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On State Chiefs' Defections: 'Tale of Woe' From Britain

To the Editor:

The withdrawal or withholding of state dues by two members of the Council of Chief State School Officers is very troubling ("Citing Politics, Two States Pull Out of Chiefs' Group," Sept. 13, 1995, and "To Fill Void, Officials From Nine States Form Coalition," Sept. 27, 1995). Sadly, it seems to reflect both the waxing polarity of American society and a waning willingness to listen to alternative points of view.

My own association with the ccsso has been as a member and one-time president of the Society of Education Officers of England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. That association is not a trade union, but rather an organization devoted to the promotion of public education and the development of administrators who serve within it.

Leaders of the state schools chiefs' group regularly visit the Society of Education Officers' annual convention, where I have met and heard American education leaders with vision, knowledge, and commitment. As the president of the seo, I have had the opportunity to visit the annual convention of the ccsso, listen to lots of well-informed debates, and return to the United Kingdom with armfuls of materials describing how individual states are addressing issues of strategic importance. To portray the ccsso simply as an educational (and ipso facto left-wing) lobbying organization is a misrepresentation of both the organization and its distinguished executive director.

If people interested in educational development are only willing to talk seriously with those who share their own point of view--and the current state of play in New York amply illustrates this malaise--I see nothing but trouble for public education in this country. Margaret Thatcher's Britain provides a cautionary tale of woe to those who believe that successful educational development can rest for long on an insubstantial platform of political fiat. Successful change in public schools has to be built on consensus among a whole range of stakeholders.

If state educational leaders disassociate themselves from the wider national debate, they are in no position to discharge their responsibilities effectively.

Christopher Farmer
Los Gatos, Calif.

Teaching Social Awareness Should Begin in Early Grades

To the Editor:

Thank you for your Commentary "Beyond IQ" (Sept. 27, 1995). As a special educator, I have spent much time attending to the "emotional literacy" of the students who present themselves in my classroom. I agree with Daniel Goleman that human beings need to learn what I refer to as social awareness. This only occurs, in my experience, over time, when students have someone point out to them what caused a specific emotion that in turn had some negative consequence that they were unprepared for.

I am currently in a preschool integrated program. We focus much attention on feelings and discuss alternative ways of dealing with emotional outbursts that are inappropriate at best and harmful at worst. I have seen children benefit from this consistent environment and go on to be able to handle the rigors of a kindergarten program without evidence of the behavior problems that originally brought them to the attention of an early-intervention program.

At our morning circle, children talk about feelings, and those feelings are valued by all adults from the beginning of the school year. I am always pleased to observe how that value becomes a part of our children's lives; empathy can and is taught on a daily basis. When an outburst or crisis arises, the student who is being hurtful receives as much attention as the one who was hurt. This is done in a respectful and serious tone which implies that although the behavior was unacceptable, it was a response or communication of some kind and together we will explore options to help the student respond in a more appropriate way.

After my experience working with emotionally disturbed adolescents, I am convinced that the earlier students learn to deal with their emotions, the less likely it is that they will be traumatized by their behaviors later on in life. I am pleased to hear that schools are taking a closer look at this important aspect of our education.

Karen Bartoletti
Special-Education Teacher
Ellenville, N.Y.

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