Letters to the Editor
The excerpts from Allan Bloom's book, The Closing of the American Mind (Commentary, August 5, 1987), won concurrence from me regarding some distressing nontraditional characteristics of the youth culture of the 1960's to the present. However, his views also prompted me to acknowledge some counterbalancing virtues we have seen in that culture. New understandings and commitments exhibited by many young people may well emerge as a partially new moral referent for present and future generations.
As implied by Mr. Bloom, two of the redeeming characteristics of the 60's youth culture were a new openness and an inner-directedness, which idealistically might be called "The Opening of the American Heart.'' These youths espoused a growing belief in a self-healing body, a self-directing mind, a self-esteeming heart, and a self-perpetuating natural environment.
This counterbalancing imagery cannot totally replace the West's legacy of cultural humanities. Nor would I wish it to do so. As long as world-class libraries survive global holocausts, we should continue to foster the Western heritage.
The thesis I would like to pursue with Mr. Bloom is the possibility that these beliefs of the younger generation might well serve as bases or referents upon which to design and develop a moral, full life for oneself and others during the next few generations.
Franklin P. Morley
Educational Planning Services
St. Louis, Mo.
Judging from the excerpts from Allan Bloom's book, I conclude that he is following in more traditions than he may be aware of, yet is less faithful to the traditions he recognizes than he himself may believe.
Mr. Bloom lapses into the posture of modernist cultural elitism. Ironically, however, he is more a product of liberal education. Mr. Bloom's appreciation of culture and tradition are apparently wholly modern. His idea of "classics" is limited to the canon of English and American literature, and he makes virtually no mention of religion, which should be the keystone of his argument.
Prima facie, Mr. Bloom's contentions have a terrific snob appeal. I confess that I love them myself: the romance of a mythic time when near-heroic people had intimate understanding of culture and the world, now gone from our sordid modern climes.
But what Mr. Bloom fails to see is that we are on the verge of something truly miraculous, on a scale previously inconceivable or posited only in idle speculation. Literacy is on the rise, not in decline. Not only has the number of basically literate people increased, along with the percentage of the whole population that can read; research indicates that the standard of what constitutes "literacy" is also becoming more demanding.
Those who are used to thinking of education in terms of the old order, in which a few were highly educated and the masses were illiterate, are naturally disoriented by a sudden influx of half-educated people. Studies do suggest that the highest levels of education have declined, but we are reaching a level of what might be called total half education. The alarm about millions of illiterates in this country is not justified in historical comparison. Where did the "illiterates" come from? They have always been there! Suddenly, however, we expect everyone to know everything.
In our present half-educated state, there is great danger but also great opportunity. We have ill-educated leaders making decisions in a world with technology that allows for all-too-immediate gratification of half-baked desires. There is also the subtler danger of half-educated citizens believing they know as much about anything as anyone else. We are all vastly ignorant and subject to ill-conceived desires; nevertheless we are in control. The danger lies in forgetting that we are ignorant.
Half education is also half civilization; half educated, people have never been so civilized. Racial and religious hatred, for instance, are less common, and less tolerated, than in the past. Perhaps many of us cannot recite all the details of history or follow the moral reasoning of John Locke. You must crawl before you can walk. We have come a ways, though have more to go.
Thank you so much for publishing excerpts from The Closing of the American Mind.
Had you not made these samples available, I would have actually bought the entire book. Had that happened, it would have ended up next to the other powerful, unsparing, exciting, meaningful, blunt, hard-hitting, gut-wrenching, sensitive, insightful, crusading, objective, refreshing, provocative, vital, enlightening, forceful, important, readable, frightening, intelligent books already in my personal library: Education and Freedom, The Miseducation of American Teachers, Who Pushed Humpty Dumpty?, Crisis in the Classroom, Inequality, Brainwashing in the High Schools, and the unforgettable How To Change the Schools.
And we all know how significant an effect these have had on the improvement of schooling, don't we?
Charles M. Breinin
Your article about the popular and effective National Diffusion Network ("Diffusion Network Backers Criticize Change in Rules," August 5, 1987) captured some of the fuss surrounding current regulation proposals, but failed to capture some important facts that might give your readers a fair chance to judge the controversy.
A program's not being selected for funding does not remove it from the ndn catalogue of choices available to local schools. Of more than 400 programs offered to schools and school districts in the current ndn catalogue, the U.S. Education Department subsidizes only about 80, less than 20 percent of them. But our choice as to who gets that added help in no way reduces the ability of a local school to choose an unsubsidized program. We allocate scarce money, that is all. In fact, in a recent ndn publication, Science Education Programs That Work, 25 percent of the programs featured do not have dissemination grants. We and the 53 state facilitators we fund do what we can to spread the word on these other programs, too.
Your readers might also benefit from a bit of recent history. From your article, one might conclude that no "significance review" has been given to any program in the past. On the contrary. For many years, reviewers have made such judgments. An earlier set of ndn regulations included, among other requirements, that the programs selected do no "educational harm."
We were concerned that such judgments were being made by too casual a process. We thought it best to publish and codify good criteria so that, in the future, there would be no informal process that could lead to political machinations. Now, in trying to prevent political chicanery, we are accused of it ourselves.
The criteria in our final regulations stand the "reasonable person" test. The Program Significance Panel will review ndn applicants to see that the program's product or practice is current and accurate; that it is appropriate for the grade levels for which it is proposed; that it is educationally sound; and that it can be explained in a clear manner to the teachers who will teach it, to students, and to parents.
These criteria seem so benign that some of your readers may wonder whence the controversy springs. But they are appropriate and good questions to ask of programs that will earn the Education Department's stamp of approval, and especially of those that receive subsidies to spread them into America's schools.
One could argue that we would have been better off to leave the education community in the dark about these procedures, but I think not. The regulations we propose let sunshine in on the process, and they serve to protect the high standards expected of the ndn by the 18,000 schools that adopt its programs in a given year.
Chester E. Finn Jr.
Assistant Secretary for Educational Research and Improvement
and Counselor to the Secretary
U.S. Education Department
Reading the Commentary essays on the back of your issue of August 5 ("Who Should Be Schools' Instructional Leaders?"), I feel as though I am witnessing a debate between two sophomore protagonists who have not agreed on a primary-term definition before beginning.
Linda Darling-Hammond argues forcefully for a large teacher role in matters of instruction. She calls this "instructional leadership."
Ted Elsberg insists that the multi-chambered centipede, call it school, or education, must have one head. That head, he says in paragraph two, should have responsibility for "instructional leadership."
They speak of two different things. This is obvious from Mr. Elsberg's first paragraph. The quote from U.S. Secretary of Education William J. Bennett refers to "educational leadership." Mr. Elsberg, in the next sentence, calls it "instructional leadership" as if they were the same thing.
How would Ms. Darling-Hammond and Mr. Elsberg react to a proposal that encouraged principals to be educational leaders and enablers for school improvement at every level, and encouraged teachers to be trained and rewarded as instructional leaders? Principals would influence "instruction" and school climate, and many other areas.
Research from a variety of disciplines and models, however, has suggested that those closest to the problem should have input into and control over changes that might affect that problem. This group, in schools, is teachers.
I would not suggest that this is simple to
The Linda Darling-Hammond and Ted Elsberg Commentaries present different points of view toward organizational methods for providing schools with more effective educational leadership. Ms. Darling-Hammond advocates giving teachers a stronger role; Mr. Elsberg argues for a strong principal's role. Both, however, seem to appreciate the complexity of the teaching function, and both recognize the importance of teacher input in school decisions.
In considering methods for developing effective leadership, policymakers need to look more closely at the demands of teaching. Teachers are intimately acquainted with the requirements of the work. If school administrators (and school-district officials and university education professors) remained in contact with the everyday realities of teaching, the phrase "educational leadership" might take on concrete meaning. In other words, the people who are responsible for general school-policy decisions need to spend some portion of their time in the classroom--as teachers.
Most states require administrators to have some teaching experience before they "ascend" into school administration. We know how important that teaching experience is to making reasonable policy decisions for schools. It is easy, however, for administrators to forget some of the significant unpleasantness of teaching. Not all teachers who become administrators do so for the pay increase or for the possibility of serving more people. Some leave teaching in order to escape the agonizing realities of working daily with young people and to avoid those problems that are difficult to verbalize without giving the impression that they are inferior or uncommitted teachers.
Granted, as most schools are currently organized, principals and assistant principals do not have time to teach even a single group of students per year. But compromises are possible. Additional assistants could be hired to pick up the slack while they, too, accept responsibilities for both teaching and administering. Less ideally, school administrators could be required to reacquaint themselves with teaching only once every two or three years. Whatever the compromise, administrators who continue to teach could develop a level of awareness (as well as trust and communication with students and teachers) that would better equip them to make viable policy decisions.
Kansas City, Mo.
For the sake of accuracy, your article headlined "Nevada Creates 'Teacher Dominated' Licensing Board" (August 5, 1987) should have read, "'nea Controlled' Licensing Board." As Sharon Robinson of the National Education Association stated clearly, "This is the nea model; it's right from the blueprint."
The "blueprint" was published in the November 1984 nea Today, and it proposed, in part, "autonomous state agencies ... with the power to certify practitioners" and "the majority governance nominated by the appropriate nea state affiliate." George Fischer, president of the nea, had first articulated the grand design in 1970: "Within 10 years, this organization will control the qualifications for entrance into the profession ... [and] work has begun to secure passage in each state where such legislation is needed. With these new laws, we will finally realize our 113-year-old dream of controlling who enters, who stays, and who leaves the profession."
Nevada now has become the first state to hand over certification of its teachers to the nea union. But why Nevada? Could it be because union officials could not overcome the right-to-work law that prevents them from forcing teachers to pay dues as a condition of employment?
In 18 other states, none with right-to-work laws, compulsory unionism has already given nea officials the power to control who shall and who shall not teach.
If nea officials hail this Nevada legislation as their "biggest win," citizens of the state should be alarmed. For individual freedom of choice, the right to dissent, and local citizen control of the schools are certainly in jeopardy.
Concerned Educators Against Forced Unionism