Saturday, January 24, 2015

Chapter 43 - 'Scientists Don't Read': Part 5 - Kendig

Korzybski: A Biography (Free Online Edition)
Copyright © 2014 (2011) by Bruce I. Kodish 
All rights reserved. Copyright material may be quoted verbatim without need for permission from or payment to the copyright holder, provided that attribution is clearly given and that the material quoted is reasonably brief in extent.

On a Wednesday afternoon, August 8, 1934, Marjorie Mercer Kendig rang the doorbell at 321 Carleton Avenue in Brooklyn. Reading Science and Sanity for the first time only a few months before, she had gotten excited and phoned Korzybski to make an appointment. Now here she was to see him. She had just finished her course work at the Columbia University Teachers College, Department of Higher Education, with only her final thesis paper to complete in order to graduate with a Masters Degree in Higher Education (which she received the following July, 1935). In only a matter of days, she would be heading for Kansas City, Missouri to begin her new job for the fall term as the Head of Barstow School, a private academy for girls with about 500 students ranging from nursery school to college preparatory age. She entered the old brownstone building and began climbing the four flights of stairs to the Korzybskis’ ‘penthouse’ studio. Looking up, she saw a “round-faced, shaven-head, khaki-clad” figure—Alfred himself—“beaming” down at her from the top bannister. She was seeking his help in what she was planning for Barstow—a one-woman revolution in education. She would only realize many years later that the main ‘revolution’ for her—a slow, internal one—would take place within her self.(26)  At this point in 1934 at the age of 42, Kendig (as she liked to be called) had already reached an outer level of competence in her chosen field of education. She seemed mainly focused on changing the world around her—or at least the small piece of it at Barstow, she had just been charged with directing.

Born in 1892 in Utica, New York, Kendig—the sickly, only child of an apparently distant father and a possessive mother—got an unusual, informal early education. Her mother liked to read aloud to her for hours at a time from literary classics like Scott, Dickens, Thackeray, etc. As a result she had grown up with “a relatively high oral vocabulary without the slightest notion of how words and sentences look.” (She only learned to read and write at the age of 10.) (27) While she was still a child, her family moved first to Brooklyn, then to an apartment on Sutton Place in Manhattan, a prestigious New York City address. She entered Vassar College in 1911 at the age of 19, graduating in 1915 (a few years after one of her favorite poets Edna St. Vincent Millay) with a Bachelor of Arts degree, having focused on history, chemistry, French and economics. She began work in the publishing business at Scribner’s, moving from the advertising to the publication department and then into editorial work. After the U.S. entry into the ‘Great War’ in early 1918, she volunteered for a Nurses Training Camp at Vassar becoming ill during the influenza epidemic near the end of her training at New York City’s Presbyterian Hospital (where she ended up being hospitalized herself). With the end of the war that winter, she didn’t continue with nursing but reentered the publishing business, working throughout the nineteen-twenties first at Doran and later at Consolidated Magazines Corporation where she became Director of the Department of Educational Information, until 1931.

Looking back many years later (in the late 1960s/early 1970s) Kendig saw her younger self (from her childhood into at least the early 1930s) as a rather alienated person. She had participated to some extent in the revelries of the “roaring twenties”, but although she appeared immersed in the literary mileu surrounding F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, the “Crowd”—as it was called—didn’t involve her much.(28) Indeed, by 1931 (as she described herself later) she felt “very alone, against the world and afraid.” She had become a workaholic with a tough outer shell she used to protect herself from powerful feelings of fear and anger, etc., that she had learned to suppress as a child. As she said later, “I wasn’t happy. I just wasn’t unhappy as long as I drove myself.” And by 1931, despite her professional success, life within the ‘smart set’ of the New York publishing world no longer seemed enough for her. She felt drawn to the world of education. “For years I had been asking ‘What’s wrong with education?’ and what could we do to develop ‘intelligence’ — if we gave up defining it as inborn and unchangeable.”(29) Her questions and dissatisfactions had much in common with Korzybski’s pre-1914 malaise about society and science.

Kendig left New York City in 1931 to study and work in Europe for the next two years. She had already read Ogden and Richards’ The Meaning of Meaning. Then she met C.K. Ogden in Nice, France at an international meeting on Progressive Education. She went to England for a brief time to study with him, reading his Basic English and other works. Under Ogden’s guidance, she then went to Geneva, Switzerland where she took courses at the University of Geneva, Switzerland with Piaget and others while working as Assistant to the Director of the American College for Women in Geneva. As a result of her studies, she became more and more convinced that the answer to her questions somehow involved the relations of ‘language’, ‘thought’, and ‘behavior’.

After returning to New York City and stumbling into a brief and unhappy marriage, she enrolled in 1933 into the Masters program in Higher Education at Teachers College, Columbia, training to teach at the college level. Her degree was in problems of instruction in institutions of higher learning. When she read Science and Sanity in April 1934, she felt that she had found a basic key to her long-standing quandaries.

At their first meeting, Kendig and Korzybski talked for hours. It was a fateful day for them both. In Korzybski, Kendig had found a mentor who provided her with a specific approach for the practical reformulation of education and improvement of ‘intelligence’ in the way that she had long envisioned. She intended to make ‘language’ (as she understood Korzybski’s formulation of it) the central focus of all the teaching at her school. As she would come to say over the next few years at Barstow, “Every class is an English class.” (She would later somewhat modify this emphasis on the centrality of ‘language’ per se as she developed a better understanding of general semantics).

Conversely, in Kendig, Korzybski found a highly intelligent student who would shortly become one of his most hard-working and dedicated co-workers. After her time at Barstow, Kendig would devote the rest of her life to helping Korzybski while he lived, and promoting his work long after his death (she died in 1981). Of course, when they first met in August 1934, neither of them knew this. 

M. Kendig, circa 1940-1941

But Korzybski nigh certainly knew that Kendig’s work at Barstow could help him immensely in applying, researching, and promoting his work. Kendig had superb educational credentials. She was intent on applying and testing his general semantics in the most rigorous manner she could. In her position as Head of Barstow School, she was planning to turn the entire school, not just one classroom, into a test laboratory for Korzybski’s methods. He certainly felt more than willing to help her.

One of the first things he did was to provide a topic for her thesis paper. As he usually did with people he met, he put her in touch with a number of his other contacts, friends, and associates. She soon learned more about Trainor’s and Potts’ classroom research. She decided to write a research proposal on the effects of general-semantics training entitled, “A Proposed Research Investigation Valuable in the Improvement of Teaching on the Junior College Level: Application of a Method for Scientific Control of the Neuro-Linguistic and Neuro-Semantic Mechanisms in Learning”. Her paper laid out in detail the rationale and protocol for a controlled two-year study on the effects of general-semantics training on “academic success, and increased ‘emotional’ stability and ‘social’ and ‘individual’ adjustment.” The actual study never got done (over the next few years at Barstow, she had her hands full with many other things) but the paper sufficed for completing her Master’s Degree requirements.(30)

You may download a pdf of all of the book's reference notes (including a note on primary source material and abbreviations used) from the link labeled Notes on the Contents page. The pdf of the Bibliography, linked on the Contents page contains full information on referenced books and articles. 
26. M. Kendig, personal notes,11/22/1965. IGS Archives. 

27. Kendig to Henri Laborit, 2/20/1968. IGS Archives. 

28. In a September 30, 1970 letter to her life-long friend Priscilla Sheldon, whom she had met at the Nurses Training Camp, Kendig wrote:
...I found Zelda [by Nancy Mitford] as fascinating as you described -- and pathetic, too. Yes, the book was full of ghosts of my life in the 20’s and 30’s. Slightly, in one way or another, my life touched many of (the) persons in the Fitzgeralds’ saga...Actually, though, I recall all too well the Fitzgerald Epoch, I was not much in touch with the “Crowd,” but that is hardly the important thing about the book as a tremendous production and its evocation-impact personally. [Kendig qtd. in Priscilla Sheldon, “A Tribute to M. Kendig, Memorial Gathering, January 10, 1982”. General Semantics Bulletin 50, pp. 17–18]

29. M. Kendig, personal notes, 8/6/1965. IGS Archives. 

30. Kendig 1935. “A Proposed Research Investigation Valuable in the Improvement of Teaching on the Junior College Level: Application of a Method for Scientific Control of the Neuro-Linguistic and Neuro-Semantic Mechanisms in the Learning Process” (Paper presented to complete the requirements for Master’s Degree, Department of Higher Education, Teachers College, Columbia University, July 1935.), in Baugh 1938.

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