Ahead!
Early in the Fall, the Needs Assessment Task Force was asked to study the process of Academic Planning as it presently exists at Southwest Texas State University and determine whether we should implement a different process. (From the works of Joseph Caputo, VP for AcAff.)
As the time for dinner approaches, the standard American amateur looks in the refrigerator. He notices some food. He takes some of it out and cooks it. Then he eats it. It’s so crude; any savage could do it. Here in Academe, we are “professionals,” and we have better ways of doing things.
First we establish a committee to consider whether or not there should be any dinner, and, if so, whether or not it should actually be eaten, and, if again so, where, and when, and by whom. Then we form a subcommittee to decide what, if anything, to cook, and how. Now we discover that we need a study group to consider whether or not dinner-planning is, in fact, all that simple, and to establish its parameters and to explore the implications of fiscal, curricular, and societal restraints that may be perceived as existing. Or maybe not. But the study group cannot do its work until we have definitive findings from the Needs Assessment Task Force, which is “to study the process of Academic Planning as it presently exists . . . and determine whether we should implement a different process.”
The Needs Assessment Task Force down at Southwest Texas State University, where the squirrels also rush around the brush, has done its work. Here’s some of it:
An Academic Planning Model must involve a futures planning component. Goals should be set for some time in the future. These goals should be translated into shorter-term objectives for which the degree of detail and concreteness varies inversely with the lead time. There should also be reasonable suspense dates for implementation of plans and a definitive methodology for evaluation and feedback. The interfacing of long-term . . . and short-term planning should result.
So, you thought that only a herd of nerds would set themselves to wondering whether or not to plan how to plan, eh? No siree! It takes some of the sharpest thinkers in Academe to discover and announce that plans are about the “future,” not the past!
They’re even smart enough to call for the involvement of a component, which would never occur to an ordinary human being, and a definitive methodology, where any simpleminded taxpayer would have settled for a mere method.
That’s not all, of course. The Task Forcers also urge “update features,” prudently left unspecified so that yet another task can be forced on yet another task force, and warn against the “counterproductive hurdle,” the worst kind. One of their main conclusions, solemnly pronounced, probably after much deliberation and searching of heart, is that an Academic Planning Model (they always capitalize it) should actually work, or, as they put it, “be functional.” They further opine, cutting right to the bone, that any plan that will work, will in fact work: “Any Academic Planning Model to be considered . . . would positively impact [wham!] our decision-making process to the extent that it accomplishes its designed purpose.”
To proclaim the obvious in language that is odious is, of course, the regular practice of the educationists, who love to serve on task forces (they put that kind of stuff in their resumes and grant applications), and have no moral or intellectual objections to writing at length about nothing. However, at least one member of this task force was not an educationist, but an agent provocateur and a subtle ironist. On his backward colleagues he foisted the one sentence that says it all: “An Academic Planning process must not become viewed by the participants as activity to be finished so that they may return to the real business of the university.”
Then again, to be sure, the revelation of that last sentence may have been due simply to ineptitude. But the revelation is a true one, for, as far as the educationist is concerned, “the real business of the university” is not what you probably think.
For years, I have been looking around for the key, the master metaphor, the one striking analogy that would clarify and dramatize the nature of our schools. They are, of course, something like the asylum where the inmates have taken over, but that doesn’t do the whole job. They are more like some island nation in which the traditional, mild, but inefficient governance once exercised by a genteel but effete and distracted aristocracy has been taken over, without any bloodshed at all, by bands of persistent pygmies from the unexplored interior. The less than worldly aristocrats, far more interested in watching for comets and collecting Lepidoptera than in zoning rules and customs control, were not displeased to accede when the pygmies drifted in and offered to do all the hard work. It seemed such a good idea at the time, but by now the pygmies are in charge of everything, and the bemused aristocrats, whose ancestral estates have been converted to miniature golf courses, find that they are sipping their soup out of very small spoons.
But that metaphor isn’t enough either, for it does not provide a place for the only slightly rationalized vengefulness that characterizes the educationists’ almost complete governance of what was once an academic and intellectual confederation of semiautonomous principalities. We might do better to think of Bolsheviks in the Winter Palace, or the moneychangers in the temple who have it in mind not only to do a flourishing business but to preach the doctrine as well, thus ensuring that business will always flourish. I think that latter analogy especially good, but not very entertaining. The former, however, while even less entertaining, may be even better, for educationism is in fact an ideological collectivism devoted to social change through institutionalized thought control, but of that more later.
Perhaps the best metaphor, although unfortunately the nastiest, is that of racism. If we could divide the world of schools roughly, and it would be very roughly at best, into two “races,” the academicians and the educationists, we would find some useful analogies. The educationists, although long released from slavery, have indubitably been treated like second-class citizens and kept in the ghettos. From the point of view of the academicians, the department of education, where not even the educationists have been able to identify a concrete body of knowledge out of which to make a “subject,” is as much a ghetto as any local public school. The educationists, although they eagerly do the scutwork of administration, have never been admitted into the society of the “learned,” and they have had to make their own sub-society complete with its own sub-Phi Beta Kappa and countless subjournals of sub-scholarship. (It is an interesting irony that the learned journals of literary criticism, for example, are often as pretentiously impenetrable as anything you can find in any one of those apparently countless journals of educationistic research into perceived personological variables, but the diction is more noble and the verbs almost always agree with the subjects.) In faculty dining rooms all over the country, historians and biologists and professors of Renaissance literature happily lunch together, but the educationists usually keep to themselves. The very degrees that educationists award one another are held to be inferior to the degrees that the academicians award one another. Although the traditional “original contribution to scholarship” expected of the academic doctoral dissertation is often ludicrously picayune, the dissertation in education, often nothing more than a report on the results of some questionnaire, ordinarily deals with either the obvious, like the conclusion that children who want to learn will learn more than those who don’t; or the trivial, like the mechanics of pencil distribution; or the utterly ineffable, like the perceived personological existential variables. Furthermore, the doctorate in education almost never requires that signal cachet of the learned scholar, competence in foreign languages. This often cited distinction is enough by itself to “prove” to the academicians the innate inferiority of the race of educationists.
The prejudice is real, and the educationists, naturally, resent it. Much of what they do, therefore, can be understood as an expectably hostile thirst for revenge. Cardinal Principles is only superficially a plan for secondary education; it is essentially a Summa contra gentiles, a stick-it-to-the-intellectuals manifesto. The pronouncements of Cardinal Principles must be read in two ways.
Consider, for example, the proposition that a disciplined academic study of literature, whatever that might mean, precludes “right emotional response.” On the one hand, that shows the “humane” intention to provide students with the “best” that literature has to offer, certain feelings, presumably good to have. It asserts, and who would deny, that the pity and terror of tragedy will strike even those who are utterly ignorant of the textual variants, although it also provides the possibility that pity or terror might not be included among the “right” emotional responses. On the other hand, it makes clear that the “teachers” of literature in the secondary schools can do their jobs without having to go through all that disciplined scholarship by which those lofty academicians make their livings. From that notion it is not far to the next, to wit, that the academicians are in fact preventing right emotional response with their footnotes and critical editions and that the only path to right emotional response is the deliberate neglect of such things. With the next step we can see that ignorance is better than knowledge, an idea singularly attractive to those who have not read any of the footnotes or critical editions.
The dream of putting down the scornful mighty from their chairs also informs another cardinal tenet of educationism: the notion widely held in the teacher academies that all a teacher needs is training in how to teach, with which he can teach anything at all, perhaps with a little boning up. Thus it is that the high school social studies teacher, already inoculated against the dehumanizing effects of the “mere information” associated with the disciplined study of history, can readily be retreaded into a teacher of English. After all, we all speak English, don’t we? In any case, what is important is not what a teacher knows but how he relates to the students. Such ideas are impossible where academic subjects are held important in themselves, but where they are seen only as the devices by which to generate feelings it is inevitable that existentialism (and humanism, in the same package deal) boils down to singing your own song and dancing your way through life in a two-week summer session.
Such Jack-of-all-tradesism, although long a regular practice in the public schools, is a little harder to get away with in colleges and universities. But just a little. Anand Kumar Malik, you must have noticed, seems to have had no trouble at all in setting up shop as a teacher of philosophy and even of painting at the same time. Here we can see the mighty consequences of the fact that educationists are eager to serve on committees and to undertake the dull labors of administration. Without powerful co-conspirators in the superstructure at the University of Tennessee, Malik would have been laughed off the campus and sent to sing and dance for a much smaller supper in the Thursday evening class at the YMCA.
It probably isn’t exactly true that we become what we hate. It seems more likely that we become a parody of what we hate. Certainly the oppressed and scorned educationists, driven in part by oppression and scorn to denigrate the very intellectual powers they are said to lack, are pathetically eager nevertheless to lay claim to those powers for themselves, and also to the expertise that such powers can provide. Thus they put themselves forth as–well, not exactly professors of philosophy, but at least as easy professors of easy philosophy. Students like that, of course, but it makes professors of philosophy glum.
Given the principle that any subject matter is a useful device for the generation of socially desirable feeling, and given also the fact that policymaking in colleges and universities has been conceded to the educationists who proclaim that given principle, it follows that “higher” education will have its analogues of the phys. ed. teacher who takes over when the biology teacher gets pregnant, of course. But it also follows, even more ominously, that there is really no need for a biology teacher in the first place. And in college, where the biology teacher is firmly entrenched in tradition and tenure, it further follows that the study of biology itself might just as well be replaced with something else, something that can be “taught” by one who knows little of biology but who has been trained as a teacher and whose eye is on not the biology itself but on whatever worthy attitudes that may, or should, arise from the study of biology. Since those attitudes are the worth of the study, why bother with the study when one can jump right into the attitudes?
Here is an example of exactly such a leap of faith, which legitimizes a startling educationistic Anschluss of a host of traditional and concretely identifiable academic studies:
The Department of Foundations of Education has proposed a workshop in “intercultural education” to tack three more hours onto a course in the same thing, if that is a thing. From reading the proposal, we guess that both course and workshop call for lots of “relating” and “interacting,” and, naturally, “problem-solving,” with “foci on direct field experience” and “working on real school or/and community problems.” (That sure beats indirect field experience and fake problems; but these folk are into “professional” matters, not amateur dabbling like math or history.) As far as we can tell, there will be no study of any identifiable body of knowledge, just rapping, preferably with someone who says Mama mia! now and then.
This workshop is not expected to have results; it anticipates “outcomes,” outcomes of some “nature.” One anticipated outcome is:
of the nature of . . . development of ability to anticipate factors likely to influence proposals for changes in human relations . . .
What this means, of course, is that they hope the student will be informed, rational, and prudent. So hope we all; but to suggest that there are forms of rationality and prudence specifically germane to “intercultural relations” is fatuous. To suggest further that someone knows how to instill those virtues is patently absurd, if not mendacious. Who is rational and prudent needs no workshop to teach him how to be rational and prudent about Bulgarians any more than a man who can find the diameter of circle needs to be schooled in the methodology of finding the diameter of a pizza; and who is neither prudent nor rational will scarcely be helped through chatting with Bulgarians. Furthermore, who would become knowledgeable about Bulgarians will do better to study their history or language or literature than to pursue
[d]evelopment of ability to apply selected tools or procedures for analyzing, assessing, and surveying school and/or community provisions for intercultural education.
And how will students show that they have (get? interact with? what?) these outcomes? The proposal looks for “taped evidence of interaction with other cultures” (they probably mean a person from another culture), “oral presentations that exemplify good intercultural education practices,” “peer performance assessments,” “records of participation” (in what, would you guess?), and even “practical written tools” (try to figure that one out).
We must put aside small questions (how, for instance, is a good intercultural education practice different from other good education practices?) to explore the central question: What, exactly, is the subject matter here? Is it information about diverse cultures? That is available–inescapable, in fact–in the study of anthropology, art, economics, geography, history, language, literature, philosophy, religion, and many other traditional disciplines. Is this the study of the collisions of cultures and their effects upon one another? Ditto. Is this a study of tolerance and love?
The proposers cannot intend either of the first two, for if they do, there is no need to propose anything. Let’s hope they don’t mean that third possibility. There must be some limits to what they can teach.
If intercultural education is in truth some new subject matter not yet widely known, it must have been described somewhere in clear English and with concrete reference to things in the real world. We deserve to hear such a description, since the language of the proposal tells us little (that’s often the aim of this kind of jargon) and makes us suspect much.
We must in fairness say that the proposal has been given comprehensive, penetrating scrutiny and analysis by the very Dean of Professional Studies, so it seems only honest to print her commentary–in full:
A good idea-long overdue.
The background of that proposal is instructive: In the State of New Jersey, as in many other states, students in teacher-training programs are required to have some instruction in what is generally called the “appreciation” of other cultures. This seems to be all the more important as the public schools, especially in the cities, fill up with children of recently arrived immigrants from many different lands. I say that it “seems” important, because I’m not sure that it is really necessary to “appreciate” Bulgarian culture, whatever that means, in order to teach arithmetic to children whose parents came from Bulgaria, although it would obviously do a math teacher no harm to have knowledge about Bulgarian culture. But the mandate, in any case, is not for knowledge. The incipient teacher is to appreciate other cultures so that he can relate and interact.
Here we see again–we see it everywhere–the shadow of Cardinal Principles. Knowledge, generally a matter of mere information, is untrustworthy as a generator of right response, so that intercultural appreciation can be taught through learning some folk dances and sampling the traditional cookies of many lands. But it must be taught, for those who award teaching certificates require it. They require it because their cousins in the teacher academies, whose enrollments are falling, need some more required courses with which to justify their continued employment. In the same cause, and with the great weight of the tradition of Cardinal Principles, the teacher-trainers must hold that such academic studies as anthropology, history, literature, or language can not provide a worthy appreciation of other cultures. Since the teacher-trainers, and the certifiers, and the managers and bureaucrats of entire systems of state education are all from the same litter, and since legislators all have more important things than education to think about, especially in New Jersey, where someone has to pay attention to casinos, basic minimum intercultural appreciation speedily becomes the law of the land. And the professors of education who get to “teach” it have assured their continued employment and proved yet again that a teacher can teach anything, anything at all.
Educationists can say that, of course, only when “anything” means “anything that should be taught,” in the system of worthiness enunciated in Cardinal Principles, and when “taught” means “produced as a response to stimulus,” as defined in the methodology of behavior modification. You will notice that the state-supported monopoly in intercultural education does not concede that a professor of anthropology can teach “the appreciation of other cultures.” Far from it, he is all too likely to teach mere information, which may or may not lead to what should be taught, appreciation, the worthy response.
That’s why the word “appreciation” is so important both in Cardinal Principles and in all educationistic theorizing thereafter. First, it sounds good. Who can be against it? More important, it is a code word with which to indicate, without having to be concrete and specific, any or all of the “worthy” attributes that we may expect as the student outcomes of anything that is done in school, however trivial or trendy. In one sense, “appreciation” is familiar to anyone who has been through “Music Appreciation,” a course that usually does not require any study or knowledge of harmony, counterpoint, or even the classification of elementary forms, although it often does provide uplifting or entertaining vignettes from the lives of composers. In another and far more important sense, the meaning of “appreciation” is what is embedded in the notion that when we have learned some Bulgarian folk dances we will better “appreciate” Bulgarian culture, and that that will be good. “Appreciation” seems to be used to suggest an amiable tolerance of that which someone thinks we ought to tolerate but probably wouldn’t if we were left alone.
A student outcome of the order of appreciation has another tremendous value in an anti-intellectual education: No one can measure it. No one can measure “right emotional response” or “worthy ethical character” either. The value of such student outcomes is in fact double. They make it impossible to check up on the effectiveness of a curriculum, and they permit the bogus “research” of educationistic theorizing, in which such things as existentiality and commitment to the goodness of man at his core are put forth as measurable quantities. Who is to say, after all, exactly which students, and with what ardor, are indeed singing their own songs and dancing their ways through life after two weeks of harmony and small-group discussions at the University of Tennessee? Unfortunately, someone probably will undertake to do just that, perhaps the very chappie who told us all about the “values, attitudes, and teaching philosophy pertinent to transpersonally oriented non-public school teachers.”
The Student Outcomes Principle (it seems to deserve capitals) is the Prime Mover of American education. It is our equivalent of the Death of God, after which everything is permitted. It arises inevitably from the intersection of that sentimental humanisticism that has made the schools into virtue-nurseries where guards patrol the corridors, and the iron law of behavior modification that has made them laboratories where all the experiments fail. But that’s all right. As schools, and consequently the rest of society, become more anarchic, the educationists can point to an ever greater need for the inculcation of values, and every failed experiment makes room for new devils in the guise of faddish innovations.
But the Student Outcomes Principle has brought us even worse abominations than the fads and gimmicks that have been tripping over each other’s heels for the last sixty years. Since the proponents of that principle have become the makers of policy at all levels of public education, they have been able to refashion even the most traditional courses of study into exercises in the inculcation of right emotional response and the clarification of values. Such was proposed, of course, in Cardinal Principles and in some cases easily effected by the ouster of history for the sake of social studies, for instance, in which the especially civic virtues, whatever they happen to be at any given time, are fostered by idle gossip about current events and some ill-informed generalizations about remote tribes.
The process, however, has only begun when social studies are implanted in the secondary public schools. Imagine what happens thereafter: At first, of course, the history teachers must be the social studies teachers. The less committed they are to the traditional study of history, the more likely they are to welcome this opportunity to escape the tyranny of mere information and develop instead an “appreciation and . . . a clear conception of right relations.” History itself now becomes nothing more than a social study, and by no means primus inter pares but rather an aging and demanding relative less and less acceptable in a rapidly growing family of trendy issues. The next generation of social studies teachers cannot be students of history, or certainly not merely students of history. This means that whatever is to be done in the high schools in the name of social studies must also be done in the teachers’ colleges where the social studies teachers are to learn their trade. The professors of such things as history and economics, therefore, have to be reeducated. They must welcome into partnership the sociologists, who are cousins to the educationists both in language and ideology, and learn to appreciate the priority of values over mere information. This is done in the name of “meeting the needs of the students,” which is another way of expressing the Student Outcomes Principle, and which can have any practical effect you please depending only on the “needs” chosen.
Imagine that you are a bright young history scholar who has become an instructor in a college where there is a school of teacher education. After a year or two of teaching the basic freshman course in Western Civilization, which is already a social studies course, devoted to a little bit of everything and anything that probably ought to be appreciated, you discover that you would like to spend more time in teaching about the Renaissance in Italy, a body of knowledge in which you are especially well informed. Since the history department is small and offers no course in the Italian Renaissance, you write a description and a syllabus and send off a course proposal to the curriculum committee, with the blessing of your fellow history professors, who believe that the Italian Renaissance is worth studying.
Now your proposal comes before the curriculum committee, where the educationists and would-be administrators are serving with gladness and where the rules and procedures, as well as the ideology, have long been established by others of their kind. When they look at your proposal, they do not think about the intrinsic value of the study of the Renaissance in Italy; they ask rather about the projected student outcomes and the measurable behavioral objectives. They don’t really want to hear what you could probably tell them: that those who study the Italian Renaissance can come to have knowledge. They want to know what kind of people your students will become, what they will appreciate, and whether they will be able to relate the Renaissance in Italy to the goals of self-fulfillment. In short, they will want to know, although the chances are good that no single member of the curriculum committee has ever heard of Cardinal Principles, exactly what it is that makes your course “worthy” in spite of its distinctly academic taint.
In response, you can, of course, lie. You can trump up some noble and plausible outcomes and objectives. That would probably work, for it is standard practice in any case, especially in the courses in education, and your interlocutors would be receptive to loose talk about appreciation of cultural heritage and the relating of self to self and others both as groups and individuals. You can say such things about the study of anything or even about dabbling in anything, cookery or karate, for that matter. But such a maneuver has, for you at least, two nasty consequences. First, you become either a fool or a liar. You may actually come to believe your concoctions, in which case you become a fool, but you can escape folly only by knowing yourself a liar, or, as we in the academic world prefer, a pragmatist. You lie in good cause, naturally, and in the company of all the other pragmatists who devise student outcomes and behavioral objectives in order to get past the curriculum committee, but still you lie. Lying and scholarship cannot live together, but lying and indoctrination are made for each other. Where scholarship is not practiced for its own sake but only in the service of doctrine, everybody has to lie–or be a fool–and your proposed course in Renaissance Italy must be put forth only as a means to some higher (and socially more acceptable) end than the mere learning of some knowledge.
And there is the other nasty consequence. If you do lie and cook up some lovely student outcomes and behavioral objectives that can justify the study of the Italian Renaissance, you explicitly admit that the higher end is more important than the means, since the latter can be justified only because of the former. That being so, your cunningly devised outcomes and objectives, which sound amazingly like the outcomes and objectives of many other courses, are obviously ends that might be achieved by many other means. Thus, whatever it is that makes your proposed course “worthy” also makes it unnecessary. But that fact doesn’t doom your proposed course, although it may doom you. If you have lied well enough, your course will be approved, since the continuous multiplication of courses is a profitable practice in any case, because it is now an admission by a humbled elitist academic that disciplined study is no more than a means to certain student outcomes. And once you have admitted that, you have become a de facto educationist. If you are willing to teach the history of the Renaissance in Italy as a way of engendering right appreciation of a cultural heritage and an exercise in relating self to self and others, then you must admit the academic validity of any other course, including cookery, that can make the same claims. You must also admit that students might just as well take cookery as your history course, for the student outcomes are the same. And, worse yet, you may someday have to admit, since, by your own confession, knowledge, or mere information, is not in fact the main point of your course, that it could just as well be taught by someone who is not a scholar of the Renaissance in Italy. And that is why it is that educationists can find permanent work teaching ten-cent-store equivalents of anything in the catalog, and, far worse, why once-serious scholars can end up doing the same thing without even knowing it.
It is interesting to notice that there are some studies that are by nature resistant to this process, and even more interesting to discover that they are the very studies where the failures of public education are most obvious. No amount of prattle about “right emotional response” to literature can for long disguise the fact that students can’t read literature, and worthy appreciation of the logic of mathematics rarely assures the ability to cipher. The failure of the schools to teach these and other “fundamental processes” briefly mentioned and dismissed in Cardinal Principles is nowadays well known, but we have not yet given enough thought to the reason for that failure. It is not sufficient, although it is more and more true, to say that the children cannot read and write and cipher because their teachers cannot read and write and cipher. That just puts the question off one more step and leaves us to wonder how the teachers came to suffer that disability. The answer is to be found in that intellectual miasma emitted by the Student Outcomes Principle, which always holds, remember, that the truly desirable outcomes of any study at all are attitudes or values of some sort and not mere skill or information. Because they insist on teaching what is unteachable, educationists must denigrate the teaching of what is teachable. Where the pygmies rule, everybody else has to crouch.
Having seized power from the wicked elitists, the pygmy educationists are always busy stamping out vestiges of the old regime and its discredited ideals and practices. If you want to make an educationist wince, all you have to do is cite some “facts and dates,” which you could know only as the result of “rote learning.” Such things are all characterized in Cardinal Principles as notorious impediments to the true goals of education. They are not only elitist but oppressive and antidemocratic as well, and it may even be that a detailed knowledge of the constitution, for instance, would prevent the proper appreciation of our institutions and their values. It follows inevitably that those studies that depend heavily on memorization, mere “rote learning,” will be given very short shrift indeed in our schools and the same in our teacher academies. Just as the instructor of Renaissance Italian history forswears himself by proposing anything other than knowledge as the goal of study, the educationist forswears himself and all that he stands for in permitting the suggestion that the goal of study is just knowledge. Thus it is that the educationists just don’t know what to do with subjects that cannot, like history or literature, for example, be diluted for the sake of noncognitive student outcomes. And when they can’t dilute a subject, they just neglect it.
It is for that reason, in fact, that along with reading and writing and ciphering, another equally “basic” study has fallen out of favor in the schools, and that is the study of foreign languages. We make a virtue of ignorance and sloth by claiming that a distaste for foreign languages is an American attribute, and while perhaps lamentable, nevertheless a tribute to the tough independence of our pioneer forebears. Many of those forebears, however, obviously saw the knowledge of other languages as an elementary part of an education and nothing more esoteric than literacy itself. Our supposed distaste for foreign language has in fact been fabricated in the schools. Foreign language study is not mentioned in Cardinal Principles, and it must be precisely what is excluded when that document, asserting that the language skills of elementary school children are “not yet sufficient,” points out that “this is particularly true of the mother tongue.” And foreign language is, no doubt, one of those “provisions” that might be made for “those having distinctively academic interests and needs.” What we think of now as the lack of interest in foreign languages, and the obvious and unpleasant social and economic effects of that lack, to say nothing of the intellectual, is simply the inevitable consequence of the anti-intellectual educationism that informed Cardinal Principles.
The ideological distortion that can twist the study of literature into the inculcation of right emotional response just won’t work with the study of irregular verbs. And, while any half-baked teacher of social studies can peddle appreciation of institutions without any tiresome concern for facts and dates, a teacher of German actually has to know the prepositions that take the dative. Furthermore, the results of foreign language study, and thus perhaps even the efficacy of teaching, can be measured concretely and objectively. Either you have learned those prepositions, and “by rote” at that, or you haven’t. The Student Outcomes Principle just won’t stretch far enough to cover the study of foreign languages. The only thing left is neglect, which is made all the more acceptable by the implication, already visible in Cardinal Principles, that a knowledge of French or–God forbid!–Greek is an esoteric dabbling in the arcane and nothing more than an antiquated social adornment suitable only for elitists. (Indeed, something very much like that same judgment is nowadays made of expertise in “the mother tongue” as well, which makes it much easier to apply the Student Outcomes Principle to the study of reading and writing English, where creativity and self-expression are held more important than spelling and punctuation, mere “rote learning.”)
Because of the educationistic hegemony in public “higher” education, which is more often than not a clumsy apparatus built around a teacher-training academy, the neglect of foreign language study is just as common in the colleges as in the high schools. The neglect of foreign language, in fact, is a splendid case in point out of which to show that whatever happens in the realm of educationism must eventually have an effect not only everywhere in education itself but everywhere in our society.
As foreign languages are less and less studied in the public schools, fewer and fewer language teachers are needed, and enrollments decline in foreign language departments in teachers’ colleges. As enrollments decline, the numbers of language professors decline, and some languages disappear entirely from the curriculum. That’s not bad; it’s good. It justifies still further neglect in the high schools, where, when the last old Latin teacher finally retires, the principal can replace her with an auto mechanics teacher since, whatever the students may want, you can’t find a Latin teacher nowadays. At the same time, there are fewer and fewer students enrolling in foreign language courses even in those colleges that are not teacher academies, and there, too, faculties will shrink. One of the first to go–and you can believe that the pygmies will be damn glad to get rid of him–will be the only surviving professor of Attic Greek, a notoriously unreconstructed elitist. He will be replaced by a woman with a right-sounding surname who will teach remedial English as a second language, and she, just as soon as the doddering professor of Old English packs it in, will be joined by another of the same, and a new department will be born.
While all of that has been happening, foreign language study has been continually a victim of propaganda. Because it is not reducible to appreciation, and especially because it requires such antihumanistic behavior as memorization, it has become widely known as a “hard” subject, which is furthermore tainted with elitism. As a result, high school graduates who go to college are less and less likely to choose a foreign language. Where such requirements were once common in anything from English to political science, they must be abolished, lest enrollments shrink, which is the worst thing that can happen in any department. This leads, of course, to further shrinking in the already embattled language department, but what can we do? Surely it is better for the few to suffer than the many. But it also leads to one more abandonment of an intellectual standard and one more submission to the life-adjustment ideology of Cardinal Principles, and–after all, those now forgotten language requirements have to be replaced–to one more lie about student outcomes and behavioral objectives for a course in the appreciation of foreign-language-speaking cultures. And, when we have finally reached something like our present condition, when the bad name of language study has provided that few college graduates can even speak English, never mind German or French, and when businesses find that their memo writers can’t understand each other, and when thousands of workers are driven out of jobs by foreign competition, then we discover that every Japanese salesman speaks fluent English, and we wonder if that means something.
To whatever other woes it may bring us, of which diminished ability to compete in international trade is only one, we must add another step in the general decline of the intellectual enterprise as a whole, which ought to be the principal business of the schools. This decline, which we can see in science and technology just as well as in the study of the humanities and languages, must continue as long as the inheritors of Cardinal Principles continue in all the committees and administrative posts and in all the centers, both public and private, of educationistic “research.” Even when they are unaware of it, as indeed they often are, all their notions and theories and programs have an underlying theme, the theme that is sounded when the ineffective and thus discontented social studies teacher decides that he would rather go to those evening classes in educationism and become, instead of a mere teacher, a curriculum facilitator or a guidance counselor or even, oh joy, an assistant principal. That theme is compounded partly of a distaste for the work of the intellect, which he has never been able to do with pleasure, and partly of the desire to take some revenge on those who do seem to find that pleasure and in whose eyes he is a second-class citizen. And the whole apparatus of theory and governance established in the shadow of Cardinal Principles and now in complete control of public education in America makes it not only possible but even easy for the failed social studies teacher to rise above his more intellectual colleagues and tell them what and how to teach or, even better, find a place in the eternal task force where needs are assessed within the parameters of planning whether to plan. The sought-after jobs in education are the ones that take you as far as possible from the classroom.
That, by itself, would be splendid, for it would take the silliest people in the education business away from the places where they can do the most harm. Unfortunately, however, all the follies they commit in offices and meeting rooms and administration buildings and tax-supported agencies are visited not on their own heads–they pay each other to think up new follies–but on the heads of the students and teachers whom they have gladly left behind. Thus it is that, after about sixty years of organized and militant anti-intellectualism in the schools, every disorder in education brings power and profit to those who have made that disorder, and every problem is given for solution into the hands of the only people who cannot possibly solve it. The pygmies have been in charge for so long now that we are all cracking our skulls on the doorways of the public buildings; when we go to them for remedy, they urge on us the value of crawling.