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Published in Print: March 21, 2001, as Letters

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First, let me thank Louisa C. Spencer for volunteering her time to tutor children in New York City schools ("Two Views of District 2: Progressivism's Hidden Failure," Commentary, Feb. 28, 2001). We need more folks who are willing to assist our work in making public schools the best they can be.

To the Editor:

First, let me thank Louisa C. Spencer for volunteering her time to tutor children in New York City schools ("Two Views of District 2: Progressivism's Hidden Failure," Commentary, Feb. 28, 2001). We need more folks who are willing to assist our work in making public schools the best they can be.

But let me also say that I am concerned that Ms. Spencer seems to think her volunteer status gives her the knowledge and authority to critique the school in which she works. Everyone who's gone to school seems to think they have expertise about schooling. They don't. This can be seen in Ms. Spencer's arguments against progressive/constructivist approaches to literacy education. They lack evidence, other than the vague references she provides to "rigorous experimental research." And I wonder what the ellipses she inserts in her long quotation from Howard Gardner's work would reveal if the excerpt had been quoted in its entirety.

I am much more troubled, however, by the language she uses to describe the children she is supposedly helping: "deprived," "disadvantaged," and "underprivileged." This language reveals much about what she knows and does not know and what she believes:

•All of these words blame students for who they are.

•None of them value what students know and can do.

•None shows any knowledge and awareness of critical and/or political understandings of educating.

•All hide an invidious comparison to the dominant (read white, middle-class) cultural model of school and learning.

•None gives evidence of taking any responsibility for creating school contexts that are characterized by institutional racism and classism.

Before anyone takes on the role of critic, they would be wise to educate themselves to better understand not only what is going on in schools, but why.

Nancy Lester

Associate Professor

Literacy Education

Medgar Evers College

City University of New York

Brooklyn, N.Y.

To the Editor:

Louisa C. Spencer, whose Commentary criticized the so-called "progressive" educational policies of Manhattan's District 2, was identified as a member of Learning Leaders, a citywide school volunteer organization in New York City. Ms. Spencer is a volunteer, not a member of our board of directors.

There are 9,500 Learning Leaders volunteers throughout the city, and it is a fair bet that each one of them has a distinct opinion about which educational strategies work best. We respect Ms. Spencer's right to express her views, but wish to note that they are not those of our organization, and that there are many volunteers in District 2 who would strongly disagree.

Carol Kellermann

Executive Director

Learning Leaders

New York, N.Y.

Vol. 20, Issue 27, Page 41

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