Letters to the Editor
"Ethics Is Not a Luxury, It's Essential to Our Survival," Commentary, April 3, 1991 contains some good information. It contains at least one grossly misleading half truth.
The Golden Rule is indeed found in the Scriptures. Matthew 7:12 states (King James Version): "Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so unto them: for that is the law and the prophets."
Furthermore, in John Bartlett's Familiar edition, Matthew 7:12 is the source cited and the first footnote states, "The Golden Rule. Common Form: Do as ye would be done by.
Whether discussing school reform, global ethics, or worldwide survival, I have yet to discern any contemporary notions regarding holistic remedies that are not found in the Scriptures.
To have a senior columnist for the Christian Science Monitor "on leave this year to launch the Institute for Global Ethics" seems to me a little like putting a vampire in charge of the blood bank.
Although the Bible might not use the phrase "Golden Rule," it is a
glaring half truth to infer that this basic guideline is not
Don L. Danielson Superintendent Redfield Public Schools Redfield, S.D.
Education Week is my favorite education publication. When it arrives, I try to put aside whatever I am doing if possible to read about the latest in our field. For the last few weeks, though, I have been very disappointed. My habit has been to glance at the headlines on the first page, then turn the paper over to the last page. The Commentary is always good,and sometimes it is outstanding. Somehow, having the current, headline articles on the front page and the Commentary on the back gave the publication real "class". The importance of first and last positions runs rampant throughout research. Therefore, no matter how busy I was, if I could cover the headlines and the Commentary, I felt I could be informed.
This habit became impossible, or at least difficult, a few weeks ago when the back page became a full-page ad for Jostens Learning Center.
I have no quarrel with the company. I have done some business with them and, find them quite reputable. My quarrel is with a commercial ad on the last page of this fine publication. I assume they were willing to pay a great deal more for this prime position. It is too bad commercialism won out on this one.
I know this is a small thing. I'm sure the content is still excellent. Quality has certainly not been sacrificed. Somehow, though, the professionalism seems diminished. I would like to put my two cents worth in:
"I liked it better the other way."
Director of Elementary Education and Special Projects
Northwest Local School District
To The Editor
How sad that Janet Emig, with her impressive credentials, should choose to pen so vitriolic a condemnation of Susan Ohanian's rather plaintive plea for us to remember that reading and writing are essentially solitary acts "Reading and Writing Are Social Acts," Talking Back, March 20, 1991; "Against 'Collaboration': Reading and Writing Are Not Social Acts," Commentary, Feb. 13, 1991.
The collaborative, whole-language, process-writing, reading movements, however important and helpful they may continue to be raising the level of literacy for our schoolchildren, must yield ultimately to the realization that reading and writing are very private and personal experiences. Nor would we want them to be otherwise.
If our goal as educators is authenticity of response in both reading and writing, an authenticity which, if disciplined by, some skill, may lead to truly creative and meaningful intellectual engagements, then all the peer collaboration, tutorial, help, group brainstorming, and the myriad other activities able teachers encourage with their students may be seen as merely stations on the way to that "social construction of meaning" of which she writes.
That we may listen to, be responsive to, and benefit from the interpretations of others does not mean that our first responsibility is not to cultivate in our students as well as in ourselves thoughtful, individual, and even deeply personal linguistic responses to reality. In fact, that cultivation might very well be seen as the hallmark of a democratic society. And, perhaps, it is only when reading and writing remain essentially personal and independent acts that democracy can survive at, all.
So, Janet Emig should really be thanking Susan Ohanian for reminding her that beyond all the theories and practices advanced to enhance learning, however potent they may be, it is finally the child engrossed in reading a piece of literature or creating one, privately and with pleasure in a necessary and productive solitude, that is our goal as teachers.
Patricia Pomboy Mintz
New York, N.Y.
To the Editor
The article by Mike Schmoker on "Restructuring the Principalship'' has given me pause for thought. Everybody I talk to these days says that good principals make the difference. But what is a good principal? Their qualities are perhaps difficult to define, but not so difficult to identify:
- Good principals get commitment from others by giving it themselves, by building an environment that encourages creativity, and by operating with honesty and fairness.
- They don't force other people to go along, they bring them along.
- They demand much of others, but also give much of themselves. They are ambi tious--not only for themselves, but also for those who work with them. They seek to attract, retain, and develop other people to their full potential.
- Good principals aren't "lone rangers." They recognize that a school's strategies for success require the combined talents and efforts of many people, and they serve as the catalysts for transforming those talents into results.
- They really like kids. They care about children's growth, their concerns, and their future. And they shape the school to reflect this caring.
- They are open to new ideas, but they explore their ramifications thoroughly.
- They are emotionally and intellectually oriented to the future--not wedded to the past. They have a hunger to take responsibility, to innovate, and to initiate. They are not content with merely taking care of what's already there. They want to move forward to create something new.
- Good principals provide answers as well as direction, offer strength as well as dedication, and speak from experience as well as understanding of the problems they face and the people they work with.
- They are flexible rather than dogmatic. They believe in unity rather than conformity. And they strive to achieve consensus out of conflict.
Being a good principal is all about getting people consistently to give their best, helping them grow, and motivating them to work toward common goals.
A good principal, finally, is one who shows respect for other people, for the work they do and for their abilities, aspirations, and needs. When this quality is in place, respect is returned, and all concerned with the business of improving student learning are motivated to work together.
El Centro School District
El Centro, Calif.
To the Editor
Mike Schmoker's essay ("Restructuring the Principalship," Commentary, March 27, 1991) provoked me to think about the increasing demands placed on principals, along with the call for creative new paradigms for thinking about leadership.
One such paradigm is suggested by Warren Bennis and Burt Nanus in their study, Leaders. They distinguish between management and leadership, saying both are important. To manage, in their view, means to have charge of or re sponsibility for; to lead means to guide through vision. "Managers are people who do things right and leaders are people who do the right thing," they write.
Both aspects, efficiency mastering the routines and effectiveness activities of vision and judgment, are necessary to the mastery of the principalship, as well. In the Bennis and Nanus study, 90 exemplary ceo's were questioned and observed and, invariably, they viewed themselves as leaders, not managers. How many principals have yet to make this distinction?
Administrative preparation programs, as well as staff development for princi pals, should perhaps devote more attention to personal leadership, including such aspects as self-empowerment through the creation and enactment of one's vision for the organization, commitment, and refinement of communication skills. Creative problem-solving could be an answer to accomplishing more in less time.
A research project conducted by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development identified 12 dimensions of outstanding supervisory practice. As reported in the September 1990 issue of Educational Leadership, 89 percent of the respondents--all exemplary supervisors and - teachers--strongly agreed that communication is the most important dimension of supervisors. Interview data further conL0 firmed the respondents' strongly-held belief that the key to outstanding supervisory practice is human relations.
In fact, the study's author, Edward Pajak, quotes one superintendent's observa tion that intrinsic to supervisory effectiveness is a "love and like of people."
Mike Schmoker, in his Commentary, states that educational improvement "is about energizing people to see ... ideas through to implementation." Principals who are energized will energize teachers, who will, in turn, energize their students.
To the Editor
If I read your recent news account correctly ("Bill to Lower School-Entry Age Accents Readiness Debate," March 27,1991), the following would seem to be true: need to prepare children for the rigorous 1st grade, thus we need to get them early and place them in kindergarten, so that we can even up their readiness, that is, mediate the differences between the middle-class, advantaged child and the child without preschool experience.
What a thesis.
Has no one asked whether it is necessary it helping anyone, and whom? And has this question been asked: Why do we have to go so fast at the start of a school career, when it is obvious to those in the field that the problem is being looked at piecemeal by researchers distanced from the actual class room situation?
As a 20-year veteran working with the age group under discussion, and with a successful track record of staff-development work with many early-childhood teachers, parents, and pupils, let me share some observations made over time.
Children are natural learners when placed in an environment filled with learn ing challenges. They, as a part of the human species, need to learn in order to survive. If we as adults don't turn off this innate urge to learn, it will operate naturally at some level.
Children of normal intelligence are learners who will excel, given the time to do so. This is also true, in the main, for the atypical child. Time is the important factor. And each child has his own time clock, possibly different from the timeframe suggested by bureaucratic school curriculum developers. Reading as a process comes naturally to children if given time and rich experiences.
My observation as a teacher of reading to hundreds of children over several decades is that reading is not good, better, and best; it is earlier, a bit later, and still later than that. With time and adaptive methods, all learn to read. Not so when the adults push for speed.
Early-childhood learners are different from children over 8 years of age. They learn differently, and what they learn benefits from hands-on experience. Children in this age group need to talk, move about, and contrast and compare what they are learning with what they already know. They need to ask questions based on what is already understood, and have an interested, observant mentor reply and pose new questions that lead to a higher level of learning.
Children in the early-childhood ages, preschool to age 8, are active learners, busy doers, eager to know more about what they are interested in. They can be led into reading and mathematics through their own interests. And most, given individual timetables, will become able readers and math-savvy persons.
The problem is not with the children, it's with the over-expecting adults who want every child on the same learning schedule at the same time. That is akin to legislating when each tooth is to make its appearance.
Putting all children into kindergarten at the same time and collectively lowering the program on each child won't work. Each child, in embryo, took its own time to reach birth, each grows its own teeth on its own schedule, each child's neuroskeletal system develops at its own pace. That is what happens with learning, too, whether we like it or not.
The question left begging is why not work hard to reform the unrealistically rigid expectations of 1st grade and make capital of the way kids learn in their natural state, rather than fight nature.
Many of us are doing this as a bootleg operation. How sad that the system refuses to examine where there is success, and overlooks emu lating what works.
The programs need adapting to kids, not the other way around. Forcing all kids into one learning timetable by requiring each to come to school at age 5 shows a lack of respect for individual growth patterns. And ignoring parents who know their own child best shows a lack of respect for parents. Some children are ready for school, some are not, some would do better to wait until they can offer more in tegrated bodies to the task of formal learning.
Legislating programs for all children at age 5 is asking for trouble unless we adapt the resulting programs to the children. We don't so much need to get kids ready for schools as we need to get schools ready to respect differing timetables of learning.
Fair Haven, N.J. "