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Grant Writing Is No Job For Failing Principals

To the Editor:

I read with dismay your recent article on the ouster of 12 principals in the Denver school system due to the unsatisfactory progress of their students (related story ). I do not quarrel with the decision to make principals responsible for school improvement and student performance. I do object, however, to the reassignment of a number of these individuals to writing grant proposals.

As a grants professional, I frankly resent the implications of this decision. It appears to say that no matter how badly administrators have performed in managing a school, they can be entrusted with the responsibility of developing grant proposals without fear of failure. It portrays an all-too-common, but erroneous, opinion that any educator can develop successful grant proposals, even if he has been ineffectual in other endeavors. This is not true. Anyone might be assigned to write proposals, but only those who are skilled, proficient, and knowledgeable of grantsmanship can develop successful, competitive proposals.

Such a proposal is, in the most basic sense, a plan for creating change. It is a plan that is based upon documentation of needs or problems; reflects an understanding of the cause of the problem; suggests plausible solutions and methods for meeting identified needs, which are supported by research or some competent authority; and presents realistic, measurable objectives and a plan to honestly evaluate their accomplishment.

The Denver principals, I suggest, did not plan effectively, did not understand the needs of their pupils, did not know how to create positive change, and did not evaluate how well they were meeting district objectives. They should be the last choice to become grant-proposal writers in the school district, not the first.

This reassignment will compound the problems Denver school officials are facing and will make matters worse, not better. It is also an affront to competent grant-development professionals in public school systems everywhere.

Frank Mandley
Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Public Will, Market Forces, And 'Socialist Education'

To the Editor:

As a member of the educational establishment, Norm Fruchter in his Commentary blindly refuses to acknowledge that public education--that is, government-owned and -operated education--is a social experiment that has failed, and that no matter how he and his colleagues attempt to transform it, it is not going to work (related story ).

Just as Communism could not be transformed by Mikhail Gorbachev to make it work, neither can our socialist education system be effectively transformed. The reason is very simple: The original proponents of government education were driven by the messianic certainty that a secular education could produce moral perfection. Just as Communism failed to produce the new Soviet man, so has secular government education failed to produce that model of moral perfection. What we have instead is a moral nightmare.

Secular government education must be abandoned because education is morally a function of religion and therefore must be private. Even our secular public schools are governed by a religion called humanism. One merely has to read the two Humanist Manifestos to recognize the philosophical basis of the current public school curriculum. In other words, our government education system represents an establishment of religion and is therefore a violation of the U.S. Constitution.

Secular government education must also be abandoned because of the enormous and irreparable harm it is doing to millions of American children. The fact that in some elementary classrooms half the students are on Ritalin is proof enough that the system is morally, spiritually, and academically bankrupt.

Indeed, what is basically wrong with the system is its compulsory nature. Compulsory school attendance is a form of involuntary servitude, which is completely incompatible with the principles of a free society. We hear much about children's rights. But what about the child's right not to be forced in a public institution to be "educated"?

Mr. Fruchter sees the present debate as one between public control and market forces. But it is much more than that. It is between humanism and Biblical religion, between government control and educational freedom. The growing, vibrant home-school movement and the increasing frustration of such educators as Mr. Fruchter are clear indicators of which way the irresistible winds of change are blowing.

Samuel L. Blumenfeld
Waltham, Mass.

Gleaning Religious Content In Andy Warhol's Soup Cans

To the Editor:

Warren A. Nord argues that public school students are "indoctrinated" when secular, scientific heuristics are employed to the exclusion of competing religious paradigms in the interpretation of natural phenomena, history, and human experience (related story ). Mr. Nord defends the inclusion of religious perspectives in public curricula as "constitutionally liberal," asserting that the U.S. Supreme Court interpretation of the establishment clause requires that public schools be neutral in such matters.

The devil, of course, is in the details. Let us for the moment ignore the thorny issue of which religious tenets California and West Virginia schools might find acceptable in the pursuit of truth and consider the implications of Mr. Nord's position for curricular content--specifically, latitude in evaluating the appropriateness of teachers' presentations--and so-called school choice.

Though space does not permit, I am confident that an argument can be made (and, no doubt, has been elsewhere made) that artistic creation is a distinctly, and perhaps essentially, religious act. To appreciate an artist of special interest in my district, Andy Warhol, and to fully appreciate his vast body of work, one must acknowledge the role that his devotion to Catholicism played in its creation. (Indeed, at one point Mr. Warhol insisted that his collaborators at the famous New York City Factory studio share his religious outlook.)

It has been said that Andy Warhol codified the familiar--soup cans, wallpaper, popular icons--which, on one interpretation inspired by a religious heuristic, is an intensely Christian act because it glorifies and elevates man's products, which are God-inspired in Christian doctrine. One wonders about the response of school boards to an art teacher's suggestion that Mr. Warhol's oxidized "piss paintings," produced with urine, owe their inspiration to the artist's piety and can be seen in light of Christ's parable in Matthew wherein servants are exhorted to produce according to their gifts.

One also wonders how Robert Mapplethorpe's art and Madonna's use of religious imagery might be deconstructed in public school classrooms within religious paradigms, as they surely must, for Mr. Nord argues not simply for the inclusion of religious studies in school curricula but the use of religious modes of thought in the service of "making sense of the world."

Assuming that individual districts are capable of satisfying the disparate interests of their constituents in this regard (and art history is probably among the least contentious of the disciplines that would have to be revisited), the most profound impact of such reform and, probably, its principal rationale, would be to blur the distinction between secular and religious education.

Once this divide is at least partially bridged, that is, once public monies are devoted to even broadly defined religious education in public schools, the common constitutional argument against public subsidy for private religious education has, to that extent, been defanged.

In the debate, then, over public subsidizing of private religious education (in truth, the only real school-choice debate in a national system where most private institutions are parochial), the question of choice shifts from a choice between secular and religious education to the type of religious education one prefers.

As long as public schools are offering types of a certain description, the selection of types offered in private institutions becomes equivalent to the selection of magnet schools based solely on one's preference for one academic focus or another.

Daniel H. Morrow
Pittsburgh, Pa.

Boyer Should Rethink View on Charter Schools

To the Editor:

With all due respect to your fine article on Ernest L. Boyer, I find Mr. Boyer's opposition to charter schools and school choice incomprehensible (related story ).

This is especially true in light of his recent report "The Basic School." That study calls for "the basic school" to function as a community, and provide a coherent curriculum, a climate for learning, and a commitment to character. This model has existed in private and parochial schools for over 200 years. If these schools were allowed a patent, Mr. Boyer would owe them a large sum of money.

Considering the state of public education in this country, I believe it is time for Mr. Boyer to re-evaluate his view of human nature and make all providers of education compete for our children. Competition and accountability will bring out the best in our educational professionals, to the benefit of all our children.

Ronald T. Bowe
Pittsburgh, Pa.

Being 'Required' To Serve Is an Educational Oxymoron

To the Editor:

The logic presented by Rob Teir and Suzanne Goldsmith in their Commentary, "Teaching Citizenship Is Not Slavery," is flawed (related story).

First, the authors state that the interest of the parents in the upbringing of their children does not give them a veto over every public school requirement. I don't believe there are any parents who want to veto every requirement, but parents should and do have the right to direct the education of their children. Parents do not abrogate that right just because they send their children to school.

Second, I do not equate teaching citizenship with community service, nor do I believe that service-learning requirements cut to the core mission of public schools, that being, according to the authors, to educate children for citizenship.

The core mission of public schools has been to educate children--period. Adding "for citizenship" limits what education the child should receive. Is mathematics necessary for citizenship? Are reading and science necessary? Does citizenship imply public service? If so, then is it the mission of public schools to educate for public service?

Since service is defined (according to Webster's Dictionary) as "the occupation or condition of a servant, work done for a master or feudal lord," I believe it can be said, in all seriousness, that requiring students to do community service is servitude.

Consider what Abraham Lincoln might have intended (for a child's education) when he issued the Emancipation Proclamation. He probably had in mind excellence in academic disciplines, such as Latin, Greek, Bible (a required subject in the 1860's), mathematics, history, elocution, etc. You can bet he never would have envisioned taking time away from those areas to send a teenager into the community to shelve books in a library, wash a fire engine, or clean a street.

A final flaw in the authors' logic appears in the statement: "Students are free to choose their assignments, subject to the approval of a committee." Clearly, if a committee must approve, the students are not free to choose.

The reason over a million students are engaged in school-based community service is not because of the "training" they will receive; it is because of the state and federal dollars available to schools with these programs. If the carrot had never been waved, this requirement in all likelihood would never have been instituted.

This is another area in which we fall behind the rest of the world in time spent on academics. If a student spends, say, 50 hours doing community service, isn't that time he or she could have spent doing homework or athletics?

I don't disagree that community service is an effective experiential-learning activity, but it should be completely voluntary. Being "required to volunteer" in a community is an oxymoron--you cannot be required to volunteer for anything.

Judi Hahn
Cincinnati, Ohio

The writer is a former member of the Ohio state board of education.

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