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Helping students develop the "judgment" they need for the "profession of citizen" should be the foremost aim of history instruction, the historian Paul Gagnon writes in the cover essay in the November issue of The Atlantic.

In answering the question posed by the title of the piece--"Why Study History?"--Mr. Gagnon argues that the subject, properly taught, makes clear that "the adventure of democracy, the struggle for liberty, equality, and human dignity, is a way of living, not a settled destination."

But the aims of civic education, he says, are often poorly served by American-history textbooks "overloaded with facts" and short on ideas and context.

The essay is based on a forthcoming book to be published by the Education for Democracy Project, a joint effort of the American Federation of Teachers, the Educational Excellence Network, and Freedom House.

M. Lois Bostic was "astounded" when black students in the tiny town of Gould, Ark., successfully petitioned the local school board to retain her as a librarian despite her use of a racial slur.

Ms. Bostic, who is white, said she "made a mistake" but meant no harm when she told a group of 6th graders that they were acting like "a bunch of poor, dumb niggers."

"I didn't realize that kids still took offense to using it as they did 20 years ago," said Ms. Bostic, who is a newcomer to Gould. She added that she had heard black students use the term in jest among themselves.

But the Sept. 27 incident touched off a furor that led 91 parents to sign a petition demanding Ms. Bostic's ouster.

On the day before she was scheduled to leave, however, Ray Rainey 3rd, the president of Gould's senior class, presented the board with a petition in her support signed by 124 of the town's 147 high-school students. "I think the people here are very proud" of the students' reasoned response, Ms. Bostic said.

Joan Raymond, whose two-year tenure as superintendent of the Houston Independent School District has been a stormy one, has signed a contract to serve for five more years.

Ms. Raymond will receive a one-time $20,000 expense account in addition to her $125,000 salary. Her base salary will rise to $148,000 by 1993.

Ms. Raymond, who is 52, has told the school board she will retire when the contract expires.

The board also agreed to establish, at a cost of $500,000, an annuity and life-insurance plan for the school chief that will begin paying her $65,000 annually when she reaches age 59. If she dies before the end of her contract, the district will receive $1.9 million as beneficiary of the policy.

The Boston School Committee, by an 8-to-5 vote, has agreed to renew Superintendent of Schools Laval S. Wilson's contract when it expires next June.

The length of the contract, salary, and other conditions are still to be worked out by Mr. Wilson and committee members.

Mr. Wilson, who became superintendent in 1985, had urged the school committee to to indicate as quickly as possible whether they would renew his contract.

Although some committee members have criticized Mr. Wilson for the slow pace of school improvements and his often-chilly relations with community groups, a majority argued that he could provide the system with much-needed stability. Mr. Wilson is Boston's ninth superintendent since 1972.

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