Letters To the Editor:
I have received several phone calls from school systems in various parts of the United States in response to your article about the two evaluation studies of adolescent suicide-prevention programs ("Studies Shed New Light on Teen-Age Suicides," Oct. 28, 1987).
Our program in the Fairfax County Public Schools has served as a model to many other school systems.
Two points need clarifying. The first is that not all prevention programs share the same techniques and objectives. Findings will depend entirely on what is being evaluated.
Some programs promote teaching "suicide-prevention classes" to students. In these sessions, the students are presented with what are called the "warning signs." They discuss suicide, and they role-play intervention with a friend.
Many of us in the field of suicide prevention disagree with this approach. We believe that effective programs address the adults in the system with awareness workshops and education, and create referral channels within the schools to get troubled students the help they need. This type of program involves community mental-health resources when necessary and always involves parents. The intent is to create a safety net for adolescents, not to heighten their problems.
For the students themselves, the organized activities address the social and emotional issues of adolescents as teen-agers themselves define them, and concentrate as much on coping mechanisms, options, and problem-solving as on problems. Suicide is quite naturally addressed, but in context and perspective.
Our program has not yet been evaluated, and there is a danger that it, and others like it, will be blanketed with those covered by the psychiatrist David Shaffer in his study of suicide-prevention programs in New Jersey schools.
Second, it is important to note that many of us have heard Dr. Shaffer both publicly and privately state, long before he began his study, that he doubted the efficacy of school prevention programs. If one begins research with a negative premise, one is probably going to conclude with a negative finding.
Evaluation is essential. Press coverage, however, must clearly define what is being evaluated. Most important, the evaluation must show scientific objectivity.
Myra Herbert School Social Work Services Fairfax County Public Schools Fairfax, Va.
Not all educators are gullible, but educators' gullibility is frequently excusable. However, no such excuse exists in the case of a publication as prestigious as Education Week.
In the Nov. 18 issue you published a Commentary by William C. Norris, founder and chairman emeritus of Control Data Corporation ("Computer-Based Education: A 'Key' to Reform").
As an advocate of the application of technology to the instructional process, I do not disagree with many of the issues addressed in Mr. Norris's essay.
On the other hand, I am concerned that you can be so naive as to provide a platform for the founder of a corporation whose interest in education is far from altruistic. Control Data Corporation's attempts to profit from solving the problems of education are well documented. Mr. Norris's interest in education cannot be considered in the same way that we welcome corporate America's increasing support for the education of our youth.
When I reached page 13 of the same issue, I discovered that you intended to rub salt in the wounds of my irritation. Am I to believe that pure chance resulted in the Commentary being paired with a thinly veiled advertisement for Control Data's panacea for the ills of education, plato? I think not.
I would ask that you exercise greater care when you invite wolves into henhouses.
Jerrold L. Snyder Instructional Systems Analyst The School District of Philadelphia Philadelphia, Pa.
I feel this letter should be called "Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary," in reference to the "Educator's Opinion" by Mary Hatwood Futrell, president of the National Education Association, regarding mentor programs ("Mentoring: Collegiality in Action," Advertisement, Nov. 25, 1987).
In praising the nea-affiliated Bellflower Education Association for rejecting the very components that would have made the California mentor program effective, Ms. Futrell displayed a convoluted educational logic.
After a day of teaching six classes and dealing with 150 students, how is the mentor teacher to find the time and energy required to provide professional assistance to the novice teacher?
Many secondary schools routinely release their department chairmen from one class a day to concentrate on administrative, supervisory, and curricular matters. Does any practicing teacher honestly believe that teaching "only" three or four classes a day (in addition to supervisory duties) would "detach" that particular teacher from the realities of the classroom?
Ms. Futrell also does not mention the additional skills a mentor would require to be effective. Without training in the clinical and development aspects of supervision, a mentor program runs the risk of becoming nothing more than a subsidized "buddy system."
After reading Ms. Futrell's discussion of mentoring, I wonder if she herself has become isolated from the classroom realities that apparently frame her opinions.
Michael J. Cleary Lead Teacher McMillen Center for Health Education Fort Wayne, Ind.
This letter is in response to Alba A. Rosenman's Commentary ("The Value of Multicultural Curricula," Nov. 11, 1987).
I would like to applaud Ms. Rosenman for speaking on the values of our society and on education's role in promoting cultural diversity.
I agree with her that "knowledge of other societies and customs gives students choices that may be even more meaningful to them than those offered in our society."
If schools teach only the institutionalized values and goals of ethnocentrism and assimilation, our children will grow up looking through one-way mirrors. All they will see, or even want to see, is the dominant culture.
Children need to view all cultures and learn from those cultures; just one culture does not make a society. If all teachers took the same view as Ms. Rosenman, our society would become a true melting pot, not only racially but also culturally.
Phillip Blume Senior St. Cloud State University St. Cloud, Minn.
No doubt Kenneth L. Tyson is justified in questioning the suggestions of David T. Kearns, the chairman and chief executive officer of Xerox Corporation, for the restructuring of the nation's public schools ("Xerox Plan Would Reject Schools' 'Defective' Pupils," Letters, Nov. 11, 1987).
I take exception, however, to Mr. Tyson's general statement that private schools "have the option of rejecting their raw materials."
Our students suffer the same difficulties and problems that their counterparts in public school endure. Working with young people daily, we express our concern and care for them, offer guidance and direction, and find solutions to unpleasant circumstances.
Let us give credit where it is due, without discrimination to any other group working to help young people in their academic, spiritual, emotional, social, and physical growth.
Sister John Norton Principal St. Thomas Aquinas High School Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.