Letters to the Editor
I agree with some (though not all) of Susan Ohanian's objections to specific items on our cultural literacy list. (Commentary, "Finding a 'Loony List' While Searching for Literacy,'' May 6, 1987).
Her counter-proposals have now been put in our ever-growing file of suggested revisions. These incoming suggestions are bound to make the list better. In fact, we decided to publish a provisional list partly to invite such suggestions, and partly to bring the discussion of specific school content out into the open where it belongs.
However, one observation in Ms. Ohanian's essay is wrong. We did not ignore the advice of school teachers. We sought and profited from the advice of 164 elementary- and secondary-school teachers.
As we stated in Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs To Know, we are soliciting comments and suggestions regarding the list. My address is: 115 Wilson Hall, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Va. 22903.
E.D. Hirsch Jr.
William R. Kenan Professor of Education
University of Virginia
Although it is easy to be lulled into a wholesale acceptance of Baldwin Ranson's reasoned discussion of the meaning of literacy, I feel compelled to register an opposing view. His Commentary, "Questioning the Meaning of Literacy'' (April 29, 1987), is not really a discussion of the meaning of literacy, but rather concerns itself with the course of inquiry to be taken after literacy is achieved.
To be literate in the essential sense is to be able to decode the printed word as an extension of speech. What happens after that complex translational activity is learned is fair game for those who wish to question what should and shouldn't be taught and learned during the course of a lifetime.
But Mr. Ranson's view is really elitist, for it discusses matters that have import only for the segment of the population that already has become fluent in the uses of print as the tool for gaining an understanding of the meaning of history and science and economics.
Confusion about the dichotomy of meaning that exists between the processes required to unlock the medium of print as a tool, and the uses of that tool as an instrument of inquiry, is a major cause of the fragmentation existing in our schools today. Such fragmentation has led to the growth of an enormous population of citizens who are truly illiterate. For them, the ideas of Keynes, Newton, and Einstein will forever remain a mystery, for they must construct their view of the world from information gleaned from television and pop-culture gossip magazines.
Raymond E. Laurita
The Learning Center
Yorktown Heights, N.Y.
After wading through your detailed report on John I. Goodlad's National Network for Educational Renewal (March 18, 1987), I've come to the conclusion that the humanist revolution is perhaps best exemplified in the so-called "school-reform movement.''
If you read the report of the Carnegie Task Force on Teaching as a Profession, or the plans of Mr. Goodlad, you find yourself bogged down in meaningless verbiage in which the academic establishment string out vague, high-sounding, thoughtfully- thoughtless phrases that are commonly referred to as hot air.
For example, you quote Kenneth A. Sirotnik, who is directing a study of teacher education for Mr. Goodlad, as saying, "We intend to collect information on the status of teacher education in the college or university at large; on the perceptions and beliefs held by faculty members regarding their work--teaching, research, service, and the rewards thereof--their students, and one another; and on the extent to which schools, colleges, and departments of education are in cooperative, working relationships with the local schools.''
And later he adds, "We're really trying to think about teaching as a moral profession that has a value base to it and what the implications of that are for education.''
That'll consume a ton of foundation money! Meanwhile, millions of children are waiting to be taught to read. But Mr. Sirotnik and colleagues will be too busy elsewhere, chasing their tails for the glory of educational research.
The education-reform movement is an unmitigated fraud. The educators have no intention of delivering the academic excellence the nation is clamoring for. And the reason is quite simple. The educators are committed to the humanist program mapped out by John Dewey and his colleagues early in this century--a program that sacrifices academic training on the altar of socialization.
I've seen no indication anywhere that they intend to deviate one iota from that program. When will the educators stop playing this shell game with the American people?
Samuel L. Blumenfeld
I enjoyed reading Richard A. Gibboney's provocative Commentary, "Education of Administrators: 'An American Tragedy'' (April 15, 1987).
But while Mr. Gibboney may be correct in his evaluation of the National Commission on Excellence in Educational Administration's report, "Leaders for American Schools,'' I believe the continuing debate about the supremacy of management over leadership or leadership over management is a waste of time, energy, and intellect. Both management and leadership are needed.
Management without leadership is like a ship without a rudder. Leadership without management is like a rudder without a ship. Any program for the development of administrators that focuses exclusively on either leadership qualities or management skills is indeed deficient and inadequate.
Mr. Gibboney informs us that at the University of Pennsylvania, after a long struggle, fundamental changes were made in the doctoral program for administrators in 1982. Indeed, the struggle must have been a long one. In 1958, I enrolled in the doctoral program for school administrators at the University of Illinois. The program had four major areas: the sociological foundations of education; the historical foundations of education; the philosophical foundations of education; and for majors in school administration, such as I, courses in administration and management.
George B. Young
Independent School District 191
I was stimulated by Richard A. Gibboney's Commentary (April 15, 1987), and agree with him that ideas should take precedence over skills in the training of the leaders of our schools, although both are, of course, necessary.
However, I was disappointed that he did not even mention the third, and by far most important aspect of school leadership, the care and nurturing of human beings. Students, staff, and faculty are not things or ideas, but people. That doesn't make our work any easier, but it does mean that school administration can be a noble profession.
Columbia Bible College
Richard A. Gibboney's Commentary critiquing the report of the National Commission on Excellence in Educational Administration (April 15, 1987), also identifies the basic weakness found in most school management.
I am amazed at the commission's assumption that the "efficiency cult'' approach that dehumanized many American industries, and may be considered a major cause for our worldwide decline, is the answer to our "endangered'' schools. The commission might better have concluded that America's schools have mistakenly followed a misled, mismanaged industrial complex toward a second-rate status.
It seems that the commission's failure to recognize the humanized, idea-valuing philosophy associated with our successful businesses and industries is further affirmation that its members aren't even in the right country, let alone the right planet or solar system, when it comes to improving school leadership.
Having had the opportunity to attend the University of Pennsylvania's program for administrators, and to consider ideas and concepts new and different from my other "educational'' experiences, I am convinced that the scientific management approach discounts the importance of people (students, parents, teachers, and administrators) and is a cause of our problems in education--not the cure.
William R. Rohrer
Penn Manor School District
Accompanying your lengthy article on the re-examination of performance-based pay raises for teachers (April 15, 1987), was a chart listing state incentive programs.
For North Dakota, no incentive initiatives were identified. Unfortunately, the compiler of the list, the Southern Regional Educational Board, did not do its homework on North Dakota.
North Dakota's program is one of local initiative and originated with the state's task force to study merit pay for teachers several years ago. The task force recommended on March 15, 1984, that local school districts, rather than the state, develop custom-designed reward plans for teachers that could "ultimately lead to better classroom instruction.''
Among the organizations represented on the task force were the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction, North Dakota Education Association, the state school-boards association, and the state's umbrella council for school administrators. A 12-page report and set of guidelines for local districts are available from the North Dakota School Boards Association and represent the state's incentive program for teachers.
It is altogether fitting that North Dakota would approach the national concern for obtaining and then keeping good teachers with various compensation plans as an issue for local schools. North Dakota's tradition of strong local control and rural-American values means, in general, that the state provides guidelines but local citizens and educators decide on whether those guidelines apply to their situation. The tradition, at least when it comes to the matter of incentive payments for teachers, appears to be alive and well.
Dennis C. Zuelke
University of Wisconsin-Superior
In response to your article, "Teacher Recruitment, Selection Procedures Outdated, Study Says,'' (March 18, 1987), we in the Clarke County School District offer our wholehearted agreement.
We realized several years ago that our personnel department could no longer recruit well-qualified teachers, and especially minority teachers, by remaining in a "let-them-come-to-us'' posture. Taking our cue from the private sector, which aggressively recruits the best and the brightest college graduates, we decided to compete last year on a similar scale for the increasingly fewer students coming out of education colleges.
We invited the presidents, deans, and placement officers of traditionally minority Southern colleges to bring their best education students to Clarke County as our guests in January 1986. For three days they toured our community and schools, talked with teachers and students, met community representatives, and observed what we can offer potential teachers.
Such offers include help with Georgia certification requirements and a mentor program, wherein veteran teachers are paid a stipend to introduce new teachers to the school and community and to assist them in preparing for our state's beginning-teacher assessment program.
The graduating seniors were invited to return for a second visit, when specific personal concerns could be addressed and more extensive visits could be made in the schools and community, to determine for themselves if they would feel comfortable and effective in our environment.
The visitation programs proved to be mutually beneficial. While we offered the college representatives and students an occasion to observe what public education is all about in a totally desegregated school district, they in turn had the opportunity to encourage high-school seniors to enter the teaching field and, in particular, to attend a minority college.
Our first attempt at this method was so successful that we are now in the midst of a second year of visits to recruit highly skilled minority teachers who can serve as much-needed role models for our growing black student population.
Clarke County School District
I disagree with Edd Doerr's argument against Judge W. Brevard Hand's ruling in March that 44 textbooks used in the Mobile County, Ala., schools "unconstitutionally promote the religion of humanism'' (Letters, March 25, 1987).
Although Mr. Doerr asserts that the textbook publishers are not seeking to promote secular humanism, a world and life view does come through in textbooks that appear to coincide with the creed stated in the Humanist Manifesto. In addition, the absence of material on Christianity, so much a part of American history, seems to promote a humanistic perspective on life by thoroughly ignoring a theistic one.
I also challenge Mr. Doerr's statement that what fundamentalists object to represents the mainstream thinking of Americans, whether Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish. I believe that the opposite is true, that most Americans revere the values that the humanistic bent of textbooks causes to be ignored or watered down.
Anthony C. Fortosis
Consultant for Academic Affairs
Association of Christian Schools