Letters To The Editor
I would like to make known to your readers important background information pertinent to the story you ran about my company, Interkal Inc. ("Collapses of School Bleachers Belie Company's Denial of Prior Incidents," May 10, 1989).
The current owners of Interkal did not sell the bleachers that have collapsed. Interkal telescopic bleachers were originally one of several school-related products manufactured by the School Equipment Division of Brunswick Corporation.
In 1970, Brunswick sold the division to a group of investors, and the resulting company assumed the name "The Vecta Group Inc." Some product changes were made by Vecta; these were primarily of a "cost reduction" nature.
In 1974, Vecta sold the school-products business to United Industrial Syndicate Inc. of New York. The new company ultimately became known as Interkal.
In 1977, the bleacher line was redesigned to modernize the product and to improve the structural integrity.
In 1981, four of the managers purchased the bleacher line and the name. In 1988, Interkal became a majority-owned subsidiary of a Japanese company.
Today, Interkal makes its own line of bleachers; additionally, in 1984 Interkal acquired the bleacher product of the Universal Division of American Seating Company, which we still manufacture today.
Our products are sold and in use in all 50 states and many foreign countries, and have passed all required structural tests. We consider today's Interkal product to have the industry's strongest understructure.
In 1979, we sent a certified letter to all known owners of manual bleachers of the pre-remodeled type warning of structural problems and advising that they contact us for service; a previous letter had been sent in 1976.
In 1985, we sent a letter of the same type, which also asked recipients to respond if they desired.
We are not legally liable for products manufactured prior to March of 1981. But it is in fact our feeling that we should communicate, to the best of our ability, to owners of these products that they should have recognized experts examine the products on a semiannual basis--and not defer any needed maintenance.
To that end, we have offered in each of our customer mailings--and I reiterate that offer here--to make our distributor network available for such inspections.
Customers should call Interkal's service department at (616) 349-1521, describe the problem and the help they need, and we will put them in touch with the appropriate people.
There will most likely be a nominal cost for this service. But it's something that should be done periodically in any event. And we strongly urge owners to complete an inspection.
We also strongly advise owners of manually operated bleachers to permit only knowledgeable employees to operate these bleachers.
F.J. Hubbell President Interkal Inc. Kalamazoo, Mich.
Once again, the U.S. Education Department has used the few to judge the many ("'Wall Chart' Data Indicate Plateau In Reform Drive," May 10, 1989).
It has used standardized admissions-test scores, taken by only a fraction of the total student body, to draw conclusions about the educational health of the entire nation.
That sort of statistical gobbledygook would not be tolerated in other instances.
For example, if President Bush had been permitted to count only 38 percent of the vote he received in California, 32 percent in Texas, 27 percent in Minnesota, and so forth, he would have lost the election, and Secretary of Education Lauro F. Cavazos would probably be back in higher-education administration.
Some argue that scores on the Scholastic Aptitude Test and American College Testing program are all we have.
I find such reasoning ill-informed and specious. Let admissions tests be used for the purpose designated by their designers.
There should be alternative ways of measuring the progress of educational reform.
But let's learn from the past and use methods that are fair, thorough, and accurate.
Frank Burtnett Executive Director, National Association of College Admission Counselors Alexandria, Va.
The basic facts about a teacher's career should be available to interested people if teaching is a public profession rather than just a private job ("Open Records: A 'Legitimate Public Interest'?" May 10, 1989).
It is important for parents and students to know the professional qualifications of their teachers. They may also need to know about significant negatives in a teacher's past.
When a biology teacher is called "doctor," I would want to know if his degree is in biology or education--or in an area that has little to do with the course he is teaching.
In the field of special education, it may be especially important for parents to know teachers' qualifications. Too often classes for handicapped students are taught by teachers who are nice and seem capable but do not have appropriate credentials and experience.
The identification of those guilty of crimes against children is a different problem.
We need to be sensitive to our colleagues' right not to have mere accu4sations taken as proof of wrongdoing.
The problem of ridding the child-care professions of those few who abuse children is more complicated than just having open personnel records.
David Dibble Oakland, Calif.
Edward G. Effros makes a compelling argument for sticking with traditional approaches to teaching mathematics ("Perhaps Nobody Will Count," Commentary, April 12, 1989), but his logic is founded on the assumption that new methods are often tried and rarely successful.
I believe we are suffering from a lack of new approaches, despite some successes with novel programs.
Visit almost any elementary-school classroom past the 2nd grade, and you will see students working in much the same way you did as a child: They are memorizing the multiplication tables, doing page after page of long division, and trying to recall simple algebraic formulas as they struggle with "story" problems.
A different approach, however,4has become part of the primary curriculum: Children are manipulating objects during addition and subtraction problems and applying math to their own concrete world.
This "new math" works so well that it has been adopted by public schools across the country.
Mr. Effros claims that through memorization, drill, and practice, students will develop a fluency in the language of math.
Too many students, however, are lost by this approach; too few under8stand or enjoy what they are doing.
If we encourage students to come up with their own ways of solving math problems and help them understand what they are doing and how to apply it to the real world, we might inspire more appreciation--and less loathing--of mathematics.
Stephen Booth Student, Elementary Education University of Montana Missoula, Mont.
Chester E. Finn Jr.'s Commentary ("Policy, Interest Groups, and the 'Gang of 237,"' May 10, 1989) was one of the most interesting and important items you have published in the past few years.
His analysis goes a long way toward explaining why your lead article in the same issue ("'Wall Chart' Data Indicate Plateau in Reform Drive") is on widespread stagnation in the push for reform.
If circumstances in state government are even remotely similar to what Mr. Finn has experienced in Washington, what else could we expect?
His essay also constitutes one of the strongest arguments I have heard for educational disestablishment and tuition vouchers.
What he is describing is something that even the Soviets and the Chinese have learned much about in recent years--the stifling effects of centralization, political control over ideas, government monopoly, and lack of choice.
Although my own interest in vouchers focuses mainly on questions of freedom of conscience and the role of the family in education, I am convinced that vouchers would prove to be an extraordinarily effective way of resolving some of the problems Mr. Finn describes--by simply walking away from them.
Among other things, vouchers would mean that poor families in cities like Chicago and Detroit would not be forced to sacrifice another generation of children to the self-interest and inefficiency of the educational establishment. That alone would be no small benefit.
Richard A. Baer Jr. Professor of Environmental Ethics Cornell University Ithaca, N.Y.
Regarding Chester E. Finn Jr.'s Commentary, I object to the bashing of faceless, impersonal groups or institutions.
I share a recent observation about bureaucracies and "red tape" versus individual efforts.
A friend who works in a personnel office at a college happened to mention the difficulties they were having because applicants for teaching positions were not following procedures.
The procedures were clearly stated and were not unreasonable or unwieldy; they were established for everyone's convenience.
But the applicants--all of them highly educated--seemed incapable of following simple instructions.
Such an application process is undoubtedly different in many particulars from trying to work in the U.S. Education Department.
But my general point is, I believe, applicable to most situations where the workings of an impersonal bureaucracy are set against the presumed efficiency of individual efforts.
For all the complaints I've heard about the incompetence of bureaucracies, it has become ob4vious to me that the people who gripe loudest about inefficient systems are themselves the biggest obstacles to getting things done right.
I have yet to meet an individual so singularly dynamic that he could get on without accruing some benefit from his bureaucratic brethren.
Mr. Finn mentions a "gang of 237" that can stop or distort any reform that some well-intentioned individual wants to introduce into the Education Department.
We should assemble that bunch in a long conference room, give them those big lead pencils bureaucrats are supposed to love, and make Mr. Finn run the gantlet through their midst.
I don't understand how anyone can get into a position of even modest authority without having a clue about how to establish relationships by which reform is not only possible but assured.
Like society's laws more generally, the rules and policies of bureaucracies are created for common convenience and are subject to individual will.
I pay my taxes and my parking tickets because the benefit I gain is greater than the hardship of complying.
What's the big deal about talking to 237 people, if your policies are worthwhile? And after you have talked to them a few times, the changes may go faster and will be mutually rewarding.
It sounds like a great job to me. Where do I apply?
Keshav Kamath Los Angeles, Calif.