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Child Care, Mothering Should Not Be Either-Or

To the Editor:

As a strong supporter of quality child care and the development of a system that enables families to become self-sufficient, I get very concerned reading Isabel Sawhill's comments in your "Children and Families" column on a survey of families receiving public assistance (March 20, 1996). Her comments will undoubtedly be used to support very damaging policies, which I hope she herself would not intend. Nonetheless, people in her position must be more circumspect in making such comments because of how they will be used.

I do not think it is a logical leap to conclude, as she appears to, that because children receiving public assistance do poorly on tests, we can say that "high-quality day care would be more beneficial than being at home with their mothers all day." It is high time we stopped equating being a poor (in income) parent with being a poor (inadequate) parent. If we find children without knowledge of vocabulary, maybe we would be better off providing help to the whole family (mother included), such as through family-literacy programs, than to assume that the mother has relatively little to offer the child.

Moreover, the truth is that for the vast majority of children, such studies will be used to push mandatory work without the guarantee of high-quality child care, a situation which currently exists and promises to grow worse with federal welfare-reform proposals now under consideration. Why must everything be mother (read parent) or high-quality child care? What the vast majority of Americans want and need, whether rich or poor, is both. They needn't and shouldn't be pitted against each other.

Abby J. Cohen
Managing Attorney
Child Care Law Center
San Francisco, Calif.

Safeguarding Civil Rights Is an Educator's Duty

To the Editor:

In your story "Gay Students Press Abuse Claims Against Districts" (April 24, 1996), Lisa A. Rapacz, a lawyer for one Illinois school district mentioned, comments that her district is not legally responsible for the abuse endured by gay students. I can't help but think that if the type of harassment described were being endured by another minority group, the district would take more responsibility for it.

What message are we giving our students and future leaders by not taking responsibility for the protection of all students? It is our job as educators to provide a safe place without the distractions that come from constant fear of being abused during school hours.

Statistics tell us that gay and lesbian students are more at risk for suicide, alcoholism, and other social problems. If we deny this group of young people the support they so desperately need--for example, from the club they tried to establish in a Salt Lake City high school--we are not fulfilling our moral obligation to teach tolerance and respect for differences. This is clearly a civil-rights issue. Gay and lesbian students deserve protection, just as African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Hispanics, students with disabilities, and other groups that face discrimination because of their minority status do.

Providing a separate restroom for Jamie S. Nabozny, the Chicago student featured in your story, and changing his schedule to avoid harassers is putting a Band-Aid over a gaping wound. Providing sensitivity training would be much more effective.

Whose responsibility is it to address the civil rights of students? If we call ourselves educators, it is ours.

Linda A. Lamenza
St. Louis, Mo.

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