Letters To The Editor
Kudos to Douglas D. Noble for his recent Commentary, ("Jumping Off the Computer Bandwagon," Education Week, Oct. 3, 1984). His article is long overdue.
However, I protest the validity of his statement that "teachers have ... endorsed the entire enterprise [the current computer mania]--so far as I know, without a printed word of protest."
I have seen a school district on the "bandwagon" create a position for a computer-resource-teacher-specialist who then had to create a job description. The first two months were devoted to preparing and passing out a questionnaire that basically asked: "Do you use computers in your classroom now? Would you like to?" It then took two months to collect and tabulate the responses.
I have seen a school district spend $100,000 on a van with several computer terminals. The van was parked on the playgrounds of primary and elementary schools for a week or two as students were ushered in one door, given 20 minutes on a keyboard, and then ushered out the rear door, having become "computer literate."
I have seen students punch all the possible answers to a problem before the computer praised them for being "correct," and then punch all the possible answers to the next problem until the "correct' solution was reached. These students were given high grades, awards, and public recognition at school assemblies. A casual spot check on my part confirmed that they had learned less than nothing.
The dangers of preprogrammed "software" include the blunting of original or critical thought. Students are urged, in effect, to say: "Tell me what to think and how to think it." The danger exists for adults as well--for the housewife who tries to adapt to someone else's conception of "how to manage a home" or the salesman who tries to conform to someone else's prescription for "how I know whether or not I am successful." Clearly, literacy must precede "computer literacy."
The computer, by its very nature, must confine its users, especially student users, to the lower levels of Bloom's taxonomy--that is, to rote learning and the self-evident.
The junk that passes for software today serves to reinforce the "test" mentality, the idea that education proceeds by discrete aggregate bits. One must be very creative indeed to use such an intractable medium to test real knowledge or the ability to think critically. That's why the Educational Testing Service in Princeton agonizes yearly over ways to "standardize" its product. That's why ets and the colleges increasingly minimize the importance of such tests as "only one factor'' in the decisionmaking process, why essay questions are given increasingly more weight, and why the more alert of the colleges and universities are also requesting that prospective students submit in-class essays that have been graded by their teachers.
I'm surprised that Mr. Noble did not mention another major concern. He alludes to "the possibilities for ... learning writing on word processors," yet only cautions that we must "keep an open mind." I find that with my very brightest, most literate students--who are able to write their own programs--something dangerous happens. They write essays on the keyboard, make minimal corrections page by page since the video display only gives them chunks at a time, and then print out what they feel is a finished paper. It's a test of my powers of persuasion to convince them that all they've done is produce a "doctored" first draft, and that they need to read over what they've printed, make whatever revisions are necessary, and then print the less-rough draft--which may or may not be ready for submission.
The computer has seductively lured them into the syndrome of rough-draft thinking, and the teacher must be espcially vigilant to guard against it. I'm now asking to see the rough draft along with the final one, but this misuse of the computer is making me work too hard.
Of course, I protest. I hope other teachers, in print, will jump off the computer bandwagon.
Gary Sterling English Department John Muir High School Pasadena, Calif.
Ted Sanders' comments in your article about the Chief State School Officers' plan to have a greater role in the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education are curious at best ("Chiefs To Seek Major Role in Accreditation of Education Programs," Education Week, Nov. 21, 1984).
Mr. Sanders, who is now superintendent of public instruction in Illinois, said there were teacher-education programs that were "intellectual cesspools" and that ncate had not done enough to close them down. Surely, Mr. Sanders knows that ncate's rate of disapproval of programs has been at its highest level in the past few years. He must also know that state boards of education have the authority to set standards and close down programs that do not meet those standards. If state boards do not accredit programs, those programs are no longer in operation. States certify teachers, ncate does not.
Mr. Sanders says that the chiefs now want to become active in ncate provided their previous membership fees are forgiven. The chiefs' plan calls for them to have the majority of seats on a new ncate committee overseeing accreditation. Mr. Sanders concluded his comments by warning that if the chiefs did not get their way, they would set up their own accrediting agency. These comments can be translated as meaning that the chiefs want to support ncate if they are not charged for their past negligence and only if they can control it. If they cannot get their way, they will, as it were, take their marbles home and set up their own game.
Mr. Sanders' comments seem to demonstrate that "intellectual cesspools" can also be found in state departments of public instruction.
John Geiger Chairman Department of Teacher Education The University of Dayton Dayton, Ohio
A note in a recent "People" item quoting an Arizona official as saying his state was the first to give cash awards to its Teachers of the Year needs to be amended (Education Week, Dec. 12, 1984).
Delaware has given its title-holder a $5,000 grant for the past three years, by action of the General Assembly. Our first recipient was Harriett B. Donofrio of the Cape Henlopen District; next was Teresa G. Carey of the Indian River District; and third is our 1985 Teacher of the Year, Susan A. Thomas of the New Castle County Vocational-Technical District.
Ambrose W. Hagarty Public Information Officer Department of Public Instruction Dover, Del.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading the Jan. 16, 1985, issue of Education Week. It was both informative and interesting. However, I was disturbed by two things.
The article entitled "The Evaluation of the ged Test" pointed out that the typical ged-taker is 21 years old, white (79 percent), female (58 percent), and born in the United States.
Since this is the case, was it not inappropriate to use Nancy Roth's photograph of three black men as if they were most representative of what the article described? I found this quite misleading, to say the least.
I have a similar question concerning the photograph accompanying an article in the same issue that deals with drug use among teen-agers ("Drug Use Among Teen-Agers Continues To Drop, Survey Shows"). Is there a higher percentage of black youths using drugs than white? I know there has been a lot of discussion about the omission of minorities from periodicals and I think it is great they are finally getting some well-deserved exposure. But why must it always be negative? I'd rather have no exposure at all if your choice is always negative, particularly when the photographs are not even representative of the group or topic that you are describing.
Come on, people. It's the mid-1980's. We've been talking about race and sex-role stereotyping long enough for such atrocities to have completely disappeared. There definitely is no reason why such "mistakes" can still be found in scholarly journals such as Education Week.
Deborah E. Bembry Assistant Professor of Education Olivet Nazarene College Kankakee, Ill.
Editor's Note: The ged photograph was taken recently in Washington, D.C., where nearly all of those taking the test were black. No stereotyping was intended in either photo, but the writer's point is well taken.
It is with much interest and concern that I read your recent article on an issue often closeted in educational circles, gay teachers ("Homosexuality Law Weighed by Court," Education Week, Jan. 23, 1985).
First, I must congratulate you on addressing this issue. Its "controversial" nature often provides educational publications with the excuse not to deal with the fact that approximately 10 percent of the teaching force is gay and, consequently, often lacks legal protection from job discrimination.
As the article stated, "At the core of the arguments for both sides was the contention that teachers serve as role models for students ... " It is this issue that I wish to respond to and I will try to place in proper perspective some of the myths attributed to those of us who happen to be gay.
Among the arguments frequently cited to support the firing of gay teachers or prohibiting the discussion of homosexuality in school is that children are impressionable and will adopt homosexuality as a lifestyle.
First of all, a child's sexual orientation is established at about 3 years of age. Furthermore, a teacher is one of many role models that children encounter in their school years, and gay teachers exert no more mystical an influence on children's sexualities than the heterosexual teachers who taught me in school did on mine. But what can children learn from teachers who happen to be gay? Patience, caring, an interest in another's educational growth?
The plethora of mass media "information" reinforces negative images of gay teachers as child abusers, proselytizers of an aberrant lifestyle, and catalysts in the breakdown of the nuclear family. This misinformation is often the only contact the general public has with the topic of homosexuality. It is the lack of honest information and the unfounded fears of the educational system concerning gay teachers that does the greatest disservice to all educators.
In speaking of children and teachers, Jawaharlal Nehru put it most clearly when he said: "They do not think of differences amongst themselves, differences of class or caste or color of status. They are wiser than their fathers or mothers. As they grow up, unfortunately, their natural wisdom is often eclipsed by the teaching and behavior of their elders. At school they learn many things which are no doubt useful, but they gradually forget that the essential thing is to be human and kind and playful and make life richer for ourselves and others."
Joseph M. Russo Doctoral Candidate Department of Special Education Teachers College, Columbia University New York, N.Y.