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Connections: Open Doors And Closed Minds

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A democracy needs thoughtful, even controversial, discussion, and if the essential debate is to flourish, people must be exposed to a wide range of ideas and a broad spectrum of opinion. If everyone were to reject magazines or newspapers that published a view counter to their own, our society would become even more fragmented and single-issue oriented than it is now.

We didn't publish the articles on English immersion or homosexual students or Assertive Discipline to stir up controversy. The controversy was already inherent in the topics. We published them because they are about important issues confronting teachers--and because we believe that even points of view that many of us may disagree with deserve an opportunity to be heard. If they aren't worthy, they won't survive in the free marketplace of ideas. If they aren't allowed to be expressed, we won't have a free marketplace of ideas. That is not poor journalism; that is what journalism is all about and why it is protected under the First Amendment. Moreover, the October issue of Teacher Magazine carried another Viewpoint essay titled "Bilingual Education Works.''

What surprises and disappoints us most is that these letters come from teachers. Where can we expect to find open minds, if not among teachers? Where can we hope to find a hospitable climate for the clash of ideas and opinions, if not in education? Indeed, how can a magazine avoid controversy and conflicting opinions if its mission is to report seriously about the issues facing American educators today?

This issue of Teacher Magazine makes the point. In the article beginning on page 48, three teachers in Richland, Wash., stand against most of their colleagues in a debate over the propriety of their high school's symbol (a mushroom cloud) and motto ("Nuke 'em''). Controversial? You bet! But we're publishing it to stimulate thought, not to "stir up controversy.'' This is an article about the importance of symbols and what they teach students; it's about values in a school and a community and how economic factors influence those values. It is about teachers (on both sides) who stand up for what they believe in and what that may cost them.

Our cover story on gifted and talented programs, which begins on page 36, is less obviously controversial. But it, too, raises issues that raise hackles. Is it fair to provide enrichment programs to some students but not others? Is it fair to especially bright students to put them in classes where instruction is geared to the average (if not the slowest) students? How is a teacher supposed to meet the needs of all students in a class that includes near-geniuses and near-learning-disabled?

There are no serious issues in education (or any other area) on which there is unanimous agreement. If people with opposing views listen with open minds to each other, there is at least a possibility that they will gain new perspectives, information, and ideas.

As a former president of Yale University once said, "The only sure weapon against bad ideas is better ideas.'' How do we know ideas are bad unless we listen? How do we get better ideas if we tune out the debate?

Ronald A. Wolk

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