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Now that Secretary of Education William J. Bennett has produced his high school's "ideal" content, we have an even longer list of what it is students are supposed to know when they get out of high school ("Bennett Offers High School's 'Ideal' Content," Jan. 13, 1988).

If the critics are correct, we have "dumbed down" the curriculum, ''closed" the American mind, and otherwise produced a race of dummies who are going to drag down the power of the United States. We are not competitive on the world stage because our schools aren't as good as those in Japan, Germany, etc., etc.

Surveys of high-school and college students claim to show how "ignorant" they are and, since they learn what they are taught, how poorly taught they have been. I wonder how it would be if I related to adults the way I relate to the kids I teach.

When I ask a kid if he knows what 17 percent of 20 is, and he says he does, I tell him to show me how he does it. I wouldn't do that with an adult, though I am prepared to predict the proportion of high-school kids who can do it probably is about the same as the proportion of employees in the Education Department who can do it.

I wonder if Secretary Bennett knows how many dozen seven things is? Do you think President Reagan can tell you what happened in 1066 or give you the story line of King Lear?

We are not so much interested in understanding education as in generating an educational caste system. At the top are the people who write the books about how little everyone else knows, the people who are saying, unwittingly, "if you don't know all the esoteric things I know, you are not as good as I am."

Fortunately, they only say it; they don't act on it. They take their cars to mechanics who may have dropped out of school; they patronize lawyers and doctors whose credentials they never question. Would Allan Bloom ask his auto repairman if he knew the meaning of "mea culpa" before he let the man touch his car?

Unhappily, we are living in a period of cultural and economic change. The place of the United States in the world is changing. We need some amulet, some totem to ward off the evil that is upon us. So we have the answer: the schools.

There is no good thing that cannot be achieved through education and no bad thing that cannot be cured: poverty, crime, aids, adolescent sex, illiteracy ... . You name it, and someone will tell you how the school can take care of it.

I guess this outlook is harmless, as astrology and faith healing are harmless.

It is certainly more exciting than looking at kids and the way they learn. It's better than admitting that most of what is taught in high school is irrelevant to most of them, can never be made relevant to them, and that maybe they have a point.

Most of all, it's fun to find so much wrong with what other people, especially those inside the education establishment, are doing.

That we increasingly tailor our standards so that everyone can achieve equally, that we pour more and more money to take care of the confused, the lazy, the indifferent, that we measure our failure by the dropout rates and ignore the successes of graduates who go on to bigger and better things, ... all of this is meaningless.

The sad and amusing fact is that the educationists of the day are like the alchemists of the past, each one selling his philosopher's stone, each one moving in and then out of fashion. In the meantime, the basic requirements of school organization and what can be done in the classroom remain pretty much the same.


Charles M. Breinin Buffalo, N.Y.

Your article "Lawsuit Challenges Chapter 1 and 2 Aid to Church Schools" (Dec. 9, 1987) described a new challenge in San Francisco to the constitutionality of the laws requiring equitable services to private-school children in the Chapter 1 and Chapter 2 programs.

We believe the courts will determine that these statutes are constitutional.

In 1974, the U.S. Supreme Court in Wheeler v. Barrera addressed independent questions but strongly indicated that it would uphold the constitutionality of Title I services to private-school children.

In Wolman v. Walter (1977), the Court expressly upheld the constitutionality of diagnostic and remedial services to private-school children under an Ohio program. The diagnostic services were provided at private schools, and the remedial services were provided at sites "neither physically nor educationally identified with the functions of the nonpublic school," including vans parked outside of a private-school building.

Given the strong presumption of constitutionality accorded to enactments of Congress, the Court would almost certainly have to overrule Wolman before it could strike down the Chapter 1 and 2 equitable-services requirements.

Even in the Felton decision, although the Court invalidated certain types of Chapter 1 services to private-school children inside religiously affiliated private schools, the Court did not invalidate the provision of services to private-school children overall, and clearly suggested that it regarded such services as constitutionally permissible.


Wendell L. Willkie General Counsel U.S. Education Department Washington, D.C.

In your Aug. 5, 1987, issue, Dick Berthold wrote about the Nebraska school district that is operating with teacher committees and one administrator ("Let Teachers Run a School? 2 Administrators Disagree on Minnesota Experiment," Letters).

I would appreciate hearing from other school districts that are experimenting or have experimented with this model or other new approaches to school management.

Although assessment information would be most helpful, we are primarily concerned with identifying schools that have tried innovative approaches.


Paula M. Short Assistant Professor Educational Leadership Auburn University Auburn University, Ala.

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