To the Editor:
I read with mixed emotions your news story on the Lake Wales, Fla., mother who is suing officials of her son's junior high school for negligence in connection with his death by suicide ("Fla. Suit Blames School Officials in Pupil's Suicide,'' April 20, 1994.) I was saddened by the report because, as a single mother of a son, I could empathize with the mother's pain. But at the same time, I was angered, as a future educator, by her action.
As I further reflected on the case, the question that kept coming to mind was, "Where does the parent's and the school's responsibility start and where does it end in matters like this?''
Your article mentioned the 1991 decision in a Maryland case in which the Maryland Court of Appeals ruled that " ... school counselors have a duty to use reasonable means to attempt to prevent a suicide when they are on notice of a child's or adolescent's suicidal intent.'' Yes, I agree. We must attempt every reasonable means in our power as educators to prevent a suicide or to notify the student's parents or guardians when we have knowledge of a possible suicide attempt.
But with the duties and responsibilities, plus the number of students that a teacher, school counselor, or principal must monitor each day, is it really fair to ask them to bear such psychological accountability--or to infer that they, acting alone, could prevent something as complex as a suicide?
The Florida mother's lawyer makes these claims about the boy who died: "He was just confused and needed someone to talk to.'' "His death could have been prevented.'' Where was the mother when her son needed someone to talk to? Was it not her role as a parent to be there for her son? Was the home one that encouraged dialogue? Was the classroom?
This, it seems to me, is the issue that needs to be explored: How can we as parents and educators open the line of communication so that our children, our students, feel free to talk to us about their inner feelings without fear or despair?
Instead of spending our resources to protect ourselves from lawsuits, why not join as educators and parents in taking responsibility for overcoming this epidemic that is killing our young people?
San Francisco, Calif.
To the Editor:
I was flabbergasted by the report on the special forum at the National Science Teachers Association meeting at which three Nobel laureates were asked how to reform science education ("Nobel Laureate Seeks To Turn Science Curriculum on Its Head,'' April 13, 1994). Apparently, the leadership of N.S.T.A. has such a low opinion of the association's own craft of teaching and educating (educare: to nurture) that they imported three persons--obviously brilliant in their own fields, but with zero qualifications in K-12 education, in pedagogy or epistemology, in nurturing and motivating young kids in urban ghettos or Iowa farm country--to coach them.
The three Nobel winners should rightly be honored for achievement in their own highly specialized corners of their respective fields, but their positioning on the N.S.T.A. event signals that some organizers in the association may be living in a cloud where the goal of science teachers is to try to make Nobel laureates.
One would hope that the science teachers of our land, perhaps the most overworked, least honored link in the national science and technology chain, would have higher ambitions than such a focus on a minuscule segment of the population. Project 2061's emphasis on "Science for All Americans'' has the target right. The Science, Technology, and Society community has the content right, and both have their epistemology right. It happens to be exactly the reverse of what was implied in your article--build a pyramid from the most basic to the more applied (you guessed it: on some weird scale of values, physics is more "basic'' than chemistry).
The Project 2061/Science Technology, and Society epistemology starts with human concern and curiosity; builds on daily experience to understanding the technologies and their positive and negative spinoffs on to society; moves to applied, that is, real, sense-able science (agriculture, materials, earth, health, engineering); and appropriately leaves for those who so choose (about 10 percent) the more abstract sciences (classical physics, chemistry, biology--P.C.B.). It will take 50 years to undo the ravages of the 50 years of P.C.B. pollution of science education.
Perhaps you could sponsor at next year's N.S.T.A. meeting the real success stories of science: teaching and creating science-technology-citizenship-literate national leaders such as Vice President Gore, U.S. Rep. George Brown of California, and the head of the U.S. office of science and technology planning, Jack Gibbons. And ask them how to reform U.S. science education.
Professor of Geochemistry
Professor of Science, Technology, and Society
Pennsylvania State University
University Park, Pa.
To the Editor:
Andy Plattner's recent essay ("Finding a Silver Lining: Will Reform Battles Force Us To Communicate?,'' Commentary, April 20, 1994) makes some very good and clear points concerning communication. While I applaud this call to clarity and good communication, I would suggest, however, that he has placed too great importance on only one of what are actually three necessary components for success.
No one will disagree with Mr. Plattner that the need for better communication exists. Clearly, this is a need for all times and situations. Mr. Plattner rightly identifies the need for educators to listen first to the complaints, criticisms, and articulations of parents. But I would suggest that even before we can begin to work at better communication, the need for respect and trust on both sides has to be addressed.
Here in California, after the recent rejection of the voucher initiative, one thing is clear: The community which we serve neither feels that we are listening and responding to them, nor is any longer feeling that the "experts know best.'' If this lesson has taught us anything, it is that we need to do more than communicate well. We need to listen, respond, and gain people's trust so that we can do the job we have been employed to do. The importance of gaining trust especially needs recognition today if any type of reform is to succeed.
I would hope that the call to better communication skills is combined with a call for development of the ability to respond to community needs and build the trust of those we serve.
Charles J. Tilley
San Francisco, Calif.