Letters To The Editor
Despite Loel Barr's protest in her letter, "Artist Responds to Charge of Racial Insensitivity" (Education Week, Oct. 19, 1983), it seems she is not conscious enough of racial issues. On what does she base her statement that three blacks out of 30 constitute "a proportionate number?" I, too, saw her illustration as lacking sensitivity to black teachers. Why did you print such a picture?
Sandra E. Gibbs Champaign, Ill.
I notice that you and a number of other gullible parties, including The Washington Post, recently ran an article by Benjamin J. Stein, a "Hollywood writer," on the "astounding ignorance" of young people in Southern California ("'A War With Japan? Really?' The 'Astonishing Ignorance' of Some Teen-Agers," Education Week, Oct. 26, 1983).
Their ignorance is astounding. In a class of 17 sophomores at the University of Southern California, I had several who could not identify Spiro T. Agnew or Ho Chi Minh. I even had one who could not identify Joseph Stalin.
But your ignorance is equally astounding in believing that students don't know who the U.S. fought in World War II, when World War II was fought, in what decade the Great Depression struck, or where Chicago or Toronto is located.
Mr. Stein writes: "I have not yet found a single student in Los Angeles, in either college or high school who ... could tell me who Martin Luther King Jr. was ... [or] had even the vaguest idea of where New England is, and several had never heard of Vermont or Connecticut."
You believed that?
Perhaps the editors who run such stories do not want to let a strict adherence to the facts interfere with a good story. I did presume, though, that you didn't fall into that category.
One other note: Would you have run the piece if the students in question were from Atlanta, Detroit, or St. Louis?
David G. Savage Education writer The Los Angeles Times Los Angeles, Calif.
My first reading of Benjamin J. Stein's commentary led me to think that here is a man with a sense of humor just trying to be a provocateur. Surely, I thought, youths at this age of supposed enlightenment couldn't possibly be that ignorant. Then, given my healthy skepticism about such things, I thought it worthwhile to check out Mr. Stein's findings. Not to be deterred by findings from my own previous research of knowledge levels of various age groups, which left me apalled at what I discovered, I quickly wrote a brief test to administer to my college class of 23 juniors and seniors.
Now for the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey might say. Frankly, I was unprepared for the shock, the cause of which the following summation so graphically reveals. Should I be still suffering from the intellectual tremors this produced, being fully aware of the current emphasis in collegiate education toward job preparation, with too little serious stress on liberal education and academic rigor? I must say that I still suffer.
Although I realize that my small sample is not representative of all college students and was conducted rather unscientifically, I share with Mr. Stein the conclusion he reached: Freedom and human dignity cannot survive in an atmosphere of socially approved ignorance. All of us who care must do all we can to change this eroding quality of life, which is what will continue if we fail. I intend to be much more determined to heighten awareness of this ignorance level in my little world. But you, Mr. Stein, have a much larger potential world to affect, and I urge you to continue, with hope and optimism that all our efforts will bear fruit.
B.J. Allen Jr. Associate Professor Department of Curriculum and Instruction College of Education The Florida State University Tallahassee, Fla.
Mr. Allen's test questions, for which students were asked to "answer each of the following, briefly," appear below. With them are the percentages of incorrect answers.
1. Where is Granada?30232. When was World War II?308 What nations were at war with
each other?60463. Where is New Guinea?80774. When was the Civil War?60235. Name the Presidents of the U.S.
since 1940.60466. Who are Florida's U.S. Sena-
tors?70627. Where is Ontario?1008. Where is New England?6009. Where is Poland?40010. Identify 3 rights guaranteed by
the Bill of Rights.503111. When was the Great Depres-
sion?403812. What is nato?705413. What is an anti-Semite?702314. What is the population of the
United States?8069 What percent are black?100100 What percent are women?7062
I write in response to Ernest Spiva Jr.'s letter, "Fond Memories of the Hickory Stick" (Education Week, Oct. 26, 1983). No, Mr. Spiva, corporal punishment and capital punishment are not one and the same, but they do have similarities. They are both administered in situations in which the behavior of an individual has caused a "conflict." A figure of authority judges that the conflict must be resolved. The punishment, whether it be a visit to the cloakroom or to the electric chair, is deemed to be an appropriate resolution to the conflict. But the similarities do not end there. People who administer (or who are responsible for administering) either kind of punishment are overtly demonstrating a lack of responsibility in managing the inappropriate behavior of other people.
A parent or teacher who uses physical punishment is trying to resolve quickly an internal conflict, rather than focusing on the needs of the child. Inflicting pain on another person is viewed as a vehicle to make oneself feel better. How hypocritical and overused are the old sayings: "This is going to hurt me more than it's going to hurt you" and "I'm hitting you because I love you." There is a difference between "good" and responsible disciplinary practice, whether it involves a parent, a teacher, or an administrator. Failure to discriminate between the two can have negative implications for our children.
The "good" parent may feel a need to be in complete control of the child; obedience is demanded, the parent is always right, the child is right only if the parent says so. The "good" parent may have the strange notion that his or her children "owe" him or her. The child receives, but with strings attached. What are the outcomes? The child is motivated by fear, hides true feelings, feels anxious, and in turn feels a need to be superior. The cycle may continue when the child grows up and has children: "My parents hit me, so it's okay for me to hit my kids."
The responsible parent believes that a child can learn to make decisions, permits choices, encourages, views himself or herself as equals, not more or less worthwhile than others. The child feels more self-confident, is more resourceful, learns to respect self and others, and has increased social feelings and trust for others. Responsible parenting includes making the child a partner in maintaining disipline. It means being aware of assertive versus aggressive discipline practices. Such programs are well publicized and effective.
The implications of corporal punishment may extend beyond our homes and schools. We live in a society sometimes numbed by the violence that surrounds us. Children are exposed to countless incidents in which inflicting pain on another human being is presented as an appropirate method of solving a problem. We must begin to examine the behaviors that we present as models for our children and teach or children to discriminate between fictitious and humanistic methods of resolving conflict. The failure to do so decreases the likelihood that we will ever become a nonviolent society.
A final note: Mr. Spiva need not fear my coming to Florida to shake up his school district. If, as he stated, corporal punishment is to remain in Florida classrooms until 1990, my family intends to delay moving that way in the foreseeable future.
John Paisley Speech-Language Pathologist School District of Shell Lake Shell Lake, Wis.
I was appalled to read the story ("Bell's Forum To 'Showcase' State, Local Reforms, Education Week, Nov. 9, 1983) reporting the Education Department's Dec. 6-8 forum to "showcase" state and local programs that reflect the recommendations of the department-sponsored "A Nation at Risk." How misleading of the department to suggest that recommendations made by the National Commission on Excellence in Education in April might result in operational illustrations in December. Changes in education that are more than cosmetic just don't happen that fast.
A second reason I object to the meeting is the myopia of the department's considering only one recent report on education when several should be examined. How self-serving to focus on the report supported by the Education Department. Educators should entertain a wide range of advice for school improvement. Furthermore, before any recommendations are highlighted, the basic premises and the quality of the data from which recommendations are drawn should be studied closely.
The most recently published studies of schools are based on extensive on-site examinations, as well as a philosophical review of the mission of schools. I refer here to Ernest L. Boyer's High School, John Goodlad's A Place Called School, and the forthcoming Horace's Compromise by Theodore R. Sizer. "A Nation at Risk" might be better considered in conjunction with other studies so that changes and improvements in education are solidly based on experience, research, and a philosophy consistent with the nation's democratic ideals, not merely on the political opinion of the current Administration.
Can the nation afford to spend $200,000 to $250,000 of the Education Department's budget to consider just one report? Will the Indianapolis meeting be an attempt at political brainwashing rather than a genuine look at the substantial data available on the current state of education and recommendations for improvement?
Roy A. Edelfelt Senior Partner Edelfelt Johnson Washington, D.C.
Instruction in mathematics and science is becoming a disaster area for more reasons than because there is a shortage of qualified teachers. At the junior-high-school level, students get turned off science by dull textbooks and too many concepts. In junior high school, the science objective should be to sell students on science by means of popular-science-type presentations rather than the teaching of concepts. And higher math instruction in the high school would go a lot more smoothly and successfully if teachers at the junior-high-school level would make sure students knew their number facts and decimal, fraction, and percent arithmetic, as well as the applications of arithmetic. If students do not develop a feel for arithmetic applications in junior high, it is unlikely that they will ever learn how to apply higher math.
High schools are in trouble because of the disjointed nature of math and science instruction. For example, a student will often complete his or her required two years of math in the first two years of high school and then spend the last two years forgetting what has been learned. It is not at all unusual for math scores to drop in the 11th and 12th grades, and some students know less math upon graduating from high school than they did when they graduated from junior high school.
I propose a remedy to these problems. Since many high schools require a minimum of two years of math and two years of science, math and science could be combined into a daily one-hour course that is given for four years as Math-Sci 1, 2, 3, and 4. Each semester the student could improve in math and science as well as review past instruction. In the third year, the course could split into a vocational track and a business-office track. The vocational track could consist of the scientific foundations of the trades and the trade applications of math.
For those students who need preparation for more technical careers, I would propose a more comprehensive course that meets two hours (or two periods) a day and that runs for four years, such as Math-Sci-Technology 1, 2, 3, and 4. In such a course, math would progress smoothly from algebra to introduction to calculus over a four-year period while the science portion would concentrate on biology and some earth science in the first two years and then on chemistry-physics in the last two years with frequent reviews of all past instruction. (Note, I am suggesting the unification of chemistry and physics into one course.)
The teaching of mathematical applications would go more smoothly if math and science were taught as a unified course. Students who have intermediate needs between the minimal course and the maximal course could take the minimal course for one or two years and then start at the bottom of the maximal course and continue until they graduate. This idea is not entirely new, for language skills are taught this way in many high schools under the name of English 1, 2, 3, and 4. Many English teachers consider this a good idea. Why shouldn't the math and science teachers consider it?
Finally, we must consider course priorities. Language skills (English) should be first and foremost because nothing else can be taught if a student is lacking in basic language skills. Mathematics should be the second priority, with other subjects following. Have you ever tried to teach chemistry to someone who could not read the book or who did not know what algebra was good for?
Oreste W. Lombardi Retired high-school mathematics and science teacher Salt Lake City, Utah
As a social worker in an educational setting, I am aware that the regressive aspects of a prolonged vacation (specifically the summer respite) have merited much concern and discussion among many educators.
In my own experience in a camp setting, it is evident that one positive way of obviating the backslide in learning for many youths is a healthy camp experience where the structure, activities, and encounters with other campers and counselors provide a learning situation that ensures dynamic opportunities for the child to share with others. The cohesive and sharing aspects that result resemble a close-knit family situation that few wish to terminate at the end of the session.
Many children live in single-parent homes or have working parents, situations that frequently leave children to their own means for entertainment. This can often lead to problems and usually ends in boredom. A good camp situation (of which there are many) can provide a summer of excitement and continued learning for the child while offering a feeling of security for the parent(s).
To this end, I remind my colleagues in both social work and education that we have an obligation to encourage and direct parents toward situations that will facilitate the self-realization of intellectually, emotionally, and socially well-developed youths.
Patrick E. Fitton School social worker Groton Board of Education Groton, Conn.