Letters to the Editor
Stephen Arons has brilliantly--and correctly--pointed out the errors of the concept of value-neutral education in his recent Commentary ("The Myth of Value-Neutral Schooling," Education Week, Nov. 7, 1984). But just as educators were mistaken in thinking that the only way to deal with plural values in public schools was through value neutrality, so Mr. Arons is mistaken in suggesting that the only solution is parental choice.
I am a strong advocate of increased choice for both parents and students as one important element of public education in a free society, but Mr. Arons himself hints at the quagmire of problems one encounters if that choice is the only answer to a conflict of values. Probably more practical for the millions of students, parents, teachers, and citizens involved in public education is to learn to live in a more civilized fashion with the dilemmas of running "public" schools in a pluralistic society.
Having majorities impose their values on minorities through "majoritarian politics" is not the only way to deal with these dilemmas. Nor is a "polarizing cycle in which value conflict breeds blandness and blandness breeds a return to value conflict." These are the wrong, even if all too common, ways some communities deal with the problem.
Other communities, however, have learned to develop a consensus about values that are important, such as high academic standards, a love of learning, a caring for the success of every child, considerate behavior and respect for people with opposing views, and so forth, and have learned how to run public schools that embody, exemplify, and transmit these values. These schools are not "tolerant of emptiness."
A major part of our effort in public education should be to get more communities to take this approach, rather than to encourage people to run away from the problem through voucher and tuition tax-credit programs. In their actual operation, as opposed to their idealized conception, these programs will, I fear, enhance the choices of those with money, but not the great mass of students so ill-served by the present "blandness" of public schooling.
David S. Seeley Educational Consultant, Adjunct Professor College of Staten Island Staten Island, N.Y.