Less Than Words Can Say by Richard Mitchell
To say less than words can say, Richard Mitchell tells us, is to commit an intellectual crime. Today, the fruits of that crime hang shriveled on the vine of education, in the form of millions of students who have been prevented, by their years of schooling, from developing their capacity for thought.
Mitchell is a passionate adversary of the inane and the unclear. He believes that it is only through the nuts and bolts of grammar—the relative clauses, the 17 subjunctive tenses, the subject-verb agreements, etc.—that men can think. Mitchell Seems to understand that words allow us to abstract—i.e., to go beyond the perceptual level and to think about reality conceptually. “People who have merely come up with a word for ‘wet’ can do nothing more than stand around in the rain announcing to each other a sorry fact that needs no announcing. It won’t help them, either, to come up with a word for ‘dry.’ What they need is a way to think about ‘dry’ even while they are getting wet, a way to relate the two even when only one IS present in the world of experience. They need ‘wet could be dry.’ That’s grammar.” According to Mitchell, incompetence in language creates a caste system. Those who can construct well-formed sentences can think and therefore be independent; those who cannot are more ignorant, less productive and more easily manipulated, intimidated and controlled. Mitchell raises the alarm against modern education’s real goal: to bring us all down to the level of helpless, non-conceptual illiterates.
Mitchell’s acerbic wit makes even his most sweeping condemnations enjoyable reading. Less Than Words Can Say is an exceptionally perceptive account of why our disintegrating culture is turning out so many people who are so much less than men can be.
The Graves of Academe by Richard Mitchell
Why are our grade schools destroying the minds of our children? Richard Mitchell explains: “The acts that are at once the means and the ends of education— knowing, thinking, understanding, judging—are all committed in solitude. It is only in a mind that the work of the mind can be done. There is no such thing as ‘collective thinking.’ Our schools can be an instrument for socialization or an incentive to thoughtfulness, but they cannot be both.” Mitchell makes inescapably plain how, of the two alternatives, our schools have chosen the former. In pursuit of the goal of “socialization,” they have consistently ignored and undermined the student’s intellectual faculty.
Thinking is actively discouraged by today’s teachers, Mitchell writes. “One of the aims of ‘humanistic’ education is to deplore the cruel treatment of children subjected to the overbearing demands of knowledge, scholarship and logic by the traditional powers of authoritarian intellectualism.” Instead, students are supposed to be taught “values and attitudes.” How? By heeding the suggestion and example of others, in the name of democratic harmony and equality within one’s group at school. Our schools, by urging children to bow to majority feelings and conform to the crowd, are nurturing a generation of blind followers who are moldable plastic in the hands of skillful demagogues claiming to speak for the collective.
Mitchell reminds us that it would be a mistake to believe that children aren’t learning anything in the public schools. They are learning, daily: “When their rare and tiny compositions are ‘rated holistically’ without regard for separate ‘aspects’ like spelling, punctuation, capitalization or even organization, they learn. They learn that mistakes bring no consequences. They learn that their teachers were only pretending in all those lessons on spelling and punctuation. They learn that there are no rewards for good work, and that they who run the race all win. They learn that what they win is a rubber-stamped smiling face, exactly as valuable as what they might lose, which is nothing, nothing at all. They learn that the demands of life are easily satisfied with little labor.” The Graves of Academe is well worth reading as a powerful critique of the means by which the educational Establishment is ruining our children’s ability to think.
Teacher In America By Jacques Barzun
Many college graduates deplore the state of college teaching. We have all experienced the unprepared, the uninteresting and the downright incompetent professor. How did he get his position, we wonder, and what does it take to be the professor we always hoped for? Jacques Barzun, the distinguished author and professor, answers these questions and more in Teacher in America, a book at least as relevant now as it was when first published in 1944.
Perhaps the best part of the book is his acerbic criticism of the structure of modern American colleges, which compel young professors to “publish or perish.” He attacks the “Ph.D. octopus,” which has become the union card of the American college teacher, and which indicates nothing about teaching ability. He lambastes the explosion in scholarly publishing, dismissing most of it with the observation that “production was four times as great as consumption.” His most stinging reproaches, however, are reserved for the schools of education, with their tomes of undecipherable jargon and their emphasis on “methods” devoid of principles and content.
His main thesis is that the purpose of a college is to train its students to use their minds by teaching them the essentials of the Western tradition. He criticizes schools for offering such frivolous courses as “Social Maladjustment,” calling instead for a core curriculum in mathematics, science, history, literature and foreign languages.
The idea that the purpose of a university to transmit the core of Western civilization to the young IS under attack today, With calls for equal treatment of Western philosophy and Oriental religion, of Shakespeare and modern trash. By upholding the inestimable importance of a classical education, Barzun adds an articulate voice on behalf of Western values. For this alone his book IS worth reading.
This review is made available by the Ayn Rand Bookstore (formerly Second Renaissance Books)