Letters to the Editor
Brother Donnan Berry, S.C. President, Secondary Schools Department National Catholic Educational Association Washington
The two Commentaries (April 7) on the "evils" of the tuition tax-credit idea is another example of how its opponents employ scare tactics and half-truths to avoid the real issue. It's not a question of whether tuition tax credits pose a threat to the public-school establishment, national, state, and local budgets, or socialized education in the U.S.
The real issue is: Are tuition tax credits good for kids?
Apparently Theodore Mitchell thinks so (without admitting it, of course) because he states, "... the more successful a tax-credit program, the more parents will seize the incentive offered by the government and withdraw from the public schools." The average American parent is not disposed to "... give his son a snake if he asks for a fish, or hand him a scorpion if he asks for an egg."
Gordon D. Sharp Jr. Education Consultant to the Allentown Committee for Citizens in Education (access) (an affiliate of the National Committee for Citizens in Education) Allentown, Pa.
After reading Peggy Cole's essay, "Learning by Computer and Scheduling Living Away" (Commentary, March 24), I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Her many contradictory statements concerning the computer's effects on young children would be amusing were it not for the fact they reflect the frighteningly pervasive negativity of all too many professional educators toward anything new.
For example, the two games she utilizes to put down the computer, "Fireman, Fireman" and "Animals," both actually involve the children in exercising feeling of compassion, even for the computer itself! Children naturally invest the inanimate world with personality, and adults harbor human feelings for their most prized possessions. The "alienation" Ms. Coles fears has been with us at least since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and Freud traces it back as far as the very birth of human consciousness. To borrow from The Bard, the fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars or in our Star Wars games, but in ourselves.
Am I alienated from what I write because I am tapping a mechanical typewriter's keys instead of plying a pencil? In practically the same breath Ms. Cole claims, "The world of electronics is hypnotic and isolating; it cuts out other experiences," then tells us conversely that ''the world of electronics offers simulated experiences." If we accepted her over-simplification of Piaget, we would have to believe that reading books and listening to professorial lectures are bad because they, too, are "simulations" of actual experience. We learn best by such simulations.
For alienation, I would guess that the world of computerized learning which children find so exciting could be no worse than stuffing 25 or 30 children into the same classroom six hours a day, five days a week with the same dull adult every day, learning at the same deadly slow pace. As Peter Wagschal of the University of Massachusetts has observed, the difference between a bad computer and a burnt-out school teacher in a contest for "Most Dehumanizing Force" would be "roughly even."
The most telling comment in the entire article is the tacit confession that our children's electronic environment "is alien to many parents and educators." The most dangerous alienation reflected throughout the author's argument isn't the alleged alienation caused by the computer, but the alienation of the educators from the real world.
Most tragically, educators are alienated from the real world of children. Too many teachers and educational theorists seem oblivious to the crucial fact that the children born and educated right now will have to take their places in a world far different, perhaps fundamentally different, from that of today. Many of our educators, as reflected between the lines of Ms. Cole's article, seem to be gazing wistfully back at yesterday. The teachers of the 20th century are preparing the citizens of the 21st century (today's students) still using the dangerously outdated methods of the 19th century.
I use the word "dangerously" deliberately. Knowledge of the human potential and its technological extensions grows faster than our tried but no-longer-true methods of pedagogy can communicate it, and the results of this knowledge gap are becoming increasingly dangerous to the continuance, much less the progress, of human civilization. All learning, from the most basic to the most highly advanced, must be accelerated. The computer is mankind's own answer to one of its most crying needs.
For those who bewail the loss of human contact between the traditional teacher and student should the computer take over, it can only be suggested that there was much human contact before the 19th-century invention of public-school teacher, and there will be much after. There may be even more, since the accelerated pace of computer learning will leave children more free time, not less, to interact with their peers and others.
Any electronic invention that allows a Washington, D.C., bureaucrat to roller skate to work with "his gyrating body" responding to a Walkman plugged into his ears when he might otherwise be picked up as a looney is a true "freedom machine." Thank goodness some of our professional educators weren't around to counsel Cro-Magnon man, or I'd be carving this letter on a stone slab.
Rev. David J. Rieder Superintendent of Education Diocese of Saint Cloud Saint Cloud, Minn. To the Editor:
Long before budget cuts, the state of Minnesota provided tuition tax credits for parents of children enrolled in nonpublic schools. This happened for the three school years between 1971 and 1974. No public schools lost enrollment to the private sector during those years.
Public-school budgets also continued to receive additional tax-supported increases during those years. All in all, the Minnesota experience with tuition tax credits was positive for the entire educational community in the state.
Why then so much fear, as expressed by essay writers Arnold F. Fege and Theodore Reed Mitchell ("Education Cannot Afford Tuition Tax Credits," Commentary, April 7)? Tuition tax credits did not benefit the rich in Minnesota. They did allow the "not-so-rich" to be able to continue paying part of the tuition costs to educate their children and saved the state millions of tax dollars in the process.
The credits did not prompt massive transfers of students from public to nonpublic schools. After all, even if parents receive a minimal tax break (like up to a limited one-half of the tuition they have already paid), how many parents who have traditionally paid no tuition at all realistically will transfer children to a school when the so-called tax break will not cover what they must then begin to pay in tuition? The Minnesota experience with tax credits did not result in increased enrollments in nonpublic schools.
Perhaps some of the problem in accepting the concept of tuition tax credits for parents of children attending nonpublic schools can be traced to some deep-rooted biases about the "sacredness" of the nation's public system.
One gets the idea sometimes that the nation's salvation lies entirely in its public schools. In my opinion the nation's salvation will be enhanced by creating fairness and freedom for all this nation's people--including both its public and nonpublic educational systems.
Joel Margolis Albany, N.Y.
Your recent story (March 17) on the Census Bureau's report, Characteristics of Children and Youth: 1980, dutifully reported the "dog bites man" part of the story: In high school, black and Hispanic-origin children are more likely to be below the modal grade than are white children. Everybody knows this. But you failed to report on the "man bites dog" aspect of the report.
Your Databank in the same issue, which contains statistics from the Census Bureau report, shows that in five of the six comparisons (males in grades 1-4 and 5-8 and in high school, and females in grades 1-4 and 5-8), blacks are more likely to be in advanced grades than are their white counterparts; and in four of the six comparisons (males and females in grades 1-4 and 5-8), Hispanics are also more likely to be in advanced grades than are their white counterparts.
Although your reporter notes that "in the early grades, roughly equal proportions of black and white students were in their 'modal' grade'," the statistics suggest that there is more to the story. Does anyone have an explanation for this latter set of findings?
As far as I know no researcher has ever commented on this pattern. I don't know if it held true for earlier censuses or, quite frankly, what it means. But it seems to be something worth investigating.
William D. Guthrie President, New Jersey Association of Colleges for Teacher Education Lawrenceville, N.J.
After reading the article, "N.J. Moves to Upgrade Admissions Standards, Stress Liberal Arts," in the March 24th issue, I felt impelled to write this letter because aspects of the situation were misinterpreted.
The standards passed in February are not "tougher" than a previous set because no such statewide standards previously existed. The mandated standards constitute an unprecedented move by the New Jersey department of higher education that, in the eyes of many, violated a long-held value that institutional initiative and innovation are likely to result from an ability to function with minimal bureaucratic controls. The passage of the mandate in February may well have initiated a new era of government control of higher education in New Jersey.
Subsequent to the passage of the department of higher education's curriculum and academic policy mandate covering public institutions, the state department of education (a separate agency responsible for teacher certification) publicly noticed a revised set of teacher-certification standards. These proposed revisions do not, as stated in Education Week's article, prohibit students from majoring in education. In addition, such prohibition is not contained in the department of higher education's mandate.
There is a big story in the "growing state-level interest in improving the quality of teaching." To adequately understand the story, however, one must go beyond a cursory look at materials made available by government agencies.
Editor's Note: Education Week's story reported that the New Jersey state board of education had endorsed, but not yet passed, the admissions and graduation requirements for teacher-training programs that had earlier been passed by the state's higher-education board. The story also reported that those requirements are stronger than those currently used in New Jersey and that they would prohibit students from majoring in education.
Officials in the New Jersey's departments of education and higher education have verified the accuracy of Education Week's story.
Norman A. Bleshman Bergenfield, N.J.
As a board member for more than 20 years (more than 10 on the Bergen County Special Services School District), I would like to voice an opinion about the article "Inequities Seen Persisting Five Years After Reform in N.J." (March 31).
First, the court's decision that money was the cause for students in New Jersey not receiving a "thorough and efficient education" was false, at least partially false. That decision was motivated by large urban-area politicians who today have almost 75 percent of their educational costs paid for by state taxpayers while many other districts are overjoyed if they receive 10 percent.
There are several reasons why the added state funding and the other sources of funding for schools have not yet provided that thorough and efficient education in most districts. Late in the 1960's our legislature mandated what I consider to be one-sided negotiations between boards of education and their staffs. Almost all management rights are negotiable and salary increases are running away. Also, school employees have sought and won positions on boards of education in communities in which they live but do not work. Their votes are based on how they feel as school employees, not as members of boards of education. So much for monetary concerns.
My children received a thorough and efficient education in the early 1960's, and I did in the 30's. Today, one of the illnesses of our educational system is the social fight for equality. Social equality eliminated as discriminatory the homogeneous grouping of children in a classroom. Instead, classes today must consist of gifted children, average learners, slow learners, and by standards of 94-142, the mainstreamed educationally handicapped. Although I earlier complained about teachers' salaries, the complaint was based on a "normal' teaching load. Very few could teach all of these [students] and hope to reach even half of the class. If a teacher reaches half this week and the other half next week, at the end of the school year each student has attained a half of an education, and in keeping with the social requirements the half educated student is granted a social promotion.
Parents used to teach discipline at home, they made sure that their child could count to 10, write his or her name, and had a fair vocabulary. Today a note from the teacher about a student's discipline arouses verbal abuse. In one-parent families or two-parent families where both work, the school must provide the discipline and all of the learning. In this turmoil how could any student learn?
Rather than more money, we need to require a better ordering of priorities with the first being that the student be able to receive the maximum education within his or her capabilities. Let us allow the school professionals to determine how to group the students within a classroom to attain the most efficient learning plan, and let us provide the support for the teacher by working together rather in opposition.
But teachers who are still demanding higher salaries, comparable with private industry, must be able to accept the conditions of private industry where there is no tenure and employees are paid on merit by managers who make decisions without having to consult their employees. A thorough and efficient education is still attainable in New Jersey--when everyone begins to work for the student.