Letters to the Editor
To the Editor:
Regarding your Commentary, "Should Schooling Begin and End Earlier?'' (Education Week, March 16, 1983): It is time to look at this question from a field-practice point of view. When the 4-year-olds arrive at school, what kind of program awaits them? Will they be squeezed into the present kindergarten program that used to be offered to 1st graders? Or will they be taught by staff members who are aware of the fine differences that make such a program inappropriate?
Four-year-olds are not 5-year-olds; on the whole, they are not as developed from an occular, muscular, neurological, emotional, social, and intellectual point of view as they will be a year later.
Because we adhere to a lock-step mentality, as many as half of the students in a given grade are in programs ill-suited for them. Should we now add to this group youngsters who are also less physically developed? Are we doing so well with the children now in our care that we dare to add those yet younger? Do we have staff members cognizant of the motor, neurological, social, physical, and emotional needs of the 4-year-old and who are willing to practice what is good for the child?
If the answer is yes, where have these staff members been for today's 5-year-olds who are being pushed, prodded, remediated, and made to feel like early failures?
We must question the shortening of childhood by immersing young children in formal programs. I urge those who are thinking of and formulating programs for young children to take these questions seriously and to resolve them prior to starting inappropriate programs that remove yet more time from childhood.
Ara L. Nugent, R.N. Early Childhood Practioner Fair Haven, N.J.
To the Editor:
You should be commended for your article "Schools Drop the Ball on Improving Fitness" (Education Week, April 6, 1983). It presents some very valuable concepts that the physical-education profession must address immediately.
Many people, though, consider physical fitness to be synonymous with physical education, just as far too many people think of physical education as athletics. Both physical fitness and athletics are viable components of the total program of physical education; neither can be the dominant component at the expense of others.
There is no question that teacher-training programs must share the blame for the lack of competence in preparing physical-education teachers. However, school administrators must also share the blame because of the type of "coach" they are searching for when they look for teachers. Public pressure to "win" at all costs is intense, and winning teams are very profitable for schools at all levels. An individual is usually employed to be a coach first and a teacher second, without too much thought for what the individual can teach or even if he or she can teach.
The teacher-training institutions are to blame for teaching "what to teach" instead of "how to teach." The short term of student teaching is almost of no value to the senior student in its present form. A one-year internship would be far more valuable. The public would not go for health-care service to a medical doctor who had participated in such a brief medical internship, but citizens will send their children to schools for a 12-year period and to teachers with only half a semester of student-teaching experience to develop the children's entire educational experience.
State departments of education must also share the blame for providing teacher certification on the basis of specific courses rather than on competence in those specific courses. Many states are still issuing "temporary" certification that can last a lifetime.
Your article indicates that a recommendation has been made asking that for a comprehensive study of physical education and its effect on the health status of youths and adults in our nation. This also should be commended--however, the political interests and self-interest groups should be kept out of such a study or the status will not change.
Appropriate and meaningful programs in physical education are desperately needed by the youths and adults of our society. Hopefully, your article will start the action needed in the physical-education profession.
Leon E. Johnson Director Teacher Training Programs for the Handicapped College of Education University of Missouri-Columbia Columbia, Mo.
To the Editor:
William Jay Jacobs' essay on textbook censorship in public schools, ''Whose Textbooks Are They, Anyway?" (Education Week, March 30, 1983), reflects the bankruptcy of current attempts to solve "censorship" problems within current school structures. Mr. Jacobs fails to deal with what lies at the heart of the problem: America's public (read, more accurately, government) schools constitute a state monopoly with a captive student audience. As Stephen Arons has argued, "the present political and financial structure of American schooling is unconstitutional." Judges and legislators, Mr. Arons claims, have not "acknowledged the relationship between the formation of world views in children and the expression of opinion protected by the First Amendment."
Mr. Jacobs quite fails to appreciate the fact that the public schools are not a free marketplace of ideas. All textbooks, library holdings, and curricula are pre-selected for children and are thus, in a sense, "pre-censored." To speak of the textbook-selection process for students who are forced to be part of a state monopoly system of education in terms of competition within the free marketplace of ideas is to add insult to injury to those minorities whose commitments and values are ignored or undermined by the decisions of the majority.
As a teacher of history and social sciences, Mr. Jacobs would do well to refresh his memory of John Stuart Mill's telling words in On Liberty: "A general state education is a mere contrivance for molding people to be exactly like one another." Even if based on the will of "the majority of the existing generation, in proportion as it is efficient and successful, it establishes a despotism over the mind, leading by natural tendency to one over the body."
Ironically, Mr. Jacobs, like Mr. Mill, seems to understand the potential coercive power of education. He writes: "Whatever textbooks are, they certainly are not objective. Isn't it high time, therefore, that all parties frankly admit that what constitutes an 'acceptable' textbook depends largely on personal opinion and interpretation? And further, that the right to decide which texts are used--and hence to indoctrinate children and prevent them from getting differing ideas--rests ultimately with the political faction in power, on its opinions and values."
But unlike Mr. Mill, Mr. Jacobs fails to see that freedom and monopoly government education are incompatible. His words, if taken at face value, have ominous implications for dissenting minorities. They suggest that the majority has the simple right to force its values ("indoctrinate children") on the minority.
What ever happened to the First Amendment?
Richard A. Baer Jr. Professor Department of Natural Resources and Graduate Field of Education Cornell University Ithaca, N.Y.
Mr. Jacobs replies:
Mr. Baer's response has the virtue of correctly diagnosing the problem: Textbooks, as instruments of political socialization, today are subject to pressures by contending forces in the political-economic arena. His solution, however, is an operation so radical that even if "successful," it is guaranteed to kill the patient.
Mr. Baer, like Ivan Illich and others in the de-schooling/Libertarian claque, would transform education into an individual matter. In the name of "freedom" and "choice," such insidious prophets of a new exclusivity in schooling inevitably threaten to erect--at taxpayers' expense--the kind of dual, class-ridden system of private/public education (the latter being markedly inferior) that has proven so catastrophic for India.
In place of Horace Mann's dream of public schools "open to all and free to all," uniting a disparate, heterogeneous population through commonly shared educational experiences, Mr. Illich and Mr. Baer champion a course that would fragment America by race, class, and ethnic background. For these self-styled Libertarians, the First Amendment promise of free speech offers a convenient smokescreen.
In practice, laissez-faire in education, like laissez-faire in industry, ultimately boils down to a society "of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich." Abraham Lincoln, whose life story is perhaps the quintessential expression of the "common school" idea in America--with all of its democratizing, unifying elements--must be weeping in his grave.
To the Editor:
In response to your recent article, "Students' Part-Time Work Troubles School Officials" (Education Week, March 16, 1983), my observations and experiences with Cooperative Education, the New York City Board of Education Work Experience Program, are diametrically opposed to many of the statements and conclusions reported in your article.
As the co-op coordinator at Boys and Girls High School, an inner-city high school in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, I have witnessed the positive effects of an early work experience as measured by improved attitudes, performance, and retention after students join the program. Absences, latenesses, and subjects failed are dramatically reduced in the cooperative classes. In any given month, attendance exceeds 90 percent, far above the average in regular school programs. According to information from the program's central office, this holds true citywide as well. In addition, these positive factors carry over past graduation and can be found on the job and in the postsecondary institutions many of our students attend.
Currently, there are 64 students enrolled in our alternate-week program, spending one week on the job and one week at school. Considering the high rate of teen-age unemployment in New York City, I am pleased to say that 99 percent of our students are working successfully at real jobs provided by the private sector. Not a single student is employed in fast-food or retail stores. They are getting their introduction to the world of work at the most prestigious firms in the city, where they receive work experience as well as the going wage for their job title and the company where they are employed--a wage often far above the minimum. In the 1981-82 school year, our students collectively earned $142,360 in salaries. After receiving their high-school diplomas, many of these students continue in full-time employment with the company that trained them, most often in upgraded positions.
As further evidence of the program's positive benefits, studies comparing attendance, punctuality, and number of subjects passed before and after joining the program consistently indicate marked improvement after program participation, contrary to researcher Ellen Greenberger's study that "showed a correlation between long hours of work, increased stress, and declining academic performance." In fact, the faculty and administration at our school have noted that the Cooperative Education Program helps to restore in students a sense of identity and a sense of personal power, maturity, and involvement in the decision-making processes that affect their lives. The program opens doors to a new and more independent way of thinking, and it gives our students an introduction to the world of work that could never be learned from a textbook.
Tom Laritsen Co-op Coordinator Boys and Girls High School New York, N.Y.
Editor's Note: Educators quoted in our report distinguished between organized programs like the one described above and general after-school jobs; they noted that students in organized programs are reported to benefit significantly.