Letters to the Editor
Derek L. Burleson Editor Special Publications Phi Delta Kappa Bloomington, Ind.
Your article "Teaching's 'Endangered Species"' (Nov. 20, 1985) is one of the most compelling pieces of education reporting I have ever read--and I read a lot. Not only did you document the problem of the future supply of minority teachers with an impressive array of statistics, you also gave a balanced interpretation of the problem with quotations from several authoritative sources.
I was depressed after reading the story, but found some relief in the related story on Grambling State University's efforts to prepare its future teachers ("At Grambling: 'Fighting the Scores Instead of the Tests"').
This is education reporting at its best.
Alan Gartner Director Graduate School and University Center City University of New York New York, N.Y.
You ran a story recently noting the 10-year anniversary of the passage of P.L. 94-142, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act ("Steady Rise in Learning-Disabled Spurs Review," Nov. 13, 1985).
In reading about the problems connected with special education, it is appropriate to ask, "Why do we go on this way?" The answer is that as educators and as a society, we wish to.
The issue is a matter of will. And the will needed now is quite different from that involved in implementing P.L. 92-142 to date. Earlier, it was a matter of bringing into the schools the children who had previously been excluded. Now, it is a matter of integrating these students into the fabric of the school system in such a way that their abilities can be recognized and they will be able to achieve success.
The nature of schools and pedagogy, as well as personal attitudes, are blocking needed change. Pedagogic practice focuses on remediation, to the exclusion of prevention, and, more important, on separating out the "problem" students. When children are removed from the regular classroom, the work of the general educators is made easier and employment is provided for the specialists.
These factors are magnified by prejudice and aversion. Certain attitudes have not only encouraged the development of a separate and segregated educational system: They have made it second class.
As a result, the students in such programs are not held to the common standards of achievement or behavior. The expectations for them are lower. Rarely do educators apply the known characteristics of effective school and classroom practice to their classes. And there is little incentive or disposition to have these students return to general-education classes.
The basic institution of general education must change. No longer can it be allowed to exclude all but the narrowest band of students as "abnormal." Its definitions of "normal" must be recast. We can no longer allow students to be placed in special-education programs who do not need to be there.
Special education must become more flexible, variegated, and adaptive. We must not allow misguided benevolence (also a form of prejudice) to be the motivating force rather than the struggle to improve education for all students. And we can no longer cripple those placed in special education with what has been called "disabling help."
Richard J. Mueller Professor of Educational Psychology College of Education Northern Illinois University DeKalb, Ill.
Morris Freedman's Commentary on linguistic diversity in the classroom chants the same litany we are hearing again and again: the cultural and social benefits of a second language ("On Linguistic Diversity in the Classroom," Nov. 13, 1985).
It's obvious that Mr. Freedman doesn't really know what immigrants were like when they stepped off the boat at Ellis Island before the hyping of bilingualism and the glorification of the non-English-speaking cultural lifestyle. Both of my parents and almost all of my aunts and uncles came to this country from Switzerland shortly before World War I. Not a single one of them spoke a word of English, but they all had a fierce desire to assimilate and prosper in this country.
They set about teaching themselves English just as fast as they could, and there was absolutely no nonsense with respect to their children. If my dad said it once, he must have said it a million times to my brother and me: "Speak English! This is America--the greatest country in the world!" As a consequence, I, my brother, and all of my cousins entered the 1st grade speaking English fluently and without an accent; and none of us ever had any identity crises. We competed on an equal basis with every kid whose parents were born in America.
Yet, throughout the years, my parents and all the clan maintained their "Swiss-ness." They "said" it with song, dance, dress, food, and all the picturesque customs and behaviors they brought from the "old country," but to us kids, they said it in English--for which I am profoundly thankful.
A command of English has been the major factor in my life: as an English major, newspaper reporter, free-lance writer, high-school teacher, and college professor. I still shudder when I think of where I would be if my parents had used their native language as the medium of communication around the dinner table and at all those Swiss picnics.
Robert Primack Associate Professor College of Education University of Florida Gainesville, Fla.
Judging from his recent letter to the editor in response to mine, I suspect Bob Baird and I occupy such a different universe of discourse that President Reagan and Mr. Gorbachev are soul mates by comparison (''Democratic State Requires Parental Role in Education," Nov. 27, 1985).
We differ on the role of the democratic state; the role of the individual in the democratic state; what constitute the rights of the parent, the child, and the school; and, just to keep the list short, what constitutes a scientific fact--and maybe what day of the week it is.
The only remedy I can offer Mr. Baird is to swallow a large dose of Dewey's Democracy and Education and The Public and Its Problems before dinner; as an appetizer, some of the Socratic dialogues; as an entree, The Federalist Papers; and then a dessert of Peirce, Hook, and Nagel on the scientific method.
Socrates, in the Crito, given the opportunity to escape his death sentence pronounced by the Athenian democracy, acknowledges that the democratic state has the moral and legal right to take his life, let alone control certain other aspects of an individual's behavior.
No state, democratic or otherwise, can allow individualism to run amuck, as Mr. Baird suggests, if it is to survive. The successful democratic state is engaged in a perpetual balancing act between the compulsory collective behavior necessary for its own health and the desirable individual behavior also necessary for its health.
In the case of schools, the state, for purposes of its own survival, must have the right to educate its children at some minimum level. It may delegate that right to private schools, but for its survival it must have the final say on whether that minimum level is being met. The only reason that Mr. Baird can claim any rights, parental or otherwise, is due to the fact that the democratic state functions.
The founding fathers had fundamentally three choices before them when they set up a new system of governance: authoritarian, democratic, and laissez faire. To the dismay of some present-day citizens, they made the democratic choice. On the issue of schooling, Mr. Baird apparently would have tilted very much in the direction of laissez-faire individualism. No modern state can survive with the libertarian position so beloved by some groups on the radical right and on the radical left.
Mr. Baird objects to the words "permit" and "forbid" in my letter. The democratic state "permits" and "forbids" many kinds of behavior. Among them are who should marry, who should vote, who should serve in the armed forces, what constitutes criminal behavior, and who should live or die for certain kinds of acts. The collectivity known as the democratic state has the right to ensure that all its future citizens are well educated--in fact, it can't survive otherwise.
If we have too many people thinking the way Mr. Baird does, it won't survive.
Edd Doerr Executive Director Americans for Religious Liberty Silver Spring, Md.
Bruno V. Manno's Commentary, "Stereotypes, Statistics, and Catholic Schools" (Nov. 13, 1985), was a sales pitch for tax support of sectarian private schools, so it understandably failed to call attention to the fact that sectarian schools differ significantly from public schools.
Among the differences: They have as their central purpose the promotion of particular religions; they are not under public control; and they practice various kinds of selectivity in hiring and admissions not allowed in public schools. The most recent study released by the National Catholic Educational Association, for which Mr. Manno works, bears this out.
Mr. Manno may believe that the denial of of tax aid or support to sectarian private schools is a great scandal, but the courts have repeatedly ruled that all but the most minor forms of "parochiaid" violate the First Amendment and similar state constitutional provisions. In 15 statewide referenda over the last 19 years, Americans from coast to coast have made it clear that they oppose being taxed to support denominational schools.