To the Editor:
Thank you for your informative, detailed, and helpful articles on the real world of American schools, in particular the recent story about I.P.S. 218 in New York City ("Working in Harmony: A Community School Supports the Whole Family,'' March 23, 1994). The writer makes the efforts of this community school come alive, and shows a marked sensitivity to the difficulties the school faces.
The coverage is marred, however, by one paragraph that strikes me as an insult to the teachers, social workers, students, and families who are making I.P.S. 218 a success: "Those efforts are paying off where it counts,'' the story says, "in student results.'' It goes on to relate that 8th graders have standardized-test scores "15 points higher in both reading comprehension and mathematics, on average, than students at demographically comparable area schools.''
Is this really "where it counts''? This paragraph is included without any indication that you are at all self-conscious about the message being sent. Does all that effort to create a school that takes kids and families seriously come down to "15 points'' on a scale we don't even know anything about?
We live in a time of grave uncertainty about what kind of society we want and whether we are willing to do what it takes to make it a better one. If Education Week wants to make a difference in this effort, it ought to think more deeply about the tone stories set and the standards they promulgate. To automatically include unspecified data about student achievement in every article about serious school-reform efforts is to do a disservice to the profession and to the wide range of "results'' which teachers and schools can influence.
To the Editor:
Is performance-based education "the clear winner'' in Pennsylvania, as was implied in the headline given the letter by that state's secretary of education, Donald M. Carroll Jr. ("Performance-Based System Is the Clear Winner in Pennsylvania,'' Letters, April 6, 1994)?
Mr. Carroll was correct is stating that outcomes-based education is in use, but was quite inaccurate in stating that it is doing well.
In spite of Mr. Carroll's assertions and perhaps his desires, there is nothing in the Pennsylvania regulations (Chapter 5) which precludes a school district from using Carnegie units as a measure of school accomplishment. Severaldistricts in the state fully intend to use them.
He writes that several dozen districts are already using O.B.E. He does not mention that many of these have had dismal results, and some have even eliminated O.B.E. For example, in Daniel Boone school district (Stowe, Pa.), S.A.T. scores have declined, taxes have risen, the superintendent was forced to leave, and voters elected a majority to the school board committed to eliminating O.B.E.
More than 150 districts are developing implementation plans for O.B.E. this year, Mr. Carroll further states. He fails to mention that these districts, in "phase one'' of the state program, were forced into that against their will, and that a significant number have requested removal from phase one. This includes my own district, Phoenixville.
These distortions are nothing new for Mr. Carroll and the state education department. The department issues a brochure called "Pennsylvania's Education Reforms'' that claims performance-based education has been a success in four districts nationally. (Why only four?) One of these "successful'' districts, Dodge City, Kan., is just starting implementation of O.B.E. and has already had some difficulty. Bay City, Mich., does not use O.B.E. anymore. A third district, Red Bank, N.J., has not used O.B.E. since 1987.
There are common experiences in districts which have tried O.B.E. Costs and taxes rise. Teachers end up with more work but less time to teach. Academic results, as measured by standardized tests, decline.
Valley Forge, Pa.
To the Editor:
With regard to your excellent March 23, 1994, article "'Homegrown' Bilingual-Education Teachers Take Root,'' a point of clarification. The description of Recruiting New Teachers Inc.'s study of precollegiate teacher recruitment--"Teaching's Next Generation''--notes that thestudy identified "216 programs enrolling about 30,000 students. Most were less than five years old.''
The syntax could provide the erroneous impression that these programs were targeting preschool-age youngsters (an intriguing idea from a Deweyian perspective--but perhaps not adequately age-appropriate and certainly not within the scope of the data reported by the study). Most of the programs reported in "Teaching's Next Generation'' were less than five years old. We hope this clarifies any confusion.
Recruiting New Teachers Inc.
To the Editor:
Steven Spielberg has not provided teachers with an important "educational tool'' ("'Schindler's List' Spurring Calls for Holocaust Education,'' March 30, 1994). Indeed, rather than deepening our understanding of the Holocaust, he commodifies fascism. It becomes a salable item, emptied of its meaning, inverted in its history.
A holocaust, as the word is commonly used, is an act beyond people, a veritable act of god. Fascism in fact was a human artiface. But "Schindler's List'' has no history. We are plunked down, suddenly, in the midst of fascism in its peak.
Yet, both Education Week and the most popular television program in the United States, "60 Minutes'' (on its March 24 broadcast), have used "Schindler's List'' as proof that the Holocaust indeed occurred (in rebuttal to "revisionist historians'' who argue that the Holocaust is a hoax). This is a new plane of stripping history from the public consciousness; fiction replacing reality which itself is made barren.
"Schindler's List'' is an adaption of a novel based broadly on historical events. But, like the treatment fascism usually receives within public schools (thousands of students are required to see the movie), the film offers no understanding of how fascism came to power or how it was crushed. The movie avoids any mention of the resistance and the critical role Communists played in its leadership. Within the vacuum of resistance, the film offers an antisemitic vision of Jews. The only developed Jewish characters are swindlers, cheats, collaborators, connivers: stereotypes. Working-class Jews, as in all of antisemitism, are fleeting vapors.
The Soviet Red Army, which did liberate "Schindler's Jews'' (an ironic possessive adopted by the survivors themselves) is ridiculed through its representation as a solitary rider suggesting the Schindler survivors travel "neither east nor west'' on Hitler's surrender.
Finally, as a solution to the Holocaust, "Schindler's List'' invites three beliefs: capitalism ("If only I had made more money I could have bought more of them''), religion (prayers for the dead), and passivity ("Schindler will care for us--we are his property'')--remarkably three of the cornerstones of the advance of mid-century fascism. So, we have fictionalized fascism replacing de-historicized fascism, both proposing action which may only fuel fascist development.
Stepping away from the internal problems of the movie, history demonstrates Oskar Schindler was no guardian angel. He was a Nazi profiteer. Contrary to the film, not all of "Schindler's Jews'' were survivors. In one sweep, 700 of them were sent to a death camp and killed. This created openings on the famous list. Desperate victims had to bribe their way onto it. While Schindler's munitions factory was mostly dysfunctional, he simply purchased black-market munitions and sold them to the Germans, hardly the act of sabotage presented in the film. It is clear that for "his'' Jews, Schindler created not only material competition when collective resistance was key, but also a false sense of shelter which, in turn, separated them from potential allies and made effective mass resistance less possible.
Schindler did not become a list-maker, a savior, until after the battle of Stalingrad, the turning point of World War II when every thinking German knew defeat was at hand. He did not act in earnest until matters were even more desperate for the Nazis, mid-1944, after even Nazi Field Marshal Rommel had committed suicide. The crux of this issue is exactly who saved whom--without his slave laborers to certify the benevolence of their master, Schindler was at great risk.
At war's end, Schindler, disguised as a concentration-camp victim, fled west--as did most war criminals--fearing arrest by the Soviets. He continued his dissolute life portrayed in the movie, made yearly trips to Israel to collect accolades and money, and died in 1974. At least some of "his'' Jews felt the loss of another Nazi was no loss at all.
Fascism did not fall from the sky, and it was not defeated by Schindlers. Above all else, it rose from an unrestrained battle for profits, a corporate state coupled with racist, mystical ideology. Resistance to fascism and its defeat rose out of the very real determination of masses of people who believed they could join together, make huge sacrifices, but fight and win.
The big lie about Jews being subhuman, the crux of all racism, can only be underlined by Mr. Spielberg's portrayal of the absence of Jewish resistance. All of history demonstrates that oppressed people will resist. Only something less than human would not. But there was mass organized resistance--right in the areas Mr.Spielberg misportrays. Though the resistance did not obliterate the source of fascism, the antifascist movement did win. This effort is worth remembering. Oskar Schindler can only be a negative example--whose guidance will simply form the foundations for new forms of fascism.
The current corporate staters, like U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley, who wants to shift the focus of instruction from citizenship to nourishing business, and U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert B. Reich, who wants labor to merge its interests with employers, might want to revisit the history that seems to rise again now in Italy, the former Soviet Union, and even some rightist movements in the United States.
Those who seek a more rewarding portrayal of mass resistance to fascism might want to rent "Escape From Sobibor'' on V.C.R. or read Yuri Suhl's They Fought Back.
Richard John Gibson
College of Education
Pennsylvania State University
University Park, Pa.
To the Editor:
Hurray! A study that supports what some of us have been saying for years. ("Study Backs Less Formal Kindergarten,'' March 30, 1994.)
Currently, I teach in a "High/Scope-like'' prekindergarten in a public school. I left kindergarten teaching when the child-development emphasis I believe in began to change to a more academic program. The study in your story emphasizes the social development and the value of a child's involvement in learning while decrying the "push down'' practices in kindergarten. I agree.
I've seen little ones who choose activities for learning through play bloom and grow. Play is young children's work. Kindergarten was never intended as a "junior version of 1st grade.'' The program in kindergarten, which features a balanced curriculum of social, emotional, artistic, and intellectual activities, stands on its own.
Nancy K. Webster