Letters to the Editor
In "Where Have All the Scientists Gone?" (Commentary, Aug. 25), Stephen Robinson states that scientists have been "conspicuously silent'' in the debate between scientific creationists of the religious right and the scientific community. He voices a common concern that our nation is falling prey to bible-thumping zealots whose sole mission is to put their version of man's origins in every public school in the land.
Ever since the Scopes trial, scientists, educators, and theologians have been working together to maintain scientific integrity and intellectual and spiritual freedom in the face of pressures from the religious right. Their successes have been significant; time and again, courts have ruled against efforts to have creation "science" taught in the schools. The most recent triumph was, of course, the ruling of Judge Overton in Arkansas. Invariably, scientists have offered to testify in such court cases, and have done so eloquently and persuasively.
Measures to influence school boards to include creationist curricula are more insidious, thus more difficult to counteract. Textbook publishers too often have knuckled under to conservative pressures, and in some cases have eliminated mention of evolutionary theory completely from their science texts. A major victory took place recently, however, when the New York schools rejected three new biology texts because they did not place enough emphasis on evolution.
Admittedly, many scientists are reluctant to debate creationists. Reasons vary: Some scientists feel that a debate gives credence to creationism as a "science" or that a debate accomplishes little for science, since the issue is largely a matter of faith for many, no matter how much science is discussed. Also, scientists recognize that creationist debaters have glib tongues and devious tactics that more than make up for a superficial and prejudiced understanding of scientific phenomena.
For more discussion of the role of science in this debate, see The Monkey Business, by evolutionary biologist Niles Eldredge (Washington Square Press, $2.95), or "Creation-Evolution Debates: Who's Winning Them Now?" by Frederick Edwards, in Creation/Evolution, Spring, 1982.
This controversy will not be over soon. We live in a nation beset with problems affecting all aspects of our lives. To many people, uncertainty and hypothesizing about human origin and destiny is unwelcome fare indeed.
Frances S. Vandervoort Science Teacher Program for Gifted 7th and 8th Graders Kenwood Academy Chicago
I am afraid that some solutions to the "science crisis," as they were described in "Solutions to 'Science Crisis' Concentrate on Teacher Training" (Aug. 18), would be counterproductive. Special pay for science and math teachers and special forgivable loans to science and math majors might be excellent--if students did not interpret them as confirmation of a belief that English is not important to a scientist.
No one seems to be telling our young people that scientists have to read and that if they do research they have to communicate their results to others. No wonder many students think English is important only to English teachers. Let's not reinforce their opinion, which is not one shared by scientists.
In Idaho this year, a blue-ribbon panel spent several months studying the state's educational system and interviewing everyone who wished to testify. The panel's final report quotes science teachers as saying, in effect, "Give us students who can read the textbooks, and we can teach them science."
In 1958, a group of about 100 professionals whose major college training was in physics filled out a questionnaire on the appropriate high-school education needed for future physicists. Their report, submitted to a citizens' advisory committee, states their belief that "... the most important contribution that the public schools can make to the education of the student who is planning a career in physics is to provide him with adequate preparation in English."
The group was unanimous in recommending an English course in each of the six years of junior and senior high school.
I saw the individual responses. Several of the physicists underscored that recommendation, apparently to show the importance they attached to it. This year I again met one of the men involved and asked him whether he would still emphasize the English requirement. His "Yes!" was prompt and vigorous.
I suggest that a group composed of the most flexible teachers in English and in the sciences study ways in which some of the English classes can be made relevant to science.
I have two specific suggestions:
In English courses, teach grammar or one of its modern equivalents as auto mechanics is taught in classes on driver education. That is, teach only what the students need to use, when they need to use it. An elective course in linguistics, analogous to a course in auto mechanics, could be offered to supplement the curriculum. The students who elected it would learn the material, as some students do now, the first time it was offered. The others, for whom it is now repeated every year for four or five or more years, seldom make use of it anyhow. Teaching it once, as an elective, would give all students much more time to learn reading, writing, and speaking.
Present a combined English-science course, in which students would read and report on scientific material, with written reports read first by an English teacher and accepted by a science teacher only after corrections in English had been made.
Surely other suggestions can be made, if educators would start to think about the relationship between the ability to read and write and the development of scientists.
Martha C. Burroughs Retired Teacher Lewiston, Idaho
I was surprised to read, one week after being called by the Chicago Board of Education and told that I had been laid off, that there had been no layoffs in Chicago this September ("Survey Finds as Few as 6,500 Teacher Layoffs," Sept. 8). I am certain that my colleagues Renee Marks and Steve Carl, both of whom had been teaching full-time here for the last six years, would also have been surprised, as would the several hundred teachers who were called several weeks ago or told upon arrival at their schools that they didn't have jobs after all.
There have indeed been layoffs in Chicago this year, although school board spokesmen claim not to have exact figures, and, if past experience is any guide, won't have them unless they are pressed. Those layoffs have cut more deeply than ever into the ranks of tenured teachers, as well as full-time substitutes like myself.
In the same issue of Education Week, I was also surprised to read in the story on the Chicago financial situation ("Chicago Budget Veto Creates New Uncertainties") that the $25.7-million cut voted by the board was in "noninstructional areas," since $3 million of that has come from an already slim $8-million budget for substitute teachers--a cut of nearly 40 percent from a budget that was already less than half of what was needed to cover absences in the coming year.
I fully support your attempt to become "American Education's Newspaper of Record," as I am sure many of your regular subscribers do. But when that record misrepresents a reality in the middle of which I happen to be, I can't help but wonder what other slips have passed me by. All of us who write about education know how difficult it is to get accurate figures from public-school officials (and, often as not, union leaders) when those figures reflect badly on things.
The rest of your article "Survey Finds as Few as 6,500 Teacher Layoffs" was much more balanced than its headline. Unfortunately, as we all know, many people simply read the headline and the lead. That's where the damage is done.
I'll let you know when I am called back to work full time, in the same status I was working here last June. But even then the Chicago Board of Educaton will have a long way to go before it has reached the bottom of its layoff lists, since at this point I am credited with more than nine years' seniority--and there are about 60 people in my field (English) now ahead of me for the next job that comes open.
George N. Schmidt Chicago
(Mr. Schmidt is president of Substitutes United for Better Schools in Chicago.)
Editor's Note: In the article on teacher layoffs, the figures in question were reported by the Bureau of National Affairs. The article quoted others who challenged the survey's findings in general, and the second line of the headline stated: "Figures Considerably Lower Than Union Estimates."
Regarding the article on the financial status of the Chicago school system, Mr. Schmidt is correct in pointing out that the $25.7-million budget cut included $3 million for substitute teachers. The school board described the cuts as being in "noninstructional areas" largely on the grounds that its budget provides that every class will be covered.
A campaign has been initiated by certain ultra-conservatives to force out Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell. Adherents are urged to append to all their letters to senators and representatives the phrase "Terrel Bell should be fired" or to write separate communicatons to that effect.
Friends of education do not have to be told what would result if this campaign were to be successful--or even threatened success. A dedicated friend in the secretaryship would be replaced by a determined foe.
For these reasons, readers of Education Week--and all friends of education--should do no less than indicate to their own senators and representatives their support for retention of Secretary Bell. We can ill afford to give the impression that the only voice to be raised is from off-stage right in opposition to federal-education aid and its personification in Ted Bell. And if we do not stand up for those who stand up for us, then our chances for future support will be impaired.
Roy H. Millenson Washington, D.C.
(Mr. Millenson is director of education and library affairs for the Association of American Publishers in Washington.)
In your Letters column (Sept. 1), Adam Urbanski, president of the Rochester Teachers Association, denounced the tuition tax-credit "scheme." He claimed that tax credits would benefit only the wealthy and stated that public schools were the only hope for inner-city children.
A recent study conducted by the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights on inner-city private education showed that black and Hispanic children comprise 87% of private-school enrollments. So much for the myth of wealth and elitism ascribed to private schools.
The study found that 98 percent of the parents with children in inner-city private schools felt that their children were receiving a quality education. Obviously, they do not share Mr. Urbanski's myopic view that the public school is the "only" hope for inner-city children.
According to Mr. Urbanski, however, the worst thing about tuition tax credits is that they threaten "one of America's most glorious institutions."
Certainly all of American education should be classified in such a manner, not merely the government-supported system. The myriad contributions of private education from pre-colonial days to the present can attest to this fact.
At the letter's conclusion, Mr. Urbanski applauds the sacrifices made by countless parents so that their children could get an education. Parents who send their children to private schools can certainly appreciate that sentiment. Yet, if Mr. Urbanski is truly sincere in his praise, he would not deny these parents the ability to educate their children as they see fit.
Access to educational opportunity does not apply only to children who attend public schools, and those who opt for an alternative should be given the financial means to use it.
William J. Sweeney Associate Director Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights Trenton, N.J.
There is one thing wrong with your otherwise tremendous newspaper I refer to the practice of playing "Can You Find Me?" with the balance of stories not concluded on one page.
A prime example was "New Issues, Tight Budgets Slow Contract Talks" (Aug. 25.), a story that was continued on another page under the title "Fewer but More Acrimonious Strikes Foreseen."
Now, I ask you. These ideas are related, but even after taking time to read the titles and think about them, I would not have been sure I had the right story unless the words seemed to follow from those on the first page.
Tight budgets and strikes do not obviously relate, if you see what I mean.
Let's give everyone a clue including at least one word that is the same!
Editor's Note: We agree and we promise to do better.
J. Seidel a school district secretary Grand Forks, N.D.