Letters To The Editor
I commend you for your balanced presentation of the issues involved in the current debate surrounding the regular-education initiative ("Weighing the 'Regular-Education Initiative','' Commentary, May 4, 1988).
The problems with the present system of special-education delivery and the dangers of the proposed initiative were articulated well by Margaret C. Wang and Michael M. Gerber.
One argument frequently made by critics of the initiative is that, as Mr. Gerber states, "leaders from regular education and classroom teachers in particular are conspicuously absent from the roster of the initiative's supporters.''
The silence of regular educators should not be construed, however, to mean they are content with current models of instruction.
In fact, they appear more aware than ever before that vast numbers of students are failing--and being failed by--traditional schooling. The numerous initiatives proposed by groups of regular educators to address the needs of children at risk underscore their concern.
Indeed, the rhetoric of the reports on these children sounds remarkably similar to that of the special-education initiative.
For example, the concerns voiced in "Children at Risk: The Work of the States,'' a report prepared by the Council of Chief State School Officers in 1987, are identical to those expressed in "Educating Students With Learning Problems--A Shared Responsibility,'' the "white paper'' by Madeleine C. Will that serves as the foundation for the initiative.
Other groups that have recently called for reform in regular education for at-risk learners include the Forum of Educational Organization Leaders and the National Education Association.
If ever special education had the opportunity to join forces with regular education, now is the time.
And if ever special educators had the obligation to share their expertise with regular educators, now is the time.
As experts on exceptional learners and alternative instructional strategies, special educators need to share their knowledge so that regular education and special education can work together for the good of all children.
The resulting model will probably not resemble either regular or special education as it exists today.
Chairman, Children's Services Committee
National Association of School Psychologists Washington, D.C.
I applaud you for bringing both sides of the "regular-education initiative'' into a wider forum.
Until now, the initiative has been debated among special educators in "white papers,'' professional journals, and meetings without meaningful discussion with regular educators--those who will bear the greatest responsibility for implementing such proposals.
Surely, regular-education teachers can adopt more effective instructional strategies.
But Margaret C. Wang's blanket condemnation of current special-education practices wrongly implies that no current program is worth saving.
Michael M. Gerber's position that special education is required to serve those whose needs cannot be met in the regular classroom calls to mind the literature on effective schools, which generally neglects the area of special education.
Educators should be blending their voices in creating solutions, rather than arguing among themselves and presenting to the public a disorganized picture of education in general and special education in particular.
I hope that the popularization of this debate will hasten its fruitful conclusion.
Director of Special Services
Little Silver Public Schools
Little Silver, N.J.
Stephen R. Sroka's provocative Commentary ("Planning Effective AIDS-Education Programs,'' April 27, 1988) was welcome.
While agreeing with his premise that AIDS-education programs should be placed in broader contexts, we suggest that the proper framework is not sex education per se, but rather a curriculum addressing a range of risk-taking behaviors often exhibited by adolescents.
While such behaviors as drug use, uncontrolled sexual activity, and unsafe use of cars and motorcycles may be an integral part of adolescent development, they can have lethal consequences.
Despite a decrease in the number of deaths from illness, mortality rates among those from 15 to 24 years of age remain unchanged over the past 30 years. Suicide, homicide, and accidents account for a startling 77 percent of deaths in this age group; often, alcohol and drug use are related to these deaths.
AIDS education should be but one element in a curriculum designed to reduce inappropriate risk-taking behaviors.
Jeannette E. Fleischner
Teachers College, Columbia University
New York, N.Y.
University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey
New York, N.Y.
Gene I. Maeroff's Commentary "The Empowerment of Teachers'' (March 23, 1988) was rich with examples of the plight of the American teacher.
At a time when the nation is trying to come to grips with mediocrity in its schools, the teacher is held back with "shackles of low esteem.''
If the current sentiment prevails, only short-term solutions to our educational problems will be possible.
As long as teachers have no power to influence decisions affecting their practice, they will simply close their doors and carry on business as usual.
A person lacking self-esteem cannot impart it to others. Yet we expect teachers to enhance the self-esteem of children.
In addition to higher status for teachers, collaboration between researchers and teachers is essential for fundamental change in schools.
Teachers who are treated as valued members of the educational community rather than scapegoats will respond with the enthusiasm and creativity that can produce lasting, powerful change.
Odile M. Steel
Mill Valley, Calif.
"Hang in there'' is indeed the proper message for first-year teachers like Robert Parlin as they encounter the realities of the classroom ("'Hang in There, Bob': Notes for New Teachers Via Computer,'' May 4, 1988).
Do not despair. You are learning what schools of education don't teach and what you cannot learn from the textbooks: No matter how well prepared you are, how exciting your lesson may be, how engaging the readings are; there are days when nothing works.
You are lucky to be able to tie into a computer network that connects you to other first-year teachers with similar problems.
If you had to talk only to your old professors, most of them would likely tell you that you had not planned well enough.
Or you might have told Secretary of Education William J. Bennett of your problems. He would likely have told you that you had low expectations for your pupils--and questioned your competence.
Had you appealed to almost anyone in the education establishment--the ones who had the good sense to recognize that fame and fortune cannot be achieved by actually teaching children in a classroom--the blame would have been put on you.
You are learning the sad truth that most kids in a classroom are less like easily trained bunnies than they are like piranha.
It surprises me that you had access to a computer network "pioneered'' by Harvard University's Graduate School of Education.
Is this the same school that publishes the Harvard Educational Review, to which I stopped subscribing because I got tired of paying for its teacher bashing?
Hang in there, indeed, Mr. Parlin. You were generous and courageous to even allow your name to be used in such a story.
How many of your professors would admit to the problems you and I have in the classroom? Their job is to make it seem that there is a way to do everything right every time.
Charles M. Breinin