THE LEANING TOWER OF BABEL
by Richard Mitchell
THE first thing you must learn, if you want to become a professional of education and earn big money from the taxpayers, is how to dream up cunning definitions for things that need no defining. As dull and stupid as that may seem, we urge you to persevere in its practice, for it is also the last thing you will have to learn. Many a splendid career in education has been built on nothing more than that one little skill, endlessly elaborated.
Of course, if you want formal training as a professional, we can only suggest that you keep checking the ads in match-book covers, but, if you’re reasonably bright and willing to practice, you might be able to master this lucrative discipline/field/area in the privacy of your home. Here’s how it works: If you persist in saying, for instance, that speaking is speaking, you can only be an unprofessional elitist. Your real professional says that speaking is “uttering in order to language.” And what is uttering? Uttering is the “production of vocal sounds; i.e., sounds produced using the larynx and oral cavities.”
Needless definitions are the natural breeding ground of silly neologisms. If you can come up with “to language,” you can define that and sound even more professional. To language is “representation of conceptualizations by properly ordered sequences of signs; or the inverse process of understanding the conceptualizations underlying . . . sequences of signs produced by others.” Now you trot out “auding,” “listening to speech in order to language,” provided, of course, that you have already defined listening as “selecting and attending to excitation in the auditory modality.”
It’s hard to believe that one educationist could do all that (and lots more) out of his own head, so we’re guessing that Tom Sticht of the National Institute of Education spent plenty of time consulting what they call “the literature,” a compendium of the inanities of other educationists. Sticht has bunched much such stuff into “The Basic Skills: A Frame of Reference,” a “background paper” written at the behest of U.S. Commissioner of Education Ernest L. Boyer.
Since you paid for the thing, Boyer will cheerfully send you a copy. (He’s at 400 Maryland Ave. SW, Washington, DC 20202. Tell him we sent you.) When you read it, you’ll be delighted to find that Sticht has selected and attended to excitation not only in the literacy modality but in the “oracy” and the “numeracy” modalities as well. You’ll learn about the improvement of affiliations among linkages, and you’ll meet the amazing BAPS [Basic Adaptive Processes] that go by the names of Hearing, Seeing, Motor Movement, and Cognitive. (Yes, he does think of Cognitive as a noun.)
If a man came to your door trying to peddle that kind of stuff, just how long would you aud his languaging before sneaking off to the telephone to call the wagon? If he told you that he had it in mind to do something or other to your children, something designed to affect their oracy, would it not seem good to you to provide him with a BAP in the oral cavities? Academic questions, to be sure. In fact, you bought all of this stuff long, long ago, and, although you have paid and paid, you will never be done with paying. Long, long ago, you gave your children to the peddlers to do with as they pleased. Now that the children are more ignorant than ever, you turn, naturally, to government, which turns, naturally, back to the peddlers.
The Pavians, having given half their wealth to the Visigoths to defend their city against the Ostrogoths, and the remaining half to the Ostrogoths for like service against the Visigoths, found that they could no longer afford to live there, except, of course, as servants to the newly rich barbarians, all of whom turned out to be related.
THERE is something or other called ERIC/SMEAC.* It is harbored by the Ohio State University at 1200 Chambers Road, Columbus, Ohio 43212. ERIC/SMEAC sends out, or emits, we might say, an impenetrable annual newsletter, of which we have the issue of December 1978. It suggests (but who can be sure?) that this outfit is in the business of telling teachers (here called “educators”) all about nifty new gimmicks and boldly innovative thrusts in the teaching of science and math and the pop pseudoscience, Environmental Education.† E/S is not at all ashamed to admit that it published From Ought to Action in Environmental Education.‡ Nor does it seek to deny its interest in some things it calls “information products” or that “a major effort of the clearinghouse is the production of a variety of information analysis products.” The manufacturers of gadgets and kits and “packets of materials” love ERIC/SMEAC.**
All of that we learn from Robert W. Howe, but other hands that might better have rested idle have also found work in this sheet. One of them tells us all about “the challenge confronting schools and colleges created by emerging energy realities.” (Misplaced modifiers we can handle, but the thought of an emerging energy reality is just too scary. It could even be Godzilla.) The same hand calls teachers the “education clientele” and brings us word of “the development of adaption identification.” Next we hear of “the Center’s functional activities,” a nasty thought, which include “maintaining access to a core [that’s what it says: core] of personnel . . . so that programmatic aspects of the program thrust is appropriately coordinated.” Well, those who are busy with important stuff like the appropriate coordination of the programmatic aspects of a program thrust certainly can’t be bothered about trivia like appropriate coordination of plural subjects and plural verbs.
Worse is in store. This SMEACer speaks also of “new energy conservation supplemental curriculum materials focusing on the interrelationship of Energy, Environment, and Engagement.” In educationistic prose, it is not a surprise when materials focus, but that stupendous noun pileup will call forth awe and envy in all professionals of education. That last bit, furthermore, is not entirely without wisdom, for many will surely testify to the curiously amiable interrelationship of energy, environment, and engagement, or something like it, at least.
At E/S they do things not when asked but “on a request basis.” They promote phases, and one of their activities has conjured an effort. They do even better when they write about some bureaucratic boondoggle called the National Education Practice File.
This “practice file” (their quotation marks) has “generated a variety of ‘ideas’ [ditto] within the practice-related information domain.” (They do love a domain.)†† And how were these “ideas” generated? They “were generated through group and individual contact with a variety of educators.” Educators have principles, you know. They will never, for instance, do anything except as individuals or as groups. And they love contact, but again only with individuals or groups.
This Newsletter reports that one Patricia Blosser, a SMEACer, went before a regional meeting of the NSTA. (That could stand for National Science Teachers’ Association, but they probably wouldn’t use the apostrophe.) There she presented a paper on “reading as a survival skill.” We’d admire to have heard that. If the SMEACers know as much about reading as they do about writing, which seems inevitable, and if that paper was written no better than the rest of their stuff, reading it to an educated audience would have led to a demonstration of running like hell as a survival skill. The Newsletter, however, does not suggest that Blosser barely escaped with her life, and that tells us something about those science teachers.
Of course, we could have guessed it from the Newsletter. No one who cares about skill and accuracy could ever have written such shabby trash, and no one committed to disciplined intelligence could bear to read it. That the SMEACers do write it, and that science teachers do bear it, should disabuse us of the quaint notion that our science teachers have been trained in science.
No more would the math teachers seem to have been trained in mathematics, except, presumably, in the way that the teachers of Environmental Education are trained in environment, probably by hearing all about its importance often enough so that they reach a state of what the teacher-trainers would call enhanced environment awareness. Math and science have it in common that they are, before all else, habits of mind, and that they can find expression only in clear, conventionally correct utterance. Those incapable of such utterance cannot be teachers.
Well, who cares? With a little help from a core of personnel and a few file “ideas” from the practice-related domain, they can be educators. That’s already a better job. Not too much work, automatic membership in a nifty education clientele, and no lifting.
* About ERIC we can’t even guess. We do find this: “Clearinghouse for Science, Mathematics and Environmental Education.” That’s CSMEE. Maybe there really is an Eric Smeac, and this is just a part of his fiendish scheme to turn our brains into tapioca. back
† Everyone has heard that those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach. The adage says nothing about those who can neither do nor teach. For them, lest they vanish utterly from the public payroll, we devise non-courses usually called “educations.” back
‡ This should be a dilly. It’ll cost you three bucks, but it might be the funniest book of the year. back
** To those professionals of education who’ve heard tell of Newton, it’s a mystery how in hell that man learned all that Physics and Math Education without so much as a remote-control film-strip projector. back
†† Domain is one of the darlingest weasel-words of the professionals. It sounds so noble. They need it, as they need area, field, and sphere, because we all giggle when they claim to know something about a subject. back
A Brief Note
WE wondered how all those math and science “educators,” presumably well trained in the skill of logic and the habit of accuracy, could bear to read the silly gabble in the ERIC/SMEAC newsletter. Now we know, for we’ve seen the work of Marlow Ediger, an actual math educator at Northeast Missouri State University. He warns, in Wisconsin Teacher of Mathematics (XXXI: 1, 18), that “the individual learner and society [will] ultimately reap consequential results.” Like other educationists who refer to the subjects they don’t teach in evasive euphemisms like “sphere,” “field,” and “area,” Ediger speaks of “the mathematics arena.”
If the editor of WTM isn’t permanently out to lunch, then he’s one hell of a great agent provocateur boring from within. Here’s how he lets Ediger find enough rope:
Problematic situations must be life-like and real. Thus, relevant problems to be solved in the school-class setting must also have transfer values to societal settings. The mathematics curriculum then must not be separated from that deemed vital and relevant in society. If, for example, a classroom needs carpeting in the school setting, pupils with teacher guidance may determine the number of square feet or square yards needed. Metric measurements may also be utilized! Comparisons can be made for costs of diverse carpets from competing stores carrying the needed merchandise. Pupils in this situation are involved in identifying and solving a problem which integrates the goals of school and society. What is learned in the school-class setting is definitely useful in the larger society arena.
So much for the habit of accuracy and the skill of logic among math educators. Do you suppose there is, in mathematics, some flaw in procedure equivalent to redundancy? Is there some way, in an equation, to say that things are definitely equal? Is that weird exclamation point in fact a factorial sign? Is utilized to used as y′ is to y, and the school-class setting some power of the school setting, itself some power of a mere school? Will multiplication cease in Missouri when all the classrooms are carpeted, or will the math educators, in some boldly innovative thrust, discover new problematic situations in the broomclosets?
Well, let’s not be too hard on Ediger; maybe he just knows his audience. After all, he’s remarkably specific about “stores carrying the needed merchandise,” lest the hapless math educators go wandering into haberdasheries and bakeries asking about diverse carpets.
WE have been reluctant to take an editorial position on the vexatious question of sexism in language. It is true that language is both a display and a generator of attitudes and values, and that certain conventional devices of our language do suggest that our species is made up of men and special cases. (This suggestion is even more emphatic in languages that show gender in plural pronouns, so that the addition of one little boy to a band of a thousand Amazon marauders turns the whole pack into a masculine “they.”) It is just as true, however, that most proposed remedies have been either illogical, ugly, or silly, and sometimes all three. What to do?
Now to our aid comes a faithful reader who has sent us the June 1980 issue of The WS Quarterly, a flacksheet all about the Wallingford-Swarthmore School District in Walingford, Pennsylvania. The only article in the issue is “Grade Repetition…………..” (Those fourteen dots are sic; maybe they’re symbolic?) The piece is said, perhaps with exceptionally fine editorial discrimination, to have been “prepared” by one Rose Alex, a “reading specialist” at large in the Wallingford Elementary School.
Rose Alex is a preparing specialist too. She has prepared her article in the form of a hypothetical (let’s hope) conversation between a bewildered and remarkably unobservant parent and a confident, patient, knowledgeable reading specialist–a real pro. The pitiful parent asks questions like this:
My child’s teacher has suggested that he/she not go on to the next grade this coming year, but repeat the grade. How can I be sure that repeating the grade is the best thing for my child?
Rose Alex replies, in part:
To try to make a child believe he/she is achieving by giving him/her tasks at a slower pace does not fool him/her when he/she sees his/her peers moving ahead of him/her.
That does it. We’re ready to take a stand. We say it’s spinach, and we say the hell with it.
The Lady with the Lump
I can stand out the war with any man.
Nightingale Clobbered! Sings no More
Intentionality of Consciousness
Just when we thought we had it all figured out, just as we had definitely concluded that women would never indulge themselves in the ludicrous linguistic posturing so natural to men, we got some bad news from Akron. It came in these very words, and we are afraid that they may have been written by a woman:
Assumptions from theories of ecology and phenomenology provide an ecological-phenomenological perspective. The ecological-phenomenological perspective provides the framework for graduate education to prepare family health nurses to assist families in sustaining that quality of life which enables them to survive and prevail. From an ecological-phenomenological* perspective the faculty views families within a macro-ecosystem, a meta-ecosystem, and a micro-ecosystem; and perceives the phenomena of the family ecosystem in terms of the intentionality of consciousness of enfamilied selves as reported by family members.
And there’s more, lots more. And it’s all the same, of course, except when it’s worse. That “intentionality,” for example, is later defined–well, not defined, but at least viewed–“viewed as those motives and goals that lead to expansions of consciousness.” And consciousness “is viewed as five domains of living: valuing, thinking, feeling, acting, and intuiting.”
Now you might suspect that when intentionality does lead to expansion of consciousness, it might, at least, open up a couple of new domains, loafing about and wool-gathering, perhaps, but no. It turns out that “expansion of consciousness is viewed as a dialectical process which encompasses thesis of being, antithesis of doing and synthesis of becoming.”
If all this puts you in mind of one of those real intellectual institution places where they figure the ontological is-ness of It All, it’s only because you’ve forgotten–and who can blame you?–the key word in the cited passage: “nurse.”
Yes, this is all about how they “teach” nurses something or other at the College of Nursing at the University of Akron.
Florence Nightingale said that she could stand the war, and she did. She also said:
No man, not even a doctor, ever gives any other definition of what a nurse should be than this–“devoted and obedient.” This definition would do just as well for a porter. It might even do for a horse.
Somehow, we don’t think it cheers her to know that the women who are defining the nurse are so docile and obedient that they even want to talk like men, which no self-respecting horse would dream of.