Letters to the Editor
Marilyn Russell Bittle President California Teachers Association Burlingame, Calif.
The California Teachers Association applauds the attention Secretary of Education William J. Bennett is giving to our elementary schools. We also hail his creation of a task force assigned to "assess the current state of primary education." (See "Bennett Launches Major New Study of Early Grades," Education Week, Oct. 9, 1985.)
The cta is gratified that the only teacher named to the 21-member study group is a cta-National Education Association member, Jo Gusman of Sacramento. She is a splendid choice.
But why only one teacher? Professors, principals, and Pizza Hut executives will all have valid perspectives and something useful to say. But none of them has the immediate experience and knowledge of teaching young children that would have ensured a relevant and useful task-force report.
No one would expect a study of our hospitals to make much sense if only one physician were on a 21-member commission analyzing our health-care system.
When on earth will the politicians understand that educational practitioners must be involved and heeded if the educational system is to be improved?
Dolores M. Fernandez President New York State Association for Bilingual Education Albany, N.Y.
On Sept. 26, the Secretary of Education, William J. Bennett, spoke before the Association for a Better New York and made some negative and erroneous statements with regard to bilingual education in the United States. (See "For the Record," Education Week, Oct. 2, 1985.)
One of the erroneous statements made by the Secretary was that the teaching of English is not a goal in bilingual programs. Professionals knowledgeable about bilingual pedagogy know that the teaching of English is a major component of every bilingual program in the United States. Because Mr. Bennett made a public statement that it is not a major component, one must question the Secretary's knowledge of this particular pedagogy.
One of the goals of bilingual educators is, to use Mr. Bennett's words about educators in general, "to impart basic skills, to help form character, to teach citizenship," as well as to enable students "to participate fully in our political, economic, and social life."
Bilingual educators have this goal in mind, as well as that of imparting another very important skill--bilingualism. They are preparing these children to become truly bilingual so that when they are ready to join our American society as adults, they will be adding a very important resource--fluency in more than one language and knowledge of more than one culture.
And to state that there has been no viable research in the field showing the positive impact of such programs is to indicate to the American public that the Secretary is not up to date. Since 1978, the Education Department's office of bilingual education and language-minority affairs has had a research agenda with significant amounts of money allocated to study bilingual-education programs. Specific studies that have shown the effectiveness of bilingual methodology include those of James Cummins, Kenji Hakuta, Lily Wong-Filmore, and the Far West Labs.
The acquisition of language skills is a major component of these programs, but it is not the only major component. Another important aspect is children's positive feelings of self-concept, of being proud of who they are and of the culture and language that make up their very beings.
We need to ask, therefore: "What is the threat?" Why has the Administration attacked these programs since the very first days of President Reagan's term? Is it merely because these politicians lack knowledge of our pedagogy, or is it because the Administration finds pleasure in attacking yet one more program aimed at the betterment of a group of Americans?
It is time the Administration did some research of its own. It must recognize that by teaching children today to be bilingual, we are preparing a generation of productive Americans who will give our nation the edge in future international relations and economic competition.
It would be interesting to conduct a study to determine how many members of the President's Cabinet are truly bilingual. How many can function abroad or in South America without an interpreter?
We in bilingual education are training our students to become adult Americans who will not need translators when in foreign lands and who will not embarrass the United States with their monolingualism.
Robert Primack Associate Professor College of Education University of Florida Gainesville, Fla. Run with PRIMACK (put Primack first)
I am afraid that Stephen Arons's position on secular humanism and the role of the public school would, if implemented, ensure that the democratic state would not long survive. (See Commentary, "The Great Secular-Humanism Debate Reveals a Truth About Public Schooling," Education Week, Oct. 16, 1985.)
He assumes that the rights of the parents--their religious and other views--are entitled to a monopoly position vis-a-vis the child. No heterogeneous society such as our own can afford such a posture. What the democratic state says, in effect, when it insists on compulsory public schooling is that the education of the future rulers of such a state shall not be monopolized by any segment of society--not by the state, not by the parent, and not by religious or other institutions.
Thus, if the democratic state believes that scientific knowledge is essential to its survival, the state teaches evolution in its biology classrooms and not creationism. On the other hand, because it is a democratic state, it does not demand that it be the only source of knowledge in the matter.
If parents or other institutions wish to teach nonsense--such as that the earth is only 6,000 years old, is flat, or is the center of the universe--the democratic state permits its own teaching to be contradicted.
In the parceling out of "rights," the democratic state must have a crack at educating its citizens, along with giving consideration to the "rights" of the child, the parent, and other institutions. But what the democratic
state cannot allow, if it is to survive, is for parents and religious institutions to have a total monopoly with respect to the educative process. There are too many Jim Joneses and Louis Farrakhans in America for the state to permit children to remain completely in their control.
There are certain common, fundamental facts, certain common beliefs, certain common values, and a certain sense of community that only the public schools can engender. Both the parent and the child may choose to reject these in due course; yet, if the democratic state is to survive, it must at least have the chance to expose the child to these matters.
It is discouraging that a professor of legal studies should so misunderstand the role of the democratic state and public education.
Edd Doerr Executive Director Americans for Religious Liberty Silver Spring, Md.
Stephen Arons's recent piece started out conceding, correctly, that the radical right wing's charges of "secular humanism" being taught in public schools are wrong. Then, after claiming, incorrectly, that the courts have defined religion differently in free-exercise and establishment cases, he switches direction and essentially agrees with the fundamentalist critics that public schools teach something quite akin to the Falwell-LaHaye definition of humanism.
Mr. Arons and the radical-right-wing critics may say what they please about public education, but their specific ideological complaints have not held up in court and have not surfaced as public concerns in the annual Phi Delta Kappa polls on public attitudes toward schools. Furthermore, while Americans are certainly more affluent now than they were 20 years ago, the proportion of students attending nonpublic schools is significantly lower now than in 1965; this bears out the Phi Delta Kappa finding that the vast majority of parents rate public schools from "okay" to "excellent."
Mr. Arons's real interest shows up in the last two paragraphs of his essay, as it frequently has in his other writings. He wants government to support sectarian and secular private schools and public schools through a voucher plan.
He wants to replace nonsectarian public schools that are under the control of locally elected school boards with a multiplicity of sectarian and ideology-oriented private schools. These private schools would be supported by, but not governed by or responsible to, all the people; they could discriminate in admissions and hiring and could largely replace academic freedom with sectarian or ideological indoctrination.
M. Stephen Lilly Dean College of Education Washington State University Pullman, Wash.
I was disappointed to see Education Week's interpretation of my proposal to refine the timeline for implementing the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education's "redesign" ("Teachers," Oct. 9, 1985).
You were correct in reporting that my proposal (which was adopted at the ncate meeting on Oct. 11) calls for no visits during the 1987-88 year. However, it is inaccurate to infer that this action "delays" or "postpones" implementation of the new standards and procedures.
The original timeline adopted by the ncate council last June made 1987-88 a "year of choice" for institutions with regard to meeting either the old or the new standards. The refinement of the timeline, which was the topic of your Oct. 9 article, requires all of these institutions to meet the new standards while delaying their visits until 1988-89.
The effect of this will be to bring under the new standards in 1988 a large number of institutions that, if they had opted for the "old" standards in 1987-88, would not have been evaluated under the redesign until well into the 1990's. This is a timeline that accelerates the rate at which institutions address the new standards and are visited using the new procedures, and does so in a way that is fair to all institutions involved.
The ncate redesign is, in my view, one of the most important educational events of the decade, and the revised timeline will assure that it is implemented in a timely and quality manner. Thanks for the opportunity to correct a possible misconception of the intent and substance of the change.
Editor's Note: We regret any possible misinterpretation that might result from the article, but it was not incorrect as written. Under the original timeline, institutions could have opted for accreditation under the new standards in 1987-88. Under Mr. Lilly's revised approach, all ncate site visits scheduled for 1987-88 will occur in 1988-89.