Children are much smarter than we think. They know when they are being deceived and defrauded. Unless they can utter what they know, however, they know it only in part and imperfectly. If we do not give them the language and thought in which they might genuinely clarify some values, they will do their clarifying with sledgehammers. None of the lofty goals named above can be approached without the skillful practice of language and thought, and to “emphasize” those “areas” in the absence of that practice is to promulgate thought control rather than the control of thought.
Richard Mitchell (1929-2002), was a professor of English and classics who published, as a sort of hobby, a newsletter called “The Underground Grammarian.” His great crusade was opposition to the ways children are educated today, especially in such programs as what is called “values clarification.” In his view, writing and thought are the same thing. If you never learn to write clearly, you will never learn to think. And when the majority of the population in a republic is no longer capable of thinking, it must fall.
I find that hard to argue with.
Less Than Words Can Say was, I believe, his first book. In delightful and often very funny prose, Mitchell skewers various examples of inflated and meaningless writing, especially (but not entirely) from sources in government and education. He disembowels selected passages out of real documents, exposing the emptiness at their hearts and mocking it. For the lover of language, his book is a very amusing read. For anyone who lacks a traditional education in English literature (including the Bible), many of the best jokes will sail overhead.
From the perspective of several decades past the publication of Less Than Words Can Say, it seems to me that things have turned out both better than he predicted, and just as bad. In terms of prose writing, at least in the academic sphere, I don’t think things have deteriorated as much as Mitchell thought they would. I’ve spent the last two years and change in graduate study, and have rarely encountered really bad prose there. Perhaps the level of literacy is higher in Library and Information Science than in other fields.
But in terms of the decay of the capacity for thought, it looks to me, on the basis of current events, that everything he feared is coming true.
Mitchell chose, before his death, to make his books available free of charge to all. You can download a .pdf of Less Than Words Can Say here.