Letters to the Editor
To the Editor:
I cannot fault your article on my firing by the National Education Association for any errors of commission("N.E.A. Charges Former Researcher With Speaking Out of Turn,"Nov. 20, 1991). One important omission, however, could lead readers to the wrong conclusion; several others deprive the story of its true flavor.
You write that I "acknowledged that he had been warned twice before being dismissed that he should curb his 'entrepreneurial activities.'" From these words alone, a reader might infer that I did not curb such activities after the warnings and was therefore tired. Not so. All letters in question were written between Oct. 6 and Oct. 12. No contacts with media or others were initiated after Oct. 12.
The first "warning" came only on Oct. 23, the second on Nov. 4, three days before my termination. The "warnings" thus came after all of my enterprising actions had ended. The N.E.A. asked me to stop what I had already stopped, then fired me for it.
In addition, on Oct. 9, I wrote a memo about my article in the October Phi Delta Kappan to Bill Martin, acting director of communications at N.E.A. The last lines of that memo read: "I think this information deserves a wider audience. How do we get it?"To me this verities that I am promoting the message of the article, not myself.
It is significant that while the article has been summarized in various newspapers and reprinted in the magazines of several state affiliates of the N.E.A., and while the article has led to appearances on radio talk shows and one television show, and while the U.S. Education Department has felt it necessary to try and refute my analyses in print, the "leadership" at N.E.A. never showed one iota of interest in it.
Indeed, it was precisely the lack of interest in this article that led to my acting as an "entrepreneur." The N.E.A. clearly did not recognize the implications of the piece--implications grasped rather quickly by other educators and the media--and it was left to me to try and find audiences for it. If this saga were a detective novel, the fact that N.E.A. cannot find my article in any file would be called "amazingly convenient." It was there in February. The director of my unit circulated the pre-publication version of it to Keith Geiger, the president of N.E.A, and others in August.
As presented in your article, the whole affair looks a little too rational, although the N.E.A. does look puerile, petty, intellectually wanting, and morally bankrupt. The name Kafka keeps surfacing in conversations.
To give your reporter her due, however, no one can describe in words what it's like when you discover that your long article on the condition of education has been widely circulated within N.E.A. headquarters with a note advising would-be readers to see page 112, and when you turn to page 112, you see the offending quotation from Kurt Vonnegut highlighted. Political Correctness is alive and well at the N.E.A.
Mere words cannot convey the surreal quality of the morning of the day I was fired, as a management team swept through the work area turning off all printers so I couldn't print anything (one wonders what treasons they suspected me of harboring in my last hours). The printers stayed off all day, much inconveniencing other staff.
Words can convey neither what it is like to be given less than a full afternoon to pack and vacate an entire office of books and files, nor the feeling of being escorted everywhere by a security guard and then told by the building manager that you no longer have access to the building.
The allegation of Don Cameron, executive director of the N.E.A, that I became "pretty abusive" while undergoing this treatment is an outright lie, but such behavior might be a reasonable reaction for any reasonable person under the circumstances.
Your article describes me as angry. But what I have found out about the N.E.A. in the last two weeks is important: Were there not already a rival union, I would be sorely tempted to start one, one that is actually interested in education. The N.E.A. is not. (The one time Keith Geiger visited my office for a few minutes he said, 'I don't know anything about testing. I'm better off not knowing anything about testing." This from a man who sits on the National Council for Educational Standards and Testing. )
Gerald W. Bracey
To the Editor:
Susan Harman writing on the "The Basal Conspiracy" (Commentary, Nov. 13, 1991) correctly identifies a major problem in the homogenizing of the basal-reader market and the self-dealing testing programs provided by the major publishers in the market.
The cause defined and the cure implied are off the mark however. The major basal publishers were, in effect, created by the educational establishment acting as a monopoly marketplace which creates its own consumer demand.
While in some industries businesses can, through advertising and promotion, stimulate a latent demand not yet expressed, the school market is largely a government monopoly directed by political and institutional considerations that no amount of publisher largesse can control.
The "malevolent conspiracy" described by Ms. Harman unfairly imputes to publishers the responsibility for the sameness and lack of innovation in the basal business. One need only look to the instructional-materials side of the industry, where there is a truly competitive marketplace, for the reverse.
Hundreds of independent publishers occupy this niche, with scores of well-established competitors who really furnish alternatives to satisfy a wide variety of interests. A random list includes such imprints as Modern Curriculum Press, The Wright Group, Geed Year, Stech Vaughan, Zephyr Press, The Learning Works, Good Apple, Fearon/Janus.
Although not as deeply committed as they might be, each of the major publishers cited by Ms. Harman have either established or acquired subsidiaries which are competing even against their own basal programs in this supplementary market.
Until school systems open up the bidding, buying, and budgeting to the building level, the so-called "conspiracy" will not be broken. As of now, basal publishers have no other economically viable choice.
Eugene G. Schwartz
President Consortium House,Ltd.
To the Editor:
I am writing in response to the article 'AIDS Educators Eyeing Magic Johnson as a Powerful Spokesman for Prevention" Nov. 20, 199]).
Magic Johnson is possibly the best, unquestionably one of the best, basketball players that ever lived. But in my opinion he has lost the respect due a "powerful spokesman" because of the implicit immorality that led, presumably, to his medical predicament. Parade Magic Johnson before our young people as an example of being "the best that you can be" and you send a confusing moral message.
Furthermore, if the practical message he gives is to "practice safe sex," the confusion deepens. Safe sex is an oxymoron. Eighty percent safe is as safe as putting eight rounds in a 10-round revolver, spinning the chamber, and pulling the trigger.
Our children need to be taught moral lessons that are absolute, not relative. There are absolutes in life, and one of them happens to be morality. Break God's moral laws and the consequences are just as sure as they are for breaking a law of nature. Jumping off a bridge and hoping gravity will not be in force makes as much sense as telling youths you can "cover up" or "play safe" and there will be no consequences.
Let's put models in front of our students who have demonstrated strong family ties and faithfulness to one spouse and who speak to the advantages of moral purity.
The goal of education has always been to teach to the highest standard and give everyone an equal opportunity to reach for that goal. How insane it is to pave a pathway with condoms to the lowest standard of life and give everyone equal opportunity to kill themselves through sexually transmitted diseases.
G. William Davidson
Arcadia Christian School
To the Editor:
Dennis L. Evans's Commentary ("Our Colonial-Era Approach to Governance," Commentary, Nov. 13, 1991) advocates the elimination of lay governance of public education, that is, that we do away with school boards. Among other concerns, he does not want top- level administrators beholden to local boards.
This reader thought what Mr. Evans described as beholdeness was really accountability and, as such, should not be too quickly eliminated.
The essay also advocates an unintroduced new system of governance. What was envisioned as the replacement for school boards? Or, was the old system being criticized in the same way critics wonder about our old system of democracy?
It is true that the range of responsibilities for school boards has been severely restricted. Some of this shrinkage has been for good reasons (professional educators' rightfully assuming the day-to-day supervision of our schools), while some of the shrinkage has not always been for good reasons (distant governments mandating but not paying for this and that.)
There remain, nonetheless, good reasons for continuing local boards of education. I'll mention but a few. A local school board hires, evaluates, and contracts with the school's superintendent to achieve the educational goals for that community. Who will do this under a new system? Many school boards provide for and monitor the funds needed to operate the schools. Who will do this under a new system?
The most substantive reason for continuing local school boards may be the same reason we continue with democracy--to protect ourselves from the alternatives.
Board of Education
Southhampton Public Schools
To the Editor:
Dennis L. Evans's call for scrapping local school boards is based on a woefully inadequate understanding of how the public gets its most important business done in a free, democratic society.
Clearly, public elementary and secondary education is public business of the highest order. It deals directly with the nation's most urgent concern--its future--and with two attributes that are most dear to people: their children and their tax money. The public is spirited in its vigilant and protective attitudes toward both. And the process by which the public asserts itself to advance its interests is unequivocally and unabashedly political (but not necessarily partisan) in nature.
Just ponder some of the functions of the local school board as an integral part of our American institution of representative governance. In addition to effecting the people's will in setting education policy and ensuring its implementation in each of the 15,350 local communities across the United States (which, of course, is the essence of representative governance), a school board also acts as the legal extension of state government in the local community in all matters dealing with education there, including interpretation and enforcement of state education standards and requirements, fiscal budgeting and accounting and facilities construction (including causing local taxes to be set and levied for all operating and capital funds), entering into contracts, and supplementing state law by enacting local education policy having the full force and effect of law by virtue of the rule and regulating authority of school boards.
Without local school boards, state legislatures would have to perform this function, because people simply would not accept bureaucratic employees performing these discretionary governance functions in our rough-and-tumble democracy. Moreover, local school boards serve as a political counterpoint to all the political entities at various levels of government whose activities affect the public schools in varying degrees, such as the Congress, federal Administration, state legislatures, governors, and county/city councils. The local school board stands as the legitimate political buffer between the public schools and other political governance entities: with no private, personal interest at heart, the school board is the most credible advocate for the local public schools.
Further, at a time when schools and other youth-serving public agencies in the local community are beginning to collaborate more closely to meet children's needs in a holistic style, only school boards (with their special concern for education) can be effective in working with other political boards in the often complex political dynamics of the local community.
Finally, the traditional extension of the U.S. Constitution's right to petition government for the redress of grievances manifests itself in an appellate function for the local school board. It is part of the essence of representative government that there should be an appeals process open to people who perceive bureaucrats' decisions to be unsatisfactory. The school board performs this function in a way that is consistent with representative governance.
Unless we want to turn the authority for school-district governance over to distant entities in the state capital, or to education czars at home, or to those who would for only on a single school in a system of quasi-anarchy across the whole community, or to city and county bureaucrats, school beards will be with us as long as we're a free and democratic nation.
Thomas A. Shannon
National School Board Association