II. Reading and Writing a la Mode


by Richard Mitchell


Yes, Virginia, there is a Free Lunch
A Minimum Competence to all, and to all a Good Night!
Three Mile Island Syndrome
The Turkeys Crows in Texas
New Highs, New Lows
The Same Old Witchcraft
The Teacher of the Year

Professional primates
Project proposed!

Chimps outshine chumps,
TUG study reveals!

On the left: The annual cost of the average HEW evaluator, not including travel. On the right: The cost of 25 chimpanzees doing the same work, bananas and diapers included, as well as travel expenses based on prevailing United Parcel Service rates.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Free Lunch

THANKS to U.S. Representative Robert W. Daniel, of Virginia, we now have the complete text of an infamous document that newspapers around the country treated briefly and facetiously last summer. It is an evaluation of a remedial math and writing program in the public schools of Hopewell, Virginia. The author, whose name appears nowhere on the document, is a functionary–how right that ugly word seems just now–of HEW. The function of this tax-supported functionary was to judge whether or not the remedial program merited continued tax support of its own. Here are some of his (her?) comments. In each case, what you see is the functionary’s complete response to a question on the evaluation form:

The objectives were not to specified are the measurable participants that involves to the fullest extent practicable to the total educational resources

evidence demonstrated by the standardized achievement test data was surfaced to the desegregation elimination, reduction, and prevention of minority group isolation.

there is no realistically promises that addresses the needs identified in the proposes program.

sufficient magnitude in relation to the number of participants cost of project components, contains evidence of the proposes project & a very measurable amount of funds are very specified in the project program.

Let’s take what comfort we can from this gibberish. We have learned that there is, in fact, a tax-supported program in which the amount of funds actually are very specified and even “measurable.” It had always seemed otherwise. Nevertheless, in spite of that cheery news, there’s still one little cloud, no larger than a consultant’s outstretched paw, on the educational horizon. Even as we sit here, innocently enjoying the thought that there is, just as we had suspected all along, no realistically promises, some people are at work planning to hire more such evaluators in a cabinet-level Department of Education. If those education people can achieve stuff like that as a mere satrapy* of HEW, imagine what they’ll be able to do when the training wheels come off.

It was not out of wisdom, but weariness, that our Congress failed in its latest session to visit upon us a Department of Education. After all, bureaucrats and educationists deserve a full-employment act too, and a DOE will provide featherbeds for whole new bands of them. They will, in turn, hire herds of the linguistically handicapped to evaluate all the remedial programs for the linguistically handicapped in places like Hopewell, Virginia. So there is, indeed, no realistically promises, but there sure as hell is a free lunch.

Well, we don’t begrudge them comfortable berths in Washington. At least they’re not on welfare, and most of them are securely institutionalized out of the sight of impressionable children. All we ask of them, when they come into their kingdom, is that they toss us one tiny crumb, advancing thereby the cause of pedagogical theory and even saving us all a few bucks.

Our studies have shown that chimpanzees can actually grasp Bic Bananas and brandish them about, both to and fro. Whenever their Bananas happen to touch flat surfaces, they produce very interesting marks. Chimps, as you surely know, have already mastered sign language and abstract impressionism, both of which would seem beyond the capacities of a typical HEW evaluator. With a little training, chimpanzees could surely be taught to keep their Banana marks on the page, thus producing documents every bit as useful as the one quoted above.

The current evaluators wouldn’t have to be displaced. We could save money simply by not hiring any new ones and training those we now have to such a level of competence that they will actually be able to clean more than just one cage each.

* The satrap in charge of the evaluator is Thomas K. Minter, Deputy Commissioner for Elementary and Secondary Education, HEW Office of Education, Washington, D. C. 20202. If you happen to be a functional illiterate looking for work, don’t despair. Try Minter. It’s not his money.

† For “professional” educationists, teachers are the grunts, administrators, the officers. Any variety of “doctorate” in education, therefore, is a way to get out of the trenches and become a vice-principal or a counsellor, an assistant director or a coordinator, a supervisor or an advisor, anything, anything but a teacher. More than 60 percent of those who manage to eke out doctorates in education, typically through tabulating the answers to an inane questionnaire, do in fact escape the classroom. [Digest of Education Statistics: 1977-78, p. 121.] Once bedded down, these folk cheerfully provide each other with meetings to attend, reports to generate, guidelines to follow, goals to implement, instruments to devise, and findings to seek. A Department of Education makes a splendid trough for their trotters.

A Minimum Competence to all,
and to all a Good Night!

WE are now ready to explain the minimum competence testing mania that stalks the land and that our educationists have embraced as a reasonable academic facsimile of disco dancing. In this life, the frivolous nitwits seem to have all the fun. Educationists are not frivolous, but they are entitled to their fun, too.

Here’s how they get it: First, you have to imagine a herd of people. Let’s call them Herd A. They are different from each other in many ways, but, in at least one way, they’re much alike. They are about equally literate. Here’s how most of them write English:

Our school’s cross-graded multi-ethnic, individualized learning program is designed to enhance the concept of an open-ended learning program with emphasis on a continuum of multi-ethnic, academically enriched learning using the identified intellectually gifted child as the agent or director of his own learning. Major emphasis is on cross-graded, multi-ethnic learning with the main objective being to learn respect for the uniqueness of a person.

A pitiful case, to be sure, and an urgent argument for a minimum competence test for someone, but it’s not that simple. You must also imagine another herd of people, Herd B, equally diverse but also more or less alike in literacy. Here’s how they write English:

The time capsule of the 20th century floating threw space finely reaches it’s goal one hundred years later. As it is open up information of the past one hundred years is released.

The automobile one of man’s greatest achievements for transportation. Now it can not be used because man has wasted all of the nature oil of the earth. It is studied and the result is that man could have develope a less wasteful type of transportation. But the need for power and speed overwhemled there thoughts.

That does have a poignant quality. Finely, indeed, is just how we might have reached our goals, if only our thoughts hadn’t been overwhemled. Nevertheless, the passage has some faults. The writers of Herd B also seem less than minimally competent.

Little by little it became obvious even to the dimmest of curriculum coordinators and program supervisors that the public’s alarm about minimum competence could be turned into more jobs for their ilk and bigger staffs for just about every department in the educationist bureaucracy. It is an axiom of those jaunty functionaries that there are no problems, only challenges and opportunities, and this was one of the richest opportunities since the invention of guidance counsellors.

So the thing was done. Because members of Herd A are often bigger, it seemed only right that they should test the members of Herd B, rather than vice versa. (The testing of Herd A will probably have to wait until the Day of Judgment.) The testing goes like this: That apparatchik who wrote the first passage will eventually assure us that the schools are doing a great job. He’ll point to the scores. The scores will prove that many members of Herd B now do understand the colon and can often make decisions about lay and lie.

So there. Let nothing you dismay.

SPEAKING of lay and lie, here’s a strange item you might have missed, buried, as it was, in the letters column of the Star-Herald of Trenton. That paper had printed a guest column by one “Publius,” said to be a member of the educational apparatus. Publius commented on the quality of the written English in a summary report cranked out by the people who cooked up the minimum competency testing program for New Jersey. He did not provide quotations, but he did describe some sad mistakes of just the kind we have learned to expect in such documents.

Thereafter, the New Jersey Commissioner of Education, one Burke, set forth his understanding of the matter in a letter to the editor. Like any standard educationist, he suggested that a concern for stuff like punctuation and the agreement of subjects and verbs was “pedantic” and “picayune.” So much for education in New Jersey.

Having thus implied that there is nothing much wrong with the summary, Burke, like any standard bureaucrat, hastens to put as much distance as he can between himself and the perpetrators of the almost flawless document. Nobody in his department, he says, had anything to do with it. That seems true.

He goes further, however, saying that the summary was done by “laymen” and that the deliberating committees were made up of the same. That is false.

When that crew was first collected, there were complaints that ordinary citizens were but poorly represented. The imbalance was duly corrected, bringing the membership to 108, of which only 83 were “professionals” of education. That still failed to satisfy someone, apparently, for 13 more “professionals” were added a bit later. The final score was: “Professionals,” 96; Laymen, 25 (including 5 members of school boards).

At Burke’s office, they say that well, maybe “laymen” wasn’t the best word. What he meant was that no one in his outfit had done the deed. (That, of course, Burke had already said.) In Trenton, “professionals” of education who belong to other gangs can be called “laymen.” It may be a kind of “cover.” Our concern about such misrepresentation will be thought, of course, picayune and pedantic.

Is the commissioner capable of saying what he means? If so, why does he choose to mislead us? If not, shouldn’t we be considering a minimum competence test for commissioners? We can clear him of the suspicion of duplicity only through granting his ignorance, and vice versa, but it must be the one or the other. Take your choice.

It is interesting that the “mistaken” use of “laymen” causes a misunderstanding so convenient for educationists. As they’ve tried to blame falling scores on test-makers and rising illiteracy on “problem youngsters,” so they would dearly love to conclude that failures of agreement are caused by those laymen.

We have noted before that public dismay about education has been converted into job security for the very people whose failures caused that dismay. Well, that’s progress. In ancient times, we used to pay the barbarians to stay away.


Three Mile Island Syndrome

IF you were lucky enough to have been a reader of this journal in March of 1978, you may now remember where you heard it first. In that issue, we (more or less) accurately predicted not only the recent mishap at Three Mile Island but also the collision of a southbound Metroliner (a crack train, that) with a hastily abandoned repair vehicle of some sort. “We are,” we told you, “in the hands of people who say they know what they’re doing, but they don’t.” We called them “self-styled experts failing in the work they said they could do and excusing themselves because the work is difficult.” Those are precisely the people who smash us into tampers and bring us to the brink of “super-prompt critical power excursion,” as the old AEC once called “meltdown.” It sure is good to know, isn’t it, that there couldn’t possibly be any such ninnies scratching their heads and tapping the dials down in the bunkers and silos of the North American Air Defense Command.

Curiously enough, in the same piece we cited Adam Smith’s observation that when people of the same calling consort together, the result is always a conspiracy against the public. That, in the context of recent calamities, must bring at once to every mind dark suspicions about the National Council of Teachers of English. In every control room and laboratory in America, in the cockpits of aeroplanes and the swivel-chairs of agencies, wherever meters are read and decisions made and dials twiddled, this sinister confraternity has planted unwitting agents. Dr. Fu Manchu never had it so good.

It wasn’t even hard. All they had to do was convince us that painstaking accuracy in small details was nyet humanistic and not worth fussing about in the teaching of reading and writing. They seized and promulgated, for instance, the bizarre notion that guessing at unknown words was more creative than learning the sounds of letters, thus providing us with whole bureaucracies full of nitwits whose writing, at best, is made out of more or less approximate words that might sort of mean something or other. After all, if your teacher applauds your creativity when you read “supper” for “dinner,” you’re little likely to grow up caring about the difference between parameter and perimeter.

The NCTE worries about the “trivializing” of competence tests by persnickety questions on punctuation and spelling, preferring that student writing skills be judged “holistically” and with no “emphasis on trivia.” (College English, March 1979, pp. 827-828.) By that, they mean that student writing should be judged subjectively by members of the teacher club (who else could provide a “holistic rating”?), and that skills like spelling and punctuation, objectively measurable by mere civilians, are to be held of little or no account.

One NCTEer, a certain Seymour Yesner, a public school teacher in Minneapolis, questions whether spelling or capitalization “is as important as presenting ideas in logical sequence.” Sure. There must be millions of kids who haven’t been taught too much about the relatively undemanding skills of spelling and punctuation but have nevertheless mastered the rigorous discipline of “presenting ideas in logical sequence.”

Another, James Hoetker of Florida State University, laments a competence test “that makes no mention at all of student creative work . . . or appreciation.” You can’t get away with pretending to teach spelling and punctuation; the facts will find you out. Creativity and appreciation, however . . .

The most pathetic whimper, and probably the most revealing, comes from one Thomas Gage of Humboldt State University in California. He bemoans “thirty-five performance indicators which are clearly utilitarian” and because of which he fears that “little humanistic education can be provided.” That’s the heart of the matter.

Whether or not NCTEers can teach things like spelling and punctuation, who knows? In any case, they obviously don’t want to. They want to wear the robes of prophets and priests and peddle to their students the same bogus “humanistic” attitudes that were peddled to them in the teacher academy. They want to preside over rap sessions on values clarification and play charades of holistic creativity and appreciation enhancement.

Children always learn something in school, but what they learn is seldom what we had in mind to teach. Children who grow up under the influence of the humanistic education mongers, what do they learn? They learn that hosts of errors will be forgiven for even the pretense of good intentions. They learn that shabby workmanship brings no penalty, especially in the context of anything silly or self-indulgent enough to be put forth as “creative.” They learn that the mastery of skills is of little importance, for even the supposed teachers of skills have found comfortable jobs in spite of their indifference to those skills and, not infrequently, in spite of an obvious lack of those skills. They learn to be shoddy workers in any endeavor, comforting themselves, as their teachers did, by fantasies of a holistic excellence unfettered by precision in small details, or “emphasis on trivia.”

Then they take jobs with power companies and railroads, where machines and toxic substances, unmindful of “holistic ratings,” take heed only–and always, always–of the little things, the valves and switches, the trivia.


The Turkeys Crow in Texas

TIME magazine reports that schoolchildren in the USSR, by the end of tenth grade, have been ruthlessly deprived of their right to a language of their own and subjected to ten years of learning grammatical rules and as many as seven years of some foreign language. And there’s worse. Those godless communist tykes have had their creativities and self-esteems destroyed by geometry, algebra, and even calculus, for God’s sakes! And not one lousy mini-course in baseball fiction or the poetry of rock and roll! You talk about elitism? Now there’s your elitism. Those commies want to make just about everybody into some kind of elitist. Why just about the only thing an American kid would recognize in a Russian school is the values clarification and social adjustment stuff. Probably swiped it from us in the first place anyway.

Still, let’s hope we don’t have to fight with those Russians, an anti-humanistic crew all hung up on mere skills. In fact, if we have to fight, let’s see if we can’t arrange to fight with the Texans.

Down in Texas, the school folk are mighty proud of the results of their new state-wide competence tests. You might not believe this, but it turns out that ninety-six percent of the ninth graders in Texas can correctly add and subtract whole numbers three times in four! (Stick that in your samovar, comrade!) And that, friends, means that the teenager in the diner on Route 66 will give you the correct change ninety-six percent of seventy-five percent of the time, or seventy-two times out of every hundred chili dogs. And in Russia you can’t even get a chili dog.

And if you’re worried about writing, forget it. Fifty-four percent of the Lone Star State ninth graders have “mastered” writing. And that beats hell out of the whole New Yorker crowd, of whom more than ninety-nine percent still have to worry about stuff like whether or not “ambient” is really the best word.

At the end you will find the topic assigned for the writing competence test and the essays of two ninth graders, one of whom has mastered writing. See if you can figure out which–and why.

Keep in mind, as you cogitate, that it was not the schoolteachers of Texas who scored the essays. The scoring was to have been done by the Educational Testing Service, but the canny Texans decided that they wanted no part of holisticism. So they gave the scoring contract to Westinghouse, naturally, and the Westinghousers, naturally, hired some two hundred residents of Iowa City and a certain Paul Diehl, who is a porseffor of Eglinsh. (See The Porseffers of Eglinsh.) at Iowa University. These combined forces, some aiding, some abetting, gallantly resisted the indecent allure of holistic scoring and devised instead an austere discipline, “focused primary trait holistic scoring.” Naturally.

It is the special virtue of focused primary trait holistic scoring that it rewards exactly that kind of competence that we have chosen as the goal of our highest national aspirations–the minimum kind. It takes upon itself, in the best Christian tradition, the work that God seems to be shirking. Focused primary trait holistic scoring exalteth them of low degree, and, by ferreting out and punishing pretensions to elitism, putteth down the mighty from their seats. That’s the American way, and if the Russians would just go and do likewise, we wouldn’t have to worry about them anymore.

And thus it comes to pass that, on a scale from 0 to 4, Essay B gets a 2, witness to mastery, and by far the most common score. Essay A, however, is not up to the standards of focused primary trait holistic scoring. It gets a 1.

How so? Simple. Writer B gave two reasons for his choice. That is mastery in the “organization of ideas.” What is more, his prose style suggests that professors of education and superintendents of schools won’t feel too déclassé in his company.

Writer A gave only one reason for his choice. However, even had he given fifty reasons, he would not have earned a better score. Focused primary trait holistic scoring is not intended for the encouragement of wiseacres like that snotty A kid, and it provides that no score better than a 1 can be awarded to any writer who “challenges the question.” You have to nip that funny stuff right in the old bud. You let that once get started and the next thing you know some of those brats will clarify some of our values and that will be the end of life adjustment as we know it.

Well, maybe if we make focused primary trait holistic scoring a state secret, some Russian spy will steal it. It’s our only hope.

This story is told in gritty detail in Texas Monthly, June, 1980. If you still fancy that competence tests are part of the solution rather than part of the problem, you’d better ask TM for a reprint of “What’s the Score?” They’re at 1600 Austin National Bank Tower, Austin 78701. While you’re at it, ask for Gene Lyons’ horrifying piece (Sept. 1970) on the unspeakable practices of teacher-training academics.


The Topic


Suppose that your school is short of money and can keep only one of the following: driver education, school athletics, art, music, or vocational programs. You and other students have been asked to write to the principal and tell which one program you most want to keep. Be sure to give the reasons for the one you choose. Remember, you can choose only one program.


“You have proposed an illogical situation, but I will do my best to give you an answer. I choose driver’s education over the other classes on my own special process of elimination. School athletics is out because I can’t stand the class and have no wish to inflict it on others. Art and music are really unfair electives to leave out, but they are certainly not as important as driving unless you plan to make a career of them. In that case, I’m sorry but life is hard. Vocational programs were the toughest of all to leave out (and it is the subject your mythical school will probably keep, despite this recommendation), because you do make a career of them, but look at it this way: Driving is almost essential to a person’s life, and although one could learn to drive elsewhere, it would be much more expensive. Actually, my whole rationale doesn’t have to make sense because your question didn’t in the first place.”


“I think you should keep Athletics. Because its good for the Body. And it can Help you if you would like to Become a pro football player.”


New Highs, New Lows

Big Bucks for Bantam Books in Booboisie


Slow readers could lead to fast sales, book publishers believe. Bantam Books Inc. launches a series of “high/low” paperbacks, designed to hold high interest for teen-agers with low reading skills. Scholastic Inc. expanded to more than 100 titles a series of paperbacks for teen-agers reading as low as the second-grade level.

The books usually offer simple plots, short sentences and many pictures. Most treat subjects that captivate teen-agers such as disco music and love. Bantam’s titles include “Disco Kid” (“Al1 set to boogie and no place to go”) and “Rock Fever” (“The rest of his life was a mess, but Doug was alive when he sang”).

Rising attention to the low reading levels of many students helps prompt schools and libraries to buy these books, says Thetis Powers Reeves, publisher of High/Low Report, a newsletter.

[from The Wall Street Journal, March 20, 1981]

SURE, there’s one born every minute, but what good is that? That’s a lousy 525,600 new suckers a year. Well, shoot, when you consider our infant mortality rates and the obvious fact that a hefty percentage of those kids might escape suckerdom entirely just purely out of dumb luck by being born into the wrong kind of family, the day may come when there won’t be enough suckers in America to buy all those lottery tickets or support the manufacturers of pornographic T-shirts and keep CHIPs and The Dukes of Hazzard at the top of the charts.

So let’s hear it for those swell folks at Bantam Books, and a big hand, please, for those schools and libraries, bravely bearing through the gloom of back-to-basicsism the glowing lamp of minimum competence and maximum bottom line.

And kudos and laurels, too, for Charles F. Reasoner, professor of elementary education at New York University. Reasoner (what a splendid name) is editor and the leading intellectual light at Laurel Leaf Library, Dell’s arsenal of high/low books with lots of pictures. As long as America has educators like Reasoner meeting the needs of corporate enterprise, there will never be any shortage of housewives who need to be told that their kitchen cleaner will also clean the bathroom, and no one will ever even wonder why shiny flakes mean true coffee taste or if deodorants are really necessary, and Gilligan’s Island will go on forever.

Here’s an example of Reasoner’s astute editorial judgment, always on guard against anti-social incitements to critical thinking, the nasty skepticism that can actually be caused by so simple a thing as a sequence of complete sentences. It’s a passage from Brainstorm (“Never give a sucker an even break”), by Walter Dean Myers, also the author of It Ain’t All for Nothing:

They had not expected the summer storm. In 2076 the science of weather was very exact. The storm had not lasted very long. There was some thunder. A few flashes of lightning. And it was over. Then the strange reports started. People found lying in the streets. They weren’t dead. But they had no idea who they were. In the worst cases they couldn’t speak.

They were taken to hospitals. They were tested carefully. All proved to be healthy. Healthy but helpless. When they were hungry, they would cry. When they had been fed they would lie still. Sometimes they would make soft noises. Finally they were sent to Brain Study unit for more tests. Then came the discovery. Their minds were gone!

There. That should keep the little buggers healthy but helpless. Give’m a few pages of that every day, and in no time at all they’ll be lying still, making soft noises.


The Same Old Witchcraft

District Literacy Definition

(From somewhere either in or near Minneapolis.)

The literate person is one who has acquired the skills of reading, writing, mathematics, speaking, listening, problem solving, acquiring and using information, and judgment making. Further, the literate person is one who has developed a feeling of self worth and importance; respect for and appreciation and understanding of other people and cultures; and a desire for learning. The literate person is one who continues to seek knowledge, to increase personal skills and the quality of relationships with others, and to fulfill individual potential.

THE TRUTH, at last, can be told. That Aristotle fellow was, in fact, not a literate man. He never developed positive feelings about barbarians. Indeed, the more he came to learn about them, the less he appreciated them.

Franz Kafka wasn’t literate either, you know. Like so many other illiterate “writers”–who can count them?–he was never able to develop any positive feelings of self-worth and importance. Hemingway was always shooting off his mouth and never became a good listener. Eliot made some positively anti-democratic judgments, and Mark Twain made some really dumb ones. Even Norman Mailer is said to be utterly illiterate in the quality of his relationships with others.

But don’t worry about it. Our schools are doing everything they can to assure that we will be less and less troubled by such pseudo-literates.

The true literates are in the sphere–or is it the arena?–of education. In that sphere, or field, it is almost impossible to find anyone who hasn’t developed impregnable feelings of self-worth and importance. So unreservedly do they respect and appreciate other cultures that they never fall into the error of finding anything respectable or appreciatable in their own. The quality of their relationships with others is amazing; they never, never disagree or contend, and they always hail enthusiastically each other’s bold innovative thrusts and experiential programs of excellence. And what could be stronger testimony to their fulfillment of individual potential than the fact that they have somehow persuaded the rest of us to pay them for all the stuff they do?

Now all of that, as you can discover from the handy District Literacy Definition shown above, is the real heart and guts of true literacy, pure and undefiled. What little it seems not to include–reading and writing and the acquisition of mere information, for example–will simply have to be re-understood in the context of the more important aspects, which may also be perceived as being facets, or else parameters, of district literacy.

Reading and writing are, of course, quite useful. How else, after all, will our children grow up to understand the labels on medicine bottles and write letters of application for jobs and increase personal skills in the solution of Rubik’s Cube? Indeed, the promised day of universal mass education through non-print electro-multi-media and relationship-quality encounter sessions may not come as quickly as many of us would like. And even then it will probably be useful if the masses can figure out the wall posters. So we will have to teach some reading and writing into the foreseeable future. However, reading and writing can be overdone, as the examples above must prove. People can sometimes, even in schools, become addicted to reading and writing, using them as crutches. Reading addicts especially often become–well, we had better say it right out–they become critical. You show us a student who would rather read some book than fulfill individual potential through creative interaction with representatives of other cultures and age groups, and we will show you someone who will always have difficulty with increasing the quality of relationships with others.

You laymen would better appreciate the true meaning of literacy if you could only see hyperkinetic reading behavior for what it really is–yet another of the countless hitherto unidentified learning disabilities. This should be perfectly clear to anyone who takes the trouble to consider what effects hyperkinetic reading behavior must have on true literacy as defined above:

v Because he is often exposed, and without appropriate professional guidance, to diverse and conflicting opinions, and the all-too-often cunningly persuasive rhetoric of people who really have nothing more to express than some ideas of their own, the hyperkinetic reader often lags behind his classmates in Judgment Making. He is all too apt to say, either to himself, thus exacerbating his disability, or aloud, thus disrupting a whole class and spoiling a perfectly good lesson plan: “Well, maybe, but on the other hand” And just think what that can do to the quality of relationships with others!

v The hyperkinetic reader not infrequently abuses the Acquiring and Using of Information in unprogrammed acquisition (and inevitable misuse) of information not conducive to the Respect and Appreciation of Other People and Cultures but only to the Understanding of the same. That will just not do.

v Hyperkinetic readers almost invariably read works that do not appear on the school district’s list of suggested readings, so that they often find themselves perplexed and troubled by materials written at much too high a grade level. Reading, after all, is supposed to be loads of fun. When it becomes a struggle, and especially when it causes negative feelings of doubt and questioning, the hapless reader may fail to develop that Feeling of Self Worth and Importance appropriate to literacy.

v And these people who always have their noses stuck in books usually won’t even Listen!

Among the great successes of our schools is the fact that they have always been able to prevent serious and widespread outbreaks of hyperkinetic reading behavior syndrome. This is a remarkable feat, since most young children, even when they first come to school, already exhibit morbid curiosity behavior and persistent questioning behavior, dangerous precursors that must be replaced quickly with group interaction skills and self-awareness enhancement. (Children who are properly preoccupied with themselves and with some presumed distinctions between individual whims and collective whims hardly ever fall into hyperkinetic reading behavior syndrome.) Although a few intractable cases can still be found, we realistically expect, and before long, to eradicate this crippling disability and usher in the age of true literacy.

Our only problem, as usual, is with the public, where outdated and narrow-minded misconceptions about true literacy can still be found. We must educate the public. Again. It’s time for every literacy district to promulgate a District Literacy Definition. That’ll teach ‘em.


The Teacher of the Year

Daniel Stephenson, of Salt Lake City

As little foundation is there for the report that I am a teacher, and take money; this accusation has no more truth in it than the other. Although, if a man were really able to instruct mankind, to receive money for giving instruction would, in my opinion, be an honor to him.

A true teacher is even harder to describe than to find. We have all known a handful of true teachers, and we can usually see that their differences were probably greater than their similarities.

What was it, then, that made them true? Is there one common trait? Are there several? Are there any? Can they be acquired?

If we knew the answers, we would print them right here and put an end to the spastic silliness of the teacher academies, but we suspect that nobody knows those answers, that the questions are just too human to permit final answers. The true teacher is a bit like an actor or a musician, a queer duck, with indubitable but finally inexplicable powers, powers that no amount of training will provide where something or other that we don’t understand is absent.

Nevertheless, we do know a true teacher when we see one, and we see one in Daniel Stephenson of Salt Lake City. We heard of him because of a fascinating AP story and a few phone calls to Utah:

There is, in Utah, a certain Daryl McCarty. McCarty was a functionary of some sort in the state office of a teachers’ union. Then, somehow or other, he suddenly became Associate State Superintendent of Schools for Instruction. While being interviewed by a reporter from the Salt Lake Tribune, the newly capitalized ASSS for Instruction somehow found reason to mention the fact that he hadn’t read more than two or three books all the way through.

We, of course, would have taken something like that for granted, and given it only the briefest mention. Daniel Stephenson, however, is not cynical. In fact, until he came to hear of Daryl McCarty, Educator, he “thought everybody in the whole universe liked to read.”

Children, unlike grown-ups, who usually discover in others their own worst faults, usually presume in others their own best virtues. Daniel Stephenson is six years old, and from his point of view, all that unfortunate man needed was a little friendly help. In a letter to the editor, and with a little friendly help from his father, who gave some tips on spelling, the young teacher did his best to bring light into the darkness.

“Make a paper chain,” he suggested, little suspecting that it is indeed out of prodigious chains of Paper that all McCarty’s are made. “Add a new loop for every book you read,” wrote Daniel, who believes that those who operate the schools actually have the values and attitudes that they urge on him, and that they announce to the world as witness to the honor of their labors and as claim to money.

“Since you are older,” said Daniel, “your mom and dad won’t mind. I bet your wife won’t mind.” And if she did mind, he added, McCarty could always “get a flashlight and read under the covers.”

When asked what he had learned from all that, McCarty replied, with exemplary exactitude: “I haven’t given it much thought.”

“Just because one does not sit down and read Little Red Riding Hood, or novel after novel, doesn’t mean they aren’t educated or can’t do their job,” says this Associate State Superintendent for Instruction in Utah. “Basically, I don’t do an awful lot of reading, it’s just not my forte,” says this educator. “I don’t have a lot of remorse over it.” And as to his teacher’s best advice, he solemnly explains: “I don’t like the idea of taking my flashlight to bed and reading under the covers. It might be suspect for an adult to do that.”

Now there’s an intriguing idea. Of what, exactly, would he be “suspect” if he did read by flashlight under the covers? Intellectual appetite, or some other horrid perversion? Which shall we prize the more: the Associate Superintendent for Instruction who is addicted to reading under the covers, or the one who can do “their job” just as he is, thank you, who smugly tells us that he has “made it a long way without books,” and who isn’t about to take any advice from one of the children given into his charge?

Daniel Stephenson ended his letter with this: “Since you are a leader of schools, you should try to set the example. You should try to like reading. If you keep trying, you can’t help but like it.”

A leader of schools.

And that, of course is exactly what McCarty is–a leader of schools and schooling, a functionary of a government agency whose purpose is to do something in the minds of children, through what the Leaders choose to call Instruction, for which they have an Associate Leader, a specialist, no doubt, carefully selected by the other functionaries for the sake of whatever it may be that is his “forte,” and that has brought him such a long way.

What can it be, that mysterious forte, which can bring us an Educator of the People as readily as a Ruler of the Queen’s Nigh-vee? Can that fine forte be taught? Can McCarty, now that he’s in charge, work things out so that Daniel Stephenson can learn it? Can Daniel ever hope to become an Educator of the People by idling away his life with Little Red Riding Hood and novel after novel? Will he go a long way, or will he stay always at the bottom of schooling’s massy heap, never an Educator, just a true teacher to his children, never a Leader of anything, just a small lamp of thoughtfulness for those who know him, something just a little “suspect” perhaps, something like a flashlight under the covers?