Letters To the Editor:
As an officer of the American Humanist Association, I wish to state most emphatically that Beverly K. Eakman's opinion piece on humanism was such an outrageous collection of distortions that I was startled to find it in so reputable a publication as Education Week ("'Religion Packaged as Psychology,"' Nov. 20, 1985). Would you have published a similarly scurrilous piece about Judaism, Methodism, or Catholicism?
There is no "humanist conspiracy" to sneak into the public schools in any guise. Those who make the charge should have the courage of their convictions and take their case to court, as many citizens have done when public schools have strayed from the religious neutrality required of our schools by the Constitution and by the pluralistic nature of our society. Humanists believe strongly in pluralism, democratic processes, and the constitutional principle of separation of church and state.
The Humanist Manifesto I (1933) and The Humanist Manifesto II (1973) are neither creeds nor "articles of faith." They are consensus statements representing, often rather imperfectly, the views of their individual signers.
Humanism differs from many religions in that it prefers the open-ended, self-correcting processes of reason, science, and democracy to intuition, alleged revelations, and ecclesiastical authority.
Humanists place the highest value on ethics and on the preciousness and dignity of the individual. They emphasize the paramount importance of democratic processes, civil liberties, fair play, and the use of reason and scientific method to solve human problems. Far from espousing the "collectivization of the individual," as Ms. Eakman asserts, humanism champions the individual against the state and against other repressive institutions. That is probably why the most distinguished Soviet dissident, Andrei Sakharov, signed The Humanist Manifesto II.
On a great many, if not most, ethical and public-policy issues, there is a remarkable convergence in the views of Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and humanist thinkers.
It is grossly unfair to compile a list of things one does not like in our public schools and then slap the "secular humanist" label on it. Humanists are as unhappy as other Americans about certain deficiencies in our schools.
Further, our well over two million public-school teachers, administrators, and school-board members are a cross section of our population. It is wildly paranoid to imagine that they are part of a conspiracy to foist "secular humanism" on 40 million children.
The current radical right-wing attacks on "secular humanism" are both attacks on the integrity of public education and manifestations of a spirit of intolerance comparable to anti-Semitism or the religious bigotry that washed over all of Europe after the Reformation.
Christians, Jews, humanists, and other Americans have in the past worked, and must continue to work, together for the constant improvement of our common schools.
Readers confused by Ms. Eakman's attack on humanism may obtain copies of the manifestos, of the journal The Humanist, and of other informative material from the American Humanist Association.
Ethelbert Haskins Treasurer and Member of the Executive Committee American Humanist Association Amherst, N.Y.
I was dismayed at what I read concerning the National Association of Secondary School Principals' latest report ("Principals Release Agenda for Improving Middle-Level Education," Oct. 23, 1985).
The report, "An Agenda for Excellence at the Middle Level," recommends that key decisions involving curriculum and instruction, classroom management, and student services be made by individual teachers or by teams of teachers "working closely with students and other school personnel." It also recommends that middle schools "be organized so that the decisions are made at the lowest possible level in the organization." Such ill-advised recommendations can only create more problems in the schools.
Ann Lieberman and Lynne Miller state: "Both policy from the top and engagement from the bottom deal with the process of improvement. One without the other leaves out a significant part of the process." The late Ronald R. Edmonds, the college professor and New York City public-schools administrator who was known for his research on effective schools, told us that teachers cannot be left on their own to do as they wish.
The idea of teachers working closely with students and school personnel (administrators? egads!) so that the teachers end up with more control is ludicrous.
I do not believe that local school boards should sacrifice public authority to a self-interest group.
Daniel Boits Sr. Principal Porter Lakes Elementary School Hebron, Ind.
As I read each issue of Education Week, I become increasingly encouraged about one aspect of reform in public education: It is obvious that people are beginning to realize that teachers are important. The education, status, and salaries of teachers are becoming areas of concern, as they should have been for the past few decades.
As worthwhile as these factors are, however, they will never, of themselves, add up to excellence in teaching. What is missing is concern over the art of teaching: timing, empathy, relationships, judgment, and the ability to motivate pupils and to set values and standards.
As a wearer of an earned Phi Beta Kappa key and a former 3rd-grade teacher, I feel qualified to say that "smarts" are not enough to make a good elementary-school teacher. Though I worked at knowing how to teach, what alternative methods might be effective in special cases, and what material might be exciting as well as instructional, I also studied each pupil and tried to understand his or her needs. It takes empathy, humor, self-discipline, judgment, and hard work, as well as intelligence and a solid body of knowledge, in order to do a good job in the classroom.
Yes, we should test prospective teachers for educational competence. But we must also try to find people with the qualities that transform teaching from a mechanical process into an art. It does no good to have a person with all the proper credentials and none of the innate qualities that make for excellence in teaching. If we look at intellectual ability alone, we will train many people who teach for a year or two and then realize it is an inappropriate profession for them.
Thus, prospective teachers should explore both aspects of teaching before committing themselves to the time and expense of teacher education. Sophomores wishing to embark on teacher-training courses should first spend a year as teachers' aides in school classrooms. Only those who have had real exposure to the classroom setting can decide whether they are cut out to be teachers. An internship would give them that opportunity before they spend a lot of time on methods courses.
This arrangement would also give those in positions of authority in education a voice in selecting superior candidates to become teachers.
We must choose those candidates who will bring excellence into the classroom, both in terms of intellectual ability and personality characteristics. As it stands now, we educate people first and try to make teachers of them later. That is not the best way.
Suzanne R. Horner Educational Diagnostician Marlow Hill Educational Services Asheville, N.C.
Perry A. Zirkel's otherwise cogent criticism failed to adequately discuss the most disturbing dimension of the argument propounded by advocates of schooling in the home (Commentary, "Defense of Home Instruction 'Not Warranted,"' Oct. 30, 1985).
Unfortunately, many professionals and laymen see the school as an institution that is singularly preoccupied with academic goals, although schools also provide a vital socializational service by bringing all youths together to share experiences, insights, problems, and interests. Schools help equip the rising generation with the common base of knowledge, skills, and values that are essential for the maintenance and growth of a free and enlightened society.
A democracy depends on what its people can accomplish both individually and collectively. By educating the full range of the population under one roof, the schools provide avenues for enhancing racial understanding, collective insight, and cooperation. In a sense, mandatory enrollment in public education is the price we pay for civilization.
Mr. Zirkel's criticism of home instruction falls squarely on the side of reason.
Peter S. Hlebowitsh 4th-Grade Teacher Community Park Elementary School Princeton, N.J.