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Federal File: Humanists, Beware; A Loss of Face?; !Escuelas Si!

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Because of a largely unnoticed item in a bill to improve instruction in mathematics and science that was signed by President Reagan in August, the teaching of "secular humanism" will be taboo in schools that receive certain federal funds.

The prohibition against the teaching of that doctrine--which is said to advocate the well-being of mankind over religious considerations in civil affairs and is anathema to a number of conservative groups--was included in the section of the measure that provides $75 million for magnet schools.

The provision did not go totally unnoticed during debate on the bill, however. Several House members questioned the bill's chief sponsor, the late Representative Carl D. Perkins, Democrat of Kentucky, about the intent of the section and its potential impact on schools.

Representative Perkins explained that, because there was no definition of secular humanism in the bill, the Education Department would be unable to regulate the content of such courses in magnet schools that received funds under it.

"A determination of which courses are or are not secular humanism shall be left purely up to the judgment of the local educational agencies," he said. "That is the essence of it."

At a recent meeting with his Japanese counterpart, Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell reportedly praised that nation's network of private tutoring to help students pass college-entrance tests as an exemplar for American education.

What Secretary Bell didn't know, however, was that the Japanese Minister of Education, Science, and Culture, Yoshiro Mori, wants to improve public schooling in his nation to such a degree that the need for cram sessions of this sort will be eliminated.

Following the faux pas, Secretary Bell admitted to the The Washington Post that he didn't fully understand the system, which is known as "juku."

"I thought maybe the teachers stayed after school and spent another period of time, and I was going to ask the minister how he persuaded the teachers to do that, since I know that would be a problem in our unionized system," he told the newspaper.

With Election Day fast approaching, President Reagan was expected late last week to continue his courtship of two groups that have often criticized his policies in the past--Hispanics and educators.

According to the White House, the President was scheduled to make brief remarks last Friday during Education Department ceremonies here celebrating Hispanic excellence in education.

White House sources indicated that the President would be present during the handing out of awards to a group of Hispanic educators. In addition, the President reportedly planned to call for more research and remedial action on the problem of high dropout rates among students of Hispanic origin.--tm

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