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I am pleased to have read your reprint of Mr. Van Hoven's comments on the advantages of private-school administration (Commentary, Nov. 23). While I applaud his administrative cosmogony, I do believe that his model for public-school policy is overdressed, covering the naked politics of the private-school world.

After 18 years as a private-school headmaster, I wish that I could say that "most boards of trustees make every effort to afford their heads great latitude in all educational matters." Such an illusion may be of comfort for a while, but the record of numerous of our "best" independent schools does not bear witness to such a relationship.

As a group, private-school heads are uneasy, precisely because their boards have a record of capricious firings, motivated by reasons that are far removed from an evaluation of the head's effectiveness as a leader or pedagogue. As a result, private-school heads, like school superintendents and principals, live a life of vulnerability to people who could not care less about their dedication and other such high-minded principles.

Mr. Van Hoven overlooks the key issue of school administration in our time; namely, the adversary outlook of our society in general. A society that thrives on petty issues raised to hyperbolic levels becomes small-minded and uninterested in complex and serious problems. The superintendents, principals, and private-school heads who believe that their schools exist to awaken children to their own capacities and heritage have rough antagonists.

If the kids must come first, parents, teachers, and board members must subordinate their own egos to that aim. How is this school head to tell society about this process of awakening when the society only wants to work itself up about statistics, bottom lines, pure books, and the reduction of property taxes? Even the current back-to-basics movement frequently becomes a moral banner to attack schools rather than a reflection of real understanding of the process by which children awaken to the word or the number. A shallow understanding of education easily becomes a national savior.

Our colleagues in the public schools need not turn to us. We are all out there together, hoping that we, too, will not have to dangle in the wind in order to provide pleasure for our society.


Donald R. Nickerson Headmaster Rhodes School New York City

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