Friday, 29 February 2008

Hostile Notice

On account of something I wrote a while ago, entitled “Something Called Education”, I have come to hostile notice. My criticisms have caused offence in the right circles and provoked a series of letters, published I know not where, but republished anonymously in the comments of the aforementioned post:
We read the shallow piece entitled ‘The Joy of Curmudgeonry,’ and we completely disagree with its limited and defensive stance. It’s always easier and more cowardly to blog without a real name and to quote scholars’ work out of its comprehensive and thoughtful context.
.....
Dr. James Andrews
Dr. Mary Evans
Dr. James Nardy
We applaud Drs. Andrews, Evans, and Nardy for their thoughtful response to the shallow and cowardly ‘The Joy of Curmudgeonry: Something Called Education.’ We read the original 30-page essay, which the ‘Curmudgeonry’ writer critized, and we are convinced that the ‘Curmudgeonry’ writer did not read the entire essay. In fact, he/she quoted only from the first paragraph of the essay, suggesting that the rest of the article was not read. This is shabby journalism at its worse, and the writer of this journalistic garbage should be embarrassed. As high school teachers, we would give him/her a failing grade in both process of writing and substance of ideas. In retrospect, the 30-page essay is receiving major recognition from researchers and classroom practitioners in the United Kingdom, United States, Australia, and New Zealand. We therefore were dismayed to read the emotionally toned ‘Curmudgeonry’ response to it. Obviously, this limited writer and thinker knows little about education, about classroom practice, and about related substantive research.

Joel Rittler, Ph.D.
Barbara McNulty, M.S.

We read ‘Something Called Education’ and were extremely disappointed by its overt bias and narrow perspective. This so-called critique pretended to have substance, when it really demonstrated quite the opposite. As educated parents, we expect more from writers who are supposed to control their prejudices as they express their points of view and document them thoroughly. The author of ‘Something Called Education’ did neither. He also did not read the two articles that he critiqued. His review of the English Leadership Quarterly article was predicated entirely on a secondary source. It also was obvious that his critique of the progressive education article was equally ineffective because he quoted from the first paragraph only, and this quote was blatantly out of context. This lack of ethics, accompanied by poor research skills, would clearly be identified by most young school-age children. As parents, we demand more.

George and Rachel Clifton
Four Ph.Ds, one Masters, and a brace of demanding parents. Not a bad catch for murky waters.
.....Now, if I were to take these my teachers in earnest, and take chicanery to heart, then I should learn at least two lessons to be applied in all future controversy:

(1) When a man quotes solely from the beginning of an article, one can take it to suggest that he has not read the whole, wherewith one comes to the understanding that even if he had quoted from the beginning, the middle, and the end, performed for no other sake than to forestall idiotic objections, for which he might feel life is too short and pertinence too precious, he would not thereby prove that he had read the whole. Nor indeed would a quotation of the whole suffice for the proof that he had read it, though at least the latter would forestall accusations that he had quoted out of the context of the whole of the article itself, though not out of the whole of extended context, given that context can be extended to whatever bounds one sees fit for one’s purpose, including a “comprehensive and thoughtful context” in which any article can be said to rest, to which adepts can claim privy access, and to which they can always refer vaguely in their defence; — all of which in effect is to say: should one be of a mendacious cast, all one’s clearest assertions can be retracted into infinite context, all criticisms of one’s views made inadmissible, and all one’s bollix made defensible.

(2) When a man has no access to the primary source — perhaps even on account of an insurmountable unwillingness to pay a subscription to a journal he suspects would be of little use to him except perhaps to end up as expensive lavatory-paper — then any quotes he takes from a secondary source quoting that primary source are inadmissible regardless of whether the secondary source is true as regards the primary one, wherewith no onus falls on the criticiser to show that the secondary source is false as regards the primary one.

It is not that I am ungrateful for these lessons; it is just that, in the textbook of political chicanery, they are not very sophisticated ones, and, in any case, outside such a textbook, they are dishonourable. But the authors of the letters have missed an opportunity: in taking me to task for quoting out of context, as in the case of the quote from the primary source, they could have endeavoured to teach me — indeed the whole world — what the quote actually means in context rather than merely what it apparently means both in and out of it, and also of what that secret something is in the context of the article that gives the quote a meaning different from that which is apparent; moreover, in taking me to task for quoting from a secondary source, all they need have done is provide evidence of the falsity of it. It seems not too much to ask of teachers — sorry, classroom-practitioners — that they do what appears to be quite simple.
.....But that is enough: I shall not bother to address the accusations of shallowness, cowardice, and so on, but as to the charge of overt bias, I plead guilty: I should not wish such mind-blighters on anyone’s children, including their own.

15 comments:

tvoh said...

I read your post and thought it pointed up a couple of facts.

First the educrats sell the crisis of kids not being able to express themselves properly in English as a way of bilking the taxpayer.

One the citizen is robbed they sell the idea that the problem is actually the solution.

A perfect bit of rent seeking.

Anyway, I'm jealous. Nobody ever gets that offended by me.

Anonymous said...

How do you know they were originally published elsewhere? (It's true that their style is rather odd for comments.) For that matter, when did they appear in the comments? We only see a time stamp.

dearieme said...

Dear God, these mimsy plonkers can have no experience of debate. Where on earth can they have done their degrees - the University of Keeping Shtum? "It’s always easier and more cowardly .. to quote scholars’ work out of its comprehensive and thoughtful context." The only way you can quote someoene is out of context - there is no alternative. Aaaargh. Fools. Dolts. Perhaps their degrees are in "Education"?

J.K. Baltzersen said...

Sir,

My question is this: Where are their substantial arguments? I see none!

Deogolwulf said...

Tvoh, indeed, education - like much else these day - is a racket.

"Anyway, I'm jealous. Nobody ever gets that offended by me."

You're just not trying hard enough, tvoh. But anyway, I'd much rather remain widely ignored.

Anon: "How do you know they were originally published elsewhere?"

Well, I assumed they were, given that they looked as though they had come from a letters-page, and given that the post was written in May 2007. But thinking about it again, that may be a too great an assumption. Perhaps they all just decided to comment on my post on the same day (24th Feb). (It could even be that someone is winding me up.) Still, the suspicion remains.

Dearieme, plonkers indeed. It reminds me of what Steven Weinberg said about Derrida: "It seems to me that Derrida in context is even worse than Derrida out of context.” I'm quoting him out of context, of course.

Mr Baltzersen: "Where are their substantial arguments? I see none!"

I know, but the quaint denunciatory language is much more fun.

Malcolm Pollack said...

Nice shootin', Tex.

Deogolwulf said...

Thank'ee.

Pietr said...

deolgolwulf- they only want to provoke you into revealing your true identity so that they can threaten you with some sort of legal - or illegal - action.
The fact is that these people 'know people who know people', who are expert at practising coercion.
When challenged they raise the stakes.
When challenged consistently, they 'wash their hands of you' and leave you to the devices of their lieutenants in the movements, the social circles, in which they move.
In my case a series of coincidental repressions followed my rejection of the original threat of legal action.
Which, as I'm sure you appreciate, is why I am now called 'Pietr'.
I shall of course be happy to link to your original article if you supply the url.

bruno benedini said...

authority seems to be all they got...

Anonymous said...

Four Ph.Ds, one Masters, and a brace of demanding parents. Not a bad catch for murky waters. Now, if I were to take these my teachers in earnest, and take chicanery to heart, then I should learn at least two lessons to be applied in all future controversy:

(1) When a man quotes solely from the beginning of an article, one can take it to suggest that he has not read the whole, wherewith one comes to the understanding that even if he had quoted from the beginning, the middle, and the end, performed for no other sake than to forestall idiotic objections, for which he might feel life is too short and pertinence too precious, he would not thereby prove that he had read the whole, nor indeed would a quotation of the whole suffice for the proof that he had read it, though at least the latter would forestall accusations that he had quoted out of the context of the whole of the article itself, though not out of the whole of extended context, given that context can be extended to whatever bounds one sees fit for one’s purpose, including a “comprehensive and thoughtful context” in which any article can be said to rest, to which adepts can claim privy access, and to which they can always refer vaguely in their defence; — all of which in effect is to say: should one be of a mendacious cast, all one’s clearest assertions can be retracted into infinite context, all criticisms of one’s views made inadmissible, and all one’s bollix made defensible.

(2) When a man has no access to the primary source — perhaps even on account of an insurmountable unwillingness to pay a subscription to a journal he suspects would be of little use to him except perhaps to end up as expensive lavatory-paper — then any quotes he takes from a secondary source quoting that primary source are inadmissible regardless of whether the secondary source is true as regards the primary one, wherewith no onus falls on the criticiser to show that the secondary source is false as regards the primary one.

It is not that I am ungrateful for these lessons; it is just that, in the textbook of political chicanery, they are not very sophisticated ones, and, in any case, outside such a textbook, they are dishonourable. But the authors of the letters have missed an opportunity: in taking me to task for quoting out of context, as in the case of the quote from the primary source, they could have endeavoured to teach me — indeed the whole world — what the quote actually means in context rather than merely what it apparently means both in and out of it, and also of what that secret something is in the context of the article that gives the quote a meaning different from that which is apparent; moreover, in taking me to task for quoting from a secondary source, all they need have done is provide evidence of the falsity of it. It seems not too much to ask of teachers — sorry, classroom-practitioners — that they do what appears to be quite simple.
.....But that is enough: I shall not bother to address the accusations of shallowness, cowardice, and so on, but as to the charge of overt bias, I plead guilty: I should not wish such mind-blighters on anyone’s children, including their own.



Our students in a teacher-training college were asked to read the above and to evaluate its worth. Our students used a writing rubric consisting of a four-point scale, with 4 representing the highest rating. The results are as follows: MEANING GENERATED-1; DEVELOPMENT OF IDEAS-1; ORGANIZATION OF IDEAS-2; LANGUAGE USE-3; MECHANICS/GRAMMAR-1. Specifically, the sentence beginning “Four Ph.Ds…” is not a sentence; it’s a grammatical fragment. The next sentence beginning “Not a bad catch…” is also not a sentence; it’s a grammatical fragment. The sentence beginning “When a man quotes solely from…” consists of 214 words; this type of sentence construction would benefit from serious revision. The general conclusion drawn from 183 students in 6 classes is: The writer of the original critique “Something Called Education” ironically would have benefited immensely from the ideas that he criticized.
Gabriel Stark
Jonathon Lardy

Malcolm Pollack said...

In other words, D, given that you write so very badly that your deficiencies of style and skill are evident even to mere teachers-in-training, you would do well to encourage the adoption of a system under which such shortcomings are not weaknesses at all, but strengths.

J.K. Baltzersen said...

From Arthur Schopenhauer's The Art of Controversy:

A last trick is to become personal, insulting, rude, as soon as you perceive that your opponent has the upper hand, and that you are going to come off worst. It consists in passing from the subject of dispute, as from a lost game, to the disputant himself, and in some way attacking his person. It may be called the argumentum ad personam, to distinguish it from the argumentum ad hominem, which passes from the objective discussion of the subject pure and simple to the statements or admissions which your opponent has made in regard to it. But in becoming personal you leave the subject altogether, and turn your attack to his person, by remarks of an offensive and spiteful character. It is an appeal from the virtues of the intellect to the virtues of the body, or to mere animalism. This is a very popular trick, because every one is able to carry it into effect; and so it is of frequent application.

Well, the subject of dispute has strictly speaking not been "passed from," but that is because the subject of dispute itself is so well suited for personal attack.

I must admit that this blog often is challenging to read, but as I understand, this is a large part of the point with the blog; it is not supposed to be easy to read, for heavy intellectual capacity is required, as opposed to things that are understood by simple minds.

Some people just don't get the point.

Deogolwulf said...

Oh dear. (Grammatical fragment.)

David Duff said...

Phew, 'DGW', that was a damned close run thing! Suppose, just suppose, that 183 students had actually given you a thumbs up - oh, the horror, the horror!

xlbrl said...

Didn't I already see this movie?
The Green Book--Men Without Chests (and the women too)