Gifted Program Teacher
Fort Worth, Texas
Is there a conflict between equality and excellence when we provide services for our very capable children? Equality is excellence. Equality means giving all children an appropriate education. Giving children what they need to reach their highest potential is not special treatment. Doctors do not prescribe penicillin to everyone they see. They evaluate each one's condition and give each treatment based on his or her needs. Equal and the same are not synonymous.
Special (Appropriate) Education
After carefully reading your article on gifted students, I wish to protest its biased, negative tone. The writer failed to point out one basic fact: Gifted education is one form of special education. To deny gifted children this education is merely a failure to recognize individual differences. This is not to say that gifted education in its various guises is perfect. There is an underidentification of minority students and other students who are both handicapped and gifted. Stereotypes about gifted children abound, and children are overlooked. More communication among parents, schools, and the children is needed. However, articles like yours, with its negative connotations, do not help solve the problems.
Supervisor of Gifted Programs
Lower Merion School District
As a product of a "gifted'' program, I read with great interest your recent article. My participation in that program was the directive force in my life. I come from a lower-middle-class, white family from racially mixed, blue-collar East Baltimore. I was fortunate to be taught in 1967 by a 6th grade teacher who was given free rein with the more academically advanced one-third of his class. He abandoned the standard curriculum and allowed us to pursue a self-paced reading program, social studies based on independent research and paper writing, and mathematics beyond arithmetic. Many of this group advanced with me to an accelerated program in junior high and on to a college-prep curriculum in high school. Some of us went on to college. I am now a software engineer (married to a teacher) who believes that life and learning are inseparable. I sadly add that the program I was part of was short-lived. I argue that tracking and isolation were crucial to our success. The inspiration we got would have been impossible in an academically heterogeneous class. Also, our teachers clearly enjoyed teaching us, and I can see no fault in that. It is hypocritical for the educational establishment to stress achievement but enforce mediocrity. Neither mediocrity nor parity equates to equality.
I have taught middle school gifted students for six years. Seventh grade gifted students have usually developed poor habits in grade school because everything has been so easy for them. They need help to get themselves working up to their potential, and many need help to feel good about themselves. They do not "get it regardless,'' as some educators believe.
Flagstaff Junior High School
I was dismayed to read your comment ["Connections,'' February] concerning the problems teachers face in meeting the needs of "a class that includes near-geniuses and near-learning disabled.'' As a teacher of learning disabled children, I am aghast that an editor of a reputable teacher magazine would imply that the two categories are at the opposite extremes of the spectrum. Nothing could be further from the truth. These qualities can and do exist in the same child. Surely you are aware that by definition, learning disabled children must have at least average IQs? Wasn't Einstein learning disabled?
I found it incredible and disturbing that a school would use a mushroom cloud as a school symbol ["Living Under A Cloud,'' February]. I found it even more annoying that many in the community and on the faculty seem to think it's just grand. Don't the people of Richland realize that the cloud represents death and destruction in its most heinous form? I can understand being proud of a local nuclear plant, and I can even understand civic pride in the nuclear history of the area, but to glorify the use of nuclear weapons sends a very dangerous message to the students.
I applaud the efforts of the educators who are trying to eradicate this symbol. In a time when countries are negotiating to dispose of their nuclear arsenals and when we all are beginning to realize the havoc and annihilation the arsenals could bring to our world, it's unbelievable that Richland continues to exalt these terrible weapons. Do any Japanese-American students attend Richland? I wonder how they enjoy wearing that symbol.
What kids learn is just as important as how kids learn. And what Richland is teaching its youth is that the use of force and the destruction of human life are acts to be admired. How the students learn this is through that symbol. The fact that most of the students do not even understand the historical significance of the mushroom cloud is even more inexcusable. I lived in Japan for a year as an exchange student. I know what that cloud means. I know what it is like to sit with 500 Japanese peers watching a movie about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I saw the "hibakusha,'' the holocaust survivors. Again and again, I choked out in my broken Japanese the only phrase I knew that could express my feelings: My heart hurts. The slogan on the Richland students' jackets--Nuke 'Em--sends chills down my spine.
Not The Last?
I was very excited when I noticed the cover blurb on your February issue, which touted "The Last Single Sex High School In America.'' I thought for sure that my former high school was finally going to get the nationwide attention it deserves. You cannot imagine my disappointment when I discovered the story was not about my alma mater. Girls' High in Philadelphia is one of the last two girls' schools in the nation; Western High School in Baltimore shares this distinction.
Salisbury State University
Editor's Note: We were so confident of the several sources we checked that we foolishly violated one of our cardinal rules: Never say anything is unique, the only, the first, or the last. Our apologies.
He Did Some Good Things
Your article on Michael Milken ["The Felonious Philanthropist,'' January] shows just how uneducated some educators really are. If I were an educator, I would certainly become more motivated and creative in my job in the hope of someday receiving the Milken-funded educator award. The press has painted a false image of Michael Milken. During the last five years, I have had the opportunity to travel with Milken to over 100 classrooms, the majority of which were located within our depressed inner cities. I have seen the children there, some disabled and abused, respond to Milken in a way no other teacher or adult has ever touched them. I have seen Milken make the learning of mathematics a positive and exciting experience. Faculty members who came into the classroom to observe Milken work were amazed by his ability to teach and his immediate rapport with each student. As a parent, I am grateful to Michael Milken and his family for the serious commitment they have made to education.
Change That Mug
As educators, we spend a great deal of energy combating the negative image that the media create about schools. When I received a mug as a bonus for my subscription renewal to Teacher Magazine, I was disheartened to realize that the mug was designed in a sensationalistic way, featuring the story on diploma mills. These mugs are displayed in thousands of classrooms, homes, and school offices; shouldn't Teacher Magazine offer mugs that better represent the good things in education? I enjoy the magazine, but I look forward to receiving a positive mug next year, one that I can proudly display on my desk.
New Britain High School
New Britain, Conn.
And More Hoops
Jeffrey Wells' article about the bureaucratic maze facing job seekers ["Jumping Through Hoops,'' November/December] highlighted an important problem. Let me suggest some solutions. Your magazine can help by telling us where there are teacher shortages. I also recommend that those interested in teaching keep plugging despite the obstacles. Try substituting, being a teacher's aide in a special education class, or working with children through churches and youth centers. And don't let the maze harden you.
A Teacher's Influence
I applaud Harvey-Ann Ross' article ["The Gift Of Self,'' January]. It is candid and insightful. So often, we, as teachers, undervalue the extent to which our interactions with our students influence the course and direction of their ideas, attitudes, and opinions about themselves and the world around them. We are always faced with the rather monumental responsibility of developing minds and the risk of destroying them.
Public School 27
I am writing to you concerning the article about the teacher who is suing her school system because she lost her job when a learning disability made it impossible for her to pass the National Teachers Examinations. ["Fighting Mad,'' January]. I also have a disability, dysgraphia. I have founded a committee of the New York United Federation of Teachers, the Committee for the Capably Disabled (Address: 108-48 70th Road, No. 5B, Forest Hills, NY 11375), to fight for all those teachers who have disabilities. I would like to urge you to devote a special issue to educating teachers and other educators on the employment rights of disabled people under sections 503 and 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Acts, as well as the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act.
Forest Hills, N.Y.
An orchid to your editor for his recent article ["Open Doors And Closed Minds,'' February.]. His rebuttal to that teacher's letter was certainly explicit and complete. Keep up the good work. If the democratic way is to continue flourishing, professional educators must continue to keep minds open on the multitude of problems that face us.
Teacher Magazine welcomes letters. They must include your address and daytime phone number and may be edited for length and clarity. Mail them to: "Letters,'' Teacher Magazine, 4301 Connecticut Ave., N.W., Suite 250, Washington, DC 20008.
Fitness And Food
In most high schools and middle schools, an excellent source of information about foods is already available to students ["Unpleasantly Plump,'' January] in home economics classrooms. Students there learn skills in planning and preparing nutritious meals for themselves and their families. An interdisciplinary approach could expand nutrition lessons to include fitness information, encouraging a lifetime of good health practices.
Home Economics Teacher
Wyandanch Memorial High School
Your article on stress ["Stressed Out,'' January] provided an incisive, lucid depiction of the strains placed on teachers. It's a huge task to manage a classroom, teach, handle discipline problems, deal with parents, and adhere to administrative policies. Each teacher responds differently to these sources of stress. Your article provided many helpful hints on how to identify and relieve them.
St. Louis Park, Minn.
Not Just A Theory
If Maria Balmut Ward's views on evolution ["Letters,'' January] are indicative of the kind of science being taught in schools today, it is no wonder many Americans remain abysmally ignorant about human origins. Evolution is not "only a theory.'' It is the scientific principle--backed by overwhelming evidence--that forms the crux of the modern biological sciences. Creationism, by contrast, is a religious belief with no serious scientific support. If students exposed to both accept creationism, it is probably because biased teachers have promoted the pseudoscience as part of a fundamentalist religious crusade. Our children must be prepared to function in a highly competitive world of increasing complexity. Ancient myths masquerading as science won't help them.
G. Robert Boston
Silver Spring, Md.
I was astonished at Maria Balmut Ward's letter. She seems to equate "theory'' with opinion. A scientific theory is a hypothesis built on observations of facts. The hypothesis attempts to explain those facts in a coherent, inclusive manner and in a way that allows predictions made from the hypothesis to be verified. The assertions of creationism are not scientific theory. They are not subject to change with new evidence. I have taught biology and comparative religion at the college level. Creationism and evolution are not two sides of an issue as Ward asserted. To link them helps nothing and confuses much.
Park Forest, Ill.
Providing special programs for gifted children is not an either-or proposition. Fairness to all is achieved when all students are given the opportunity to reach their full potential.
Coordinator of Gifted
Lower Dauphin School District
Jeffrey Wells' article cut to the core of educational ills. I am a bilingual educator in the California community college system. Last year, because of a new law, I had to update my credential, even though I had been issued a "lifetime'' credential by the state. I entered a nightmarish bureaucracy riddled with inefficiency. I paid $389 to take a six-unit course called Vocational Educational Instruction, although I only teach English as a second language. The class, which was a complete waste of time, was mobbed because of the new law; we all felt cheated.
Last April, I filed my application for another lifetime credential, coughing up $40 dollars for the application fee. In August, I was informed that part of my application was lost and that unless I sent in the missing material in 10 days, I would have to begin the entire process again.
Wells is absolutely right: The system does little to encourage people to enter education. And once you do enter, it does little to make you want to stay.
Your recent article on writing and students' pain ["Writing Their Wrongs,'' February] caught my attention. I am a school liaison assigned to the Yuma, Ariz., schools by the State Department of Economic Security's Administration for Children, Youth and Families. I find journal writing is helpful when working with children suffering from child abuse or neglect. I would love to hear from readers who hold positions similar to mine or who have had experience working with school liaisons. I can be reached at Child Protective Services, 214 South Third Ave., Yuma, AZ 85364.