In The Press
"When [the] implicit moral power of the teacher is joined to the explicit political force of a major national organization," writes Chester E. Finn Jr. in the March issue of Commentary, "it is important to understand the ideological foundations [of the organization]."
In a lengthy essay entitled "Teacher Politics," Mr. Finn, professor of education and public policy at Vanderbilt University, examines the education philosophy, political ideology, and foreign policy of the two major teachers' unions, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association.
In Mr. Finn's view, the 1.6-million-member nea (representing eight out of 10 public-school teachers in the country) has adopted policies that promote "educational mediocrity," racism, anti-nationalism, and sympathy for Communism.
"One encounters," Mr. Finn writes in reference to an nea curriculum guide, "the unmistakable hint that American social, political, and economic values are, in a word, evil." At another point, he describes an nea-endorsed television series, "The Unknown War," as a "recipe for despising the society whose children one is charged with teaching."
The aft, on the other hand, does not practice "left-wing political craftsmanship" or "use the classroom to pursue the agendas of the policy arena," says Mr. Finn.
The aft, Mr. Finn contends, is, by contrast, "securely moored" educationally--in its pursuit of excellence in the classroom-- and politically--in its support of democratic institutions in this country and abroad.
Mr. Finn expresses concern, though, over the aft's insistence that private schools receive no government funds and its general unwillingness to vote for Republicans, who, he suggests, share the union's "faith in freedom and its pride in liberal democracy."
Declining enrollments, financial difficulties, and statewide integration plans for higher education are threatening the nation's historically black colleges, according to an article in the February issue of Ebony magazine.
And, despite general support for integration in elementary and secondary schools and black students' increased access to predominantly white colleges, most of those interviewed for the report say they believe that historically black public colleges continue to play an important role in developing black leaders and "instilling in students pride of self and race."
Although three-quarters of the nation's black college students attend predominantly white institutions, more than half of those who graduate receive their degrees from traditionally black institutions, according to Ebony. Black schools, the article suggests, are more committed to aiding students who need remedial help and to keeping them in school.
Those interviewed are highly critical of state-university desegregation plans, often prodded by the U.S. Justice Department, which have attempted to alter enrollment patterns through mergers with predominantly white schools and the transfer of specific programs to other state institutions. "The fight to destroy black colleges has been going on for 10 years or more," charge U.S. Representative Parren J. Mitchell, Democrat of Maryland. "Most of the fight is predicated on the idea that states have to achieve total integration. It's a very specious argument."
Increased federal subsidies under the Reagan Administration and state desegregation plans that seek to upgrade black colleges may help to reverse the trend, black educators note. In addition, at least one expert, Samuel L. Myers of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, predict that black students will return to historically black campuses.
A group of children at a small private school in Massachusetts end their day by singing rounds, which, Jane Lazarre notes, "requires each group to perform a different part and yet be producing a harmonic whole." It is a scene that Ms. Lazarre, writing in the Feb. 15 Village Voice, finds a perfect metaphor for the open school.
Ms. Lazarre criticizes the "back-to-basics" movement and its emphasis on improving test scores, suggesting that the 1960's experiments with unstructured classes never received the attention they deserve.
The main task of a school, Ms. Lazarre says, is to "preserve that precious experience of learning with joy" that is natural to children. She contends that the daily regimen of most schools, with an emphasis on getting the right answer, defeats that purpose.
The structured approach needlessly frustrates many bright students, Ms. Lazarre contends. A better approach, she says, is to teach children with a combination of everyday experience and formal instruction--and to downplay getting the right answer.
Writing, Ms. Lazarre suggests, is a good example of what an open classroom can accomplish. She praises a teacher at the Greenfield Center School in Massachusetts, who tells her that he does not emphasize grammar and spelling to younger students, lest they be discouraged.
The creative attention of the child caught in a "vicious circle" of tests and criticism, Ms. Lazarre concludes, is reduced until children stop wanting to learn.
The 1970's were a "terrible" decade for Girl Scouting, says Washington, D.C. speechwriter Rachel Flick in the March issue of Harper's, "and scouting wasn't used to terrible [sic]."
Girl-Scout membership peaked in 1969 at 3,921,000, Ms. Flick notes, and in 1971 the numbers started to drop, and "a few years later, [the Girl Scouts] had lost fully a million girls."
The changes made in response were designed to revitalize Girl Scouting for the 1980's, but Ms. Flick argues that in the process "the organization threw out much of what had been best in it and offered girls who wanted to be scouts something very like water--colorless, tasteless, and liquid."
She says that in the Girls Scouts' attempt to incorporate social changes from the "upheavals of the 1960's" into scouting (resulting in a fully redesigned program by 1980), Girl Scouting was "modernized wrongly, and so suffered what might be called a loss of spirit."
Ms. Flick blames the Girl Scouts for "embracing social science" at the expense of the old scout verities: camping, patriotism, hard work, badge-acquisition, and (especially) fun.
For example, in the new Girl Scout book, Careers to Explore, she finds this exercise, and wonders just how much fun it would be:
Imagine you are in your mid-twenties. You are married and have a two-year-old child. After two years at home, you're ready to return to full-time work. You find a job with hours from 9:00 to 5:00, five days a week, paying $11,111 a year. ...
In small groups, determine the daily household chores and activities that must be done by you and your husband on a typical working day ... Decide who will do each chore ... Does one person have more time than the other? ... Or is the work evenly divided? ... Ask a group of males in your age group to do this exercise. How do your results compare?
"The Boston school-desegregation cases are the city's equivalent of chronic dermatitis, a recurring skin problem that has stubbornly resisted every effort to cure it, and has left the patient flawed and raw from his own frantic scratching," writes George V. Higgins, a Boston lawyer, columnist, and novelist, in the Feb. 28, issue of The New Republic.
In a review of 10 years' litigation in the Boston school-desegregation case, Mr. Higgins depicts Judge W. Arthur Garrity Jr.(who recently turned over responsibility for monitoring the city's desegregation plan to the state department of education) as a jurist who is "smart, diligently avoiding even the most inconsequential of injustices, and, if anything, too patient in his dealings with those unwilling or unable to understand his wishes."
Nevertheless, Mr. Higgins says Judge Garrity failed to recognize that he faced "the impossible task of mediating a compromise between black plaintiffs seeking the unconditional surrender of their opponents and white defendants detemined to yield nothing."
Mr. Higgins parcels the blame for Boston's desegregation experience among: the opposing sides for their intransigence; the judge for his failure to recognize it, and for drawing up a busing plan that, Mr Higgins says, would inevitably lead to violence; and to the inhabitants of Boston who do not attend the public schools.
"Boston per se is not a large city at all, but a medium-sized one hemmed in by suburbs of considerable size," he writes. "Those suburbs teem with people contentedly unconcerned about the condition of Boston's schools because their offspring don't attend them."
In 1972, he says, 641,071 Boston residents sent the city's schools a total of 139,615 pupils. In 1980, 562,994 residents in the city sent 59,621 students. Thus, the city's population declined by 9 percent while the total public-school enrollment declined by 43 percent.
"These figures," Mr. Higgins writes, "fragile though they may be, suggest that Judge Garrity's precipitous busing order initially acted primarily upon those families who could not afford to send their children to any kind of private school. Those who were comparatively well off had been exempted from its impact."
Can colleges cultivate undergraduate entrepreneurs, "those economic daredevils who risk everything on a new idea?" Dwight Baumann, professor of engineering design at Carnegie-Mellon University, says they can.
Richard Wolkomir describes Mr. Baumann's Center for Entrepreneurial Development and some of the business ventures started by his students at the center in the January issue of The Smithsonian.
Mr. Baumann first started teaching entrepreneurship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but moved to Carnegie-Mellon because, he said, Pittsburgh was all but devoid of entrepreneurial activity.
The idea of teaching business creativity does not strike Mr. Baumann as odd. Psychological studies show, he writes, that the entrepreneur has no abnormal proclivity for risk-taking. What entrepreneurs do have, he says, is an aversion to bosses.
Mr. Baumann relishes telling the story of the telephone call he received one day from the vice president of one of the nation's largest corporations. The caller fumed about the competition he was receiving from a small electronics firm run by some of Mr. Baumann's students.
"You mean you're letting a couple of college students beat you out for that contract," Mr. Baumann reports replying.
Some of the business ventures that Mr. Baumann's students have started include a firm that manufactures sunflower-seed fuel, a computerized taxi service, a chain of newspapers, an electronic bookkeeping service for doctors, and a company that makes ultrasonic toy guns.