In Itself American: Alpha

We the people of the United States, in order . . .  ” yes, order. Order is the single rule of operation for any State, whether French, American, or Iranian; fascist, communist, Islamist; it does not matter.  Third world dictatorships or totalitarian regimes are not the only kinds of governments concerned for regulating its citizens and residents, our United States government no less than China’s.

The preferred result of any state’s practice is always a more perfect union, and the finishing point for any State would be for all who live within it, all the people governed by its administrators, to serve the state and only the state, as any or all bureaucrats understand, themselves standing firmly as managerial pillars supporting the fundamental tenet that the State must for certain and for always come before the people, that in all matters governmental, the State is Alpha and Omega.  These are dogmas heeded no less fervently than the dogmas of any organized religion are by the pious. States have their demands and bureaucrats their devotions.

These clerics of State, and every clerk is a cleric—they come together in one temper that expresses their function in the following way: everything we think, everything we do and all that we react to should be of, by and for the bureaucracy and the bureaucracy alone, in as much as we are the guardians of the State, the limit of life and reality for all who exist in the state, but bestly, for the state. Of course, Lincoln meant to say, of the State, by the State and for the State . . .

In as much as we in America systematically under educate at every turn in our standard public education, we are not likely to enlist bureaucrats with anything more than the typical less-than education we want; that is, the scarcely literate, and only the functionally so if that, is all anyone in the state will sponsor or to which anyone from within the State bureaucracies will aspire. Our current sense of literacy is the only kind the State considers fit for the Democratic averages, the great social en-masse, more liable to answer the Pavlovan bell of advertising than likely to discern critically; these are the masses accustomed to deciding political issues firstly and lastly if filtered through the sieve of mass media.

Now, as it seems in perpetuity, the State maintains as part of its internal policy of control a scheme of education whereby large numbers of students moving through its curriculum will in the last read no better than the eighth grade, which is the grade level considered by the federal government literate enough. This functional literacy, as the government of the United States calls it could not carry you through the most significant editorials of even the New York Times. It will allow you to handle most of the general reporting in almost any of America’s tabloid newspapers, and even a significant portion of the general reporting of the Washington Post or New York Times. Now whether or not what is contemporarily required to read at the eighth grade today is equal to or less than what was considered eighth grade reading twenty five or fifty years ago or seventy-five is not going to be determined within these pages; however, we do know that there are all of the years of high school beyond the eighth grade, so what have we established when we say that an eighth grade reading level is quite sufficient to perform functionally in society—or is it the functionary tasks of state we seek to replicate in our mass produced high school graduates? How has graduating from High School become an achievement when in New York City still more than half of its public high school graduates read below the 12th grade. Students are tested only up to the eigth grade; the state and the schools need not be accountable beyond there.

For us to utter with such pride, as we do in New York City about the numbers of high school graduates we have promoted in the last several years, when still nearly half graduate reading below grade, is example of one of our greatest delusions. But then an eighth grade reading level will allow you to handle bureaucratic literacy, the kind needed to manage the many forms and applications you will have to fill out through the course of your life, sometimes in triplicate, or simply a number not repeated but certainly insuring the appropriate redundancy, as if the mother of all bureaucracies in America was the military. A variation on this functional literacy has crept into our colleges, particularly at the community college level, but also in our baccalaureate programs.

I noted this kind of programmatic educating from the allegedly kinder and gentler teachers at a Community College in Brooklyn, where there was an enforced mediocrity from the governing administration, to the point that if any adjunct lecturer had ever gotten his students to pass the CUNY ACT exam at a percentage rate nearly double that of the CUNY average, then he or she came under fire from above, firstly, and most likely, for being too teacher centered, whatever that is supposed to mean. But those who use this cliche–another of our received ideas about pedagogy that has only allowed us to systematize failure and ensure a pervasive mediocrity in our students ability to read and write critically–are only too quick to oppose anything that will not keep 2 out of every 3 students in remediation failing the exam they need to take the composition courses they most certainly need to graduate, but finish their course of study more effectively. Through this system of failure we achieve a kind of intellectual mendacity that is difficult for any individual teacher to stand up against when the consensus–when the overarching majority of teachers in the Community Colleges all agree to the contrary. My students were paying at a percentage rate of around 70%. The CUNY average was around 34%. There had to be something wrong with the pedagogy, if I could do this in my classes; so, the only response from administration was not reward but vilification. But at the time of my inquest, the Chairperson of the department was someone with a surname made famous or infamous by Sinclair Lewis.


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