THE GRAVES OF ACADEME by Richard Mitchell


Email this review


Language-critic Mitchell (publisher of The Underground Grammarian, author of Less Than Words Can Say, 1979) now turns his ire on the American education establishment--to devastating, if narrow, effect. His charges are familiar ones: anti-intellectualism flourishes in America; poor writing indicates poor thinking; institutions seek to preserve themselves; ""where pygmies rule, all men must stoop."" For evidence, though, he goes to the source. Schools anti-intellectual? Look at the high-school courses they offer--auto mechanics, family living, sports writing; and at the courses they fail to offer--beginning with foreign languages. Or, read what the educators write: ""delay should not be allowed to take place""; ""an Academic Planning Model must involve a future planning component."" The flight from academic excellence, Mitchell avers, began when 19th-century psychologists set out to quantify mental and emotional conditions--thus shifting attention away from academic subjects and toward human ones. Add the perverse and pervasive influence of the 1917 ""Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education""--only one of which, Command of Fundamental Processes, even mildly champions intellectual pursuits. The others--Health, Worthy Homemanship, Vocation, etc.--opened the door to ""transpersonal teaching,"" ""consumer education,"" and ""communications."" Even worse (if possible) are teachers' colleges: ""nurseries of self-indulgence, unskilled creativity and half-baked pseudo-metaphysical incantation."" The lack of internal reform Mitchell attributes, like others, to the strong instinct for self-preservation among educators--who, rather than police their own, prefer to discover more ""problems"" that only they can solve. And the whole nation, Mitchell concludes, suffers the success of schooling: children always learn in school, but what they learn is that everyone wins (a rubber-stamped smiley face on every paper), that a show of effort is what really counts, that first and foremost they should pay attention to themselves (to their ""idle whims and temperamental tendencies"" which are far more important than ""mere achievement""). Simplistic and overstated, yes, but no more so than other such blasts--and likely to connect for many.

Pub Date: Oct. 14th, 1981
Publisher: Little, Brown