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'Therapeutic' Stance Said To 'Rob' Willing Students

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To the Editor:

I was pleased to read Sol Cohen's Commentary on the obstacles to reform posed by educators with "therapeutic'' goals ("'Therapeutic' Schooling Endangers Reform,'' March 2, 1988).

In an apt juxtaposition, the conclusion of the essay by chance appeared just below the letter of James Baines criticizing the principal Joe Clark for expelling troublemakers and nonachievers.

What better illustration of Mr. Cohen's point about entrenched therapeutic concepts than this letter?

To Mr. Baines, what mattered was "this pain, this terrible ache of deprivation,'' presumably suffered by the expelled students.

But for Mr. Clark, what counted was making the school an orderly, civilized place, where instructional objectives could be pursued and motivated students could learn.

"Never giving up on students'' has a compassionate ring--if we overlook how often this therapeutic vision robs willing students of the learning environment they need and deserve.

Under this sort of regime, more students are likely to end up as casualties than under one that stresses self-discipline and excellence.
That may be a form of "equity,'' but it fails as compassion, and it fails as education.

G.R. Paterson
Wilmette, Ill.

To the Editor:

While Frederick G. Welch reminds us of our obligation to address the needs of students enrolled in vocational curricula, ("The Continuing Need for Vocational Education,'' Commentary, March 30, 1988), the program he offers would only partially serve that end.

Mr. Welch fails to recognize that a strong academic curriculum--including the study of Plato, Sophocles, and Shakespeare--can lead to a mastery "of the skills and concepts essential to productive citizenship.''

In a country where the traditional family unit and the sense of community are breaking down, efforts to promote awareness of social ills as well as civic responsibility are in order.

A society that relies on the popular media to dispense "knowledge'' and direct its thinking needs to be able to put that knowledge in perspective.

Mr. Welch correctly asserts that vocational education must keep pace with a rapidly changing world and must serve the interests of the greater population.

If these two goals cannot be achieved within the present school framework, then we need to change the framework.

Let industry, in cooperation with the schools, provide the necessary vocational education after a student graduates from high school.

Many employers have more quickly and ably adapted to changes in technology than have schools.

And industries have an economic incentive to educate their potential employees about modern technology.

This approach would not require students to sacrifice their ability to alter their career paths in exchange for vocational training.

Let us continue to raise the education of all our people to promote personal happiness, political awareness, social responsibility, and economic well-being.

And let our high schools develop curricula that will instill the values we need as a nation without directing young people into obsolescent careers.

Tom Addicks
Klingenstein Fellow
Teachers College, Columbia University
New York, N.Y.

To the Editor:

The report that there has been a decrease in the hands-on teaching of science ("'Hands-On' Science Instruction Declining,'' March 9, 1988) is not surprising.

We should be amazed instead that anyone expected any other result from the so-called reforms of recent years.

Bureaucrats like to brag that more students are taking more science courses than ever before. That claim is true--but with only marginal increases in physics and chemistry.

Nearly all of the change results from increased graduation requirements; reluctant and mediocre students are being herded into redundant courses in biology and earth science.

Besides being too large, these classes are often housed in facilities unsuitable for teaching genuine science, and taught by overworked teachers whose training, experience, and interests lie elsewhere.

Much more difficult to teach hands-on than the physical sciences, these subjects enroll many students who cannot or will not follow directions.

We should not be surprised, then, that such classes tend to be strictly textbook-oriented.

And too many administrators have thrown away the progress made since 1960 and brought back general science--which is to say, general nothing.

These courses allow little time for teaching that science is a structure of ideas based on observations. The emphasis is on facts, and facts only.

If only we could implement the ideas for reform suggested in the Commentary on the back page of the same issue ("10 'Radical' Suggestions for School Reform'').

John E. Beach
Fairless High School
Navarre, Ohio

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