Letters to the Editor
To the Editor:
Ruth Mitchell's Commentary ("Beyond the Verbal Confusion Over 'Tests,''' April 29, 1992) only serves to confuse the issues surrounding testing even more. She begins by saying tests "usually'' are machine-readable or multiple-choice. One-third of the way through her essay, tests ARE multiple-choice, etc.
Ever since I sat at the feet of Benjamin Bloom at the Universty of Chicago, 27 years ago, I and my colleagues have been constructing tests that measure higher-order thinking skills, ask students to construct theories of phenomena they observe and to solve problems that they have never seen before, but learned the necessary techniques.
Even multiple-choice items can be constructed that measure more than simple recall of facts. Extrapolation of graphs, choosing information not necessary to solve a problem, drawing correct conclusions to an argument, and many other examples are rife in the measurement textbooks as examples. Objective does not mean recall.
I agree that responding in a paper-and-pencil mode to a question should not be the only way to assess student progress. Even now, researchers are considering the thorny problem of aggregating evaluations of student products for program effects.
Tests should not be the only game in town, but they need not suffer under such a "straw man'' label as Ms. Mitchell describes them.
To the Editor:
Bravo to Yale University's president, Benno C. Schmidt Jr., on his decision to head up the Edison Project, Whittle Communications' new network of elementary and secondary schools ("Yale President's Move Is Touted as a 'Coup' for the Edison Project,'' June 3, 1992).
Mr. Schmidt's move is further evidence of the growing conviction that the education of our children is too important to be entrusted to a public-school monopoly that has proven itself incapable of fundamental change and improvement.
All of America's families should have access to the kinds of promising schools that Mr. Schmidt and others propose to create over the next several years. State legislatures should act to provide public funding for any elementary or secondary school that is committed to measurable student achievement, is open to all children on an equal-opportunity basis, and operates at or below the cost of existing public schools.
If Benno Schmidt and other educational entrepreneurs can produce such schools, it is clearly in the public interest to allow parents to choose them for their children, tuition free. In an era when resources are limited and quality education is a national imperative, the notion that "public'' money can only be spent on so-called "public schools,'' regardless of cost or performance, must be abandoned.
Stephen C. Tracy
Connecticut Task Force on Charter Schools
Superintendent of Schools
New Milford, Conn.
To the Editor:
Charles Breinin's "The Eggheads and The Lovers'' (Commentary, May 13, 1992) perfectly captures the crucial dichotomy in educational thought and practice that has existed since the time of ancient Greece.
However, I would suggest a translation for Mr. Breinin's terminology that shifts the feel of the dichotomy from one based on teachers' personal orientations to one based on fundamental structural differences. This translation is the substitution of "teacher centered'' for "egghead'' and "student centered'' for "lover.''
Mathematics Resource Teacher
G.A.S.C. Technology Center
To the Editor:
Your historical review of the "steady erosion'' in local control of schools (School-Boards Special Report, April 29, 1992) is a perfect example of what is wrong with schools today. You left out the most important facts of all.
No mention is made that almost 80 percent of the schools were church-affiliated into the 1860's. Nor that the move for state intervention was born in a period of the most vicious religious bigotry in our history. The huge influx of a new type of immigrant starting in the 1830's, Irish, Polish, Slovak, and others, all Catholic, spawned the Ku Klux Klan, the Nativist Party, the No-Nothing Party, and other anti-Catholic groups.
Nor does the report mention fierce opposition of church leaders to state control of the schools. What brought that opposition in line was Horace Mann's promotion that the schools would teach Christianity, but not a sectarian religion, just the "great common truths of Christianity.''
Incredibly, nothing was mentioned about the man many consider to have been the most influential on American culture in the 19th century, William Holmes McGuffey. This minister and educator wrote seven "readers'' that sold over 122 million copies, and were used by almost 90 percent of students for over 50 years, from 1840 to 1890. The readers were in use in many rural schools into the 1920's and are attracting new interest even today.
Nor do you mention that most state constitutions mandated the teaching of the Bible (King James Version only). When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1963 that schools must be "strictly neutral toward religion,'' many state constitutions had to be revised.
America started as a ÷áóð-dominated nation. That the schools would reflect a WASP world view was inevitable. It wasn't until the 1930's that challenges to this morality took hold, culminating in the High Court's creating out of whole cloth a new concept in the 1950's and 60's, namely, that education could be religiously neutral, value neutral, or most impossible of all, free of any religious values.
Any review of American education that omits the inseparable tie with religion is irresponsible. Will Durant was an acknowledged atheist. He also was a Pulitzer prize-winning historian. He said that history is really the study of those individuals whose influence extended beyond their lifetimes. In that sense, Plato, Luther, Newton still live.
But he also said that one figure towers above all others in influence. No one can begin to understand Western Civilization, he said, without studying the life of Christ. Yet while students can study Aristotle, Kant, Hitler, Mao, Marx, and Keynes, Christ is a no-no. This condemnation to ignorance should not be so reassuring to non-Christians and atheists. Blocking the free flow of ideas can easily end up enslaving us all. Gaining power to categorize ideas and make them taboo in the schools opens the door to all kinds of mischief.
In all intellectual honesty let's discuss the realities of history. The churches played a central role in colonial education and well into the middle of the 19th century. Much of the vitality of institution building was due to various theological arguments. Other secular ideas merged with these traditions to create an optimistic ideology that unleashed remarkable energy, imagination, and talent.
In our cynical day we scoff at heroic ideologies. But our history shows they are important, indeed crucial, to social survival and human hope. The extra-rational and mystical play a critical role in cultural advance. Modern education, by confining itself to a strictly secular view of the world, has cut our children off from the greatest source of strength of all, our spiritual heritage.
We don't need a state-imposed religion in the schools. What we need is for the schools to be free to reflect those values that families hold most dear. What stops that kind of thinking is a fear of freedom, that the people would fragment society and unleash all kinds of intolerance and bigotry. But isn't America an experiment in freedom, a trust that the people, given their freedom, would in the long run make the best decisions that would produce the greatest harmony?
Robert S. Marlowe
Citizens for Educational Freedom