Letters to the Editor
I was much interested in Donald M. Clark's good piece on industry-education partnerships, "Industry's Role in Preparing Children for Life 'Beyond the School Gate''' (Commentary, March 11, 1987).
His critique of many (most?) industry-education partnerships has merit, but it is one-sided. As true as it may be that the schools have failed to understand the main objective of industry's involvement in education, educators would be equally correct in observing that industry may have failed to understand the larger purposes of schooling.
Yes, many--perhaps a majority--of our youths are not prepared to enter the world of work beyond the school gates. And yes, there is a vital role for schools in meeting the needs of the workplace. A strengthening of industry-education partnerships to make them more effective is surely one way to achieve the kind of reform that would be responsive to those needs.
But that would clearly reduce education to a very limited role, that of preparing our youths for successful careers as workers. It denies the premise that the purpose of education is to help one make a life as well as a living.
However well we train children to be useful and productive workers, we fail them and the promise they represent if we do not train them also to be useful, productive, and responsible members of society.
In our experience, most of the leaders of American industry understand this broader purpose of education. Let us hope that, in strengthening their partnerships with the schools, they will not become so obsessed with the needs of the workplace that they will forget the needs of society.
Hayden W. Smith
Senior Vice President
Council for Financial Aid to Education, Inc.
New York, N.Y.
U.S. District Judge W. Brevard Hand's March 4 ruling that 44 textbooks unconstitutionally promote the religion of humanism is profoundly in error ("Federal Court Finds Secular Humanism a Religion'' March 11, 1987.)
Whether humanism is a religion, or a philosophy, or a life stance--as many humanists would prefer to call it--is irrelevant. What is important is that the distinctive feature of humanism--its compeletely naturalistic view of the world--is not being promoted in public-school textbooks.
Contrary to Judge Hand's view, the scarcity of material about religion in history and social-studies texts is due neither to hostility to religion nor to attempts to promote secular humanism. Humanists, after all, do not object to the objective, academic study of religion. Rather, the scarcity is due to the inability of educators, scholars, parents, and religious leaders to agree on what ought to be taught about this complex and difficult subject.
What the fundamentalists attacking the public schools generally mean by "secular humanism'' is a list of things they disapprove of, but which represent the consensus views of mainstream Americans, whether Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish.
Interestingly, while Judge Hand held that there is too little religion in Alabama textbooks, U.S. District Judge Thomas G. Hull ruled last fall, in Tennessee, that other fundamentalist parents are offended when the textbooks mention the "wrong'' religions. We can't have it both ways.
It is increasingly apparent that narrow, sectarian pressure groups are determined to either rule or ruin public education.
Americans for Religious Liberty
Silver Spring, Md.
I read with interest Conrad Toepfer's Commentary, "Middle School: Missing Links'' (March 11, 1987), in which he quotes from "An Agenda for Excellence at the Middle Level,'' which says: "Effective [middle-level] schools understand the relationship of development to learning, so that students are not asked to violate the dictates of their development in order to participate fully in the educational program.''
Implicit in the statement is the proviso that students be given opportunities to explore and clarify their personal values within the school culture. Either as a "hidden agenda'' or one that is proclaimed as an integral part of the curriculum, middle-level schools promote this idea of students making choices.
Mr. Toepfer ends by stating, "In a real sense, their continuing development as maturing adolescents and adults will depend on the effectiveness with which middle-level educators make the dance of the intellect one and the same with the dance of the human spirit.''
I reflected on that statement and thought "how true.'' I then turned the paper over to scan the news and was struck by U.S. District Judge W. Brevard Hand's statement: "Teaching that moral choices are purely personal and can only be based on some autonomous, as yet undiscovered and unfulfilled, inner-self is a sweeping fundamental belief that must not be promoted by the public schools.''
I cringed and thought "how dreadful.'' And as a middle-level educator, I was struck once again by the contradiction that we, as middle-level people, find ourselves in. Are we, at the middle level, to be prevented from providing necessary opportunities to students for growth and development? If these years of "becoming'' are a matter of national concern, then we should be allowed to do our job without the interference of the courts over the issue of whether children should be taught how to make decisions about their lives.
William H. Wibel
Col. James P. Lyle Middle School
Otis Air National Guard Base, Mass.
"Middle Schools: Missing Links'' (Commentary, March 11, 1987) refers to a two-sided debate: Should we have junior high schools or middle schools? But there is a third alternative. We could get rid of both and return to a K-8, 9-12 grade structure wherever possible.
Many researchers have determined that the impetus for a third, "in-between type'' school came from exigency. As districts built new high schools, they needed to find a use for old high schools; presto, junior high schools evolved. Tracing the building-by-building history in several cities will confirm this theory. Rather than having a rationale for such schools, therefore, we are often dealing with rationalizations.
Data on dropouts and high-risk students tell us several things. First, students "withdraw'' most frequently at transitional points, and the signs of disenchantment with schooling most often occur on leaving elementary school. Why not simply eliminate at least one transition?
Second, the traditional elementary scheduling model seems to work better with high-risk students. Indeed, thousands of schools go to extreme efforts to put back together the schedule rent asunder by single-subject programming, through superficial team or block programming. Why not leave it alone in the first place?
Third, while there is no guarantee as to the results, it would seem that the developmentally trained teacher--generally found in elementary schools--can make the types of bonds that sustain students through school. Why not extend their reach for two more years? The type of programming common for decades in small school districts--with each teacher programmed for one or two "specials'' a week--adds dimensions of specialization without needlessly shuffling students throughout the day at 40-minute bells.
Some might argue that a return to the K-8, 9-12 pattern is backed only by nostalgia. But surveys of successful programs aimed at bringing dropouts back into the schools reveal that most achieve success simply by returning students to an elementary-like structure. Perhaps we would do best by not moving students out of that model until as late a date as possible.
Stephen E. Phillips
Alternative High Schools and Programs
New York, N.Y.
In her "Educator's Opinion'' that appeared in your March 4 edition, Mary Hatwood Futrell found an essay by the Rev. William F. Schulz, president of the Unitarian Universalist Association, to be "thought provoking.'' In fact, Ms. Futrell, the president of the National Education Association, judged this essay so important that she had it reprinted under the caption, "Values and Religion in Our Schools.''
What was so important in Mr. Schulz's essay? Much was made of the Montanists, a sect in the early Christian church, who believed, according to Mr. Schulz, "that salvation could be attained only by people who limited their earthly diet to radishes.''
One of the most brilliant Montanists was Tertullian, a Carthaginian church founder. It is hard to believe Tertullian, who developed the complex Logos Christology, would advocate the eating of the lowly radish as the "route to salvation.'' Distinguished church historians such as Williston Walker and Kenneth Scott La Tourette, all wrote about the Montanists, but they never mention the practice of eating radishes for salvation.
What then is Ms. Futrell's real agenda? Why did she reprint the essay? Certainly it could not have been to inform us that the Montanists ate radishes for salvation. No, Ms. Futrell's real problem may be with the old-fashioned, traditional Judeo-Christian value system. Mr. Schulz confesses that he really does not know what constitutes the real Judeo-Christian tradition. The reason for the confusion, he writes, is that within this tradition the "choices are mind-boggling.'' This is so, he argues, because so many variations in the Judeo-Christian tradition make value consensus impossible.
But what is the truth of the matter? The truth is that there exists a remarkable consensus on what values are essential among those who believe in traditional Judeo-Christian ethics. To be sure, there are differences among Jews, Roman Catholics, and Protestants on many issues. But religious conservatives are more alike than different in agreeing on essential values.
What the Schulz argument seems to recommend is to jettison transcendent values that are grounded in God for a morality grounded in the crass utilitarian philosophy of John Stuart Mill.
It is this exchange of transcendent values for utilitarian values--one that finds its roots in the philosophy of relativism--that is the cause for all kinds of societal and educational mischief in public education today.
Mr. Schulz's argument reminds me of the sectarian arguments that raged during the establishment of the common schools in pre-Civil War Massachusetts. At that time, there were great differences of opinion, but no one suggested that schools should abandon transcendency for pure utility, as we are hearing today.
Frank C. Nelsen
Cultural Foundations of Education
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Recently, you published, as a Commentary, letters written between myself and Ms. Clare Fox ("Reflections on a Career in Teaching,'' March 4, 1987). I thought your readers might like to know what happened with Ms. Fox this year.
Clare Fox left her teaching job in Tucson, Ariz., and returned to Boston. She was offered several publishing jobs. But by a series of coincidences and maneuverings, she became the long-term substitute in my classes while I was on leave.
The variety of the students, the professionalism of the faculty, and the size of the workload at Brookline High School rekindled her interest in public education. She hopes to return to the classroom this fall. Education won her back!
Margaret Treece Metzger
Brookline High School