Letters to the Editor
I guess it takes a real radical to begin making a difference in education ("Rebel With a [New] Cause,'' March 23, 1994). It intrigues me how Bill Ayers, formerly wanted by the F.B.I. for his involvement with the Weathermen, has turned the corner to contribute instead of terrorize. Luckily, he's been wise enough to learn from his preschoolers that constructive methods of change are what make the difference.
This article was inspiring to me as a teacher and should be a wake-up call to teachers of teachers. Very often, teacher education programs are stagnant and disconnected from the teacher-candidates. This is inadequate. Teachers need to enter the profession charged with enthusiasm and passion. It sounds like the new teachers that Mr. Ayers is sending forth can't help but be motivated and ignited to reach children and excite them about learning.
Educational theory is important but must be rooted in practical experience. Student-centered instruction, which is impressed upon all student-teachers, should be modeled at the teacher education level if this pre-credential experience is to be meaningful. If this does not happen, the preparation program would merely be a series of hoops the candidates must jump through in order to satisfy mandated requirements.
Bill Ayers's cause is well-chosen. There is a true need for change in our educational system, and being a professor of education has allowed him to set the stage for the teachers of the 1990's and beyond. Maybe the lesson of the Ayers experience is to, in fact, be radical, not complacent and not accepting of the status quo. Ayers-like instruction is needed at every level of education.
To the Editor:
Kudos to Education Week for its initiative and to the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation for its support of the "Alliance for Learning'' special report in the April 13, 1994, issue ("Alliance for Learning: Enlisting Higher Education in the Quest for Better Schools'').
Sam Minner's back-page Commentary from that same issue, "When 'Cultures' Clash,'' truly spoke to the fact that universities and schools can't speak to each other. In building our Babel-like towers of learning, we have been cursed with the possession of different tongues. We simply do not understand each other. The schoolperson's dialect is one of the artist, or the magician, the water walker who knows where the stones are. The collegian speaks as scientist, however soft, and of premises and conclusions, driven by the statistically significant, wherever possible. It is like the early days of aviation. The schoolteacher is the barnstormer who refuses the newfangled instruments, trusts his instincts and seat bottom in making learning happen. The higher educator believes in the higher science of learning, extrapolating from the controlled study to improve the probability of success in the cloudy chaos of schools.
The big difference is, of course, that the latter have time to think about all the nuances and the former have nearly no time at all. And when they do have the time (in the summer, say), they are reconstructing their sanity and other key bearings.
Many higher educators teach only a dozen hours a week (they may work many more). Schoolteachers have nearly three times that load, plus the preparation and feedback time each day requires. It's no wonder that, as Mr. Minner says, we find contrasting styles of "ready, still ready'' versus "ready, fire, aim.'' I would submit, pardon the analogy, that given the vast differences in learning rates and intelligences as targets, we need a "full choke'' pattern of effective learning strategies, rather than a singular, tested, focused one.
The ones in my mind who have it closest to right are the elementary teachers. They have students both thinking and doing, reading and writing, planning and project-making, analyzing and integrating: all the things you never get to do again until you get in the last phases of a doctoral program.
There's something wrong here. Robert Fulghum had it almost right. It isn't that you learned all you need to know in kindergarten, but you did learn a process for learning that comes close to being complete: learn, show, and tell. If you can't do all that, you really don't own the learning.
The bigger question is: Who is going to pull these two "Babel-ing'' groups back together and get them to speak the same language? Somebody needs to be the go-between, the interlocutor, the matchmaker. Are there any foundations willing to sponsor forums, states willing to link their institutions of higher education with their schools, federal agencies looking for a tractable issue which would truly further school reform? As Sam Minner says in his closing statement, "The effort is worth it.''
D. Thomas King
West St. Paul, Minn.
To the Editor:
One gets the impression from his March 30, 1994, Commentary ("What If Education Broke Out All Over?'') that Gerald Bracey believes the primary (the only) purpose of education is to prepare children for jobs. It's a view held by many who wrestle daily with academic-preparedness questions.
Whatever happened to education "... to develop (as a person) by fostering ... the growth or expansion of knowledge, wisdom, desirable qualities of mind or character, physical health, or general competence'' (Webster's Dictionary)? It's this kind of education that leads to a better parent, a better citizen, a better life. It also leads to academic preparedness.
John V. Moe
To the Editor:
I am a first-year principal in a rural elementary school in Todd County, Ky. As most of your readers know, our state is in the midst of exciting, but sometimes controversial reform. We are blessed at our school with an active group of dedicated parents.
Recently, through one of our site-based subcommittees, we have been debating the strengths and weaknesses of our nontraditional report-card format, which has been in use for two years. The report card uses more positive terminology such as "most of the time,'' "some of thetime,'' or "only with support'' when discussing skill accomplishment. Some of our more active parents and a couple of teachers would very much like to see the report card become traditional once again, with A's, B's, C's, D's, and F's.
The call for a more traditional report card comes because some parents see A's as motivators of student accomplishment. The research firmly indicates that this viewpoint may be effective for the upper academic tier of any school, but can have such negative effects for the average to below-average students that they drop out before completing high school. As a site-based school, we need to develop a philosophy to address the report-card issue: Should an elementary school nurture all of its students and be committed to creating a positive atmosphere that encourages the importance of education for all? Will such a philosophy "water down'' expectations for the college-bound student?
Mr. Bracey's March 30, 1994, Commentary presents the larger, more controversial issue of the role of schools. Does a high-quality education enhance the lives of all? Or does it competitively prepare students for a later occupation as a doctor, lawyer, or teacher-waiter, receptionist, or computer technician? Is it O.K. for students to receive failing grades and be "weeded out''? Is an 8th-grade education sufficient for some job categories? What about the larger number of college graduates who are unable to find jobs of their choosing?
We have a responsibility to educate all students and expect all students to learn. An educated person has a greater chance of realizing that he or she has choices in life. "I can finish school before becoming a parent. I can find and keep a job. I can be self-sufficient and support my family. I can maintain a healthy lifestyle.'' A positive elementary experience that gives each student time to grow will promote a desire for learning that will remain for a lifetime.
As far as the job market goes, yes, that's a problem. We have flooded the shrinking job market with college graduates. A college education no longer means driving the new car of your choice. (Have we even asked ourselves if every college graduate wants a high-stress, high-demand job? Even though I enjoy my job, serving food at Bennigan's for high tips occasionally looks promising. But my education--I wouldn't give that up for anything.)
I believe that providing a high-quality education for all will reduce crime, cut health-care costs, lower welfare needs, and decrease the number of people who feel they have no control over the choices they make. Every taxpayer will benefit from a highly educated population.
June B. Overton
To the Editor:
Frank J. Huml, writing in your March 16, 1994, issue, asks "Is Social-Skills Training One 'Missing Link'?'' Not only is the answer "yes'' but this answer has been "yes'' since Gilbert Botvin and others first piloted life-skills and social-skills training for youths in 1983. Mr. Botvin's validated curriculum Life Skills Training addresses the "basic processes'' mentioned by Mr. Huml. More than a decade later, these tenets are well accepted and have been incorporated into the majority of comprehensive substance-abuse-prevention and health-education programs.
In 1990, the Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development released a report of the Life Skills Training Working Group. This report, authored by Beatrix Hamburg, acknowledged and documented the change in family life and the transformation of community that Mr. Huml refers to in his article. In addition, this Carnegie group specified several challenges of early-adolescent development, including skills training for social competence, decisionmaking, and related skills: interpersonal relations, communication, self-regulation, and motivation.
Since, as Mr. Huml writes, "schools cannot meet all societal needs,'' let's acknowledge the important contributions already in place in many curricula and school-site prevention programs.
Regional Drug Education Coordinator
Regional Health Education Center
Yorktown Heights, N.Y.
To the Editor:
Had we Pennsylvania opponents of outcomes-based education and the other restructuring efforts "won,'' there would have been no need for our April 12, 1994, education protest rally in the Capitol rotunda in Harrisburg ("Performance-Based System Is the Clear Winner in Pennsylvania,'' Letters, April 6, 1994).
We harbor no doubts that the controversial restructuring mandates are in place and going full speed ahead in many districts. We know equally well that "the establishment'' has won so far and that the students, teachers, parents, and taxpayers have lost. The changes are operative, not because of merit or public support, but through the coercion of mandates from an unelected state school board.
Not even our local newspapers were able to report fully the usefulness of the recent rally, because it focused on local control of education and primarily on the dumbing-down process of O.B.E., the change most obvious to many parents. At the follow-up meeting of the most active opponents, assembled while so many were under one roof, it was acknowledged that O.B.E. is the mere tip of the iceberg. It has become obvious that in education, as in a number of other aspects of our lives, we are bucking complete bureaucratic control known by the S-word, socialism.
Some educator-writers may have put the finger on O.B.E. problems when they reported that a troublesome arrangement resulted when new graduation requirements were established almost simultaneously with special dropout-prevention programs. How could the two ideas be put in place at the same time without dumbing down courses for everyone?
A well-stated expression of the overall situation appears on the jacket flap of Stephen Arons's book Compelling Belief: "One of the great ironies of public schooling in the United States is its relentless capacity to stifle dissent.''
To the Editor:
While I agree with the reordering of priorities proposed by Gerald Tirozzi ("School Readiness: An Inextricable Link to Achieving the Goals,'' Commentary, April 13, 1994), the real reasons why priorities are so out of whack in the United States are embedded in his essay.
His statement that "educators cannot be held accountable for achieving this most fundamental educational goal'' (all children will start school ready to learn) ironically contains one of the reasons we, as a nation, do not provide resources for young children and their families.
First, Mr. Tirozzi and many others seem to forget that the group called "educators'' includes early-childhood educators, those of usworking in funded and non-funded early-childhood programs. Early-childhood educators are educators, and we are accountable.
Second, the "most fundamental educational goal'' on the politically correct road map provided by Goals 2000 is specious. ALL CHILDREN ARE ALWAYS LEARNING. The question needs to be reframed--ready to learn what? I suggest that those educators residing on the other side of the schoolhouse doors take responsibility for what happens when children who are learning every moment become labeled as learning-disabled or one of the non-learners. At the heart of this goal is the taken-for-granted belief that learning only takes place in K-12 schools between the hours of 9 A.M. to 3 P.M. We know that's a ridiculous notion.
I would suggest that a better use of Mr. Tirozzi's oak-tree metaphor might be had on considering the preparation of the soil for growth. The soil is currently one of taken-for-granted assumptions that pollute the educational environment.
West Side Montessori School
Professor of Education
New York University
New York, N.Y.