Letters to the Editor
Representative Williams, Democrat of Montana, is the House sponsor of the bill calling for the national summit conference on education.
Many of us, both within and outside the Congress, believe that now is the precise time to begin preparation for a national summit conference on education. In a recent article ("Bell Schedules E.D.'s Summit; Congress Considers Another, Education Week, Oct. 19, 1983), the summit legislation was compared with Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell's "national forum." The article accurately reflected the Administration's concern about our legislation. However, there are some additional, explanatory points you might find interesting.
The proposed national summit conference and Secretary Bell's meetings should not be considered as either duplicative or contradictory. The Secretary, as he should, moved quickly after the "Nation at Risk" report to hold a series of regional meetings primarily dedicated to the findings of the National Commission on Excellence in Education. He has since announced his intention to hold a national meeting. The excellence commission's recommendations included a call for additional meetings; the Secretary's regional meetings, now all but completed, were similarly focused. One assumes that the Secretary's national forum will also be thus limited. Given the necessary haste of the Secretary's regional meetings, they were neither broadly focused nor did they involve large segments of the population.
It is worthwhile to note that the version of the summit bill that passed the House of Representatives is markedly different from the original as it was introduced. In the amended version, the details of organizing the conference will be determined by a 12-person executive committee. The President, the Speaker of the House, and the Senate Majority Leader would each appoint two members; governors would appoint the remaining six. Furthermore, the executive committee will have to be politically balanced to avoid over-representation by any one party.
A second significant event was the initiation of meaningful majority-minority discussions about concerns that each group has for education's future and ways to address these concerns fairly. The outcome of these discussions not only is a better and more bipartisan bill, but also lays the groundwork for future collaborative efforts by members of both parties. Although many Republicans and Democrats supported HR 3245, Representatives Bill Goodling, Republican of Pennsylvania, and Steve Gunderson, Republican of Wisconsin, were particularly instrumental in creating the final version.
The national summit conference on education is an appropriate extension of federal education efforts. If held, the conference would:
Depoliticize the education issue, ensuring that education remains a valid area of concern and is not just a political football;
Ensure that the first bipartisan effort in education in two years is not destroyed;
Provide for a comprehensive focus through consideration of all major education data sources, such as reports and input from Secretary Bell and state, local, and regional concerns;
Provide for a much-needed review of educational policy and programming in order to determine areas where change is needed;
Incorporate citizens' views into all deliberations, thus building a national support base for the outcomes;
Foster intergovernmental cooperation;
Be small enough to accomplish the task, but large enough to accommodate a variety of relevant viewpoints;
Make education and not dollars the issue;
Enable the development of a new support base for education through cooperation with business and labor, resulting not only in new public-private ventures, but in enhanced public attitudes and expectations for education;
Provide for long-term economic support by ensuring high levels of quality in the nation's workforce; and
Facilitate the improved status of women and special populations.
It is only common sense that, before we take action or decrease spending, before we build up or tear down existing programs, before we create new initiatives, we take a moment to carefully consider the situation confronting us. We need to have access to as much information as possible. We need to hear more than one point of view. We need to take action that best suits the interests of all Americans. The national summit conference on education would allow us to take these important preliminary steps.
American education is now clearly receiving the public's attention. This is the time to have a national dialogue. To allow the Secretary's already-ended regional meetings and his announced, but undefined, national forum to substitute for the full dialogue and significant participation of a national summit conference would be to lose a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to involve the nation in a full discussion of American education.
J.L. Seaman Administrative Assistant Lee County School District Sanford, N.C.
I write regarding John Caruso Jr.'s recent letter to the editor about your Calendar of Events, 1983-84 ("Calendar Cover Promoted Racial Insensitivity," Education Week, Oct. 5, 1983), and Loel Barr's response to that letter ("Artist Responds To Charge of Racial Insensitivity,'' Education Week, Oct. 19, 1983).
I thought Mr. Caruso and his class were kidding when I first read their letter, that it was sort of a gentle spoof of what I thought was a somewhat nondescript calendar cover. On second reading, I began to believe that he was serious. Now, that is serious. If his class petition and letter are serious, Western Connecticut State University [where Mr. Caruso is a professor of education] is in serious trouble. I hope it's a spoof.
But Ms. Barr believes he is serious and I think she is properly offended. Her response is partly one of disbelief that anyone in college, anyone studying education, anyone reportedly teaching education could be serious in thinking that Aryan Amerika was violated or condemned by her lightly satirical drawing.
Mr. Caruso and his class, at least in this particular instance, simply have no class, no taste, non sensitivity--racial or otherwise. His letter and petition are an affront to multicultural education, his college, Ms. Barr, and people everywhere. He and his class should apologize.
Joseph M. Appel District Superintendent Shasta Union High School District Redding, Calif.
A. Graham Down is absolutely correct in his excellent analysis of the recurring shortsightedness of educational and political leaders ("Inequality, Testing, Utilitarianism: The 'Three Killers of Excellence,"' Education Week, Oct. 12, 1983). We refuse to recognize that all children deserve the opportunity of a challenging curriculum that will improve their capacity to learn and maximize their opportunities upon graduation from high school. Under the mistaken notion that we are serving diverse needs and abilities, we continue to place students in courses peripheral to a substantive liberal education.
If mastery of challenging subjects were viewed as a high priority, we could enable far more students to have access to subjects now reserved for the college-bound: physics, higher mathematics, advanced writing, and foreign languages. We could direct all of our efforts, beginning in the elementary grades, to retraining teachers in their fields so they would be knowledgeable and capable of simplifying key concepts and skills. Together, we could work with textbook publishers to produce a diversity of resource materials appropriate for various age levels.
But this orientation to learning is so foreign to our thinking that even now the current salutary emphasis on a core curriculum is viewed as either a temporary aberration or the elistist view of those who don't understand the limited abilities of our students. In the name of democracy, these opponents continue to favor a cafeteria curriculum based on students' "needs and interests." Ironically, this supposed democratic program has resulted in prematurely categorizing students and limiting their post-high-school career options--as effectively as those European examinations designed to separate the college-bound and the non-college-bound students.
Even the many national education studies now receiving so much attention continue this separation by recommending foreign language as necessary only for the college-bound. This failure to recognize the importance of a second language exemplifies our limited vision of a liberal education, our cultural blindness, and our low estimate of students' abilities. Besides the Council for Basic Education, I know of few other organizations who are willing to continue a dialogue on what constitutes the best education for citizens of a democratic society. Until we focus our attention on this important issue, we will continue on our utilitarian path.
Martha Ruth Crooms Curriculum Director Bleckley County Schools Cochran, Ga.
I found A. Graham Down's commentary ("Inequality, Testing, Utilitarianism: The 'Three Killers of Excellence,"' Education Week, Oct. 12, 1983) outstanding because he penetrates the cloud of excessive verbiage commonly used to describe the woes of education and has the courage to promote the liberal arts for all elementary- and secondary-school students as the answer for achieving excellence.
Thank you for printing such a worthwhile and pertinent message.