Letters to the Editor
Let me endorse Linda A. Tammi's Commentary ("Programs for the Gifted Are Not 'Elitist,"' Feb. 14, 1990).
American standing continues to drop on every international measure of educational achievement--particularly in mathematics and science--and our universities now train more foreign math and science students than they do American students.
Meanwhile, we continue to make heroes of athletes, and pariahs of the intellectually gifted.
Our nation is fast becoming a Third World colony--doomed to provide raw materials and unskilled labor to those countries that value intellectual achievement.
My own state, North Carolina, has the special distinction of having the lowest Scholastic Aptitude Test scores in the country--but what is worse, our best students actually lower the average scores.
Ms. Tammi's argument is not new. What a pity that the argument never seems to be won--that there are still people who are not convinced. That fact speaks eloquently for our national ignorance.
Ms. Tammi, I hope that your lucid presentation does finally persuade a few people, but my experience tells me that the only result will be to stir politicians up to do what they do best--set up yet another task force to study the matter further.
Myra H. Jones Coordinator, Gifted Programs Franklin, N.C.
Your feature "A Look Ahead: Education and the New Decade" (Jan. 10, 1990) was a frighteningly convincing demonstration of why "reform" is doomed to failure.
Imagine that the same question had been asked of figures of similar standing in the field of medicine.
Suppose that their answers had included improved technology, reorganization of responsibility, improved training, standards and testing of personnel, specialized treatment for each new disease, better textbooks in medical schools, reorganization of the curriculum, and greater accountability.
Does it not seem obvious that one area--indeed, the key area--is missing in this list?
Would it not seem reasonable to suppose that we might best improve medicine by improving our understanding of how the human body functions?
Am I being naive in assuming that we seek change in the educational process to better perform the task we have been assigned--teaching those entrusted to our care?
While I am not saying that the suggestions put forth by this group of experts would not be meaningful to the system, not one of the responses you chose to print even hinted at the need to better understand the mind.
The experts feel strongly about the need for reform because the system is failing its consumers in too many cases.
We would not for long entrust our children's bodies to a medical community with that high a failure rate. Yet we blithely entrust their minds to an educational community that has little or no understanding of how that organ functions.
If your commentators are, as their answers would indicate, not even aware of the fundamental problem in the process, how can they hope to suggest solutions that will affect learning in a meaningful way?
Apparently, there is a widespread belief that we don't know enough about the brain at the physiological level to help us in education--or that what we know has no direct bearing on the teaching and learning process. This is simply not true.
Granted, we are in the infancy of our understanding of how the brain works. But even that infant's wisdom, if implemented, could have a more profound, positive impact on education than all of the suggestions of your experts put together.
How many teachers know, for example, that 90 percent or more of communication is nonverbal? That simplifying material is often counterproductive to learning? That fear causes the brain to shift to a part that cannot perform cognitive tasks? That spelling, following directions, and reading comprehension are physiologically-based skills that can be easily and painlessly taught?
Education reform has always attempted to build the latest architectural masterpiece on the same old, inadequate foundation.
The materials for a new and infinitely more powerful foundation are now available--if only we recognize them.
Judith Lloyd Director Mindsight New Lenox, Ill.
William J. Bennett, the nation's drug-policy director, is correct: Part-time drug-prevention education is ineffective ("Bennett Questions Value of Drug Education," Feb. 14, 1990).
But Mr. Bennett fails to recognize that law enforcement does not decrease drug dependence.
If the threat of incarceration is such a deterrent, how does Mr. Bennett explain the overcrowding of prisons?
Educational innovation and reform are needed.
Seven new "R's" must be added to the curriculum: responsibility, reality, respect, responsiveness, renewal, relevance, and reverence.
When this occurs, self-destructive, drug-related behavior decreases.
When teachers have the courage of their convictions and not only model decency and integrity but also demand educational excellence, there is achievement.
The success of the Los Angeles teacher Jaime Escalante is proof that the war can be won.
The John Dewey Academy, a residential, college-preparatory, therapeutic high school, is drug free.
Students and faculty members sign a pledge to remain abstinent from all psychoactive substances.
There are no discussions about the pharmacological, physiological, and psychological impact of drugs.
Instead, constructive options to alienation and addiction are stressed.
Mr. Bennett would contend that the academy has no drug-prevention educational program.
Technically, he would be correct, but he would not be able to explain why no one uses drugs.
Thomas Edward Bratter President John Dewey Academy Great Barrington, Mass.