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Why No Campaign To Fight 'Human-Interaction Crisis'?

To the Editor:

In your May 1, 1996, Commentary section, Lin Foa, Richard L. Schwab, and Michael Johnson provide 13 principles from their research for effectively and efficiently infusing technology into American schools ("Upgrading School Technology").

The authors suggest that the"information-technology revolution" affects schools in powerful and dynamic ways. Certainly, the amount of money, time, and human resources allocated to these changes indicates a significant commitment by schools and communities. Lest that not be enough, however, a warning is provided that "[t]hose schools that don't ... become part of a worldwide web of information and interchange ... will produce kids who have limited opportunities for employment and success."

With national concern over increases in the antisocial behavior, violence, and abuse surrounding and affecting children, why aren't we also seeing a similar campaign for improving relations among schoolchildren and adding classroom teachers and support staff (for example, school counselors)? Imagine if the resources currently being allocated for technology were shared to support school children, classroom teachers, and human-services staff in promoting positive social interactions, mutual respect, and cultural understanding.

Some would even argue that success in school is related to getting along, understanding various perspectives, and respecting diversity. Maybe the day will come when middle schools have enough counselors, social workers, and home-school liaison staff to meet the needs of their students, the critical value being positive human interaction.

One would never argue that technology in schools is not important, or that technology cannot support or enrich learning. But given the crisis in human interaction we are experiencing in schools, why are we not campaigning with the same vigor and receiving the same widespread support for these issues as we are in developing plans for school technology?

Is it a matter of what is more important? If so, we should ask ourselves what impact greater and greater amounts of information will have on the quality of our lives. We should also ask ourselves whether getting along with our classmates and neighbors will lead to a safer and more satisfying life. Is there a relationship between technology and face-to-face human interactions? How do we learn from both to create a safe, inviting, and peaceful place where we get along and solve problems together? Should we? Can we?

Steven Grineski
Secondary Education and Foundations
Moorhead State University
Moorhead, Minn.

A 'Cottage School' Booster On Lunchrooms, Computers

To the Editor:

I am a strong believer in changing our bureaucracy-bound factory schools into home-bound cottage schools (teachers working with up to six students in their homes). Some of my reactions to your May 1, 1996, issue are as follows:

(1) "The Lunchroom": I certainly agree with you that "for a glimpse at the spirit of the school there may be no single place more revealing than the school lunchroom." However, I disagree that the horrid set of conditions you describe "churns with everyday insight and bubbles with local color."

I prefer my own favorite phrase for summing up how we treat school kids: We transport them to school like cattle, herd them through their lessons like sheep, and feed them like pigs at a common trough. You do a great job describing the swinefest we call a school cafeteria--but the nostalgia window dressing might invite readers to overlook the rampant child neglect going on there.

(2) "Upgrading School Technology": The writers of this Commentary listed some great common-sense tips for integrating technology into schools. They failed to mention, though, that telephones have been available for 80 years, have been in most homes for 60 years, but are yet to be found in the vast majority of classrooms.

How do you integrate telecommunications when the "tele" still isn't in place? Especially when most school systems are on the verge of bankruptcy? I'll tell you how: Use homes as classrooms. They not only have phones but computers, running water, handy bathrooms, a kitchen to cook a decent meal for kids--and a dining room table where they're expected to show proper table manners.

Laurel LaFramboise
Chelsea, Vt.

Uniform Memories: Another Vote for Dress-Code Option

To the Editor:

Reading the Commentaries on school uniforms ("Do They Reduce Violence--Or Just Make Us Feel Better?" and "Leaning Toward the Spartans and Away From the Athenians," April 3, 1996) brought back old memories of my years in jumpers and blouses: blue and white in grade school and maroon and tan in high school.

In high school, uniforms were, first and foremost, a time-saving device, and second, a statement of school pride. Preparing for school for the week meant no more than doing up the blouses and hanging up the jumper. There was no indecision in the morning--it was up, on with the uniform, and away. I spent my time getting my work done or getting a little more sleep, not worrying about what I was going to wear.

In Philadelphia, there were (and are) a number of Catholic schools with their color-coded uniforms. We, naturally, thought that Little Flower High was "the best," and were happy that people were able to recognize easily the school we attended. The nuns, of course, reminded us daily that we were carrying our own as well as our school's reputation on our backs as we boarded trolley cars or walked city streets.

After graduating and attending a secular college, I came to recognize that uniforms had a function that was not obvious to me when I wore one: They were social equalizers. Schoolwork, attitudes, and activity badges were the differentiators of "who was who" rather than clothes.

This year, I had the opportunity to spend a day at Little Flower High. Maroon-and-tan-clad girls still crowded the corridors during change of class and stood close together as they sang in chorus. What the sameness in outfit helped emphasize, I found, was the attitude of the girls, as expressed in their faces and body carriage.

Uniforms are not a solution for all school problems. There were and are troubled or "in trouble" kids in uniforms. For some, the kind of uniform chosen may not portray an acceptable image. But based on personal experience, I believe that uniforms should be among the options considered by schools to increase personal and institutional pride.

Marianne B. Cinaglia
Assistant Professor
Rowan College of New Jersey
Glassboro, N.J.

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