Letters to the Editor
To the Editor:
Patricia Albjerg Graham's commentary ("Cautionary Admonitions From Our Educational Past," Education Week, Jan. 30, 1985) may have presented a "cogent argument," as was suggested in a letter in your March 6 issue, but the article is not without weakness. That of the title is most notable.
Webster's English dictionary gives the following definition for the adjective "cautionary": "urging caution; warning; admonishing." On the other hand, to admonish is, in the dictionary, "to warn; caution against specific faults." I would like, with all respect to Ms. Graham's cogency, cautionarily to admonish all writers (with an added warning caveat) against such overt redundancy. It is conceivable that in an outcome-based system, the producer of such flaccid form would be in trouble!
Ron Royer Assistant Professor of Education University of Minnesota Morris, Minn.
Editor's Note: Don't blame the author. We're sorry, we're sorry.
To the Editor:
The recent commentary by Dianne Sirna Mancus and Curtis K. Carlson (''Political Philosophy and Reading Make a Dangerous Mix," Education Week, Feb. 27, 1985), in its efforts to illustrate the dangers and delusions of New Right thinking, takes an equally narrow path in another wrong direction.
Certainly, public-school children--a captive audience--should not be victimized by a reign of ignorance and knee-jerk fundamentalism staffed by the Moral Majority. Neither should our educational leaders automatically espouse the causes of "psycholinguists" and language-experience proponents as the only reasonable alternatives.
The roots of much of our disgraceful rate of illiteracy can be easily traced to the progressive, pedagogically bankrupt whole-word reading theories that worked their way into elementary-school classrooms during the last 50 or 60 years.
Regrettably, intensive phonics is one of the buzz words taken up as a battle guidon by the New Right. More balanced policymakers have a tendency to shun such a valid concept because of its association with the rest of the demagoguery in the New Right's baggage.
One needs to examine the concept in terms of its development, its usefulness, and its theoretical foundations, and not ignore it because of the company that keeps it.
The letters of our alphabet are symbols for sounds made in our language. Standard English is 85 percent "regular," or subject to phonetic encoding. That represents 85 percent of more than 150,000 words in a good dictionary, far more than the 25,000 or so most commonly used in print.
Whole-word theorists, in attempting to teach word recognition word-by-word, must recognize the formidable and ultimately futile task this is.
The simple device of teaching the code--the alphabet and the 42 common English sounds it makes (it does this with only 70 combinations of individual letters and letter groups, called phonograms)--unlocks the entire lexicon. It takes little more time to teach the code and the rules for its use (about 100 "facts" in all) than it does to teach a few hundred whole words. The efficiency is undeniable, the logic irrefutable.
By analogy, if one sees the number 500,000, it can readily be recognized for its size, value, dimension, and use. One does not learn half a million numbers, one by one. Once the code, or numerals, are taught, and the rules, or place-value system, are learned, the numbers make sense. No one has to memorize the 499,999 numbers that come before it to arrive at and understand "500,000."
An old proverb says: "Give a man a fish and he eats for a day; teach him to fish and he eats for a lifetime." If we teach our children to read by a process, they do not have to suffer the limitations of reading as a collection of products. Phonics, the first skill to be mastered in the reading process, opens the way to the entire hierarchy of comprehension skills outlined in Ms. Mancus's and Mr. Carlson's commentary.
What the endless debate over reading systems needs is a balanced, objective, factual analysis, and for rational decisions to be made in favor of children, no matter whose ox is being gored.
Special-interest groups, particularly when they fall prey to the sloganeering and jingoism of someone else's misguided cause, usually wind up throwing the baby out with the bathwater, or, in this case, tearing down the temple after chasing out the moneychangers.
One extreme leads to unrelenting dogmatism, the other to a barely literate citizenry. Our children deserve a reasoned compromise, not a ride on someone's ego trip.
Charles J. Micciche Superintendent of Schools School Administrative Unit 58 Groveton, N.H.
To the Editor:
Dorothy Rich's commentary ("Schools Must Care About Families," Education Week, March 6, 1985) saddened me because of its blatant generalities. Does her piece fall under the heading, "Again, Schools Are Called Upon To Solve Society's Problems?"
Some schools do care about families, as evidenced by meetings and conferences held in the evenings, committees of pta boards designed to serve the needs of single parents, peer-support groups for single and working parents, and so forth. And I agree more schools should make that effort.
I also feel Ms. Rich should have stopped there. For her to assume that a school can remain open during a "snow day"--not when snow is four to six inches deep, but when it has accumulated to upwards of a foot and is still coming down--is totally beyond reason. It also borders on cruelty to children, if not neglect.
Would she really send children out in weather like that--unable to see more than a few feet ahead? Is she so sure that personnel will have arrived to receive the children? Or does she intend for me to sleep at school that night, along with a cadre of teachers, custodians, kitchen workers, and others? How do we know the night before if it is our turn to stay over? Even weather forecasters are wrong sometimes.
However, the schools that Ms. Rich describes do exist. They are everywhere, in rural and urban communities alike. Their personnel are selected to work with specific age groups and their insurance does cover these consequences. They're known as private boarding schools.
Godfrey F. Bellavigna Principal Unqua School Massapequa, N.Y.