Letters to the Editor
As a consultant to Hirsch, I will soon begin to set up a nationwide network of Indian educators to help give Indian people themselves the power to select the aspects of their culture they believe every American should know. This will be, as far as I know, the first time a major educational effort in the United States incorporates so many of the positive cultural realities of our native tribes.
Many thanks to Teacher Magazine. Mick Fedullo Language Development Specialist Pryor, Mont.
I enjoyed David Hill's article on Lee Canter's approach to classroom control ["Order In The Classroom,'' April 1990]. Assertive Discipline is positive, practical, and good for kids. I'm just sorry that some of the "experts'' in the field of education who are cited in the article, such as Richard Curwin, Allen Mendler, and Linda Darling-Hammond, don't agree. These critics are obviously out of touch with the disorder, chaos, and lack of student discipline that characterizes many classroom across our country.
I'm amazed that Curwin and Mendler could criticize Canter's encouragement of obedience from children. As a father of three children and an educator for 27 years, I'll go with the time-tested virtue of obedience from children anytime. Or what about Darling-Hammond's statement that designating children's behavior as "bad'' results in "your children believing they themselves are bad''? Really? How naive can Darling-Hammond be? She ought to research what teachers across America--at all grade levels--are experiencing and saying. They would tell her that she missed the main point of Assertive Discipline: teaching children responsibility.
I'm glad these "experts'' are not teaching my own children and are not working in our school. Holland Johnson Principal Jefferson Junior High School Caldwell, Idaho
A high school English teacher for the past 15 years, I chose to enroll in the Canter class "Beyond Assertive Discipline'' only this past summer. I want to express my thanks to the Canters for all they have done to help teachers teach in the classrooms of high schools today.
It is so often easy to fault that which one doesn't fully understand. Such is the case with the charges against Assertive Discipline in the recent article in Teacher Magazine. In the fiveday course that I took this summer, I learned many things, including how to give directions, plan lessons, assign homework, change students' behavior through positive methods, and make teaching more enjoyable and fun for myself as well as for my students.
Assertive Discipline works. Those who call it "dehumanizing,'' "humiliating,'' and "dangerous'' lack knowledge about and experience with the classrooms in America today. Sandra K. Sanders Beech Senior High School Hendersonville, Tenn.
As a middle school math teacher for 23 years, I teach six 30-student classes per day, and I know Assertive Discipline works. You must have students' attention before you can teach, and Assertive Discipline does get their attention. Any successful program has its critics, but you cannot really appreciate Assertive Discipline's benefits unless you implement it in your own classroom. I say "thanks'' to Lee Canter. David S. Axelson Hillview Middle School Whittier, Calif. The advocates of Assertive Discipline seem to say in the end that it is good because it works--classrooms become more manageable, children behave better, more time is available for teaching and learning. They also ask how anyone could object to the notion that children need limits and clear expectations.
These arguments are superficial. Other systems may work equally well without the potential dangers of Assertive Discipline. In addition, children may behave better only because they have learned that blind obedience and scrupulous conformity are the price of comfort in the classroom.
The system is also potentially dangerous in two ways not mentioned in the article. First, causes of bad behavior do not get identified and addressed by Assertive Discipline while the behavior continues to be punished. This danger was illustrated by the case of an elementary school child in our school system who misbehaved and was punished every day. A parent who was a practicing psychologist and a classroom volunteer asked and was given permission by the teacher to speak with the child. The parent found that the child was being sexually and physically abused at home, and the misbehavior was a cry for help. Assertive Discipline did not require or even allow the teacher to spend time asking why. That is wrong, dangerous, and inconsistent with the simplest notion of a teacher's job.
Second, the approach treats children as objects to be manipulated rather than as future citizens who need to learn to think for themselves, challenge the precepts offered by authority figures, and argue about society's values. If adults value conformity and obedience above all else, when will children ever learn the importance of independence of mind in a democracy? Blair G. Ewing Member Montgomery County Board of Education Silver Spring, Md.
A colleague of mine recently introduced me to your very fine magazine. But something struck me as odd in your April issue. The cover story gave me the impression that although Assertive Discipline has a few beneficial aspects, over all it does more harm than good with regard to the selfesteem and dignity of children. What puzzles me is the fact that this article seems critical of Assertive Discipline and Lee Canter's method, yet on pages 10 and 11 of the same issue is a two-page ad for Canter's Assertive Discipline course. Did I miss something?
The article itself was very timely for me because I'd just given my supervisor a flyer describing the course and asked if I might attend. (I work in a 12-month program for young adults who are handicapped.) I've since shown her the article and have changed my mind. Children are precious, individual beings that deserve more than this totalitarian method of classroom management. I'm grateful to your magazine. But please, get your message straight: Are you selling Assertive Discipline or are you selling out? Mary D. Backer Norwalk, Conn.
Editor's Note: Educators clearly disagree over the merits of Assertive Discipline. The purpose of the article was to air as objectively as we could the questions being raised about a program that is widely used in the nation's schools. Canter had contracted to advertise before he knew an article was being written, and the editors had completed and scheduled the article before they were aware of the ad. Teacher's editorial and advertising departments are completely separate, and Teacher--like all magazines-- accepts legitimate advertising without endorsing any products or services. We were neither "selling Assertive Discipline'' nor "selling out.''
I was pleased to see an airing of views on Lee Canter's Assertive Discipline program in your April issue. I thought teachers might want to know more about the two bodies of research that bear directly on the techniques espoused by Assertive Discipline. One is the group of studies (well over 100 published in highly regarded research journals) that have consistently found negative effects of rewards and punishments on learning, the quality of task performance, creativity, self-concept, and long-term intrinsic motivation. The effects have been found when extrinsic reward schemes are used with preschoolers, elementary students, secondary students, college students, and older adults in a wide range of learning situations. Additional negative effects of punishment as a reinforcement tool have been documented for more than 40 years, beginning with B.F. Skinner, the father of reinforcement theory, who concluded in 1957 that the evidence was even then overwhelming that the detrimental effects of punishment--fear and anxiety, resentment, and impaired learning capacity--far outweighed any short-term benefits.
The second body of research bears on the effects of the Assertive Discipline program itself and its relative benefit compared with alternative disciplinary policies. Two reviews of research on Assertive Discipline have recently been published. Both concluded that the claims made for Assertive Discipline are not verified by research. While some studies have found that administrators or teachers felt positively about their training, none has documented positive effects on student attitudes or learning, and many of them have found negative effects on student attitudes, behavior, and learning. Canter deletes all negative findings when he prints summaries of these studies. Linda Darling-Hammond Professor Teachers College Columbia University New York City Diploma Mills
We believe that much of the information presented in the recent article by Lisa Wolcott ["The Diploma Mill Scam,'' January 1990] will be useful to your readers. We have spent more than seven years studying the problem of diploma mills in higher education and welcome this effort by your publication.
We must protest, however, the author's recommendation of Bear's Guide to Earning Non-Traditional College Degrees by John Bear as a source of information about higher education programs. We believe that this publication is, on the contrary, unreliable and that the author is, and has been, less than fully forthcoming about his own involvement with unaccredited organizations.
The current volume, for example, includes a long list of organizations under the heading of "Degree Mills.'' These entities are, by any standard, egregious examples of that breed. However, this heading makes it less obvious that many of the organizations in the "Regular Non-Traditional Schools and Programs'' section of the publication are not accredited by agencies recognized by the Council on Postsecondary Accreditation or the U.S. Department of Education. Their mere inclusion with appropriately accredited institutions lends them credence.
Lisa Wolcott might also have taken a longer look at Bear's personal involvement with unaccredited institutions, some of which he has highly recommended in his guides. By his own account, he created in 1972 an organization called "London Institute for Applied Research'' and offered "Phony honorary doctorates for sale, $25.''
He was the first president of Fairfax University in Louisiana (a state with virtually no laws governing the authority of colleges and universities to award degrees), though he now reports that he is being threatened with a lawsuit by the current president of Fairfax. In the 8th edition of the Guide, Bear gave a rave report about Columbia Pacific University, an unaccredited institution in California. Not until the 9th edition did he acknowledge that he owned "a small amount of stock (which I never voted or collected dividends on, and which I no longer have)'' in Columbia Pacific University. Considering this statement, we were surprised to find among official records maintained by the California Department of Education that Bear at one time owned 30 percent of the stock in Columbia Pacific University.
Although he currently lives in Hawaii, Bear serves as president of the International Institute for Advanced Studies, an unaccredited institution located in Clayton, Mo. It is worth noting that Missouri and Hawaii have notoriously weak laws governing the incorporation and operation of degreegranting institutions. On this account, these states have become havens for large numbers of educational institutions that are not accredited by agencies recognized by either COPA or the U.S. Department of Education.
We believe that your readers deserve to know at least this much
about John Bear and his "guides.'' David W. Stewart Henry A. Spille The
Center for Adult Learning and Educational Credentials American Council
on Education Authors of Diploma Mills: Degrees of Fraud
Editor's Note: John Bear is an expert on diploma mills and was referred to us by the FBI. His directory was included as a reference mainly because it lists diploma mills. With the exception of his involvement with Columbia Pacific University, Bear acknowledged, either in print or in discussions with Lisa Wolcott, all of the activities mentioned by Stewart and Spille. He called his London venture a joke meant to bring attention to phony degrees. Proper Grooming About those teenage girls Jessica Siegel taught who "use makeup like 40-yearold divorces'' ["It's The Kids Who Keep You Going,'' April 1990]: Tell me Ms. Siegel, just how does a 40-yearold divorce use makeup? As a 37-yearold divorce, I only have three years to bone up. Lynn Stearns Fostoria, Ohio
Surviving On Less
Last week, while eating a nutritious lunch packed in an inconspicuous paper bag, I decided to expand my horizons by reading your magazine. When I came across the article about the plight of Dawn Carmel ["How To Survive On $25,000,'' April 1990], I almost coughed up my cookies.
Private school teachers have educated millions of children earning less than Dawn earns as a first-year teacher. Many teachers with 20 years of experience in the private schools earn $20,000. We do not need a financial planner to help us prioritize our lives. No unions herald our plight, there are no strikes that disrupt schools, and the community does not rush to help solve our financial dilemmas.
Your staff should concentrate on articles dealing with the crisis
within the Catholic school system and leave Dawn to figure out how
she'll spend her next year's increase in pay. Christine J. Maszka St.
Paul of the Cross School Park Ridge, Ill.
When I finished reading Pearl Kane's commentary ["Love Of Learning Isn't Enough,'' April 1990], I became very angry. I have been teaching for 19 years and I resent Kane's statement that "the most highly qualified and capable teachers are the most likely to leave.'' This implies that those of us who are veterans are somehow less than qualified or that we cannot do anything else.
While many of the drawbacks Kane described exist, we will never eliminate the problems if people continue to discourage well-qualified, enthusiastic people from becoming professional teachers. Regardless of the job Lisa chooses, she will find frustrations and stumbling blocks. I ask her to join us, to help us raise teaching to the professional level we deserve. More importantly, I ask her to share her love of learning and education with the thousands of young people whose lives she could touch during a career as a teacher. Bernadette Curry Derry Township School District Hershey, Pa.
Pearl Kane missed a wonderful opportunity to guide her daughter's career path. Teacher empowerment, which Kane describes as giving hope to the future of public education, is already the very hallmark of independent school education, the career to which Kane's daughter Lisa should give serious consideration. Independent schools, in which the students and parents enroll by choice, excel by providing teachers with academic freedom and classroom autonomy and by expecting their participation in collegial decisionmaking. Ongoing professional development and peer interaction are encouraged and supported, and independent schools present teachers with significant extracurricular leadership opportunities and the chance to make a real difference in the lives of young people.
Lisa, before giving up on education, visit an independent school. I think you will like what you see. Michale F. Maher Headmaster Oak Hall School Gainesville, Fla.
I'd like to comment on your recent article on rural schools ["Too Many Rural School Districts?,'' March 1990]. I have taught for more than 20 years in a rural school whose peak population, grades 7 through 12, was about 500 and which now has about 315 students. Our school is like a huge extended family. I graduated from here in 1962. My mother graduated from here in 1932. I'm now teaching the children of the students I first taught, and I hope to teach their grandchildren. That is the strength of our school, and it is the strength of our town. We know one another, and we care about one another.
And now bottom-line-oriented legislators want to take that away from us and create for us the same cold, anonymous, and uncaring climate that now exists in large cities. The problem isn't rural schools or small schools. The problem is poverty. The rural poor often come from homes where they are told academics are a waste of time. What's important is getting a job as soon as possible.
If legislators really want to help educate the poor, they need to work toward creating small, communitybased schools and toward changing education. The educational system should accept differences, teach selfrespect, encourage creativity, and reward cooperation through individualized instruction, small-group collaboration, and learning for mastery--just like the old one-room schoolhouse. Carol Lee Myers East Brady, Pa. Union, No
Your special section for new teachers in April was a real contribution. How I wish this information had been available to me when I first began. Although your discussion of teacher unions ["Who Speaks For You?,'' April 1990] was generally accurate, I was disappointed to find there was no mention of the independent professional state associations that offer teachers an alternative to the National Education Association and American Federation of Teachers in 19 states. More than 150,000 educators have chosen to join these associations voluntarily and to work to improve schools without creating the divisive atmosphere of monopoly bargaining and forced dues. These associations offer teachers a choice. And isn't that as it should be in a free nation? Jo Seker Director Concerned Educators Against Forced Unionism Springfield, Va.
I was surprised to see how quick you were to distance yourself from any perceived endorsement of Representative William Dannemeyer's statement about homosexuality in schools and to add the editor's note that his comments were "exaggerated, unfair, and antagonistic'' ["Letters,'' March 1990]. Your endorsement of the gay viewpoint is evident by printing two letters from gay teacher special-interest groups and none from those who share Dannemeyer's concerns.
In my opinion, the existence of such groups as the Gay Teachers'
Association and Educators For Lesbian/Gay Concerns, the inclusion of
two such letters, and your note further verify Dannemeyer's position.
Anyone for a heterosexual teachers' association? No wonder public
education is in crisis! Dan File Badger Road Elementary School North
Editor's Note: We didn't print any letters agreeing with Dannemeyer because this is the first and only one we received.
Sympathy For The Devil?
I would like to respond to the comment of Lee Anderson ["In Quotes,'' March 1990] asking why those who object to witches in children's textbooks have no problem teaching that "a creature with horns and a forked tail is trying to lure all of us to eternal torture.''
Such people are usually committed Christians who see the blatant discrepancy between allowing witchcraft to be presented in the public school while making taboo any presentation of God or anything related to Christianity. Why should witches, occult practices, Eastern mystical religions, etc. be filtered into school while no mention of the Bible or moral absolutes is allowed? This is an issue of grave importance for anyone concerned about the state of our children and the decay of our society. Lisa Thompson Special-Needs Teacher Montgomery County Public Schools Centerville, Ohio