Letters to the Editor
To the Editor:
I would like to add some comments to the continuing debate regarding the pros and cons of early-childhood education ("'Readiness' Goal Seen Producing Harmful Policies," Dec. 2, 1987).
While there seems to be agreement that preschool programs are here to stay, there is controversy over the age of entry, the children's degree of "readiness," the content of the curriculum, etc.
Some argue that children are being pushed to acquire skills before they are ready, with the result that children are "turned off to school" or "deprived of their childhood" at too early an age.
Recognizing that schooling is strongly linked to adult status, we see this argument as being yet another instance whereby different class groups seek greater benefits for their children.
Middle-class parents are able to enhance their children's development because of their own educational background and their economic ability to provide not only the necessities of life, but also such amenities as cultural outings, educational toys, and travel experiences. In addition, as more middle-class mothers enter the labor force, they are sending their children to preschool programs at increasingly early ages.
Regardless of the age of school entry, their children thus have a competitive edge. They are "readier" for school because they have been "pushed" at home; their parents expect academic rigor at school.
Those of us who cling to the hope that education can promote equity support public preschool-education policies that give similar advantages to children who do not have alternative resources.
If such a policy means that administrators and teachers, rather than parents, must do the "pushing," then so they should. If it means that the content of today's prekindergarten or kindergarten curriculum must be more rigorous than yesterday's, for all children, then so it should.
From this vantage point, we would argue that because middle-class children have received so much at home, school personnel should spend more time with those from less fortunate backgrounds and thereby give them the chance to catch up with their more fortunate brethren.
We support such policies because we believe that a child's destiny should be less dependent on the circumstances of his birth and more dependent on opportunities presented during life.
If we do not insist that all children be provided similar opportunities for growth during their early years, then we are accomplices to the maintenance of a system that gives additional advantages to the already advantaged.
Eugene C. Campbell Executive Superintendent Board of Education Newark, N.J.
To the Editor:
That a reputable journal of education could publish as intemperate and misleading an attack on a significant work as William Ayers's Commentary ("'What Do Our 17-Year-Olds Know?': A Critique," Nov. 25, 1987) is striking evidence both of the sorry state of the public dialogue on American education and of the need for better understanding of our own history, which the book by Diane Ravitch and Chester E. Finn Jr. is all about.
Mr. Ayers is free to attack (hardly "critique"; he seems to confuse discourse with invective) the authors of What Do Our 17-Year-Olds Know? as ideologues with a "political agenda." Their political agenda--at least as I read the book--is the idea of the public schools as the carriers of a common culture expressed in our history and our literature, as well as the hope of extending them through understanding of our past and the nature of our institutions.
Those are the institutions of a free society that ensures equality of opportunity, although not of final outcome (to do so, it would have to give up an unacceptable measure of freedom), to everyone, given the fallibility of human nature (see the Federalist Papers) and the limitations of reality. If Mr. Ayers knows of a better society, let him move there and see how he makes out when he criticizes it.
What Ms. Ravitch and Mr. Finn are saying, and the test scores they report are only the most visible demonstration of this worrisome fact, is that our young people are not learning our history. And as long as they remain ignorant of the main events in our past, and of the nature of our institutions and how they were shaped, they will be prey to every distortion presented to them by those who twist the past and present it in the service of their own vision of the future.
It is not a vision, fortunately, that many parents in this country share, or want their children to be taught in their schools. "Value-laden"? Yes, but they are the values of our country and our culture, and depend on the best balance we can humanly achieve between freedom and justice.
Rita Kramer New York, N.Y.
To the Editor:
Terrific Commentary piece by William Ayers.
Thank you for giving Mr. ayers a forum in which to eloquently examine the assumptions upon which studies like Ms. Ravitch and Mr. Finn's are based.
Soemthing more fundamental than the "moveable parts" will need to be transformed in order to brinh education powerfully into the next century.
Pierrette Montroy Manager, Educational Communications Autodesk Inc. Sausalito, Calif.
To the Editor:
Brian Sutton-Smith is to be congratulated for his wisdom in recognizing the questionable practice of eliminating free play from the lives of children ("The Domestication of Early Childhood Play," Commentary, Dec. 9, 1987).
For it is in play that children make meaning out of their own experience. In play children learn how to accommodate to the presence and needs of others, and in play children have the opportunity to solve problems and invent. Play refreshes; play requires thinking; yes, play even teaches.
Maybe, just maybe, society doesn't value these attributes fostered by undirected play. Perhaps we are on our way to creating robots who follow directions and who are unaware of the possibility of cooperative efforts with others. How expedient. But how tragic for the children.
Ara L. Nugent Early Childhood Consultant Fair Haven, N.J.
To the Editor:
Three cheers for Brian Sutton-Smith's outcry for children's rights to freedom of play.
Recent research indeed seems to present play as a "bottleable," marketable resource for measuring and enriching education.
Mr. Sutton-Smith divides the best thinkers on play into two groups. But there is a link between them: From Sigmund Freud to L.S. Vygotsky there is an underlying respect for play as that province of childhood over which children hold the power.
Adults have wrested the power in "organizing" children's games into little leagues. Now a new domain awaits adult invasion: the hitherto uncharted courses of unsupervised play.
In preschools adults can determine the tools of play and control the level of activity and sound. Perhaps as we have already conspired to do with art, we can find a way not only to evaluate, but also even to ''grade" play. What will be left of the landscape of expression after so much trespassing is complete?
I applaud Mr. Sutton-Smith's warning and recoil at the thought of what sort of adults these disempowered children will become.
Jessica Davis Newton, Mass.
To the Editor:
I was pleased to see your coverage of Justin W. Dart Jr.'s heroic resignation as commissioner of rehabilitation services ("Dart Resigns in Dispute With Will," Dec. 9, 1987).
I was appalled, however, to see Mr. Dart referred to as "crippled."
The term "crippled" is highly inappropriate and insulting. It connotes tragedy, incapacitation, and helplessness--none of which applies to Mr. Dart.
I hope that in the future you will use terms like "disabled," "paralyzed," "a person with a disability," "a polio survivor," "a person who gets around in a wheelchair (or on crutches)," or "a wheelchair user" instead of "crippled."
Chava W. Levy New York, N.Y.