Letters to the Editor
The Phone Factor
I applaud Jennifer Chauhan for her article "The Last Frontier'' [September], which thoroughly described the benefits of telephones in the classroom. In my role as president of a telecommunications company, I have seen many schools benefit from the use of telephones in the classroom, including the Lockwood (Mont.) school mentioned in your story, a school that is using telephones manufactured by my company.
In addition to the many telephone applications cited by Chauhan, Lockwood is using its phones for another extremely important purpose. Often, if a student at Lockwood does outstanding work, the teacher encourages the student to call his or her parents to inform them of the good news right then and there. Hearing the positive reinforcement from parents in "real time'' is extremely gratifying and has boosted the children's classroom performance.
Many educators I have spoken with believe the most important factor in ensuring students' success in school is to have parents become active in and concerned about their child's education. But increases in the number of singleand two-parent working families mean there is much less time for parents to stay in touch with the classroom. At Lockwood, the telephone has become an important vehicle that involves parents in their children's education.
Telephones also are an important research tool and provide students with a meaningful lesson in resourcefulness. No matter how many books, courses, or reallife experiences educators offer, some types of information simply are beyond the reach of a student--that is, of those students without access to a telephone who are unable to locate sources of information beyond the walls of the school library. The telephone gives students another important vehicle to actively collect information. In today's "TV-saturated'' society, where children sit and "react'' passively an average of seven hours per day, it's extremely important for students to be "pro-active'' and seek out information. It is gratifying to see that the telephone is finally being used to educate the students of this country.
Telrad Telecommunications Inc.
Thank you for the report "Gay Awareness'' ["Current Events''] in the September issue of Teacher Magazine. How wonderful that the staffs of more than 100 public high schools in Massachusetts volunteered for training to meet the needs of their gay and lesbian students.
The article stated that school employees will learn "strategies for preventing violence and harassment against homosexual students.'' What strategies are there? I suggest that everyone could begin a positive improvement in their own school climate by taking this simple first step: Discourage the use of the insult "faggot.'' Many schools strictly forbid profanity and obscenities. When it comes to prohibiting racial slurs, school employees are strict. Are we just as emblematic in reprimanding those who cry "faggot''?
Let's stop the comparisons and criticism. Let's all resolve to open ourselves to new viewpoints, new experiences, and new understandings. I encourage teachers everywhere to get to know your gay and lesbian colleagues. No more name-calling. Peace.
I am writing to let you know how touched I was when I read "A Second Chance'' in your August issue. As a "recovered'' high school dropout and two-time runaway, I'm glad to see there is somewhere for students like this to turn.
I know from personal experience that it is not easy to go back to school. I dropped out two weeks into my senior year, but I eventually picked up my GED and now have two college degrees and am working toward a third.
Books cannot teach teachers how it feels to be a dropout; each case is different. You can learn more from listening to the person than you can from any piece of research.
This is why I became an educator. I don't want to see anyone go through the personal torture that I went through. It's a personal victory for me when I see an "atrisk'' student graduate.
Cassville (Mo.) Middle School
I was shocked by the item called "A Plot To Kill'' ["Current Events''] in your August issue. Yes, I was shocked that children would actually act on hateful impulses, but that was not the worst part. The worst was the district spokeswoman's response that the plot did not signify a school problem. What would constitute a school problem in her view? She goes on to say that she hated her 5th grade teacher, too. Is that the norm? Do we have to accept that? How sad! I'm thankful that I don't teach in that district. The parents there should be alerted to the attitudes of the district employees if this person speaks for them all.
In "Not So Special'' ["Viewpoint,'' August] David Krantz bitterly attacks current special education practices. As David is a former student of mine, I am delighted to see that he listened to my advice to challenge the status quo, to advocate for children, and to use the media to help change public policy. However, he has not heeded my admonition to be a scientist-practitioner. This requires databased decisionmaking and healthy skepticism about the panacea-mongers of education. He is not convincing about the evils of the medical model, the failings of the current special education model, and the virtues of regular education, especially for "the so-called learning-disabled child.''
Special education radical chic implies that eliminating labels that are associated with diagnosis will eliminate the underlying problem. Rather than dealing with the terribly complex ecological and psychoeducational diagnosis/treatment issues related to individual differences, self-proclaimed mavens of reform insist that learning problems are due to pedagogical inadequacies, rather than existing inside the child. From this either-or thinking flows politically correct rhetoric resplendent with an assortment of myths, half-truths, and downright falsehoods.
Krantz insists that most "knowledgeable scientists be- lieve that the [neurological] explanation for learning disabilities is bogus.'' In fact, there is ample clinical evidence that many children with learning disabilities, often concomitant with attention deficit disorders, do have neurological processing deficits.
The discovery of these deficits, by careful differential diagnosis, is often a relief to parents and teachers who may have previously labeled a child lazy or oppositional. In my experience, most children are happy to learn they are not stupid but need to learn in ways sometimes different from others.
To say that labels (diagnoses) are pejorative and don't have any value in intervention is not true. The problem is often that interventions (individual education plans) are often not followed by teachers. Also, some psychologists and special educators slavishly turn to computer-generated interventions without ongoing assessment to determine if they are working. Diagnosis must always be modified as a function of efficacy of treatment.
The broad generalization that "no one bothers to find out whether these children are learning'' is just not true. Each year, re-evaluations are conducted, as required by law. Most states administer yearly basic-skills tests and general achievement tests on all children, including those with learning disabilities. If these data are not available, those responsible are breaking the law.
While The Magic Feather and other books castigate (often correctly) special education, it is delivery, not the model, that is flawed. I have seen my share of horror stories in both special and regular education. But remember that children are placed in special education because of poor teaching, inability to learn in homogenized classrooms, psychological and pedagogical rejection by regular teachers, and ridicule by peers. With diminishing resources for education in general, especially in inner cities and poor rural districts, it is foolish and dangerous to assume that the breakup of the current special education system will improve the lot of children with disabilities.
It is a myth that classification is generally a "life sentence.'' Unfortunately, it is true in some school districts. But this is not the fault of special education but lousy administration.
I am surprised that David refers to the tests used by psychologists in classification as being of "questionable validity.'' Most of his career, he has worked for companies that ply these assessment instruments.
It is dangerous to confuse social equity with the reality of individual differences in academic performance. Every human trait, including intelligence and achievement, is normally distributed. For instance, even though the IQ test may be "invalid'' in the eyes of those who think eliminating it would somehow erase the effects of poor parenting, poverty, racism, and injustice, it is still the single best predictor of academic achievement and later success in life.
Simplistic solutions such as eliminating tests and diagnosis may sound like methods of ensuring social equity. The only answer is to eliminate inequity in our society. Then the need for special education will be greatly, but never fully, reduced.
As a special education teacher in a secondary setting, I have just one word for David Krantz's article, "Not So Special'': Amen!
Red Oak, Texas
Thinking Out Loud
Here are thoughts on two of your recent articles.
Your piece on the early research of the Rutgers University anthropologist Signithia Ford- ham ["Searching For Answers,'' August] was excellent. Developments such as this rarely get to a nonacademic audience until years after the research is completed. Your article has the effect of centering practitioner interest while awaiting the scholars' conclusions.
The equally interesting article "Woman On A Mission,'' in the same issue, raises profound questions about the responsibilities of public employees to children, parents, officials, and the general taxpaying society and citizenry. Clearly, the educators at the Foundations School believe their first responsibility is to their students and families. But since they don't fund themselves, how should their success be evaluated, measured, and reported?
Ramapo Indian Hills Regional High School District
Franklin Lakes, N.J.
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.