Saturday, September 25, 2004

Screwtape on the Educational System

[The devil Screwtape in a speech at the “Annual Dinner of the Tempters’ Training College for Young Devils":]

In that promising land the spirit of I'm as good as you has already become something more than a generally social influence. It begins to work itself into their educational system . . . . The basic principle of the new education is to be that dunces and idlers must not be made to feel inferior to intelligent and industrious pupils. That would be "undemocratic." These differences between the pupils - for they are obviously and nakedly individual differences - must be disguised. This can be done on various levels. At universities, examinations must be framed so that nearly all the students get good marks. Entrance examinations must be framed so that all, or nearly all, citizens can go to universities, whether they have any power (or wish) to profit by higher education or not. At schools, the children who are too stupid or lazy to learn languages and mathematics and elementary science can be set to doing the things that children used to do in their spare time. Let them, for example, make mud pies and call it modelling. But all the time there must be no faintest hint that they are inferior to the children who are at work. Whatever nonsense they are engaged in must have - I believe the English already use the phrase - "parity of esteem." An even more drastic scheme is not impossible. Children who are fit to proceed to a higher class may be artificially kept back, because the others would get a trauma - Beelzebub, what a useful word! - by being left behind. The bright pupil thus remains democratically fettered to his own age group throughout his school career, and a boy who would be capable of tackling Aeschylus or Dante sits listening to his coeval's attempts to spell out A CAT SAT ON A MAT….We shall no longer have to plan and toil to spread imperturbable conceit and incurable ignorance among men. The little vermin themselves will do it for us.
The Screwtape Letters, ”Screwtape Proposes A Toast” (1959)

[The following series of cartoon strips appeared about five years ago in Doonesbury.]

Strip 1.
Provost to President: Sir, you’ll have to speak to the
faculty again about grade inflation. Standards are falling off the
chart. The pressure to pander is even affecting the math
President: Math? How can that be? Aren’t there absolute
answers in math?
Provost: Well, yes and no.
President (to himself): Yes and no?
(Switch to classroom) Students in the back of the room:
17! 19!
Math Professor Deadman: Excellent guesses! Well done!

The next day’s Strip 2.
Student (sporting sunglasses): This B+ is wrong, Man!
You’re dissin’ me here big time!
Prof. Deadman: Mr. Slocum, I merely gave you the grade
you deserved.
Slocum: Can’t be, Man! This is way off base!
Deadman: As was your entire first proof, in which you held
the square root of 144 to be 15. It is, in fact, 12.
Slocum: Well, sure, from a narrow, absolutist, Eurocentric
perspective, maybe it’s 12.
Deadman: So?
Slocum: So my culture teaches it’s 15, Man!
Deadman: Fascinating. Would this be an advanced

Strip 3, back to the president’s office.
President: Listen to me carefully, Deadman. These are
very tough times for small liberal arts colleges such as
Walden . . .
Deadman: I know, Sir.
President: And I’m sure you’ll agree that this college would
not exist without a critical mass of paying students . . .
Deadman: When you’re right, you’re right, Sir.
President: Deadman, do you know what would happen if
word got out that our grades corresponded to high standards?
Deadman: The college would become respected?
President: Exactly! A luxury we cannot afford!

Strip 4, in Professor Deadman’s office..
(Deadman , phone to his ear, listening to his wife)
Wife: Jules?
Jules: What is it, Honey?
Wife: Jules, someone just hurled a brick through our dining
room window!
Jules: My God! Are you OK, Sara?
Wife: I’m fine, but listen to the note, Jules: “Ease up on the
tough grading . . . or else!”
Jules: These d*** kids . . . They’re monsters!
Wife: Actually, it’s signed by the faculty!


On this day:

1929 Lewis's father, Albert, dies at age sixty-six.

5 Comment(s):

At Sat Sep 25, 01:52:00 PM EST, Blogger Joelle said...

That'd be funny if it wasn't so true.

A comic that I've kept to add to your collection:

Mallard's Back to School Prediction #9:
"Students who want to study, learn, work hard, and excel will be ridiculed by their peers... for trying to act homeschooled"
(from Mallard Fillmore, a GREAT comic, the most politically incorrect I've ever seen)

At Sat Sep 25, 03:25:00 PM EST, Blogger Arevanye said...

*snert* That's a good one.

I figured all my student-friends out there would be able to relate to this issue!

I think this letter might reflect a little of Lewis's frustration at the school system, at least up until the point he sent to a private tutor! But I don't want you to get the idea that Lewis was a snob about education, either. I read somewhere that one of the children they took in at The Kilns during WWII was severely mentally handicapped and unable to read or write. Lewis spent hours and made up special flashcards to try to teach the boy his letters.

At Sat Sep 25, 04:22:00 PM EST, Blogger Arevanye said...

Or am I thinking of Tolkien here? LOL. Maybe I am getting the two of them mixed up.

At Sun Sep 26, 12:10:00 PM EST, Blogger Sandicomm said...

I don't think Tolkien took in any children during WWII, and it sounds like a Lewis thing to do anyway. (Not that Tolkien wouldn't, of course...)

Here's another Mallard Filmore comic March 19th, 2003:

Mallard: "Protestors on TV... Imagine that... Ooooh... Apparently spelling America with a "K" is back... Except these days... it may just mean that the protestor went to public school..."

And Mallard isn't just politcally incorrect, it's, like, the only conservative comic strip out there. Who would've though conservatives could be funny? ;)

Anyway, I think this passage is more a rant about being PC in the educational system. How terrible it would be if someone were offended! Obviously, we all have different skill levels. I don't think people are able to skip grades anymore in private schools, unless the school is just really weird and progressive, or you don't meet the cut-off date. My math skills were such that I'd never be able to skip a grade, but it would be so frustrating having to read books below my level. Sob. Especially Judy Blume. But I digress.

Remember that this speech is not Lewis speaking but Screwtape, so everything is coming through a filter. Lewis believed the essence of what Screwtape is saying, but Screwtape is making it more malignant.

At Sun Sep 26, 04:58:00 PM EST, Blogger Joelle said...

All the private schools I went to let you skip grades. I knew alot of people who did, I personally never had a desire to.


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